Systems

Time to shift your mental thoughts to action. Turn on your reasoning and logic. No grousing, thinking is beneficial for us. Systems are our new topic. A system is a group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole. Consider this definition with me. A system is a group. Things in this group interact. That means there is interrelationships, cooperation. Things in a system relate to one another. They intermingle and work together. There is independence and community in a system. The last statement to make about a system is this. A system is intense. It is complex. The things forming the system are multifaceted. There are many layers in a system. A system is intricate and complicated at the same time.

 

On this earth there are countless systems for us to consider and understand. All of them are complex, and interactive. All are intense.

One of my favorite systems is a hardwood forest. Deciduous forests perfectly fit our system definition. Complexity is everywhere in view and everywhere unseen. The whole of a hardwood forest is intensely complex. It is also intensely beautiful. Yes, we must not forget the beauty of thousands of trees interacting with thousands of other life forms. Beauty is a clue to the answer for this complexity.DSC_0040_1071sig

 We declared  the obvious life forms, the trees. Contemplate the trees found in a hardwood forest. First a list of them: Basswood, Ironwood, Maple, Aspen, Burr Oak, Birch, Red Oak, Ash, and Hackberry are found in the forest of my example. There are other species which grow in other hardwood forests. In the large system of forests found in North America there are 950 species of trees in 81 plant families!

 Complex? Think about the root systems of the trees interlinking in the forest soil. Different species are connected by uncountable roots. More complex is the activity each of these trees must undertake to live during the growing season. Photosynthesis takes the idea of system complexity to staggering. Trees in the forest now are linked to the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, and the sun itself. While we have written documentation of each of these systems and their functions-but the complexity is overwhelming actually. Have you considered how complex the world we live in is?DSC_0053sig

 Trees? They are the big life forms. Our eyes are drawn to them. But, the point of discussion about systems has been made: a forest is a group of interrelated but independent life forms interacting to form a complex whole: a deciduous forest. There is another consideration in wrapping up this dialogue about systems, the OTHER living things found in the hardwood forest. Dwelling with the trees-in systems are birds, migratory and year-round, mammals, insects, other flowering plants much smaller than trees, lichen, fungi, and microbes in the soil. There are reptiles and amphibians too. Yes, my limited mind has missed many other life forms found in the complex system of a hardwood forest. I did mention beauty.DSC_0016_1066sig

The purpose of this flow of information is to cause your thinking to center on the term “system.” To lead you to grapple with the immense complexity of any system in nature. Then to ask the question, “How is such intricate complexity possible?” There is a one-word answer

God

Use your logic, use critical thinking, or do some research. It is possible for a forest system like the one in our example and photos, to organize itself? Is there enough time in eternity that trees could organize to use sunlight, water, minerals from the soil and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make their own food? No grousing now either…think this through. The benefits of a correct answer are eternal. Consider this closing question and answer from Isaiah. Here is the ultimate way to comprehend the complexity of earth systems

Isaiah 40:28

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

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No Tears, No Sickness or Pain, No Death

DSC_0011_543sigI spent 30 minutes in another world today. The world was in my backyard. Since it was in my backyard, this world contained earth residents. Once in this world, my feet never moved. Here my eyes found the Cup Plant ( Silphium perfoliatum) Most were over 10 feet tall with deep green leaves and brilliant yellow composite flowers. They made a world of their own. Their nectar and pollen drew other earth residents too. Just watching and listening, I saw a Two Spotted Bumblebee, a Long-Eared Bee, A large Yellow-jacket Wasp, Syrphid Flies and multiple Painted Lady Butterflies. A small white insect landed on my camera lens. In this miniature prairie planted by my own hands were multiple other life forms I never saw. Most were invertebrate. All were present because the little backyard prairie met their habitat needs. The bees and butterflies were there for food: nectar and pollen.

DSC_0017_544sigThis world was quiet. It was peaceful. Bees shared the same flowers with other bees and the butterflies. There was enough for all. I witnessed the same flowers visited over and over. The nectar continued to flow. There was no fighting, rather a visible harmony existed.

My heart was calmed. Peace settled on my own mind and soul. This happened steps from my backdoor.DSC_0056_548sig

This quiet place reminds me of another real place: heaven. There is peace and harmony there. No sickness or death ever occur in heaven. There will never be mourning, tears or pain. The peace of God is always there.  God’s peace passes understanding. We can spend eternity there-not just 30 minutes. Jesus paid the price of admission.DSC_0070_551sig

One Without the Other

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You can’t have one without the other. This thought began today when my camera strap went around my neck. The air temperature was 68 F. That is important when your subject is invertebrates. Rain had fallen earlier, so insects were moving slowly.

After a few moments of observation, my subjects became the soldier beetle and showy goldenrod.

After taking their photos, my goal was to share them with you. Reading about them soon led me to the idea that, you can’t have one without the other. Without the pollinating work of the soldier beetles, there would be no showy goldenrod. Yet, without the showy goldenrod, there would be no soldier beetles.

Soldier beetles, like most insects, overwinter in the larval stage. Overwinter in some latitudes within beetle range means surviving average daytime temperatures of teens above zero and nighttime temperatures of 5 to -10 degrees F. (a range of -3 C to -22 C) Adult soldier beetles emerge from the pupa stage in later July to begin their life with pollen. Pollen of the goldenrod and other flowers blooming at this stage of summer is their food. If a flower blooms from mid-July till freeze up, it is likely a soldier beetle will visit it for a pollen dinner. Native plants have a symbiotic relationship with this common beetle. Both plant and insect benefit.

Showy goldenrod is beautiful. My favorite yellow is goldenrod yellow. This yellow is appealing to more than only my eyes. Many call this goldenrod the most attractive. This essential native plant grows throughout all of eastern and mid-western United States and in Manitoba and Ontario. It is a beneficial food source for butterflies. But, there is another one without the other showy goldenrod relationship. This is the most important one. It’s about when showy goldenrod blooms.

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It is not chance that brings showy goldenrod into bloom when the soldier beetles hatch from the pupa they were in during early summer. These two natural events occur almost simultaneously with symbiosis the goal.

Yes, there are many more “one without the other” relationships.  A few that may come to mind are:

  1. Loyalty and trust
  2. Experience and wisdom
  3. Success and sacrifice
  4. Happiness and peace of mind
  5. A beginning an end
  6. A healthy environment without predators
  7. Healthy forests or prairies and fire
  8. Flowers and pollinators
  9. Rivers, lakes or oceans and water
  10. Life and death
  11. Forgiveness of sin and Jesus

One without the other relationships are part of all human existence. But, number 11 is the only eternal one without the other relationship. We may ignore our conscious. When we do, we can ignore the fact that we sin. Yet, we fall short of God’s standards for humans every time. Sometimes ignoring our sin is less painful. But ignoring our sin is just a Band aid. Ignoring may cover-it up, but our sin is still there. Jesus came to earth to take away our sin. We cannot have our sin forever removed without Jesus. This is the one without the other relationship that matters for eternity. Everything else is trivia in comparison. One that has power to make the showy goldenrod and soldier beetle emerge at the same time of year has power to forgive your sins. We can’t have one without the other. The most important “one without the other?” It is forgiveness of sins and Jesus.

 “Brothers (and sisters), listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Acts 13:38  

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More Than All

Can you make Stiff Goldenrod Yellow or Blazing Star purple? Maybe. Then, make them bloom, pollinate, seed and produce the next generation. Can you make them drought and fire resistant? Maybe beautiful? Neither can I. There is One who can do “more than all” of these.
 
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be gloryEphesians 3:20-21DSC_0096_491sig

More Than All

Socrates is considered a wise man. Perhaps he is best known for his gifted ability to question everything and everyone. Today we know it as the Socratic method.  The Socratic method of teaching is to ask question after question until students or readers arrive at their own understanding.

The method of Socrates can lead us to truth. Here are the questions:

  1. How much is abundantly more than all?
  2. If all is done what more can be done?
  3. Is there a limit to more than all?
  4. Do you know any human who can actually do abundantly more than all?
  5. Is “more than all” even possible?

Nature provides us with a specific example which can enable us to understand the truth, the answers to these questions. The natural world exists to point us to truth.DSC_0007_462_483sig(Beaded water on Indian-Grass)

Our example is the grasshopper. Specifically, Melanoplus bivittatus, or the Two Striped Grasshopper. The two-striped grasshopper is one species of more than 20,000 species world-wide. The two striped is the grasshopper with, as expected, two yellow stripes which run from their head to mid-wing forming a triangle. The ultimate habitat for the two-striped grasshopper is prairie. The two-striped is a herbivore, a plant eater. It eats flowers and grass. Flowers like Stiff Goldenrod and Monarda, and grasses like Indian grass and Big Bluestem find their way into the stomach of the two-striped. This grasshopper lives in a beautiful world. DSC_0020_464sig(Stiff Goldenrod)

DSC_0023_465sig(Soldier Beetle on  Gray headed coneflower)

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In a prairie, there is always a harmonious balance. The eaters seldom overcome the plants. Plants dominate. But grasshoppers and their kind can and have overpowered everything. The over-abundance of grasshoppers and locusts is common in world history. Consider two. The first occurred in the United States. It is recorded in history as the grasshopper plague of 1874. In July of that year millions of Rocky Mountain locusts flew into the prairies of the Dakotas and all the way to Texas. By 1874 much of what had been prairie had been repurposed to become farmland growing wheat. This plague of locusts destroyed everything-even wooden tool handles!

The second plague occurred much earlier in human history. The setting was ancient Egypt. It is recorded in the Bible in the book of Exodus chapter 10. In this chapter, it is recorded that the locusts covered the entire country of Egypt and “darkened” the land, and after they were done eating, “not a single leaf was left on the trees and plants.”

Now, return with me to the first question: How much is abundantly more than all?

Few of us have ever seen a plague of locusts like that described in these two accounts. We realize that it must have been a natural disaster of the greatest magnitude, yet since we have never seen such a swarm of locusts, we cannot fully understand. But these plagues bring within sight of the truth. While these plagues contained millions of grasshoppers-neither were more than all. We can see the truth standing on the history of these locust accounts. No human could create the vast swarms contained in these plagues. No human could even make 1 grasshopper.DSC_0044_471sig(The Two-striped Grasshopper

God is our More Than All. He is able to do abundantly more than all. There is no limit to God. It is God who does “abundantly more than all.” This brings us to one of the greatest truths the human mind can consider. Since God is able to do abundantly more than all, like creating swarms of locusts and grasshoppers. Can God be abundantly more than all for you? What are your needs? What benefit would there be for you and I to trust ONE who is able to do abundantly more than all?  Does it help to know that this ONE who is able to do abundantly more than all so loves the world? The not so lowly grasshopper is just one evidence of the infinite powers of More Than All.

 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

 

The Magician

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It is a magician but with flowers, stems and roots. It can pollinate itself. But we seldom are excited with pollination, it is out of sight, but it’s still magical. It reaches above earth from ½ to over a meter in height. Not a giant, but perfectly tall enough in a prairie. Its delicate leaves are light and touch sensitive. They enfold at a touch or change in light-yes-magical. Its white flowers are spherical. They resemble something other worldly. In a sense, they are.

Our plant magician is the Illinois BundleFlower (Desmanthus illinoensis). It is also called False sensitive plant. The BundleFlower is significantly better than a magician. Magicians use sleight of hand and illusion to conduct their “magic”.  The Illinois BundleFlower is the real thing.

It is a highly nutritious plant. It is palatable to all classes of livestock, deer and pronghorn antelope. The Eastern Cottontail that lives in our prairie garden likes it also, but not with the cayenne pepper I sprinkle on the leaves. The seeds of BundleFlower are eagerly eaten by birds and rodents. The protein content of BundleFlower seed is 38%, this nearly equals the 40% protein found in soybeans.  In documents published by the USDA, this native plant is considered one of the most important native prairie legumes.

 BundleFlower grows in much of the central to eastern United States. It ranges southward from South Dakota and Minnesota through Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, and eastward to Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas and into Florida.

My guess is-you’ve never seen it before. In more than 6 decades of walking pastures and prairies, my eyes had never seen even one Illinois BundleFlower. In the fall of 2015 my hands touched its seed pods. We gathered them, saved them and propagated them in a greenhouse. The photos you see are of BundleFlower growing in our prairie garden from that seed. Call me a geek, or a bore if you wish. Having Illinois BundleFlower growing in my backyard is a special thrill. We do not see these plants because most of the North American prairie is now at work doing another task: producing food for America.DSC_0010_417sig

It is also most likely that as you have now read this far the skeptic in you has been saying, magician? This is no biggie, it’s just a plant! Been waiting for you to say that. It’s time for just little science. We know that oxygen comes from the air we breathe. Many of us know that the earth’s atmosphere contains more than oxygen. Gasses in the blend we breathe are:

Nitrogen – 78 percent.

Oxygen – 21 percent.

Argon – 0.93 percent.

Carbon dioxide – 0.038 percent.

Remember a few sentences ago we said BundleFlower is one of the most important native prairie legumes? Being a legume means the BundleFlower during the process of photosynthesis can transfer nitrogen from the air into plant ready fertilizer-in the soil. Explained another way: BundleFlower can transfer the nitrogen in the air into the soil. It becomes fertilizer plants can use-and it is all natural.

My current guess is you are thinking, “is that all you’ve got?” Stop, consider what was said. BundleFlower can change a gas in the air to a solid fertilizer in the soil that all plants benefit from. It’s actually a miracle, not magic.

We live in an amazing world. There are always new things to discover. There are always surprises to delight us. The Illinois BundleFlower is a special delight. What discoveries could you make by stepping out your door? What things in nature could fill you with delight? They are out there, go outside.

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Never Withers, Never Fades, Stands Forever

DSC_0137_345sigGrass, we mow it. We fertilize it. We spread insecticide on it to prevent “bugs” from eating it and turning it from emerald-green to dead brown. Homeowners take pride in a lawn that is the same green as the area’s golf course. Thousands, no millions of dollars are spent on the things that make our lawns the perfect green. Americans spend 70 hours or more mowing the lawn each year. Another way to look at it, in 2014 Americans spent over 39 million hours on lawn work! In contrast, the average American spent a little more than 7 minutes on homework and research and equally dismal just 7 minutes daily in volunteer work.

My behavior, like my neighbor’s, contributes to these statistics. Mowing takes me nearly 2.5 hours each week, and as this piece is being written the sprinkler is watering the grass-so it grows more-to mow more.

It seems that we’ve lost our minds. Repeated trips back and forth on the grass around our house just to keep it all the same height, maybe even add alternating decorative stripes. What else could we do with our time, or money?

Two thoughts come to the front. The first is a temporary fix, mow less lawn, and plant native grasses and flowers on the rest of what used to be lawn. Really. Resist, stop all the mowing. There are an estimated 40 million acres of cultivated lawns in the United States. This number is four times the number of acres in the agricultural production of corn. Consider one strong reason to mow less. We have become alarmed at the rapid decline of the monarch butterfly due to habitat loss. Consider what may happen if 1/3 of our lawns became Monarch habitat.

The second thought is a permanent-forever solution. Even if you decide to continue the practice of maintaining a green lawn all around the house, this solution is one to consider. This afternoon on a walk with my wife my, thoughts about grass turned to a passage of scripture from the Bible. It refers to grass. Isaiah wrote, “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8 We know what happens to grass that is not watered or given fertilizer. The withering and slow color change to brown is made even more rapid but a hot dry wind. Grass fanatics, like me, fret at best and worry shamelessly if rain does not fall or the sprinkler system fails.

What does Isaiah tell us stands forever? Grass? The object so many of us sweat and agonize to maintain a uniform beautiful green color all summer? Not grass but the Word of God. We slave to keep a lawn green for a summer. But, God’s Word is forever. It is ceaselessly eternal. A why question fits here. Why is God’s Word forever? Because God is without beginning or end. He has always been, is now and will be forever in the future. We do not have to strive or sweat and it is free to be read by everyone.

We have fixed our eyes on an earthly object, grass. Today, green grass and all the related lawn care that goes with it reminded me there is something far more significant than a growing season of green grass. It is the Word of God. Turn off the mower, pick up a copy of the Bible. If you have not read it before, begin with the Gospel of John. Read the words of the true living eternal God. He has a message of love and forgiveness for you.

These thoughts bring me to ask two final questions:

  1. What if instead of focusing our attention on grass that withers and fades we spent more time on something that stands forever?
  2. How would our lives be different if reading the Bible became a part of our everyday routine?

 

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Native grasses are among my favorite plants. Where I live the native grasses are currently in flower. While they are always beautiful, this time of first bloom is especially glorious.

The featured image of this blog is Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) while the other two photos are of Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii).