Category Archives: California

Mystery is Spoiled by a Word

 

On this last day of 2015 I am reflecting on the images created since I began this blog. I’m filled with gratitude for the majesty of God I’ve been blessed to experience, and for the photographic work that resulted.

I leave you now with a gallery of my favorites from the first 18 months of blogging, trusting that the pictures will speak for themselves and reveal the fingerprint of the Divine…

 

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“Mystery is spoiled by a word.”

– Brennan Manning
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[PLEASE CLICK ON ANY IMAGE TO BRING UP CAROUSEL VIEW]


The Craftsmanship of the Creator

 

What is the most foundational thing I know about God?

That he is Creator.

All else flows from this knowledge. And I know it, because it’s being proclaimed with great fanfare, nonstop, all over this planet and beyond:

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.

(from Psalm 19)

 

The Watchman peak glows under a starry sky in Zion National Park

The Watchman peak glows under a starry sky in Zion National Park

 

What should be my reaction to this essential and basic truth? Awe and reverence, my soul welling up with deep satisfying joy, which cannot help but overflow in praise:

Praise him, sun and moon! Praise him, all you twinkling stars!
Praise him, skies above! Praise him, vapors high above the clouds!

Let every created thing give praise to the LORD, for he issued his command, and they came into being.
He set them in place forever and ever. His decree will never be revoked.

Praise the LORD from the earth, you creatures of the ocean depths,
fire and hail, snow and clouds, wind and weather that obey him,

mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all livestock, small scurrying animals and birds,

kings of the earth and all people, rulers and judges of the earth,
young men and young women,old men and children.

Let them all praise the name of the LORD.
For his name is very great; his glory towers over the earth and heaven!

(from Psalm 148)

 

Rocks and trees in Zion Canyon during fall testify to the Creator's glory

Rocks and trees in Zion Canyon during fall testify to the Creator’s glory

 

Now sometimes my emotions forget the fundamental truth that God is Creator. I start fretting over my life, looking for more worries to add to an already long list of ‘problems’. Or I become consumed by the issues in the world, especially lately the unkind political battles we wage with one another.

And not only do I forget that God is the Creator in charge of it all, I also forget that I am merely a creature. And when I forget my creatureliness, I’m prone to arrogance, to thinking I have all the answers.

Today I needed the Creator to remind me, and humble me:

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell me, if you know so much.

Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line?
What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone
as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

(from Job 38)

 

The glory of wildflowers against a backdrop of rolling hills in California

The glory of wildflowers against a backdrop of rolling hills in California

 

I’m grateful to return once again to embracing the simplicity of being a creature before an astounding Creator God, whose handiwork inspires me at the deepest soul level and tells me of his power, and his goodness:

You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.

(from Revelation 4)

 

The majesty of the Milky Way in the skies above Death Valley National Park

The majesty of the Milky Way in the skies above Death Valley National Park


Thirty Years, and Counting

 

There are few people on this planet I’d want to travel with for eights weeks holed up in a 7 x 10-foot camper.

Ok. There is no one I’d choose to do that with. I don’t think I’d be sane for more than a week in such conditions 🙂

With the exception of one person: my high school sweetheart and bride of 30 years, Wendy. That one fact speaks volumes about our compatibility, and how we have survived and thrived in thirty years of life stuff together.

In 2008 we took a 2-month sabbatical and hit the road in our Toyota Tundra outfitted with a tiny Four Wheel Pop-up Truck Camper, making a loop around America starting from our home near Seattle, WA.

 

Camping in our pop-up truck camper overlooking the Upper Mississippi Valley

Camping in our pop-up truck camper overlooking the Upper Mississippi Valley

 

We headed south through Yosemite, desert poppy blooms, the Grand Canyon, and the tasty red & green chile dishes of New Mexico. We made our way east through sublime Texas hill country, lush green Arkansas hills, and legendary Great Smoky Mountain National Park (accompanied by piles of mouth-watering barbecue along the route).

 

The waterfalls of Yosemite National Park were our first scenic stop

The waterfalls of Yosemite National Park were our first scenic stop

 

Wildflowers in the Texas hill country were a colorful highlight of our road trip

Wildflowers in the Texas hill country were a colorful highlight of our road trip

 

Turning north we discovered the intimate and peaceful splendor of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the colonial history scattered all over Virginia and magically preserved Williamsburg, and the varied wildlife and Atlantic beaches of Assateague Island National Seashore.

 

The old Methodist church in idyllic Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

The old Methodist church in idyllic Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

 

Dogwood and fresh spring greens decorate a foggy forest on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Dogwood and fresh spring greens decorate a foggy forest on the Blue Ridge Parkway

 

Westward we drove, seemingly back in time through Pennsylvania Amish country, to the shores of Lake Superior, up the Mississippi River Valley in Iowa and Wisconsin, through picturesque Minnesota forests and other-wordly Dakota badlands, and finally to the glory of Yellowstone.

 

As we gawked at the Amish in Pennsylvania, the Amish sheep gawked at us.

As we gawked at the Amish in Pennsylvania, the Amish sheep gawked at us

 

The 1891 Dubuque, Iowa courthouse is a historical gem

The 1891 Dubuque, Iowa courthouse is a historical gem

 

The memories from this adventure are among the very best of my life so far. The photographs from that trip I share today are a tribute to that fantastic time, to the extravagant beauty that is our America.

But more importantly, these memories and images are a tribute to our 30th wedding anniversary that we celebrate this weekend. They are a tribute to my life partner, Wendy. Her grace, her wisdom, her steadfastness. Her beauty that begins outwardly and then keeps on going deep into her spirit. When folks wonder how we made it to thirty years of marriage and counting, I just point to her!

Most days I thank God for the small blessings I get to enjoy, whether it’s the taste explosion of morning bacon, an afternoon bike ride amid lush Florida beauty, or settling in with a fine adult beverage in the evening. But when I thank the Creator for this amazing woman my wife is, I’m talking about a blessing that far eclipses all other things. Wendy is THE blessing for me in this life. All else pales next to knowing her, loving her, sharing this joy-pain-laughter life adventure with her.

She is my great love.

As we celebrate our three decades of marriage this weekend, I’ll be dreaming of the next opportunity to hole up in a tiny camper again (ok, perhaps a more spacious trailer this time) with my very best friend and lover and continue our explorations of America together…

 

Seemingly endless ridges are layered at sunset at Grand Canyon National Park

Seemingly endless ridges are layered at sunset at Grand Canyon National Park

 


The Case for Creativity: Man as Image Bearer

 

Wandering along the creek with camera in hand, there were no other sounds to intrude on the melody of water playing across boulders. The scent of earth and forest was intoxicating to me. I found endless visual fascination with wet rocks, moss growing on stumps, fallen leaves strewn about the creek, and I responded in childlike wonder by making images with the camera. I was twelve years old.

On another day I found myself wandering along a different creek near an aspen grove. The tranquil sound of gently flowing water was the only voice in the woods. I scampered across fallen logs and large rocks, the kid in me feeling the wonder and awe of creation’s glory along this simple creek, and I responded in unsullied joy by forming compositions with my camera. I was forty-eight years old.

 

Lee Vining Creek cascades over rocks in California's magnificent Eastern Sierra

Lee Vining Creek cascades over rocks in California’s Eastern Sierra [click photo to enlarge]

 

Wide-eyed childlike wonder overflowed from within recently as I traveled to the amazing Eastern Sierra region of California. I shared images last week of that diverse glory, and today share more compositions made while wandering along the creeks and through groves of trees in the Eastern Sierra as autumn draped majestic color over the region.

I am blessed beyond measure by my Creator to have been allotted a life of creativity stretching from my pre-teen photographic explorations to my current vocation as a landscape photographer. There have been many bumps and detours along the way, and seasons where I questioned the worthiness of being creative. I began forming for myself a case for creativity and wrote last week that the first reason artistry matters is because God himself is a great artist. Now I’d like to share thoughts on the implications of that truth, which is the second reason I believe it’s meaningful to create – because people are made in the image of God.

Imago Dei is the term theologians like to use. It simply means ‘image of God’ in Latin. The book of beginnings, Genesis, tells us that ‘God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (1:27, New Living Translation). Theologians unpack many profound truths that flow from this doctrine, but for my limited scope in considering a case for creativity I see that creativity matters for humans because God the joyful Artist created us in his image – we are his image bearers.

 

A big beautiful ponderosa pine artfully decorates Lee Vining Canyon

A big beautiful ponderosa pine artfully decorates Lee Vining Canyon  [click photo to enlarge]

 

In Scripture I see image bearers being unleashed to create from the start of the human race. After God had fashioned his jaw-droppingly gorgeous earth brimming full of life, the Original Artist allots to the first man and woman a vocation and life lived out as artists themselves – freedom to sculpt and care for the most beautiful garden ever to be found on the planet, and the linguistic delight of thinking up names for all the creatures. If you have ever walked through a truly lovely garden then you know how much creative work goes into it. And if you have ever use words to express and communicate and found it challenging, you can imagine how much artistic effort goes into forming names for each animal.

I find this incredibly freeing and exciting! After years of self-doubt, I’ve learned to embrace the creative life because I see in Scripture that God loves being an artist himself, and as his image bearers he’s delighted when we engage in creating also.

Now some readers may be thinking the way my wife used to – that you are not an artistic type, that your personality or your work are not suited to creativity. I hope to encourage you by saying that 1) to create is a far broader definition then making art like a potter, a painter, or a photographer, and 2) being creative is not limited to what we do at work – it can encompass all of life. I believe all of us can engage in creating in ways that align perfectly with our individuality.

For example, my wife is an excellent high-level tax accountant with the world’s largest accounting firm. As such she always considered herself good with numbers, but assumed she had not a single creative bone in her. First, I’ve encouraged her to see that she actually does engage in a creative process every time she thinks through problems at work and proposes solutions to solve them, or thinks of ways to effectively communicate with difficult coworkers. Second, she has discovered that you don’t have to be a ‘professional’ artist to try your hand at photography, scrapbooking, and other crafts, and in experimenting with traditional artistic pursuits she has found a great outlet for stress and much fun.

 

Aspens reveal their visually graphic skeletons as golden autumn leaves drop

Aspens reveal visually graphic skeletons as golden autumn leaves drop [click photo to enlarge]

 

Whatever your job, I believe there is almost always some creativity you are engaging in to effectively and efficiently do your work, from remodeling homes, teaching, maintaining computer systems, homeschooling your children, developing successful strategies for corporations, debugging software, fundraising for a nonprofit, helping fit a department store customer for clothes, to running a home-based business. Your work may involve creating a product, or creating value. A janitor starts with dirty chaos and creates a fresh clean environment, which then allows workers coming into a clean workplace to more effectively do their work.

And apart from our vocations, consider how we can be creative throughout all of life – thinking of fun ideas for your family to engage in together on weekends, creating a delicious and eye-appealing meal, being artful in your choice of words to a friend so you can encourage them, dreaming up a vision for the future of your marriage, singing even if you have no audience, learning to play a guitar, sculpting and maintaining the landscape around your house, writing out your thoughts in a journal or blog, or diving into a traditional ‘artistic’ hobby with a camera or clay or whatever strikes your fancy.

I believe God has designed and enabled us to make our very lives art. I love how The Message version of the Bible emphasizes this theme in Galations chapter 6:

“Live creatively, friends.

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” (vs. 1, 4-5)

 

Focusing close on an autumn aspen leaf reveals the intricate veins and intense color

Aspen leaf closeup reveals intricate veins and intense autumn color [click photo to enlarge]


The Case for Creativity: God as Artist

 

Excitement ran high as I drove toward the Eastern Sierra in California.

The Sierra Nevada mountains are one of the truly great ranges in America, and the east side of these behemoths holds many treasures. As I drove south down U.S. Route 395 toward the tiny town of Lee Vining I caught my first glimpse of one of these jewels sitting at the base of the mountains – Mono Lake. My excitement turned to tension as the end of the day was fast approaching with little time to find an appropriate campsite for my travel trailer and still make it down to the lake for a photograph before dark. The technology of a smart phone and Google once again proved useful as I was able to locate a campground nearby, set in a canyon among peaceful ponderosa pine punctuated with aspens making their autumn color change from green to yellow.

I rapidly set up my trailer in a new personal best time and jammed back toward Mono Lake ten minutes away. Sunset was in process as I hoisted my photo backpack and tripod out of the truck and quickly made my way down to the lake’s edge. The lake is well known for its tufa formations – essentially common limestone formed over time under the surface of the water and now exposed by lower water levels – and I hoped to utilize the special light of dusk to make a compelling composition featuring some of these tufa protruding from the still water.

As soon as I had the camera set up on the tripod in front of a visually pleasing group of tufa the dusk light I had hoped for had begun and I started exposing images. Often times at dusk you will see a pretty band of blue develop on the horizon where the earth is casting its shadow, along with a lovely band of pink directly above this blue from the very last afterglow of warm sunset light. On this night that tasty dusk glow occurred with wonderful clarity, enhanced by the lake’s surface reflecting those blue and pink layers.

 

Layers of pink and blue light at dusk highlight tufa formations in Mono Lake

Layers of pink and blue light at dusk highlight tufa formations in Mono Lake

 

After this sublime evening at Mono Lake more days followed of exploring and shooting in the Eastern Sierra, and I realized just how spectacularly diverse this region is – from the other-wordly tufa formations in the lake, to cloud-kissing peaks as high as 14,505-foot Mt. Whitney, lush streams and waterfalls, groves of aspen, tall ponderosa and Jeffrey pines, a virtual playground of huge characterful boulders and rock formations called the Alabama Hills, ancient bristlecone pines thousands of years old in the nearby White Mountains, a jaw-dropping drive over Tioga Pass leading to renowned Yosemite National Park, and much more.

 

Colors of autumn decorate a peaceful mixed forest in Lundy Canyon

Colors of autumn decorate a peaceful mixed forest in Lundy Canyon

 

I only scratched the photographic surface on this trip compared to all that the Eastern Sierra encompasses, but the diversity of landscapes I did see shouted unequivocally of the work of the great Artist, God himself. My mind was drawn to thinking about creativity and why it’s important, and I realized with new clarity that, foundationally, creativity matters because it’s important to God – being creative and making art is part of the very character of God. We see it most profoundly on the first page of Scripture – “In the beginning God created” (Genesis 1:1a), and after his work is done he examines what he crafted and feels the satisfaction of an artist – “Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!” (Genesis 1:31a, NLT).

That the Creator is a great Artist who practices and values creativity is further seen in the magnificent design of our bodies, which caused the Psalmist to exclaim, “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous–how well I know it.” (Psalm 139:14, NLT)

Later in the story of scripture we see God’s creative nature reflected in the vocation of his son – and very God himself – Jesus Christ, who makes his living as an artisan of wood, working with his hands in the craft of carpentry.

And God’s creative work continues in the present in his creatures, in the lives of those who have turned to him in faith: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Yes, despite our failings that appear all too clear to most of us, we who trust Jesus for salvation are being creatively formed into the very masterpiece of our Artist-God!

 

A bright moon rises over a rugged peak in Lee Vining Canyon

A bright moon rises over a rugged mountain peak in Lee Vining Canyon

 

So for me, this first and foremost is the case for why creativity matters – because God himself is the great Artist who loves to be creative, as his vast array of amazing works shows. And next week I look forward to unpacking what I see as the far-reaching implications for how we can live out our lives…

 

Lee Vining Creek spills over rocks in the Eastern Sierra

Lee Vining Creek spills over rocks in the Eastern Sierra

 


The Loss of a Light

 

High school can be brutal. We all likely have memories of the constant weight of peer pressure, the desire to conform so you don’t stick out from the crowd and get mocked, the fear in your belly as you try to engage socially without looking like a fool.

And most of us probably remember those who, for whatever reason, did not quite fit in, and how they suffered for that. One of those in my high school was a girl named Marni.

Marni was one of the first kids to show me kindness when I moved from Idaho to Oregon as an awkward and terrified seventh-grader. We were neighbors and rode the same bus. In high school my evolving friendships took me into different social circles than Marni, and I regret to this day that we did not develop a stronger friendship back then.

There really was no good reason Marni should have suffered as an outcast in school, for she was adorable and had a sweet temperament. But she was extremely shy, and that was enough for the harsh conformist system of high school to discard her. She had almost no friends in our school, no sense of being valued for who she was, certainly no sense of belonging. Sadly, I was among those who let her slip under the radar.

 

Poppies explode with color on a hillside in the Merced River Canyon, California

Poppies explode with color on a hillside in the Merced River Canyon, California

 

Now more than thirty years have passed. I finally joined the Facebook world this summer and learned of my high school class reunion event in August, and on the reunion page I saw the profile for Marni. Memories of my childhood neighbor flooded my mind and I felt an unexplainable sense of her suffering, both back then in school as well as in her adulthood since. I felt compelled to connect with her at the reunion, like a brother who cares for a sister, and before the gathering I began praying over our time together, and praying for all of my other classmates as well.

The high school reunion was indeed an incredible time, I think for everyone who attended. It felt like almost no years had passed as classmates hugged and fellowshipped and related to one another as caring adults, without the immature social class structure of our youth. And among those many wonderful connections there that I am so grateful for was a unique bonding with Marni.

We were able to be vulnerable and share our respective stories of brokenness. I felt deep compassion as she talked with me about how brutal high school was for her, and as she also told me of much more pain she experienced later on in life. And she patiently entered my world also and allowed me to be transparent about my failings over the years.

I had the pleasure of meeting her husband Michael and enjoying conversation with him, and I was so happy she found a quality man to love and value her. I was already looking forward to next summer when my wife could join me for an informal classmate picnic so she could get to know Marni and Michael as well.

In the past several weeks since the high school reunion I have kept in touch with Marni. I wanted to be a brotherly encourager to her, and she ended up being a strong encourager to me. She regularly read my blog and told how it blessed her, and one day she sketched a beautiful graphic to illustrate the phrase ‘all creation sings’ as a logo idea for my website.

I kept her in frequent prayer and thanked God for the blessing of this reconnection.

 

A beautiful sketch created by my friend Marni to illustrate 'All Creation Sings'

A beautiful sketch created by my friend Marni to illustrate ‘All Creation Sings’

 

Then suddenly without warning, this friendship came to a halt when I learned this Saturday that Marni had passed away in her sleep.

This is where I have no adequate words as a writer.

I am still raw. The pain of tragic and unexpected loss is haunting me. I cannot wrap my mind around it. Marni was too young at only 48. Her departure was too abrupt.

And if my grief as a recent friend hurts this much, I cannot imagine what her husband and all of her daughters must be going through. My heart goes out to each of them. I feel broken for them. I cry out to our Heavenly Father on their behalf.

Today, two things about Marni’s life are beginning to bring some hopefulness to my heart: first, that her gentle spirit of acceptance and love touched so many lives (as evidenced by the outpouring on Facebook). I do not think she realized just how much of a light she was, blessing so many people. Second, Marni confessed faith and trust in Christ as Savior, so I know that today she is with Him for all eternity, enjoying His amazing glory and pure love in a way that we only get mere glimpses of now in our fallen world.

I pray the Father would continue pouring out abundant mercy and comfort on all who are grieving the loss of gentle Marni. And I pray that somehow through the pain, there will be people who follow Marni’s example of turning to Jesus as their hope for this life and eternity to come. May God be glorified in our suffering.

I close with words of Jesus that my heart needs to hear and experience over and over again:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

 

Shafts of sunlight break through storm clouds in rural Wyoming

Shafts of sunlight break through storm clouds in rural Wyoming


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