Category Archives: South Dakota

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 God of Facebook

 

[Today I feature images that have been shared only on my Facebook page]

One year ago I began to consider leaving the dark ages and joining the modern world of social media.

For the longest time I had been mystified at the apparent love folks had for Facebook. I didn’t understand the point – after all, we already had email 😉 As an introverted personality, the thought of being more connected with potentially large numbers of people on the internet had about as much appeal as scheduling a root canal with my dentist.

But things were changing in me at a fundamental level. I was planning a major 5-month work trip across America to reignite my vocation as a photographer of the landscape, returning to a calling I had tried to walk away from due to many years of negative baggage in my head. And a desire was welling up to find a medium where I could share with others images of the beauty and glory I would be blessed to photograph in those approaching months. So the idea of joining Facebook entered my radar screen.

As I began researching tutorials targeted to photographers using social media, I happened to come across a particular blog where the author was highly critical of Facebook, having apparently decided for everyone that it was only used to make oneself look good in front of others, that it did not present the real person, that it should be called “fakebook.” What startled me was that the author was a pastor. I wondered to myself why he would choose only a negative set of goggles from which to view this social media tool, why he would be only critical and judgemental while simultaneously missing the potential graces God could be bringing through relational interaction on Facebook. I felt sad for the people he was supposed to be shepherding, that he would automatically assume the worst in them, as if he could discern all heart motives.

And I wondered, isn’t this pastor’s god big enough to be the God of Facebook too, just as He is God of all creation, always at work to magnify His glory through an endless variety of means of grace?

 

An October sunrise brings glorious life to the Towers of the Virgin in Zion National Park

An October sunrise brings glorious life to the Towers of the Virgin in Zion National Park

 

A few months would pass with social media simmering on my mind’s back burner. The final catalyst needed to launch me into online interaction was learning at the last moment of my 30-year high school reunion being held just a couple hours from where I was currently photographing in Oregon in early summer of 2014.

And so with some trepidation I created a Facebook account. And what followed amazed me.

Within a few weeks this quiet, often reclusive introvert was on his way to a couple hundred friends. Right from the outset there were very meaningful conversations happening via Facebook’s messaging. Old friendships that had died off years ago were beautifully reborn even better than before, such as reuniting with my best friend from high school, David Carson, whose love and loyalty I will never again take for granted.

I unexpectedly reconnected with a middle school neighbor on a deeply profound level and was privileged to share hearts, stories of our brokenness, and spiritual encouragement before she was suddenly taken from this life a month later. Marni is missed by all who knew her.

A new friend I’ve never met in person (hi Kelly!) has come into my life and became a partner in the daily walk of faith. I was moved to tears when she messaged a powerful and beautifully written prayer for me to help me through a difficult struggle.

Friends have shared the joys of becoming parents, of celebrating an anniversary with a cherished spouse, of rejoicing in the growth and accomplishments of their children, or simply shared fun pics of their much-needed weekend getaway or family vacation.

There have been posts from friends about moments of feeling depressed, or asking for needed financial support, or requesting prayer for their fight against cancer, or prayer for their friends experiencing tragedy and suffering.

I’ve seen the heart of a friend who champions the cause of the poor and disenfranchised and has thus helped me become more aware and compassionate (thank you Angel!). I have acquired friends from all walks of life, many who are very different from me – some who are Christian and some who are atheist or agnostic, some who are straight and some who are gay, some who are staunchly conservative and some who are liberal and progressive – and all of them help me stretch and grow in some way.

 

Mount Rushmore inspires the huge variety of folks that compose our American melting pot

Mount Rushmore inspires the huge variety of folks that compose our American melting pot

 

As I examine this fruit that has come from Facebook engagement, I have two thoughts: first, I sincerely thank all of my FB friends for opening your lives up to me, for your grace in reconnecting even after you may have heard nothing from me the past 30 or more years. Thank you for letting me express who I am, and for all your encouragement from the photography and writing I have shared.

Second, I cannot help recalling the discouraging words of that pastor’s blog, and to see just how much he may have missed in his negative perspective – that our sovereign God is indeed the God of Facebook, just as he is God over all of life. And He clearly delights in using social media as a means for the expression of much beauty and joy and encouragement among people, if that is indeed what a person chooses to seek in it.

Thank you God that your glory and grace can shine wherever you please, including in our relationships via the internet!

 

Clouds at sunset create a compelling reflection in a pond at Yellowstone National Park

Clouds at sunset create a compelling reflection in a pond at Yellowstone National Park


Pondering the Question of Identity in the Badlands, Part 2

 

When I am in the Badlands, I can think.  I can breathe.  There is space.

This wide-open big-sky environment in South Dakota is fertile ground for unhurried pondering about life. I noted last week in Part 1 that on this trip the question of identity was a subject of much contemplation. Thoughts about how I get my identity. And what exactly that identity is. Do I create it? Can I make it whatever I wish it to be? Is it this fresh reengagement with my photographic career that will ground my identity into solidity? What about the identity that comes from family? Or friends? And the familiar haunting thought of performance: surely my identity must be largely based on how I perform in this life? Some semblance of success must factor in, right?

 

The wrinkles and folds of certain section of the Badlands make for fascinating abstract compositions

The wrinkles and folds of this section of Badlands make for fascinating abstract compositions

 

But these ponderous wonderings did not inhibit successful wandering and image making in the spectacularly rugged Badlands. The patterns, shapes, color, and tones grabbed my eye at most every turn, and I took great pleasure in composing some of the more abstract images. At other places along the main scenic road views opened up into mini valleys ringed with jagged little peaks, and at this time of year splashed with the lush color of sweet yellow clover.

 

One of my favorite views in Badlands National Park looking into a tiny valley lush in early summer

One of my favorite views in Badlands National Park looking into a tiny valley lush in early summer

 

A telephoto lens is used to zoom in on an abstract view of a colorful hill in the Badlands

A telephoto lens is used to zoom in on an abstract view of a colorful hill in the Badlands

 

As afternoon turned into evening, the softer warmer light photographers crave began to give even more pleasing shape to this land. Unsure of where I would end up for last light and feeling the tension that accompanies a landscape photographer’s desperate search for a good composition, I drove back and forth on the scenic loop and prayed for God to open my eyes to his beauty, to lead me to a spot where I could see and taste his glory and capture it well. Eyes peeled for a compelling view, I came across a close badlands hill that I thought might give the height needed for a decent angle on the other side, and I pulled over to check it out. I walked back the 30 yards without my camera to see the potential and was about to put boot prints into the soil when suddenly my eyes were opened to the beauty of that little hill full of texture and enhanced by warm side lighting. Immediately I realized this mound would not be a mere footstool for a better view, but was in fact the focal point of the composition itself! With the glee that floods over me in these moments when I’ve found something aesthetically pleasing, I ran back to the truck to fetch the pack and tripod and got back to the mound as fast as my aging body would allow. I rushed to set up the shot before the waning light disappeared behind clouds at the western horizon, and everything came together wonderfully through the viewfinder. Yes, I thought, God is so faithful and sovereign even over the seemingly small stuff in our lives, to direct and guide and reveal.

 

The last light of day falls across a grand view of textured hills in the Badlands, South Dakota

The last light of day falls across a grand view of textured hills in the Badlands, South Dakota

 

Now on my last day of shooting I drove around a curve and suddenly jerked the truck over to the righthand shoulder to park as I saw multiple cars and people stopped and figured there was local wildlife to see. The camera came out when I saw an adult Bighorn sheep standing on the ridge next to the road. After a few snaps I turned around and there was a baby Bighorn lamb resting in the shade on this hot summer day, set in a rugged section of the Badlands. It felt amazing to witness this little creature and make a few images, but it was not until days later that I realized the significance of the symbolism therein. After my good friend Slavomir noted the Biblical theme apparent to him, and after dwelling further on the topic of identity for writing this post, the picture of the innocent little lamb in a rugged wilderness became for me a visual exclamation point to set off the words I closed the Part 1 post with, a sentence God placed in my mind last week:

Is your identity based on your accomplishments?  Or is it based on the One who already accomplished everything for you?

 

A Bighorn lamb rests in the shade of a rugged ridge at Badlands National Park, SD

A Bighorn lamb rests in the shade of a rugged ridge at Badlands National Park, SD

 

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:20b, ESV)

Now I saw visually in the image of that Bighorn lamb the constantly needed reminder that this One, the tender and spotless Lamb of God, has graciously given me the only foundational identity worth basing this life, and eternity, on. Christ on the cross once for all accomplished everything for me for and all who believe, a lavish gift granted by grace through faith.  Because of his performance, rather than scrape and claw trying to build an earthly identity for myself, I can learn to rest in the identity assigned to me by Jesus: a child of God born into a new heavenly family, fully accepted and forgiven for all time, eternally loved by the Father and Son and empowered to live by the indwelling Spirit, a member of Christ’s body united worldwide with all who call on his name.

Family and friends still matter. Vocation is still important. Seeking excellence in what I’m called to do is still honorable. But when I intentionally preach the truth to myself of my new identity in Christ, given to me by grace, then I don’t have to make these other things foundational (and stressful). I can enjoy family and work without feeling desperate for those good things to give me my prime identity.  Child of the King is quite enough identity to stand on!  To meditate on this truth gives the freedom to go out and love and work and risk in this world without the debilitating fear of performance failure.

What about you, readers? Do you ever wonder about who you truly are? About what in this brief life grounds your personhood? Gives you meaning? And purpose? What are your thoughts about where your own identity rests? What do you see as your true foundation? I so welcome your sharing in the comments!


Pondering the Question of Identity in the Badlands, Part 1

 

Last month I hit the road in my truck and camper from my home in Tampa, Florida to begin a 5-month excursion across the West to photograph the beauty of the landscape wherever it calls to me. First stop on the journey was a visit with my wife’s sister Lori and her family in Ohio. My wife flew in for a week there and I expected to continue heading west right after she returned home to Tampa, but I delayed leaving Ohio first one day, then another, and before I knew it I had stayed on a full extra week with my sister-in-law and her family without my wife there. As each day passed I found myself connecting more and more with Lori, her husband, all their kids, and even some of their friends and the local community itself. And then I began to think over the question of identity: who I think I am and exactly how I identify myself, thoughts of lacking family identity and connection after transplanting from Seattle to Florida a year ago (and from not having children of my own), how Lori’s family seemed to have that natural sense of identity that comes from having your role in a large family unit. I yearned to be more rooted and to have a greater sense of belonging.

 

Evening sun highlights yellow sweet clover coloring the valleys of the Badlands in South Dakota

Evening sun highlights yellow sweet clover coloring the valleys of the Badlands in South Dakota

 

With this rumination on identity rattling around in my head I finally pulled myself away from the warm confines of family and set sights on the first planned photographic destination – Badlands National Park in South Dakota. This place has been special to me since my first visit with my wife in 2008 and this would be my fourth trip. It’s a rugged beauty of mostly gray and tan badland formations, but in early summer lush grasses break up the starkness and add another layer of beauty. It’s a land of big open sky, fresh breezes, frequent afternoon thunderheads, a meeting place with the prairie, and it’s own collection of wildlife such as bison, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs.

 

A curious prairie dog perks up at the arrival of human visitors in the Badlands

A curious prairie dog perks up at the arrival of human visitors in the Badlands

 

While scouting and making images in this unique section of South Dakota I was frequently filled with awe at the glory of the Creator pouring forth. Nothing humbles me more, nor brings me more childlike joy, then to be flooded with the grace of God all around me in a stunning location carved out by his powerful artistry. In these moments my heart joins the writer of Psalm 92:4 :

For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy. 

 

Soft warm light at dusk gives shape to patterns and lines in the Badlands

Soft warm light at dusk gives shape to patterns and lines in the Badlands

 

And in the midst of all this majesty, as I was fully engaging in the work of being a photographic artist for God’s glory after some years of doubt and fear, I began pondering questions of identity once again: is this what defines me? Can this vocation provide meaning? Will my identity in this life become more rooted, more fulfilling, if I find some semblance of success as a landscape photographer?

As a follower of Christ, his words in Scripture have much I need to hear over and over again to untangle the internal struggle with identity that has dogged me for so long, and I’ll explore that in part 2 next week.  I hope then to unpack the ramifications of a thought the Lord placed in my mind just yesterday:

Is your identity based on your accomplishments?  Or is it based on the One who already accomplished everything for you?

 

Jagged peaks are silhouetted against a colorful sunset sky in Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Jagged peaks are silhouetted against a colorful sunset sky in Badlands National Park, SD

 


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