Shards and Fragments celebrates some of my favorite authors and artists, introduces my own work in writing and photography, and tells the story behind my work. Archeologists sift through the ruins of ancient cultures. They gather shards and fragments (often broken pottery and partial manuscripts), trying to piece together the story of that place and people. I rummage for shards of broken beauty God has preserved in creation, people, and writings. I don’t have the whole vessel, just pieces. At first, the pieces don’t seem significant. But each shard is collected anyway, and placed with others in hope that a picture emerges. As a writer and photographer, I practice personal and social archeology, unearthing what has been overlooked or undervalued in our lives, and in the stories handed down to us.
My writings about shards and fragments are themselves shards and fragments. They are partial accounts from one person’s experience and reading, not the last word. I hope my musings can contribute to a larger collection of shards that, together, form a pattern that reveals God’s beauty—the beauty behind the beauty we see with our eyes.
I love reading and writing about seeing and taking notice. I attempt to see what and who is around me, what is in me, and where and who I came from. It is so easy to miss it all, to live distracted and disconnected from what matters. Seeing—unearthing shards and fragments—involves noticing grand and seemingly immovable things like mountains. It is also taking note of small and fading flowers, quiet people, and subtle emotions. I’ve always perceived the beauty of God’s creation when it is big and bold—Yosemite Valley, or the giant Sequoias. Now I am learning to see beauty in less obvious things. Birds, lemons, tomato plants, young people, and aging people radiate glory. Even the fertile mud puddle by the cornfield where I run radiates glory. John Calvin referred to creation as “a theater of God’s glory,” where his generosity and love of diversity are broadcast. Within creation are foretastes of what the Hebrew prophets called “shalom.” Shalom is a complex peace where people, nature, and God are in harmonious connection. When I go out with my camera, I am in search of “glory sightings.” I want my photography and writing to “evoke shalom.”
I refer to shards of “broken beauty” because the beauty is partial, often damaged, and sometimes mixed with ugliness. Yosemite National Park is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I am ecstatic every time I go. Yet, the beauty is broken. There are cascading waterfalls and carved granite monoliths accompanied by rapidly dying trees, traffic congestion, trash dumpsters, and the odor of sewage. I bring my broken, consumerist self, which adds to the mess. When I am impatient and controlling with my wife, I undercut the beauty. Broken as it is, it is still beauty! And the shards are wonderful to behold. Nature has sunshine and hurricanes. People are kind and cruel. Stories have truth mixed with unfounded, and sometimes bigoted opinions. Even the best writings are not the whole truth about everything. My own story is based on memories that are incomplete and biased. But the broken shards are still beautiful. The brokenness is part of the beauty—like a person who has been scarred by suffering and at the same time polished like a stone.
Recovering my own story is like gathering shards and fragments. It comes back to me in small pieces that at first seem unimportant. My parents’ greenhouse became a metaphor for the countless ways they exposed me to beauty. Memories of failures in pastoral work are shards I didn’t initially want to unearth because they trigger shame. In all this I am also seeing the beauty of God himself, the beauty of being passionately pursued by him. He always has, and always will be faithful to me. I see he has carried me, as Isaiah says, from birth, and will carry me on to old age. As God pursues me, I am tempted to flee the vulnerabilities of this intimacy, seeking refuge in my accomplishments. I sometimes flinch at his extended hand. I brace myself for disappointment. But God keeps coming, moving toward me, interrupting my schemes and demolishing my self-glory projects. He opens my eyes to the many ways he has been present. He offers transformation in the brokenness, for I am, like my writing, a shard. I am broken. I have sharp, defensive edges.
Modern life tends to sever our connection with God’s glory. Technology can distract us from prayerful reflection, unhurried community and compassionate care for people made in his image, and refreshing time in creation. I hope that Shards & Fragments helps you see more— to do some personal archeology, so you can enter more fully into the broken beauty of your own story, the stories of others, and the broken beauty of creation. I hope you will see the Bible as a story of beauty—beauty given, seized as a possession, plagiarized, counterfeited, defaced and ultimately restored in Shalom.
My Photography Story
I bought my first real camera in 1972, a 35mm Konica Auto S2, black and silver with its knobs, dials, and leather case. From our home in Northern California, I went with my Dad on numerous trips to the mountains and coast, learning how to shoot with Ektachrome 64 slide film, with its vivid blues. We rushed the exposed film off in bright yellow mailers to the Kodak lab to have it processed, eagerly anticipating the chance to view the slides projected on a large screen. I loved the images of Yosemite Valley granite most of all.
My love for landscape photography is rooted in my love for the National Parks of the American West. I am thrilled to be in the middle of a stunning display of beauty and wonder, as light is cast in countless ways on mountains, canyons, rivers, and trees. In 2011, I was in alone in Arches National Park before the sun came up. Soon golden light was bathing the sandstone, and I was making pictures like the kid I was back in California. I always feel a sense of awe and connection in these magnificent parks. That’s what I try to convey in my photography. It’s wonderful that a camera can sometimes capture that mood.
I believe there is a beauty beyond the beauty, that “nature” is better described as Creation, the artistic work of a God who is generous and beautiful. Years after that initial feeling of awe, I heard Creation referred to as “the theater of God’s glory.” If you look closely and patiently, beauty is everywhere to see. You don’t have to go to a National Park. I live in Columbus Ohio now, and I see glory all the time–even in a mud puddle next to a cornfield.
I shoot with a Fujifilm X-E3, and process in Adobe Lightroom. Ten years ago I went from a hobbyist to part-time professional. I have learned through lots of reading and practice. Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography series got me started. I love the non-technical, “here is how you do this” approach. I admire the work of Ansel Adams, and lately have been learning a lot from Bruce Barnbaum’s The Art of Photography. I have sold my work in many Central Ohio art shows and won a few prizes along the way.
My photographs help you see, so the beauty beyond the beauty moves you.