Adam Hamilton on How to Talk with Congregations About Controversial Issues

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-2-27-06-pmFor faith leaders, talking with our congregations about controversial issues is very challenging — and very important. How can we provide moral leadership and address the issues that affect our communities while remaining nonpartisan and not alienating people?
I hear a lot of people struggling with these questions. Fortunately, some wise leaders have found ways to strike a balance while speaking out. Rev. Adam Hamilton of Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, has led his ideologically diverse congregation through dialogues seeking common ground on some of the most divisive issues of the day, from gun laws to immigration.

That’s why Faith in Public Life is holding a special 1-hour clergy conference call with Rev. Hamilton next Thursday, October 13th, at 4pm Eastern. You can register here.

Please sign up here.

Rev. Hamilton will share his story of how he approached this project and talk about lessons learned. We’ll also have dialogue and Q&A.

With the 2016 election around the corner, it’s more important than ever to approach our public leadership in a spirit of boldness and wisdom, not fear. I hope you can join us!

WHAT:     A clergy conference call with Rev. Adam Hamilton, and FPL CEO Rev. Jen Butler
WHEN:    Thursday, October 13th, at 4PM  Eastern.

HOW:      You can register here and Faith in Public Life will send you the dial-in information.

Pursuing Beauty

We are made immortal by the contemplation of beauty–Ralph Waldo Emerson


Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota


Over the last few weeks I’ve been asked how I achieved a particular look for photos I post on Facebook.

It’s interesting that in the digital age this question comes up often. “How did you do that?”

In my reckoning, it was not so in the age of film, despite the fact that prints from film were heavily processed. Back then the photo seemed to speak for itself. We’ve become so technologized today that we just assume a photo has been manipulated in some way.

I’ll answer the questions in the next few posts by writing about my workflow which results in the look I’m trying to capture. But there are a couple of prior steps and I don’t want to ignore them.

Photography as Prayer

For me photography is more than the sum of techniques and technical skills. It’s an experience. It’s the act of creating art.

Sometimes it’s a spiritual act.

I once produced a video on at-risk teenage Native Americans. In a class on crafts, a wise grandmother told the kids, “When you do something that’s creative and constructive, it’s a prayer. You pray with more than words. You pray when you dance, when you sing, when you work with your hands.”

Photography can be a prayer.

She also told them that they should never do creative work when they are in a bad mood because that spirit will enter into the outcome. “Even if you’re making soup for someone who is feeling bad,” she said, “you should not make that soup if you’re not in a good mood. Your bad feelings will enter into the soup and it won’t be healthy for them.”

My photography is my soup-making. It’s both an experience and the act of creating.

Creation is Beautiful

I don’t try to achieve an effect so much as to capture the beauty that I see before me, and to share it online with friends who have the same appreciation for the natural world as I have.

Often I’m awed at the simplest of things that I see; the flight of a common bird, the shape of a leaf on a tree, the shimmer of light on water. I know some think this is naive, and others mere sentimentalism.

But it’s how I feel and what I see.

Sometimes nature, especially landscapes, lead me into a meditative state. How wonder-filled is the earth that we call our Mother?

Sometimes nature is, by human judgment, cruel. We’ve seen examples. Birds of prey are graceful but merciless. They are killing machines. Large cats, muscles straining, attack the young, weak or old in a herd. It seems an unfair match.

These are pieces of the whole reality, and they challenge the perception of an idealized natural world. It’s not all beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

Never the less, it always comes back to beauty. The Creation is a beautiful thing. It nurtures us and feeds our souls.

It calls us to protect and preserve it. We need reminders of this call, and we need to visualize it.

The Hunger for Beauty

In her excellent newsletter Brainpickings, Maria Popova quotes the poet John O’Donahue on beauty. “We can slip into the Beautiful with the same ease as we slip into the seamless embrace of water; something ancient within us already trusts that this embrace will hold us,” he writes.

“The human soul is hungry for beauty,” says O’Donahue. “When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming.”

He goes on to say we feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful because it meets the needs of our soul. It brings a sense of completeness and sureness, says O’Donahue.

Nature photography—birds, animals, landscapes—isn’t simply about the photos. It’s about the pursuit of beauty, about our wholeness, about coming home.

It’s a prayer.

Fledging Day Has Arrived – The Eagle Family – Final Chapter


(Since January 2016, I have been observing and photographing a pair of bald eagles which nested, hatched two eggs, and nurtured the eaglets. The series of photo essays on The Eagle Family can be found at these links: Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4.)

The Eagle Family - Part 4 (5 of 12)First flights! This is a first flight from the nest to a nearby tree. This is juvenile #1 after flying to a tree about 75 feet to the north of the nest. The young one landed on a limb, hung on for dear life, and then decided to test the limits by flapping another five or six feet to another branch.





The Eagle Family - Part 4 (6 of 12)

It discovered that balancing on a limb is more precarious than balancing on the nest. It wobbled, flapped and






The Eagle Family - Part 4 (7 of 12)

seemed to say, “Perhaps if I chew off a bit of this knob I can get a better grip.”






The Eagle Family - Part 4 (10 of 12)

Juvenile 2 is even more uncertain. It perched on the same tree as Number 1. Then it flew back to the tree where the nest is located. It landed on a branch and settled in for a spell.






The Eagle Family - Part 4 (8 of 12)

Number 1 followed, planning to land. But it discovered those small twigs at the top of the tree won’t hold a bird of its size.






The Eagle Family - Part 4 (1 of 12)

So it flew on (as there’s really no choice), circled the tree, and headed for a stand of tress a few hundred yards away. I saw it land in the treetops in a flutter of wings and leaves, too far for my camera to get a decent shot, but it  would have been an embarrassing photo anyway. No eagle would want to be seen crash landing.





The Eagle Family - Part 4 (9 of 12)

Mother eagle circled the young ones with a fish. I’m thinking she was attempting to lure them to follow her for a feeding. This is part of the training to move them from the nest as well as to begin to teach them to hunt on their own.





The Eagle Family - Part 4 (2 of 12)

After its own traumatic landing, Number 2 was not that hungry yet. It is less mature, and more insecure than its sibling.






It sat perched and called out to its sibling, which flew in from the treetops and landed just below. The difference between the two is very interesting. Juvenile 1 is more aggressive, coordinated and adventurous. Number 2 is smaller and rather obsequious.


Now that they’ve fledged they have a lot more to learn. The survival rate for young eagles is horrible. By most reliable estimates, only 1 in 10 reach adulthood, which is 5 years of age. I’m hoping these young ones are among the survivors.

The Eagle Family – Part 4


(Since January 2016, I have been observing and photographing a pair of bald eagles which nested, hatched two eggs, and nurtured the eaglets. The series of photo essays on The Eagle Family can be found at these links: Part 1Part 2, Part 3.)


The Eagle Family - Part 4 (3 of 12)The young eagles have grown from eaglets to juveniles, awkward and innocent, but much more eagle-like.






The Eagle Family - Part 4 (4 of 12)

Juvenile number 1 is most active, testing its wings in a strong breeze.






At times it looked as if the young ones were unsure what those long things on their sides were for, and they whacked each other as they stretched and flapped them. But they are getting the hang of it.

The Eagle Family - Part 4 (12 of 12)

Hopping from the nest to a branch nearby is one way to practice “flying.”






But once you get there you have to have a firm grip. Without it you could take a tumble.

The juveniles will be fledging very soon. Stay tuned.


The Eagle Family–Part 3

(Since January 2016, I have been observing and photographing a pair of bald eagles which nested, hatched two eggs, and nurtured the eaglets. The series of photo essays on The Eagle Family can be found at these links: Part 1Part 2.”)


The Eagles Part 3-6The young eagles are developing quickly. They are beginning to take on the look of more mature juveniles.





The Eagles Part 3-3

Testing the limits of the nest.

They are testing the limits of the nest as well. The first-born is more adventuresome. He/she has begun to peer over the edge of the nest and also move to a tree limb outside the nest.




The Eagles Part 3-2

Perching outside the nest.

It perches there before returning to the nest. I’ve read this exploration sometimes leads to a fall which, in turn, results in the first flight. Sometimes these flights are not successful and the eaglet cannot return to the nest. In such a situation the parents watch over the young bird, feed it, and wait until it gets the hang of flying and can return to the nest. I’m hoping this is not the case with these eaglets.



The Eagles Part 3-5

This morning’s meal is a fish.

The maturation of the two has been interesting. The second-born is slightly behind. Recently, father brought in a fish for the morning feed.




The Eagles Part 3-4

Begging to be fed.

The second-born tried to get him to feed her/him. I heard a low whimper that sounded like an animal whine.





The Eagles Part 3

Father eagle did not answer the plea and flew off, leaving it to the young ones to feed themselves.

But the father was having none of it and left the nest after dropping off the fish, leaving it to the young ones to feed themselves (which they did).






The Eagles Part 3-7

Male eagles are smaller than females, as you can see in this photo.

Mother and father frequently perch on the same limb near the nest and stand guard. Here you can see the difference in size between them. The female is on the right. She is much larger than the male. This is typical of most raptors.


The Eagle Family–Part 2

(Since January 2016, I have been observing and photographing a pair of bald eagles which nested, hatched two eggs, and nurtured the eaglets. Part 1 of a series of photo essays on The Eagle Family can be found here.)


Father eagle bringing a fish to the nest for the juveniles.

Father eagle bringing a fish to the nest for the juveniles.

This morning the male Bald Eagle flew in with a fish for the juveniles. These parents seem to bring fish or shore birds for the young to eat. I’ve seen no evidence of other types of prey.







"You're not eating my portion are you?"

“You’re not eating my portion are you?”

The second-born began to tear at the fish, and the first-born looked on as if to say, “You’re not eating my portion, are you?” I don’t think it has anything to be concerned about, however. The first-born was noticeably larger than the second, and was advanced in flapping its wings and practicing flying, so he/she need not fear being overtaken by the second. It came up with a feather from a past meal, but it got to the fish as well.






The look. It just comes naturally.

The look. It just comes naturally.

This is the first-born practicing his eagle look. He’s got it down pretty good, I think.







The Eagle Family

Circling the area to make her presence known.

The female circled the nest a couple of times this morning as she guarded the area while the male hunted.







A spectacular landing on a familiar perch high in a tree across the field from the nest.

A spectacular landing on a familiar perch high in a tree across the field from the nest.

She landed in a tall tree after taking perches in two other locations, perhaps to let me know she has her eye on me.

I imagine it won’t be too much longer until the first-born attempts flight. Both juveniles are flapping their wings and hopping, especially in a strong breeze. I hope to be there to see it.

The Eagle Family

The eagle nest (1 of 1)

The eagle nest from the road. (click to enlarge photos)

Driving down a one lane road in the late winter this year, Sharon noticed a bald eagle nest. It was a surprise because we were looking for another bird.

I took a few photos and resolved to come back and take more; and to see if I could get permission from the property owners to follow the nest through the hatching and fledging of the eaglets. Eventually, I was able to secure that permission.

Mother eagle on nest (1 of 1)

The mother eagle standing guard on the edge of the nest.

As a result, I’ve been able to watch the male and female eagle guard the nest against interlopers,





Male eagle vocalizing in flight (1 of 1)

The male eagle circling and vocalizing at an intruding eagle.


and I witnessed them chasing one away as it tried to encroach into their territory.





Eaglets in downy feathers taking a look at their new world.

Eaglets in downy feathers taking a look at their new world.


I’ve seen the newly hatched eaglets peek out over the edge of the nest, looking at the world for the first time.





Mother feeding eaglet (1 of 1)

The mother pulls meat from the prey and feeds the eaglets until they learn to tear it for themselves.


And I’ve watched them as they were being fed by their parents.






The eaglets outgrew their downy feathers after a few weeks, looking more eagle-like.

The eaglets outgrew their downy feathers after a few weeks, looking more eagle-like.

They’ve grown rapidly, adding more mature feathers to their downy ones.






The female changed course in mid-air directly above me one day. As she twisted she also flew upside down momentarily.

The female changed course in mid-air directly above me one day. As she twisted she also flew upside down momentarily.

I’ve seen the parents do aerial acrobatics, which were startling, and bring in fish and water fowl that they’ve hunted from a nearby lake and surrounding woods.

To learn their habits and flight patterns requires standing sometimes for hours waiting for something to happen.



Adults perched vocalizing (1 of 1)

The adults vocalize with a high pitched screech-like sound. It’s more comical than regal or menacing to my ear.

The adults fly to a nearby tree and perch on the same limb, often vocalizing to each other in a strange sounding screech that is almost comical coming from a bird that looks so menacing and regal.




Eaglet wings raised (1 of 1)

The first-born has developed noticeably more quickly than its sibling. Here he/she is flexing it wings in preparation for the day when it will fly. And that day is not long off.


I’ve seen how the first-born has developed more rapidly than its sibling. He/she stands in the nest and flaps her wings as it’s trying to fly.






Second born eaglet (1 of 1)

The second born was more reticent in taking food early on. Today it’s more active and is maturing rapidly.

The second-born is developing more slowly and is much smaller.








Male eagle on dead tree.

The male recently perched on this dead tree trunk in the morning sunlight after circling the nest and bringing in a fish for the eaglets.

I’m waiting for the first eaglet to fledge with something like the anticipation a parent has when its child takes its first step. Until then, I watch with admiration at the sight of new lives being launched and behold the beauty.






Unity, Schism, or Something In-between?

The bishops of The United Methodist Church proposed a path forward that forestalled debate on human sexuality when they offered a plan of action to the delegates of the 2016 General Conference of the church in Portland.

The plan includes a call to an extended time of prayer, review of the sections of the church’s law book referring to human sexuality, the creation of a commission to consider how to move the church forward and the possibility for a called session of General Conference at some future date to consider how the church manages its conflict over human sexuality.

Exclusionary policies regarding homosexuality spelled out in the law book of the church, called the Book of Discipline, are the source of the dispute.

I watched as an outsider after having been part of the general church staff for a number of years.

Parliamentary procedure became a proxy for action in a session that looked like the church was slowly unraveling. Delegates called for multiple points of order and made amendments to motions that brought the proceedings to a standstill.

One delegate even made an unprecedented request (at least I can find no precedent) to ask the bishop presiding over the session to step down due to “bias” and allow another to take his place.

This was an indication of how brutal the situation has become and how deeply entrenched are the different factions.

A Theological Problem

At root, this is a theological problem of great importance. But it also a cultural issue. And even some conservatives who are holding fast to exclusion concede that it is a battle lost. The church is fighting over values from a world that is already past, but not yet fully accepted by some.

It seems reasonable to say that there is no theological solution to the division. The differences are too great. The hurts too deep. The positions too fixed.

The denomination, once a cornerstone of mainline theology, has become irrelevant in the public conversation about human sexuality in the United States due to its exclusionary policies and practices.

On this issue, it is now in league with theologies that are more accurately situated in 19th and 20th century fundamentalism than in the traditions, teachings and practices of Christian faith over the centuries.

For a lucid discussion of this, see a statement by Timothy Eberhart, Assistant Professor of Theology and Ecology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and Assistant Professor of Theology and Ecology at Methodist Theological School in Ohio.

Only time will tell if the proposed commission can provide alternatives that keep the church from making a formal split. On the other hand, it may determine that a split is preferable to the theological differences that are eating away at the church’s mission and witness.

Revisiting Regionalism

Past proposals for reorganization into semi-autonomous regional bodies will likely be given greater consideration. This would, in theory, make it possible for the church in different parts of the world to follow the theological perspective most acceptable to that region—schism without calling it schism.

What it would do to common mission and witness is open to question. What it would do to the nature of the community and how United Methodists view themselves in the world is worth considering as well.

Discipleship and the Kingdom of God

The call to discipleship is a call to see oneself in relationship to the whole world that is God’s good Creation. It is not a call to sectarianism, chauvinism, or cultural isolation.

In fact, these are the very things that are tearing the world apart, many of them under the guise of religious extremism.

If the church moves toward regionalism and does not simultaneously begin to teach more intentionally that to follow Jesus is to become a citizen of a kingdom that knows no geography, and that demands that one become a globally aware citizen who stands for justice for all and respects the sacredness of human personality, it will have failed its missional responsibility.

The call to be a disciple is the call to rise above the divisiveness that so characterizes religion in these days, contributes to the diminishment of the global community, and continues to do great harm to people around the world.

This is the challenge the church must face.


There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal. 3:28.


This discussion by David Brooks of social fragmentation and decentralization is pertinent to the deliberations that will be conducted in The United Methodist Church in the future.

Practice and Learn, Practice and Learn

Female Eastern Towhee (1 of 1)

A female Eastern Towhee at eye level in the shade of a tree. Females of this species are equally colorful as the males, in my opinion. That’s not always the case with birds.

In an opinion piece in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times, Gerald Marzorati, a former editor of the New York Times Magazine, writes that immersing yourself in something new and difficult, and improving at it, is a key to better life as we age.

He took up tennis and gained new insights about himself. He also experienced physical improvement.

Marzorati says it should be a difficult activity—a craft or discipline—that takes effort and coaching. It’s more than reading a self-help book or thinking good thoughts.

Much of his insight is consistent with my own learnings in photography.

My activity didn’t start that way. It started as an attempt to get more exercise. As Sharon and I began our daily walks we discovered anew how much we enjoyed being outside as well as being active.

One day we saw a red-winged blackbird on the hiking path and I said I should bring a camera the next time we walked. That started it, and my effort to perfect my nature photography skills have become a daily discipline.

Marzorati says “practice, practice practice” is the foundation for this rejuvenating effort. In photography, subject, composition, lighting, focus, framing, angle of view, shutter speed, and f stop all figure into making a photograph.

So does post-processing and printing which are disciplines unto themselves.

Pine Warbler. This is a photo I should have left un taken. The light alters the color of the bird and the background is busy. Discrimination is something I continue to learn when I get enthusiastic about seeing an attractive subject.

Pine Warbler. This is a photo I should have left untaken. The light alters the color of the bird and the background is busy. Discrimination is something I continue to learn when I get enthusiastic about seeing an attractive subject.

I still need to be more discriminating in selecting subjects. Along with those things I’ve listed above, poses and backgrounds make a photograph.

It’s more difficult to do this in a forest in subdued light than on a shoreline in the sunshine. I also trek in the rain and snow because photographic things happen on rainy or snowy days as well as sunny or overcast days. For some creatures it’s necessary to lie down to get eye-level views. I hadn’t anticipated lying on my stomach in the wet grass in spring or frosty weeds in winter when I started this venture.

I also hadn’t thought about how I would get up the first time I laid down but I figured out a way do so without looking too much like a hippo rolling in mud.

I’m still a long way from where I’d like to be with the photos I’m making. I can see improvement but there’s still room for more. Making photos of birds in flight is much different from birds in trees, or those on shore. Small subjects such as birds are more difficult than large ones.

Wild things move. Sometimes quickly and erratically. I’m told that practice is necessary to make adjustments on the fly, to adjust without thinking. Sometimes when I think about adjusting exposure or speed, the opportunity to make an image is gone.

So, it’s a process of practice and learn, practice and learn. Undergirding this is the need to stay alert, to remember, to be aware, and to be present in the moment. None of this will make me younger. But it does make life more interesting, adventuresome and meaningful.


I’ll have some additional reflections in future posts.

The Cedar Grove Owls

Female on nest. (1 of 1)A pair of barred owls have mated and established a nest several feet off the trail at Radnor Natural Area and Wildlife Refuge in Nashville. The nest is in a tree with a cavity about 30 feet from the ground in a shaded area. It’s difficult to see with the naked eye, but with telephoto lenses or binoculars you can see the opening and the owls moving in and out.

Several photographers (self-named “the Radnor paparazzi”) have been keeping watch. We must stay on the trail, so we peep from a distance, and now that spring foliage has blossomed, through leafy branches.

Mrs. Owl has been confined to the nest incubating the eggs until recently. I’ve read that female owls are the sole incubators. They develop a “brood patch” of sparsely covered skin in the breast area. This has a higher density of blood vessels for warming the eggs.


Male in cedar tree. (1 of 1)The male has brought the female food but he has taken his time, often resting in cedar trees not far from the nest. Because he’s so often found here, the pair has been named the “Cedar Grove Owls.”






Male in flowers (1 of 1)Recently he perched near the trail and dropped into a patch of wildflowers.






Male with snake, (1 of 1)He had found prey. When he flew up he carried a snake which he dispatched and carried, at least that part that he didn’t consume himself, to his mate.






Female leaving the nest (1 of 1)We suspect the eggs have hatched, but are not certain. Our suspicion is based on the observation that Mrs. Owl is now leaving the nest to hunt.






She doesn’t go far, but she stays out for longer time periods.






Female with vole (1 of 1)Recently she caught a vole and took it back to the nest, and then left again for more hunting.






Feamle looking out. (1 of 1)We’re anxious to see the owlets and we’re keep a watchful eye on the nest and the parents.






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