304: In tough times, National Geographic opens an inspiring window on our world

n Wednesday, as the stock market plunged below 8,000, the auto industry seemed headed toward bankruptcy—and print media, which depends heavily on auto advertising, might be tumbling after it in coming months—a longtime friend in journalism Emailed me:
    “How are you doing? See any hope?”
    Just those two questions. I know he was feeling mighty low.

    A pastor called my office. This pastor is an eloquent wordsmith whose deep faith fuels sermons with real wisdom, yet the question that I heard over the telephone line was this: “You know, on Sunday, I’m preaching about stewardship.” And there was a long pause. “What do I say?”
    “How many in your congregation are connected to the auto industry?” I asked.
    “Oh, just about everyone.”

    A librarian sent me a note:
    “I like the kinds of books you recommend and I feel at a loss right now when people come into the library, asking what to read. … What books do you recommend for people at a time like this?”

    Well, the obvious spiritual answer is: Turn to scriptures, whatever your scripture may be.
    But you know that already, don’t you?
    A less obvious answer is: Turn to books and films that remind us of the beauty and the vast mystery of the world—God’s Creation, most of us believe. And I can’t think of a better new book than National Geographic’s “Odysseys and Photographs,” which we recommended on Monday among “10 Books to Watch.”
    This volume is a collection of terrific photographs from four of National Geographic’s greatest staff photographers. Jump back to Monday’s mini-review to learn more about what first caught my eye in this volume—a photograph by legendary photographer Maynard Owen Williams (1919-1953).

    Here’s what the book says about him, a summation of his vocation that I think, without too much of a mental and spiritual stretch, we can envision as a hopeful window into God’s world, even in troubled times:
    “What was the legacy of Maynard Owen Williams? He was one of a small core of people who literally invented the personality of the National Geographic … daring, curious, open-minded, committed to increasing world understanding. Generations … followed Maynard. Inspired by his work, his outlook, and his lifestyle, they devoted themselves to the conservation of nature and culture, to doing great work …
    “Maynard left a photographic legacy, too. He was … a person without prejudices regarding people or photographic technique, a man who had a sense of humor and a great affection for his subjects. Maynard could photograph the sweeping vista and the urban street … Best of all, he achieved an intimacy with his subjects. They trusted him. We are left with pictures that are a joy to look at and serve as a record of times gone by, of places changed forever, and of locales that no longer exist.”

    In short, he was a man who lived through a turbulent period when the world was changing all around him, yet his vocation was to serve as a hopeful window into the world’s grandeur and diversity.

    The photographs with today’s story are all from the four photographers featured in this new National Geographic book. The next image, taken by Maynard in Paris in 1946, was his tribute to a city at the heart of World War II that still was capable of rising from the debris.
    Enjoy these few photographs.
    Think about the text above.
    And take heart.




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