As a life-long Christian and a guy whose professional background and training is in ministry, my life has been one that is deeply rooted in faith. From the moment I get up in the morning, till I hit the hay at night, faith in God and living a life in response to it is the underlying focus of all I strive to do…though I certainly fail miserably at times. Spiritually speaking, faith can be defined as a supernatural gift from God. It involves the ability to believe (with the aid of Divine assistance) and then to constructively transform one’s life according to the will of that Higher Power. Living out one’s faith becomes an act of virtue, that is, a habit of positivity and goodness. Faith is also a gift that one must ask (pray) for and then continue to exercise in order to grow stronger and produce good fruit in one’s life. Generically speaking though, one can simply define faith as believing in something without absolute proof or evidence. But make no mistake; faith is put to the test often. It is at times weakened or even lost. Faith grows slowly, but this is for the best. In taking it’s time to develop, it develops strong, like the branches of a mighty Missouri oak, able to withstand even the most violent of storms!
As a passionate, avid outdoorsman, faith is also at the heart and soul of my many pursuits in the wild. And, I would wager to bet it’s the same for all fellow outdoors men and women, whether one realizes it or not, and whether one is a person of religious/spiritual belief or not. Outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting, photography and many others are often tremendous exercises in the virtue of faith…as well as that of hope! Let me give you some examples.
After a deer hunter has put in hours of diligent scouting, carefully positioned tree stands, has strategically designed the perfect game plan and has exhausted every possible avenue of preparation for a potentially successful hunt, all that’s left on opening morning is faith. One is simply left with the hopeful belief that all the parts of the puzzle will come together, that all the preparation will pay off, that one will indeed create their own luck through intense hard work and almost superhuman attention to detail. In the same way, when a fisherman takes to a new body of water, he or she no doubt will spend a fair amount of time studying the water, taking into account the structure, temperature, clarity, etc. One will carefully choose the right lure, fly, or bait and present it as skillfully as possible. But again, in the end, one is only left with the faith that their assumptions and actions, made by means of their reasoning, education, and skill, will ultimately put some fish in the boat or on the stringer. It’s the same for a nature photographer. When heading out to photograph what is supposed to be a beautiful morning sunrise, one can only have faith that the weather report one diligently studied the evening before will be accurate and that a sudden storm won’t blow in and ruin the morning’s photo shoot.
In all scenarios of outdoor pursuit, exercising an active faith is at the core of what we do. If one did not strongly believe in the possibility for success, one would be a complete fool to ever take to the woods or water in hopes of filling a tag or a stringer. Even in the age of high-tech trail cameras, 24/7 game surveillance, enticing food plots, scent elimination hoopla, delicious attractants and all the rest, one cannot absolutely prove that the monster ten-point buck, who has been in the same place at the same time for days on end, will make an appearance during the hunt. One can only hunt with faith.
Keep in mind though, faith is not necessarily “blind.” As shown in the previous examples, faith and reason certainly complement and build upon each other. The ability to reason can establish tremendous grounds for believing in something, as well as foster a deeper understanding of things there is no absolute, unanimous evidence for. When questioned on the relationship between religion and science, for example, I often reply that the two work beautifully together. Science has, and continues, to validate things such as the authenticity of sacred texts, instances of genuine miracles, and the existence of many places and objects of religious significance. Whatever the case, sacred or secular, faith is in many ways based on knowledge, albeit, perhaps incomplete or improbable. And again, the belief in that knowledge is either derived from a Higher Power, from vast amounts of information that one has accumulated by means of the ability to reason, or for many, a combination of the two.
Have Faith in What You Do!
As members of the outdoor community, we have faith in what we do. We believe that hunting, fishing, and the self-subsistence/self-reliant lifestyle is one that produces good fruit. We believe that involvement in such pursuits can bring about an ongoing, constructive transformation, not just in our own lives, but also in the lives of family, friends, and the world at large. We believe and have faith that our participation in outdoor activities can benefit the health and vitality of the natural world and all of creation, as educated and dedicated outdoors men and women are well aware of the principles of sound conservation, which properly regulated hunting, for example, plays a major role in. Through our experiences, we come to reason that spending time in the natural world is not just a way to hands-on manage our renewable resources and keep nature in balance, but that those activities also become an unparalleled catalyst for things like filling the freezer with healthy, organic, humanely harvested meat, providing incredible stress relief and peace of mind, the opportunity for personal and spiritual reflection, quality time with loved ones, the development of virtues such as respect and responsibility, becoming a true steward of creation, and a host of other genuinely good dynamics and experiences that no other activities even come close to matching.
For many outdoors men and women, we also base the validity and blessedness of what we do from sacred sources. The Bible, for example, is loaded with imagery of the great outdoors: fishing, hunting, archery, and some of the most beautiful descriptions of wildlife and nature ever written. Sacred Scripture makes it very clear that humankind is the divinely appointed steward of creation, and that we are to sustain and respectfully use (not abuse) our natural resources for our benefit. However, although we hold such notions as truths, we cannot prove them with irrefutable certainty until after the fact. Conservation programs cannot claim victory until all the data has been evaluated. The family bonding potential of a fishing or camping trip will not be realized until the ride home. The relaxation hoped for while going for a long hike in the woods may never come to pass. Nonetheless, we have faith that all such endeavors can and will bear good fruit.
Be a Faithful Example for Others.
For dedicated outdoor advocates, it’s because of a strong faith in the immense value and constructive purpose of our activities of choice that we strive to protect and educate others about the things we hold so dear, and even sacred.
St. Francis once said, “Go out and preach the Gospel to all creation, and when necessary, use words.” Indeed, it is our positive example that is the most effective means of sharing the goodness of the outdoors with others. This especially holds true for hunters, who are coming under more and more attack today from “animal rights” extremists groups. By means of tear-jerking commercials and all manner of bleeding heart propaganda in the media, the uninformed masses of our culture are being swayed to believe that hunters are crazed, camouflage-clad murderers who have a sick fascination with destroying life and pillaging nature like drunken Viking warriors raiding a helpless town of peasants.
Hunting is often portrayed as poaching, which in reality, the two are diametrically opposed to each other. True hunting is about respectfully, humanely harvesting a game animal as a means of attaining organic meat to feed one’s self and one’s family…as well as a catalyst for getting out and enjoying the beauty of nature. Poaching, on the other hand, is a criminal act of destroying wildlife for financial gain or other deplorable motives…with no regard for the wonder and sacredness of creation. Again, many anti-hunting commercials show greedy, bloodthirsty poachers, not hunters, standing over mutilated, illegally killed game animals with big devilish grins and sometimes a fistful of dollars. One should be horrified and outraged at such a sight!
I will sadly be the first to admit though; the stereotypes which summon forth the outrage of often confused, uneducated anti-hunting organizations are grounded in at least some degree of truth. Intelligent people sometimes hold on to very stupid stereotypes, but as with any stereotype, there is always at least a little truth somewhere to be found. In regard to hunting, the truth is that a minority of hunters do show extreme disrespect for the animals they pursue and the land that produced those creatures. There are those who bring the hunting community great disgrace by taking ridiculously unethical shots on animals out of pride or selfishness. More than a few camouflaged rotten apples ignore or cheat against game laws, thus destroying essential information for future resource management efforts. There are those who think nothing of things like trespassing, littering, paying attention to adequate shooting light, proper field care of game and respectfully displaying their harvest for others. I’m sure we all know of at least one or two hunters who have shamefully wasted game meat, have needlessly hacked down enough trees to build a log cabin while in camp or preparing a tree stand, or ripped massive gouges through the terrain with their noisy four-wheelers. The list goes on and on. As always, it’s the wayward, troubled few that bring disgrace to all.
Like an overzealous Sunday morning sermon, we can preach, teach, and make every effort to educate others until we are blue in the face. We can cram the truth of our outdoor beliefs down people’s throats until they choke, with little or no results. But in the end, it’s our faithful, positive example that speaks far, far louder than words in regard to promoting and defending our precious outdoor legacies and educating others about their goodness. However, if we are not genuinely faithful to the ideals and principles that we so passionately promote, if we do not hold ourselves and others accountable for unethical conduct in the woods and waters, then we are truly our greatest enemy. And that is the gospel truth!