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Reflections on Resurrection in the Time of COVID-19

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On this Easter, so often celebrated with delicate bunnies and fragile eggs, I want to speak  instead of Resurrection Day and the powerful, power-filled Jesus, the Risen Prophet-King, the Roaring Lion, the Holy Lord of Lords.

My dear friend, Tom Graffagnino, in his brilliant—and all too timely—treatise on the troubled No Border Land that is our Western World, reminds us that:

“Jesus was much more than the Nice Guy from Galilee with innovative, helpful hints for righteous living. Jesus stilled the stormy Sea of Galilee at one point with a word, but He made life-threatening, tsunami-like spiritual waves everywhere else. He came to rock humanity’s boat. He did so two thousand years ago, and He still does it today…We may first encounter baby Jesus, ‘meek and mild’ in the manger, but that is not where He would leave us. Obviously, the ‘All You Need is Love’ Jesus is very popular today. That Jesus fits the mold that the world cherishes and approves…This Jesus Much-Preferred is always agreeable, always friendly, ‘progressive,’ and fashionably up-to-date. [In centering on this innocuous, inoffensive Jesus]… much of the church in the Western world has been…swamped by the lukewarm waters of compromise and mesmerizing higher critical doubt…We expect our under-shepherds in the pulpit to coddle us with easygoing tales…We demand soothing half-truths…and have abandoned the teaching and preaching that brings sinners to their knees…Thinking ourselves wise (sensitive, caring and fair), we have become fools. For convenience’s sake, we have melted down the penetrating, razor sharp, double-edged sword of truth and fashioned for ourselves psychological, snub-nosed butter knives instead.”

And while all too many pastors have given in and have been serving up snacks of milk, cookies, and entertaining stories rather than banquets of deep spiritual truth and doctrinal meat, our society and even our natural world, of which we had been made stewards, have been dying slow and painful deaths.

In 1983, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian historian, who drew the world’s attention to the evils of the Gulag, lamented:

“As a survivor of the Communist Holocaust, I am horrified to witness how my beloved America, my adopted country, is gradually being transformed into a secularist and atheistic utopia, where communist ideals are glorified and promoted, while Judeo-Christian values and morality are ridiculed and increasingly eradicated from the public and social consciousness of our nation. Under the decades-long assault and militant radicalism of many so-called ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ elites, God has been progressively erased from our public and educational institutions, to be replaced with all manner of delusion, perversion, corruption, violence, decadence, and insanity.”

Much of our world has endeavored to shut God out of the very world He created, and many—in so doing—have wound up in their own shaped-to-fit gulags, prisons of their own making.

We have been experiencing a famine of hearing the Voice of God.

Sensing our nation slouching towards Gomorrah, many have been lifting hands in prayer pleading, “God help us!! Help us turn from our wicked ways!! Restore our land!!”

Today, I believe, God is answering those prayers through the trials and isolation brought on by COVID-19. He’s been removing and/or shaking the supports on which we have long relied: jobs, homes, money, friends, families, full bellies, global markets, health systems…He’s made clear to us that we are not in control.

I have been praying for many years that God would bring a revival to rival any and all that have gone before. Never did I imagine God might do this by shaking us to the core with trials that are now encompassing the globe.

Charles H. Spurgeon, in his devotional Morning by Morning, suggested that some of God’s graces would never be discovered if it were not for trials. He wrote:

“Hope itself is like a star—not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity…It was but a little while ago that on your knees you were saying, ‘Lord, I fear I have no faith; let me know that I have faith.’ Was not this really, though perhaps unconsciously, praying for trials? For how can you know that you have faith until your faith is exercised? Depend upon it. God often sends us trials that our graces may be discovered, and that we may be certified of their existence. Besides, it is not merely discovery; real growth in grace is the result of sanctified trials…Is not this the reason why He is contending with you?”

A few Sundays ago, I posted a sermon entitled, “The Reset Button,” and as the weeks of isolation have gone by, I’ve become even more convinced that God is using this time to reset our personal and corporate lives and to reset our world and all its components. Our personal and societal flaws have been laid bare, and we’ve been given eyes to see what we’ve become but also—what we might yet be.

God is resetting the biosphere and calling us to lament how cruelly we have treated the extraordinary world with which He, the Creator, has gifted us. As Julio Vincent Gambuto has well summarized: “A carless Los Angeles has clear blue skies as pollution has simply stopped. In a quiet New York, you can hear the birds chirp in the middle of Madison Avenue. Coyotes have been spotted on the Golden Gate Bridge. These are the postcard images of what the world might be like if we could find a way to have a less deadly daily effect on the planet.”

Robin Wright, in a March 23 New Yorker column noted:

“The novel coronavirus has swept the globe at a time when more people are living alone than ever before in human history. The trend became noticeable in the early twentieth century, among industrialized nations; it accelerated in the nineteen-sixties. In the United States, the numbers have almost doubled over the past half century, according to the research aggregator Our World in Data. In 2019, twenty-eight percent of households were single-person—up from twenty-three percent in 1980. Stockholm may represent the apex of this trend: in 2012 sixty percent of households in the Swedish city had only one person. Psychologists note the difference between living alone and loneliness.”

Wright concluded, “I live alone and have no family, and usually don’t think much about it. But, as the new pathogen forces us to socially distance, I have begun to feel lonely. I miss the ability to see, converse with, hug, or spend time with friends. Life seems shallower, more like survival than living.”

Many, in this time, are becoming increasingly anxious and depressed as they worry about the potential loss of homes, incomes, loved ones, and financial security. Ami Rokach, a psychologist in Canada, said she believes it’s a blessing that the coronavirus has hit the Western world. “For the past century,” she told the New Yorker columnist, “human life has focused increasingly on money and material belongings, which, especially with technology, has led to neglect of human relationships. Now that we’re suddenly stuck at home, the best means of surviving, psychologically and biologically, is to interact with people by whatever means available. She wonders if we might come out of this time of isolation with strengthened interpersonal bonds, having realized how important these are to our health.

I wonder if we might come out of this time of isolation with strengthened bonds with the person of Jesus Christ, having realized how important He is to our health. Isolation? Hmmm?

It was on the third day that Jesus rose from isolation, resurrected from the dead.

In Beyond Belief to Convictions, Josh McDowell, Bob Hostetler and David H. Bellis tell us that “Jesus broke the power of death by rising from the grave…[He] pierced the kingdom of darkness with a penetrating light.”

“Christ’s resurrection victory over death and despair not only broke the power of death for all of us who trust in Christ as Savior but also provided the means for us to receive a whole new perspective on life. Though we may endure pain, grief, and suffering here on earth, because Christ’s death was followed by his resurrection, we can know that such things are temporary—and that much greater things await us. Because of the Resurrection, we are destined to live forever in new bodies on a new earth, an existence that will be so enjoyable that anything ‘we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory [God] will give us later.’ For we ‘wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children, including the new bodies he has promised us’ (Romans 8:18, 23).

“We have the answer to where we are going in life, and in death…With a belief in the Resurrection, we can face life’s difficulties with the conviction that no matter what, ‘if God is for us, who can ever be against us?’ (Romans 8:31). We can be assured that God has not lost control and will not abandon us (see Romans 8:32). We can be confident that He is not punishing us or condemning us (see Romans 8:34). And we can know that He still very much loves us (see Romans 8:38).”

How long will it take us, how long will it take you, to rise to new life? We will never return to the old normal, and we should give great thanks for that blessing. The old normal wasn’t working.

F. B. Meyer reminded us that “Our Lord is constantly taking us into the dark, that He may tell us things. Into the dark of the shadowed home, where bereavement has drawn the blinds; into the dark of the lonely, desolate life, where some infirmity closes us in from the light and stir of life; into the dark of some crushing sorrow and disappointment. Then He tells us His secrets, great and wonderful, eternal and infinite; He causes the eye which has become dazzled by the glare of earth to behold the heavenly constellations; and the car to detect the undertones of His voice, which is often drowned amid the tumult of earth’s strident cries. But such revelations always imply a corresponding responsibility—that you are to speak in the light—that you are to proclaim upon the housetops. We are not meant to always linger in the dark, or stay in the closet; presently we shall be summoned to take our place in the rush and storm of life; and when that moment comes, we are to speak and proclaim what we have learned. This gives a new meaning to suffering, the saddest element in which is often its apparent aimlessness. ‘How useless I am!’ ‘What am I doing for the betterment of humankind?’ ‘Wherefore this waste of the precious spikenard of my soul?’ Such are the desperate laments of the sufferer. But God has a purpose in it all. He has withdrawn His child to the higher altitudes of fellowship, that he may hear God speaking face to face, and bear the message to those at the mountain foot.”

Meyer concludes his message with this: “There is no short cut to the life of faith, which is the all-vital condition of a holy and victorious life. We must have periods of lonely meditation and fellowship with God. That our souls should have their mountains of fellowship, their valley of quiet rest beneath the shadow of a great rock, their nights beneath the stars, when darkness has veiled the material and silenced the stir of human life, and has opened the view of the infinite and eternal, is as indispensable as that our bodies should have food. Thus, alone can the sense of God’s presence become the fixed possession of the soul, enabling it to say repeatedly, with the Psalmist, ‘You are near, 0 God.’”

If you have never welcomed Jesus into your life as Lord and Savior, I’d invite you to lift the following words in prayer that you may do so. Those who already have a relationship with Christ, may pray these words as well to affirm that blessed reality.

Dear Lord Jesus, I know am a sinner. I am sorry for any sins I have committed— knowingly or unknowingly—against you. I want to turn from my sin and follow you all my days. I believe you died for my sins and I accept your sacrifice in my place. I now come to you and receive you as my Savior and Lord. It is in the name of Jesus I pray. Amen

And now beloved of God, you must build yourselves up in your most holy faith; seek wisdom for the living of these days in God’s Holy Word, the Bible; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you without blemish before the presence of His glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all ages, now, and forevermore. Amen.

Sources:

Graffagnino, Tom. No Border Land: Finding Grace in a Dark and Dying World. Grand Rapids: Credo House, 2020.

Spurgeon, Charles H. Morning by Morning. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000.

Gambuto, Julio Vincent. “Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting.” Medium. 2 April 2020. <https://medium.com/@juliovincent/prepare-for-the-ultimate-gaslighting-6a8ce3f0a0e0>

Wright, Robin. “How Loneliness from Coronavirus Isolation Takes Its Own Toll.” The New Yorker. 23 March 2020.

<https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/how-loneliness-from-coronavirus-isolation-takes-its-own-toll>

McDowell, Josh, Bob Hostetler and David H. Bellis. Beyond Belief to Convictions. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2002.

Meyer, F.B. Streams in the Desert. 11 April.

<https://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/desert/streams-in-the-desert-april-11th.html>

 

 

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The Big Cats

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Rajah

This morning’s email briefing from the New York Times included an item on the now-airing and hugely popular Netflix documentary series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.” The NYT describes the program as centering on “a roadside zookeeper and his plot to kill an animal activist.”

The show reminded me of a podcast from my own On the Road with Mac and Molly show about the Carolina Tiger Rescue and my conversation with Kathryn Bertok, Curator of Animals.

Sheltered at the 55-acre Pittsboro, North Carolina facility, at the time of the interview, were more than 70 animals including tigers, binturongs, lions, cougars, bobcats, caracals, kinkajous, ocelots and servals. The organization is working toward the day when wildcats are not owned by individuals as pets; wildcats are not used for entertainment purposes; no trade exists for wildcats or their parts; and all wildcats prosper in sustainable, native habitats.

In the program, Kathryn and I center on all things tiger from chuffling (tiger speak) to mother-cub interactions to the tiger’s affinity for water (not only for drinking but for bathing). We hear how tigers are faring in the wild and in captivity. Kathryn shares some of the most heartbreaking truths of the $15 billion exotic pet trade that is devastating not only for the animals and their habitats, but for humans as well who are placed at risk when dangerous creatures are made “pets.” The show concludes with the story of Aria, a tiger confiscated from her “owner” that was brought back to health by the Carolina Tiger Rescue.

If you love animals, and especially is you love the big cats, I think you’ll enjoy this episode.

Here’s the link:
https://www.petliferadio.com/ontheroadep28.html

[Featured Photo: Mark Zeringue feeding Roman at the Carolina Tiger Rescue. DFGH]

Mark feeding Roman
An adult male lion can measure more than ten feet from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. Mark Zeringue feeding Roman.

 

The Stranger in the Woods…So Much to Ponder

30687200I’ve just finished reading The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit. It’s the compelling true story of a twenty-year-old who drove his white 1985 Subaru Brat into central Maine, dropped his keys on the center console, exited the vehicle, started walking without knowing where he was going, and disappeared into the forest. He had a tent and a backpack, but no compass, no map. Christopher Knight, who came to be known as the North Pond Hermit, would remain in the woods for the next 27 years, until he was finally captured by authorities and brought to account for stealing food and other provisions from neighbors who lived not all that far from his well-concealed camp. Never lighting a fire and making sure to obscure every shiny pot, pan, propane tank, and clothespin from the prying eyes of hikers or over-flying aircraft, he managed to survive and his camp remained undetected through the challenges of brutal winters, muddy taiga, and northern mosquitos and blackflies.

Interspersed throughout the tale are reflections on silence and solitude; noisiness and busyness; the restorative power of nature; and the need for or aversion to community. The experiences, shared by author Michael Finkel, of ascetics, solitaries, anchorites, recluses and introverts were illuminating companions to Knight’s story as were the observations from psychologists and biologists who have made a study of the alone ones among us.

In the coming days, I’ll be re-reading and reflecting upon the book, but for now, I’d like to share one passage (of a great many) that I found intriguing:

“In an attempt to gain some empirical understanding of solitude, a cognitive neuroscientist at New York University placed more than twenty Buddhist monks and nuns inside magnetic resonance imaging machines, tracking blood flow to their brains while they meditated. Other neuroscientists conducted similar studies. The results remain preliminary, but it appears that when the human brain experiences a self-consciously chosen silence, as opposed to sleep, the brain does not slow down. It remains as active as ever. What changes is where the brain is functioning.

“Language and hearing are seated in the cerebral cortex, the folded gray matter that covers the first couple of millimeters of the outer brain like wrapping paper. When one experiences silence, absent even reading, the cerebral cortex typically rests. Meanwhile, deeper and more ancient brain structures seem to be activated–the subcortical zones. People who live busy, noisy lives are rarely granted access to these areas. Silence, it appears, is not the opposite of sound. It is another world altogether, literally offering a deeper level of thought, a journey to the bedrock of the self.”

Celebrating America’s National Parks Honored with 2017 IPA Award

23915845_1664407703581353_5732276055968733023_n (1)Two years ago today, I was celebrating the fact that I’d completed 35 chapters and an 11-page Notes section for Celebrating America’s National Parks, a book on which I was collaborating with photographer Clyde Butcher and designer David Griffin. I had just the last little bits to edit and all the pages to proof and then I would be on to trimming the tree. I’ve just learned that the book (released in 2016) has placed first in the category “Professional Book–Nature” in the 2017 International Photography Awards Competition.

Celebrating America’s National Parks is the second book I’ve written that has received an award. The first was one I co-authored: The Goddess Revival: A Biblical Response to God(dess) Spirituality (reprinted in 2010). That volume was honored as a Christianity Today Book of the Year.

I am now at work on The Rockery: Theology, Nature and the Arts as Spiritual Ambassadors for the Christian Faith. I’ll be searching for an agent and publisher as the new year opens and would love to hear from anyone who might be interested in learning more about this project. You’ll find me at: dfghailson@gmail.com or 484-437-6455.

 

Cape Fear Raptor Center

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Chirper, an Eastern screech owl, in the care of the Cape Fear Raptor Center.

I had the pleasure this week of visiting with some of the birds that are under the care of the Cape Fear Raptor Center in Rocky Point, North Carolina. The organization educates the public on the importance of these extraordinary creatures and provides rehabilitation services to injured raptors with the goal of releasing them back to their natural habitats. The CFRC will hold its Third Annual Owl Howl on November 4, 2017 (rain date November 11) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Brunswick Riverwalk in Belville, North Carolina. The fundraiser will feature raptors, raffles, local vendors, food, and entertainment.

Follow this link for more information on the CFRC:

http://www.capefearraptorcenter.org/.

All photos: DFG Hailson.

Gently Wakened

Oh, how I enjoy being gently wakened by a soft breeze and a sound river of birdsong just as the sun is rising! Our Creator knit us together in our mothers’ wombs and He knows us better than we know ourselves. He delights in bringing this treat of peace and pleasure for our senses before us each morning. How superior is this to the “alarm”! How grateful I am to be safe and secure from all alarms as I am leaning on the everlasting arms!

Accompanying image: Song Thrush, John Gould, Birds of Great Britain (1862-73).

Topsail’s Turtles

9fc7ae_d9c507061d5647d0b866be3c658cfb88 (1)Topsail’s Turtles, Episode 2 of Wild Life! Wild Places!, on Pet Life Radio, is now available for listening. In this program, I take you to North Carolina where I am helping monitor sea turtle activity on Topsail, one of the state’s barrier islands. Topsail is a northern rookery for the threatened species that is the Loggerhead; Green Sea Turtles are found here as well, but in smaller numbers. Because of all the threats–from predation to plastics, marine debris to mechanized fishing—it is estimated that only one in a thousand sea turtle hatchlings will survive a year; only one in 5,000 to 10,000 will survive to maturity.img_1925-2
In this episode, I introduce you to the seven species of sea turtles and explain what happens during incubation and hatching. I also discuss where sea turtles tend to hang out, and I catalogue what threats they face in the wild. Shared in this program as well is the history of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center through which I received training for service as a beach monitor. By the end of the show, you’ll know about turtle tracks, false crawls, boils, nest sitters and rampers. You’ll also know why the northern rookeries are so crucial to the continuation of sea turtles and you’ll have a list of simple things you can do to help ensure that sea turtles will have a future.
 https://www.facebook.com/wildlifewildplaces.hailson/
Featured photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. All others by DFG Hailson (http:www.dfghailsonphotography.com.
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