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.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Lesson from Merlins and Fish Crows


Merlin falcons and fish crows are natural enemies. A similar drama has played out over the town of Wellsboro for at least the past three years. Fish crows build a nest. Merlin falcons attempt to steal the nest (typically constructed near the top of a tall pine tree) and without fail a drama ensues. Some years it seems that the pressure each of these species places on the other is so great that neither experiences nesting success; but sometimes a balance is able to be struck.

While from the perspective of the crows, life would seem better without merlins, and from the perspective of the merlins life would seem better without crows, the truth is that the health of the community of living things in and around Wellsboro is dependent upon the health of every part of it.

To say it another way, a community is only as healthy as its weakest member.

As we seek to live into community with all that has life in Jesus' name we can take a lesson from fish crows and merlins.

Though they are natural enemies, clearly the health of the community of living things is dependent upon the health of both fish crows and merlins. As we consider our human communities, it is equally true that the overall health of our community is dependent upon the well-being of our enemies as well as ourselves.

A challenging truth, which perhaps this illustrates a certain level-headed logic to Jesus' teaching that those of us who wish to be his followers should love our enemies.

Who do you count as your enemies? How will you exercise patience, kindness, and everything else that love is towards them as we seek to live into community with all that has life in Jesus' name?

After all, I believe this with all of my heart and maybe you do too; the best life includes all life.

 (merlin falcon)

(fish crow)


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Great Discovery

Today I'd like to share a reflection from 2011, when I lived in Hollidaysburg, PA:

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Locke Mountain is a rocky ridge five miles to the south of Hollidaysburg Pennsylvania. I remember a time when I climbed Locke Mountain with the intent of discovering God in creation. I remember the joy of feeling my heart beat, feeling blood course through my veins as I hiked up the trail; I remember the cool, pure taste of the fresh mountain air upon reaching the summit.  I remember the joy of feeling the solid rocks beneath my feet that I imagined expanding deep into the heart of that great mountain like giant floating icebergs whose very tip is all that is discernible to the senses.  

 I remember the shape and feel of the bark of an ancient chestnut oak tree whose mangled misshapen trunk must have been molded by the harsh wind and snow of the winter; but now it was late spring, the sky as blue as sapphire and clear as the open sea.  I remember the sights and sounds of all of the life surrounding me on that mountain top; a red-tailed hawk riding the current of a gentle breeze, a red squirrel foraging in a pine tree, a timber rattlesnake basking on one of the nearby flat rocks, a black-throated-green warbler announcing its presence.  I remember the taste of freshly picked hemlock and wintergreen and the sweet smell of sassafras.    

I remember the joy of losing myself in this wonderful experience of discovery on Locke Mountain.  I certainly enjoyed this experience of solitude and oneness with the mountain, but I did not feel God’s presence during this particular mountain retreat.  I didn't feel as though I had attained any more knowledge and understanding of God than I had since rolling out of bed.

                We have all had those moments right? When we intentionally set aside time to grow in our faith through a discovery of God.  We experience pure joy in our experiences of prayer, of Sunday morning worship, or of a day or weekend retreat.  We have amazing experiences, but feel as though we have not made any progress in our spiritual lives; we have not discovered God.  So we question the validity of the experience, we question its meaning.  We even question if there was any deeper meaning at all beyond the surface experience of our sensory perceptions, because a lack of experiencing God’s presence means a lack of any discovery of God means a day wasted… or does it?

                Perhaps we miss the point of these experiences when we judge them based on categories of personal spiritual growth, and of our discovery of God (or lack thereof).  In his book entitled New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton writes that “we become contemplatives when God discovers [God's self] in us.”(pg 39)  If its true that God is on a journey of discovering God’s self in us, then it's okay when we have experiences of praying or of spending time in solitude feeling like we’ve gotten nothing out of it.

                I wonder what God has to say about God’s discovery of God’s self in us? I wonder if it might go something like, “I remember centuries ago, the joy of taking on flesh to live with my creatures whom I love.  I remember getting acquainted with the depths of their hearts; their love, their pain, their joy, their hope, and their suffering.  I remember dying and rising for them so that I might live in their hearts forever.  I remember the joy of discovering myself in each one of them in the most intimate ways throughout all of history. I remember the joy of discovering myself in Rich’s heart during his Locke Mountain retreat while he experienced such great joy in that wild space.”

 God is on a journey of discovery in all of us...

Monday, July 29, 2019

Who do you say I am?

In chapter 8 of the Gospel according to Mark, it is recorded that Jesus asked his disciples “who do you say I am?”

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking over this question in light of my life experiences, interpretation of the life and teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Bible, and current events in the United States of America and around the world.

In speaking with a neighbor yesterday afternoon, the thought arose in conversation that when we hear about what some others do out of apparent devotion to Jesus, that “their Jesus and my Jesus just ain’t the same guy.”

As we seek to live into community with all that has life in Jesus’ name it is important to come back to pondering our response to that deeply meaningful and profoundly revealing question that Jesus asks of his disciples in every age; “who do you say I am?”

This is my prayerful response...

To me, based on my life experience and interpretation of the Bible; Jesus, you are not an island or a lifeboat. You are the very presence of the living God with us; you are a healer and an empowerer; you are the hope for me that I can live into the fullness of my God given potential; you are a spiritual gift activator, a mobilizer, and a shepherd; you are the hope not only for my life but for all that has life on this good planet earth. You are a lover of the underdog, the reject, the poor, the injured, the orphaned, the widowed, the imprisoned, the oppressed, the migrant, and the refugee. You are the living embodiment of a hope so great and a power so profound that you never give up on us. This is who I know you to be; and so I pray that for the sake of all things good and beautiful you will mobilize and empower me and others; give us courage to partner with God and each other so that you may live through us.

Listen as Jesus speaks these words into your heart today, “who do you say I am?”

What is your response to him?




(What Jesus probably looked like based on forensic anthropology studies conducted by a team comprised of British scientists and Israeli archaeologists led by Richard Neave, a medical artist retired from the University of Manchester, England.) Here is the article from which the picture came: https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/a234/1282186/

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Gift of a Broken Heart Filled with Love

 Here is my sermon manuscript from this morning; I'm sharing it here because I believe it contains some things worth thinking about as we work to live into community with all that has life in Jesus' name in a way that is directed by the work and leading of the Spirit of God who lives in all of us.

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One of the most encouraging and inspiring things for me is to see people boldly responding to the call that God has given them in a way that their spiritual gifts are fully activated; like the way our friend Linda Grogan so kindly and generously gives of her time and energy to a number of people who just don’t have transportation; I’m thankful for Linda and she is not the only one. 

Romans chapter 12 shares with us that the Spirit gives gifts for doing certain things well; for prophesy, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, and showing kindness. 

1 Corinthians 12 shares with us that the Spirit gives gifts for serving in various capacities in the life of the church such as apostles (those who are sent), prophets (those who speak truth to power), teachers, doing miracles, healing, helping others, leading, and speaking in unknown languages.

When we consider what Paul tells us about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, that’s some pretty useful stuff right? It’s also a representative list, not an exhaustive list, because there are many ways in which the Holy Spirit equips people today in ways that are beyond the scope of the representative lists of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are recorded in these two chapters in the Bible.

Perhaps the greatest gift that the Spirit gives is the gift of a broken heart filled with love, clarifying for us the context within which we are to make use of the other gifts that the Spirit has given us.  

When I speak of a broken heart filled with love, what I mean is that the Spirit also gives gifts in the form of longings and direction...Paul, was a very gifted individual who possessed the gifts of leadership, teaching, and apostleship; and Paul was given the gift of a broken heart when he heard his call from God that he was to be sent to be an apostle to the Gentiles.
 
Peter was given the Gift of a broken heart when Jesus told him, “Peter, take care of my sheep.”

In the story of the Exodus, Moses was given the Gift of a broken heart when he received his call to lead the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land.

In the story of the great flood, Noah was given the Gift of a broken heart when he heard his call to build an Ark for the safety of his family and all of the animals.

Each of these individuals we read about in scripture received the Spiritual Gift of a broken heart filled with love and that is how God led them to engage in the specific call that God had given each.

...it’s important that as we lean into the Spirit’s lead we seek to understand the Gift of a broken heart that the Holy Spirit has for us...when we understand our Gift of a broken heart filled with love, the other gifts that the Holy Spirit gives will find good use. 

What good is it for me to understand that the Holy Spirit has given me the spiritual gift of leadership if I have no idea about the ministry context to which God calls me?

 Am I to lead a church, lead a business, or lead an army into war?

It is vitally important that each of us grows to understand the unique nature of the Gift of a broken heart that God has given us. The good news is that figuring that out is much simpler than you might think.

...when we feel and recognize the Holy Spirit breaking our hearts, filling our hearts with love and compassion for certain people and groups...that’s the Gift of a broken heart being given to you in that moment!

Have you ever felt a sense of love and of compassion for a particular person or group that instills in you a desire to help?

It’s like what happens when that Sarah McLaughlin song “in the arms of the angels” comes on during the SPCA commercials. If you’re like me, in that moment you feel a sense of love and compassion for those animals that makes you want to reach out and help. 

Sometimes when I think of the Spirit's Gift of a Broken Heart Filled with Love I think of a jelly-filled doughnut; when the doughnut is broken the jelly filling can't help but pour out everywhere! This seems to me a fitting metaphor for what happens when God breaks our hearts and fills them with love...the love is poured out in a Spirit-directed manner.

Often when we notice broken people in this world that move us to say things like “my heart goes out to them,” that is an experience of a broken heart filled with love.

We as the church have a responsibility to support each other as we respond to the Gift of a broken heart that the Holy Spirit gives.

And without fail that gift moves us to live in a way that is faithful to the Good News of the Kingdom of God and in so doing follow Jesus.

The Good News of the Kingdom of God is this, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19 and Is. 61:1-2)

The Holy Spirit’s Gift of a broken heart moves us, as Christ’s witnesses, to work for the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and the other Gifts of the Holy Spirit help to equip us for the unique Personal Mission Field to which we are called.

It’s also worth noting that sometimes the Spirit’s Gift of a broken heart is for a moment, sometimes for a season, and sometimes for a lifetime.

At this time, one of the Spirit’s Gifts of a broken heart to me has been to fill my heart with love for refugees at our southern US border. You don’t have to join me and others who feel that heart that is broken and filled with love for refugees, but we do have a responsibility to support each other, to build each other up with encouragement and prayer, and to not fight against each other because together we serve as Christ’s witnesses in this world.  

In the same way, not every member of our church is engaging in worship by serving those who live at Broad Acres, but Carol Delaney should know that she has our full support as she responds to the Spiritual Gift a broken heart that is filled with love for those living at Broad Acres that the Holy Spirit has given her. 

There are many ways that the members of our United Methodist Church of Wellsboro are responding to the Gift of a broken heart given by the Holy Spirit.

…Karen Reasinger in her service to those who’ve been admitted to the hospital…

...Maryann Fisher in her service to those held captive by the chains of addiction...

...Lory Albin as she works to give hope to those affected by suicide...

...Barb Williard as she partners with Oasis of Hope to put an end to human trafficking and offer hope to those trafficked...

There are those among us who are experiencing this Gift as hearts are broken and filled with love for those members of the LGBTQ community who are feeling rejected by their church at this time, for those whose hearts are broken and filled with love for all creatures and are moved to advocate that as a global community we work to remediate the current climate crisis, for those whose hearts are broken and filled with love for people who are minorities and are feeling isolated and struggling as they seek to find a space of belonging…

Yes hearts are breaking and filling with love for all the broken people, communities, and places of the world where the poor live in despair, where people are held captive, and where creatures of God are being oppressed.

What Gift of a broken heart has the Holy Spirit given you? Who does your heart break for? What people, groups, or communities has the Holy Spirit filled your heart with love for?

 If today you are feeling a Gift of a broken heart from the Spirit of God, I want to affirm that this is a gift...and perhaps the greatest gift is, that as we give ourselves to serve in these contexts, we will find Jesus there...and with that gift comes a cross...

Jesus said to his disciples, "I am leaving you with a gift; peace of mind and heart; and the peace I give is a gift that the world cannot. " (John 14:27)

Jesus also said to his disciples, “Take up your cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Jesus totally invested himself in the Gift of a broken heart that the Holy Spirit had given him, and a very special gift it was, as Jesus’ heart was broken and filled with love for the whole world that God loves; and the world rejected him because of it.

Those who do not understand and are blind to the Kingdom of God will fight against us as we respond to the Gift of our broken hearts that that the Holy Spirit has given us. 

There will always be those who make life hard for those who live for those on the margins...who make it a challenging task to live for Jesus and the Kingdom of God. There will always be those who, due to spiritual blindness, will reject others for “stirring the pot.”

If you have felt that way, or if you are feeling that way…

You are not alone...

We are not alone...

Trusting in Jesus, let us resolve to welcome the gifts that the Spirit gives, and partnering with God and each other give ourselves in service to others as we work for peace and justice in Jesus’ name.




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Action Step: Spiritual Gift of a Broken Heart
  
Who does your heart break for? (People group, individual, part of God’s world, etc.)

Who/what has the Spirit of God filled your heart with love for?

If you would not describe it in the same way, what words would you use to articulate the feeling of “a broken heart filled with love”?

Who/what has the Spirit of God given you special love for at this time in your life?

How will you respond to the Holy Spirit’s Gift of a Broken Heart to you?

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Peripheral Gratitude

Walking across town this morning I was struck by the beauty of that which exists on the periphery of my life experience as I invest myself in my responsibilities during the work week.

I'm filled with gratitude for the moments every day, and for the one day each week when I am able to take time to bring into center focus that which during the work week exists largely on the periphery of my life experiences; blooming wildflowers (what a fantastic year it’s been for wildflowers!), the chipmunk and squirrels that live in our back yard, the fish crows that hang around the neighborhood, the vultures, eagles, and hawks that ride the wind high above, fireflies at dusk, and so much more!

What is it for you, when considering your life experiences, that exists in your periphery? Singing birds, blooming flowers, a friendly neighbor who often extends a kind greeting whom during the week you only get to see in passing...

If you are to take a moment to bring into center focus that which exists on the periphery of your life’s experience, what gratitude fills your heart?

Furthermore, what peripheral blessings in your life’s experience would you dearly miss if they were gone?

As we seek to live into community with all that has life in Jesus’ name, let’s take a moment to count our blessings and express our thankfulness, even for those blessings which exist on the periphery of our life’s experience.



Friday, July 26, 2019

The Land of Fog and Rainbows

For those of us who are familiar with many of the stories in the Bible, when we see a rainbow the story of Noah and the flood often comes to mind. In that story, God places the rainbow in the clouds as a sign, signifying the promise of hope and not destruction for all that has life.

Inspired by this story, many take sighting a rainbow as a general reminder of God’s love and promises.

Driving along Gee Road in northern Tioga County I noticed a bow materializing in the fog to my left. I hit the brakes for a closer look, and sure enough a faint yet distinctive rainbow had formed. As I gazed upon it, my heart filled with joy and thankfulness, my mind wandered to the story of Israel during the time of the Babylonian exile when God is said to have spoken these words through the prophet Jeremiah: “I know the plans I have for you says the Lord; plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

As I gazed upon the foggy rainbow I could feel these words spoken into my heart... “I know the plans I have for you...for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Now, I’ve seen many a crisp and vivid rainbow; but there was something special, mysterious, and relatable about this one.

What I mean is, how often is it that we express our trust in God’s promises while the path before us is yet unclear?

Whether we are trying to figure out our life’s purpose or just our next faithful step...while traveling through the land of thick fog God is with us and God has good plans for each of us and for all of us as we seek to live into community with all that has life in Jesus’ name.




Thursday, July 25, 2019

A change in perspective

Today I went kayaking at Ives Run Recreation Area with Erin and my Mother (Fran). I’m thankful that Mom brought two kayaks from Clarion and that my friends Bob and Dianne let me borrow one of their kayaks for the day. What a great experience! There’s nothing like being in a small boat and feeling the movement of the water directly underneath, looking out over the water, taking in an unhindered view of the hills in the distance, and  observing wildlife from a different perspective than what im used to. I think that sometimes a change in perspective is the best thing. There were a few incredible moments during today’s kayak adventure. First was the osprey that hovered in flight about 30 feet above and then plunged into the water making a big splash only 15 feet from my kayak! After which the osprey emerged from the lake having successfully caught a fish!

The other was a green heron that was making its way along the bank close to where I sat in my kayak. I got to watch it walk along the bank and then hop around the branches of a snag from the perspective of the water. Typically I observe them from land (while hiking, walking, or running) and it’s difficult to get a close-up look, but in this case a change in perspective made a huge difference. You can check out a video of the green heron below.

All of this makes me wonder how I and those around me might stand to benefit from a change in perspective in other areas of life. What might a change in perspective at home, at work , or even a change in perspective in some of our relationships look like? And how might a change in perspective give us fresh eyes to see in new ways what the Spirit of God is up to? What might a change in perspective look like for you? Does it mean going somewhere or experiencing something you never have before? Does it mean listening to a neighbor for the sake of understanding them and their outlook on the world?

Jesus took his disciples Peter, James, and John on a hike up a mountain for a change in perspective.

Today I went kayaking at Ives Run for a change in perspective of wildlife and wild spaces.

What will you do to experience a change in perspective this week?



Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Call to Loyalty to the Highest Authority

I don't like to engage in a whole lot of social and political dialogue, but sometimes, when you want to love God, love neighbors, and live into community with all that has life there's no other choice. Here are my thoughts based upon the situation that continues to unfold at the southern border of the United States. Now, I understand that there are massive numbers of people coming through and also that there is not one person to blame. The situation is a mess, and it is a mess in need of God's grace. I'd like to share a couple of reflections as I consider our current situation in light of the grace of God in Jesus and my understanding of the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel accounts.

A hard truth to set the stage; the idea that people from other countries and those who come to the US illegally are somehow worthy of less than what we (who are US citizens) have and enjoy as a standard of living has become an acceptable outlook of the world for us as US citizens.

But there is a higher authority than US Law, and it is the authority of the King of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ. Jesus said let the children come to me...love your neighbor as yourself...love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.

If we are not careful, those who are traveling across our southern US border will be praying for us since we are their persecutors (or at least because we who have the power to change things remain complacent in the face of their persecution). If they are praying for us then by the grace of God may our hearts be softened.

There is a song that many of us may have learned in Sunday School growing up and I was reminded of this in an article I recently read. It goes like this:

"Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red, brown, yellow
Black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children
Of the world."

In the eyes of Jesus (whose skin was most likely middle-eastern brown) people are people who are loved by God and worthy of no less than the standard of health and of living that we afford ourselves. That's what it means for us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Until we learn to treat those who have different colored skin, those who are from different countries, cultures, ethnicities and who speak other languages, and those who are considered “illegal” as not somehow less than but equal to ourselves the Kingdom of God will be out of reach.

To be fair, I include myself among those who have much room to grow into what it truly means to love my neighbor as myself.

The Church is not made to uphold the standards of US law. The Church is made to lead the charge in upholding the standards of the higher authority of King Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God which transcends and encompasses all national borders. And where US law (and for that matter the governing standards for any country) fails to recognize the sacred worth and equal value of all people, the church (because of our professed loyalty to Jesus Christ) has a responsibility and a call to be a prophetic voice, to challenge people, systems, legislation, and governing authorities that violate that key point in the great commandment (love your neighbor as yourself), and in lending our voices and our hearts to the highest authority and the greatest call take up our cross and follow Jesus for his sake and for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for God has anointed me bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord's favor has come." (Luke 4:18-19)

"I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying "Look, God's home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever." (Rev.21:3-4)


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Sky as Canvas

If you're walking around a town or other developed area with buildings that have chimneys that are accessible from above and you hear twittering in the skies overhead you may be in the presence of one of my favorites (I have many favorites!), the chimney swift. Here is a reflection from an evening spent watching chimney swifts fly over Wellsboro, PA...

A master of the skies, chimney swifts slice through the air with rapid wing-beats followed by swift glides twittering as they go. The rapidly moving flock comes together and then disperses; if the sky is their canvas, its easy to think that they might be trying to cover all of it!


Monday, July 22, 2019

Open hearts, Open minds...

A paraphrase of scripture and some words I felt being spoken to my spirit as I opened my mind and heart in conversation with Jesus today...

“The grace, love, and welcome into my peaceful Kingdom that I extend to you is also extended to the person, people group, ethnicity, culture and nation whom you hate, despise, and consider an enemy. If you will not welcome the gifts of my love for your neighbor and even your enemy, welcome every opportunity to grow in love and understanding of those who are “other” for you, open your heart to forgiveness and reconciliation...if your heart is too hard to accept these gifts then my heaven will be a hell for you and the Kingdom of God will be out of reach. Consider your enemies; and consider God’s grace; seek not to be like them or for them to be like you but for each of you to be like me in your love for one another. Then heaven and the Kingdom of God will not be a far off longing but will become a very present reality.” -Jesus


Sunday, July 21, 2019

Avocet delight

My friend Ken was out birding at 6am overlooking a pond near the intersection of Gee Rd and Ridge Rd in Tioga County and he found what I believe to be the rarest bird in Tioga County so far this year, and it is the first time this particular species has been reported to eBird (the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's online database) in our county.

The American avocet is a bird that breeds in the American West, found in ponds with vegetation and mud at places like Yellowstone National Park (which is where I saw my first ever avocets). Then the American avocet spends its winter in the southern parts of the United States and Mexico. The two that Ken located this morning probably left the breeding grounds a few weeks ago and are making their way to the east coast and then will be headed south from there.

This was a great blessing for a couple of us other birders in the area. I understand that this is what we call a "Lifer" for my friend John, meaning that this is the first time he has encountered this species in his life. That's really saying something since John has been birding since he was a teenager and has seen hundreds of species!

As for me, getting to experience these birds today took me on a vacation in my mind. Here is my personal reflection:

Against a backdrop of a rolling hillside scattered with shrubs, there are two American avocets resting at the muddy edge of a medium size pond surrounded with lush vegetation. Looking at the scene and the birds in it I'm transported in my heart to my first encounter with this amazing species at the Blacktail Ponds in Yellowstone Natl Park in July of 2017. In my mind I can smell the sweet fragrance of sagebrush. Ken, thanks for this experience today. I was in need of a good vacation and these birds were the ticket. Refreshed!

In case you are wondering; yes, this means that the Fall migration has begun! Get outside and look to the skies and to the lake shores. You never know what might turn up as many species of shorebirds and wading birds make their thousand+ mile treks from the breeding grounds to the wintering grounds...a truly incredible expression of Divine creativity is bird migration!
  
  (a picture from Ken's eBird checklist)

(American avocets at Ridge Rd today-resting on a muddy bank in the heat of the day)

(the pond with a backdrop of cow pasture)

(My friend John upon seeing his "Lifer" American avocets)


(A photo of the American avocets that Erin and I saw in Yellowstone National Park in July of 2017)
(a photo of the range map of this species- red means breeding area and blue means winter range)

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Dancing on Waterfalls

Here is a blog post I made about one year ago on another blog that I manage...

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Dancing on a waterfall, the Louisiana waterthrush energetically picks at some insect in swiftly moving waters at the edge of a steep and high rock face. 

If not for its wings, perching at the ledge over the biggest waterfall in the Pine Creek Gorge would seem a precarious and daring feat. 

But, this is the Louisiana waterthrush; the bird that dances on waterfalls in the heart of the northern forest.



Friday, July 19, 2019

Special Sight and a Heart Overflowing with Love to Answer the Call

I do not follow everything the Bible says. That would be an impossible task.
Besides, why would I follow everything that the Bible says when in fact, it contradicts itself. How can I follow the teaching in chapter 22 of Deuteronomy where it says that women who commit adultery are to be stoned to death and simultaneously follow Jesus' teaching in John chapter 8 where Jesus forgives a woman who committed adultery and called upon those who were present not to condemn her either?

It's true; I do not follow everything the Bible says; nor do I want to.

I follow Jesus Christ. By the unmerited loving-kindness (grace) of God I will live in a way that is faithful to the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

This is the Good News of the Kingdom of God; "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord's favor has come." (Luke 4:18-19)

My desire to live into community with all that has life in Jesus' name is inspired by the Spirit of God and informed by this Good News of the Kingdom of God that Jesus read about, taught about, and lived out himself.

To live into community with all that has life in Jesus' name requires that special focus be given to people and creatures who are impoverished, held captive, and oppressed.

Then there's that line in there that says, "the blind will see."

As the Spirit of God works in the world, God gives spiritual sight to different people to see where God's work needs to be done and invites people like you and me to partner with God and each other to make it happen.

The Spirit of God has given me special love for wildlife and wild spaces and eyes to see the oppression that plagues many ecosystems in Pennsylvania and around the world. There is a line from Aldo Leopold's book A Sand County Almanac that resonates with me. I know I've shared it on this blog some time ago but it merits being shared again, so, here it is:

 "One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise." (A Sand County Almanac. Aldo Leopold. Oxford university Press, 1966. pg 197)

I just knew that when I felt that love for wildlife and wild spaces grow in my heart, and when I was given that spiritual sight to see the poverty, captivity, and oppression of wildlife and wild spaces it was a call that I desired to respond to with all that I am; and I do, to the best of my ability.

I attempt to give a voice of advocacy to wildlife and wild spaces and to inspire others to care through my words, my actions, and my guided experiences in the outdoors. All of this is a response to the love which God has placed within me and the poverty, captivity, and oppression of wildlife and wild spaces that God has opened my eyes to over the years.

Who has God given you special love for? What poverty, captivity, or oppression has the Spirit of God opened your eyes to see?

Let us take the love that God has placed within our hearts and let it motivate and empower us to live as expressions of the Good News of the Kingdom of God together.

Living into community with all that has life in Jesus' name is the most challenging of tasks, but there is no greater purpose than to invest our lives in sharing the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

Who has God given you special love for? What poverty, captivity, and oppression has God opened your eyes to see? How will you partner with God and others to answer the call?


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Priceless Treasure

A reflection from my time at the location which is in the middle of Pine Creek (visible from Barbour Rock vista looking southeast) that I call Sycamore Island:

Biodiversity is a priceless treasure; let us cherish and protect it today and forever. Head to the mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers, and oceans. Spend time in the marshlands, deserts, and canyons. Take in all of the goodness, beauty and diversity of these wild spaces and the wildlife that call each home. Live in the moment; and when you return, find ways to share with others the priceless treasures you’ve found there and the inspiration that the Spirit of God has placed within your heart. Together our voices will be like many drops of water in a mighty current, our advocacy protecting the priceless treasure of biodiversity for generations to come. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

What is in a name?

Today I read a blog post my my friend C. Ash Dotson which is titled What is in a name? I found it to be a short, very thought provoking, and spiritually directive read.

In it he reflects upon the meaning behind a name. I appreciated his article because, as I consider who I am in God, I know that my being loved by God is at the core of who I am; where my rootedness is to be discovered. I also know this truth about my life: The more I come to know about the love of God in Jesus the more God fills my heart with love for all that has life. This also is part of who I am in God; an expression of my authentic self.

I also know that I am called to lead a life of advocacy on behalf of people, animals, wildlife and wild spaces who have been marginalized, forgotten, undervalued, despised and rejected. To be a voice for the voiceless. This is one of the primary ways that I partner with God and others to allow the changes that God is making within me to find expression in my living.

If I were to put a name to this identity...well...I kind of like the one I have. Rich, because while I may not be a millionaire, I often feel like one; but not in the sense of being financially or even materialistically wealthy. I feel rich having been given the gift of a special awareness of the beauty and diversity of wildlife and wild spaces. From the songs of birds to the beauty of landscapes even the tiniest insect; all of these and so much more makes me feel like the richest person in the world that I get to experience and live into community with these!

My middle name is Paul, and I like that because like the Apostle Paul whom we read about in Acts of the Apostles and who wrote a bunch of letters to the early church, I too am one who is sent to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and of the Kingdom of God.

And my last name, Hanlon; I like that too because my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and brothers which whom I share that name and ancestry have helped to empower me to become who I am today.

I invite you to give C. Ash Dotson's blog a read for yourself, to consider who you are in God, and what name you might assign to that identity.

Here is the link: https://ashdotson.org/f/what-is-in-a-name

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The night shift

This is just a simple post for today with what I think is a very practical piece of advice.

During a recent drive after dark along Route 362 between Wellsboro, PA and Ansonia, PA I took note of all of the wildlife I saw along the roadway as I drove home. Three deer crossed the road as did a raccoon and an American toad. I witnessed a skunk walking along the edge of the roadway next to the white stripe on the outer edge (trying to blend in? 😉) I also noticed one dead deer, one dead porcupine and one dead turkey along the road.

I know that even while driving within the parameters of the posted speed limit collisions of animals and vehicles can still happen; but in my experience, when I choose not to exceed the posted speed limit I'm better able to respond to animals crossing the road so as to avoid colliding with them so we both get to go safely on our way to our respective places of residence.

Just like some others, I have exceeded the speed limit by 5 or 10 mph, so to be clear I'm not claiming any high moral ground here.

But it seems true that one of the ways that we can live into community with all that has life (especially considering how fragmented our forests are due to roads) is by choosing not to exceed the posted speed limits while driving especially after dark and especially while driving through areas that are in close proximity to wildlife and wild spaces.


Monday, July 15, 2019

Bigger than all of us

About once per week I have been in the habit of taking a look at the audience of this blog's readers and have been amazed and encouraged that people all over the world have come across it. I only hope that God will work through me (whether because of me or in spite of me) to present something of benefit not just for the little part of the world where I live but for the world as a whole.

These are the countries, in no particular order, that have popped up as having viewed the bestlife.community blog:

Canada, France, Taiwan, United States, India, Germany, Israel, Ireland, China, United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, Czechia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Oman, Romania, and Uruguay according to the page-views tab in Blogger. There are also at least 24 views that are of "Unknown" geographic identity and 52 views that are unaccounted for; so, that probably means that there are people who logged in to view this blog from countries I have not listed above.

I find the geographic, ethnic, cultural, and national diversity that is represented in the readers of this blog to be challenging and at the same time highly encouraging!

Living into community with all that has life requires us to always be thinking bigger about community; bigger today than yesterday, bigger tomorrow than today.

If we truly want to live into community with all that has life on planet earth (including but not limited to the great diversity that exists within our human species-a huge challenge in and of itself!), we will find ourselves challenged again and again to think bigger than our culture and our ethnicity, bigger than our local, regional, and national identity...

In my mind and heart one of the awesome things about being a disciple of Jesus Christ is that Jesus invites us into just that kind of a radically inclusive expression of community; he calls it the Kingdom of God.

When Jesus invited his first disciples to live in a way that was faithful to the Good News of the Kingdom of God he invited them to be part of something that transcended all of the categories, yet recognized and fully welcomed the uniqueness of ethnicity and culture of the places to which they were sent.

As disciples of Jesus Christ today, we too are invited to celebrate and to praise God in the context of the unique qualities about our culture, ethnicity, local, regional, and national identity and to find unity that as co-laborers for the Kingdom of God we get to partner with God and with each other for the sake of hope, and of love, and of peace throughout this world.

As someone was born in the USA who grew up in Pittsburgh and has lived in Altoona, PA and Hollidaysburg, PA and is currently living in Wellsboro, PA, and whose ethnicity is Irish, German, Slovak, and Dutch, I want to celebrate the good things about my ethnic and cultural identity and I want to invest myself in the Kingdom of God which is so much bigger by praying that God would give me a heart and mind that is open to learning about and celebrating the expression of a great diversity of ethnicities and cultures!

I don't want my culture to be the dominant culture but simply for my culture to be one cultural expression among many through which the beloved community of disciples of Jesus Christ engages in praise and worship of God in unique and inspiring ways.


 (bestlife.community page views since January)

 (bestlife.community page views during the past month)

(bestlife.community page views during the past week)










Sunday, July 14, 2019

God of all, partner with us for good

On Saturday evening, as the sun set, my friend Dave and I were getting ready to engage in some astronomy. Dave has the full set-up...a telescope that is so powerful that I was only able to fit about 1/8 of the moon in the frame, and wow! What incredible detail! It was an incredible experience to see the moon with so much magnification and in so much detail, to look at the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, and a number of stars and satellites. I'm grateful that Dave invited me up to his place for this experience, and it gets me thinking about some pretty big and significant stuff.

At the heart of the Christian faith tradition is this belief; that the God who created the universe and everything in it loves what has been created so much that God came to be with us in the person of Jesus Christ. That's what is meant when we express belief that Jesus is God incarnate (or to say it another way, "God in the flesh"). How amazing is it to consider that the God who created the whole universe and everything in it becomes part of the masterpiece that God had created in order to show us how to live and to help us to grow into our full potential as human beings?

How amazing is it to consider that over the course of 3.5 billion years God has been and continues to create order out of chaos, life out of death, and new things out of nothing on planet earth? How awesome is it to consider that God, the creator of all things, loves God's creation so much that God became part of what God had made in the person of Jesus?

And in the most incredible turn of events in the life of Jesus who the Christian tradition understands to be the earthly manifestation of God who transcends time and space (a paradox!) suffered, died, was placed in a tomb, but rose from the grave three days later! The message of the death and resurrection of Jesus is good news for us that nothing can stop the power of God's love; not even death, and not even the most evil, oppressive, and manipulative forces in the world.

Jesus said to his disciples, "in this world you will have sorrow and you will have trouble, but take courage because I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Jesus also articulated the good news of the Kingdom of God in this way, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord's favor has come." (Luke 4:18-19)

I would invite each of us to consider what trouble and sorrow we carry in our hearts; consider the love God has shown for all that has life in the person of Jesus. Know this; that there is no anger, frustration, sorrow, or trouble we experience in our lives that is so big that God can't handle it. I encourage all of us to bring our troubles and our sorrows before God in prayer, and to share that which burdens us with at least one trusted friend. God is big enough and strong enough to bring order out of chaos, life out of death, new things out of nothing, and hope out of despair in your life and mine and God will often use the other people in our lives to make that happen.

Also consider this; that the Good News of the Kingdom of God is a participatory endeavor; as we pray like this:

"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,"

I hope that we will all find ways to partner with God and with each other to bring good news to the poor, release to those held captive, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.

Thanks be to God the creator of all things in time and space and to Jesus, the one through whom God comes to be with us, and to show us the way of love and of peace.


(Dave setting up his telescope)

(Jupiter and its moons)

(Our moon- super close-up!)

(Our moon- a little less close-up)

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Prayer from Lights For Liberty Wellsboro, PA


 As we seek to live into community with all that has life, including the great diversity of human beings and especially those who are marginalized, rejected, and despised, it is important for me to lend my voice to the voiceless and to speak hope into troubled situations. I was invited to lead a prayer at the Lights For Liberty Wellsboro PA event this evening. What follows are the words that I shared and the prayer that I prayed:

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Good evening.

Earlier today I read a quote by Elizabeth Gilbert, the well-known author of the book Eat, Pray, Love. As I read it, it resonated very much with my experiences as a person of faith committed to working alongside friends of a number of different faith traditions, and it goes like this:

“Those of us who are warm and dry and safe and well-fed must show up for those who are cold and wet and endangered and hungry. That’s a rule of life. Every ethical and religious and spiritual tradition in the world agrees on that rule.”

I hope that quote finds a point of resonance for you as it did for me. Before I offer a prayer, I’d like to take a moment to share with you why I am here this evening.

My choice to be present for this Lights for Liberty event is not simply about my feelings or whether I lean progressive or conservative. 

As someone whose life has been changed by the power of the love of God in Jesus, I’m here because I desire to live in a way that is faithful to the Good News of Jesus. 

Jesus himself describes the Good News of the Kingdom of God in this way: 

He quoted the prophet Isaiah in saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19)

I believe that we are all here tonight because God has placed a similar call upon our lives. Can you feel it in your heart?

This is a great joy for me as a disciple of Jesus, that I am to take the love that God has filled my heart with and let it overflow with kindness, compassion, and love for all, and especially for the most vulnerable among us.

In the church community this is called partnering with God for the salvation of the world!

What I see before me here tonight is hearts that are breaking for those who have been marginalized, despised, and rejected at the Southern US border…

…but I also see hearts that are inspired by the Spirit of God to make an impact. To lend our voices to the voiceless. To speak against policies and procedures that violate the dignity and sacred worth of human beings who happen to be immigrants seeking asylum. 

I see hearts that are prepared to speak out against those who would characterize our migrant brothers and sisters in derogatory and fear-inducing ways. According to the Christian tradition God’s justice is not a justice of retribution but of radical inclusion. The justice of God, when it is lived out says this: Let no one be excluded from the Kingdom of God; let no one be excluded from our community; let no one who is being marginalized be excluded from my sphere of compassion and justice.

As we prepare to lend our voices and our hearts, let us pray:

God of all people, you are the true light, illuminating everyone. Inspire to full expression the light of kindness, of compassion, of love, and of advocacy that you have placed within us. Empower us with inner strength by your Holy Spirit living in us. Lord our God, as we seek to partner with you in working for justice, that no one would be excluded, that all would be welcomed, valued, and loved; we acknowledge that we are faced with a big, challenging and complex situation. Believing that all things are possible with you, our God, we join our hearts lifting up these prayers:

Grant wisdom and courage to your people, loving God as we seek to do what is right.

Grant a receptive mind and spirit and a servant’s heart to our President, Donald Trump, to the President in Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, as well as to all of our leaders in government who have the power to make changes in policy and legislation.

Grant safety, wisdom, and courage to border patrol officers and others who have been appointed to serve in roles of law enforcement at our southern border. Give them eyes to see the full humanity of those who are in their care, and act accordingly.

Grant safety, wisdom, and courage to humanitarian aid workers at our southern border. For those who are at the border engaging in similar actions to what we are doing this evening, fill their hearts with your steadfast spirit, O God, that they may persevere for liberty and justice.

Lord our God, with heavy hearts we pray that your comfort and your love would embrace those who are suffering, and we entrust into your presence and care those who have died…

And mostly, loving God, we pray for your abundant blessing upon our brothers and sisters who are in the process of fleeing dangerous situations in other countries and seeking asylum in ours. 

May immigrant families remain together.

May our voices be heard and may the voices of all who are participating in this Lights for Liberty event around the world be heard so that those who have been marginalized, despised, and rejected might be welcomed into a space of sanctuary, not of confinement; and may they be granted safe passage and a new hope.

Continue your work upon us, loving God, empower us with inner strength by your Spirit, change the desires of our hearts, loving God, so our hearts beat in tune with yours; and may the changes you’re bringing about within us find expression in our living. Grant us wisdom, courage and strength as we partner with you and with each other for the sake of the task to which you call us at this hour. We pray this in the name of Jesus who is the healer of our brokenness and the hope for all the world. Amen.


(at the Lights For Liberty event with Rev. Maxine Mills!)