Bible Verse in a Box with a Majestic Nature Scene

Have you ever noticed that so many of the inspirational Bible-verse-in-a-box images that get passed around on Facebook and Twitter superimpose the words of Scripture over a majestic nature scene?

A mountain peak reaching into the skies. “I will set my eyes to the hills – Psalm 121”

Ocean waves crashing on rocks as the sun rises. “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold – Psalm 18:2”

An endless plain blowing with amber waves of grain. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. – John 14:27”

The message from these images (and from their ancestors, the inspirational Bible verse poster sold at Christian bookstores) sends an indirect yet clear message – God is found in the far-off, in the majestic, in the distant nature scene.

This is terribly sad, of course, for a people who follow a Lord whose name is Emmanuel – God with us. God might be with us in our theology, but in our popular imagery we see God as far off, in nature, away from people.

To be sure, Scripture uses nature imagery to describe God, and even Jesus and Moses ascend mountains for moments of retreat and prayer. Yet, such imagery is neither the dominant nor the only metaphor or model found within Scripture to describe the community of faith and its relationship with God.

The preponderance of majestic nature scene images in our popular expression of faith reinforces an unhealthy sense that we must “get away” from human community in order to commune with God. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul’s discussion of the Body of Christ and of the importance of the Christian community, in 1 Corinthians 12, attests to that.

Take a look at the next several inspirational Bible verse in a box images you find on Facebook or Twitter – how many of those images include people, include the “us” with whom our God is?

We are a people whose hope-filled imagery of God’s promised future is one of a holy city descending from heaven, and a bold declaration that “the home of God is among mortals” (Revelation 21). Jesus spent lots of time among crowds, and from the beginnings of the salvation story we see God choosing and acting within a community of people.

I think our popular imagery should reflect our theology.

I like beautiful images from nature, but our collections of faith-inspiring imagery should also include pictures of people, of urban and small town landscapes, of the communities that God so loved that he sent his only Son into them. I’m sure some such images exist, but in my experience they are few and far between. We can change that.

I’m not a very creative person when it comes to graphics, but I dabbled with some photos on Flickr to see what it could look like to superimpose words from Scripture on images of people. Here are two that I created.

Keep Watch

Light shine

What can you create? Find photos with people, or take your own photos of friends, family, neighbors, and join them with words of Scripture.

Tag the photos #photoverse and share on FB, Twitter, your blog, or wherever else you share photos. Let’s expand how we see, imagine, and share God among us.

Onomia, Oh My!

Today I visited Camp Onomia, one of the outdoor ministries of the ELCA, located just two hours northwest of Saint Paul in the Mille Lacs area. And I am so glad I did!

Camp Onomia is set on beautiful Shakopee Lake, and is surrounded by state park land. As you look across the lake, you don’t see other camp grounds or resorts or anything … just lakewater and trees. Standing in the middle of the camp, all you hear are children playing and exploring, and birds chirping, and squirrels scurrying. It is truly a beautiful getaway.

The center of the camp is a fire pit with a large concrete cross, where morning and evening gatherings can take place, and where the all-important camp fire burns at night. Surrounding the fire pit is a wonderfully shaded grove area with picnic tables and space for children to run and play. Lining this area are several camp buildings, including a chapel, a mess hall, dormitories, and the retreat center. Uniquely, this camp doesn’t have traditional camp cabins, but instead offers dormitory-style housing … something that family campers with young children, and those not accustomed to “more rustic” camping experiences, might really appreciate!

Amenities aside, I’m thrilled at what this camp can offer as a place of holy encounter – with God, with God’s creation, and with God’s people. Getting folks together for a weekend church retreat, or kids for a week of summer camp, can truly build relationships and nurture the gift of faith through intentional experiences of Bible study, prayer, and divine encounter in community and creation.

Camp Onomia, along with many of our Lutheran camps, has experienced some level of decline in recent years. Parenting styles have changed over the years, and fewer families are sending their children to “sleep-away” camp today than a generation or two ago. If parents are sending their children to camp, it is often for a specific skill – to help their children with soccer or music or art. Also, church finances are changing, and the ability of congregations and synods to fund camps, or for congregations to subsidize campers, has declined.

While our outdoor ministries may not see the enrollment numbers return to their heyday of a few generations ago, I know that I am eager to have my own children participate in summer camp at Onomia, and to see my congregation renew a relationship with this camp. Indeed, in talking with a few parents at my church, I know there is interest in this kind of ministry. There is incredible value in a fun, faith-filled experience of camp that is not skill-based or achievement-oriented, but focused on fostering a unique experience of Christian community and encounter with God.

Years ago my congregation sent youth to Confirmation Camp and other programs at Onomia, and I can see a new partnership with Onomia as a “back to the future” kind of thing … returning again to an experience that once nurtured the faith of our youth and church.

But this is not just “doing again” something we’ve tried before. Times have changed. More than even a generation ago, we live in an era when the formative experience of regular Sunday morning church is diluted by the many family, work, educational, and recreational experiences and responsibilities that demand the attention of our church members. In recent decades the definition of “regular attendance” at church has changed – from three times per month to once per month. Thus, the opportunity to establish strong church-based relationships and nurture faith through special experiences is one that all congregations should seize.

Many thanks to Camp Onomia Executive Director Jim Schmidt for showing me around the camp today. I look forward to more visits to Camp Onomia in the months and years to come … with my family and with my church, to draw closer to God and to each other in a setting that truly inspires awe of God’s creation.