Bruce Barkhauer, Brad Lyons to discuss stewardship in national parks

Barkhauer and Lyons

James Buckser
Staff writer

Brad Lyons and Bruce Barkhauer decided to work on a book together over a glass of bourbon on Barkhauer’s back porch.

“We were sitting on his back patio one night and the topic of national parks came up,” Lyons said. “We both recognized that we had a keen interest in national parks that was more than just tourism. We both recognized that there was a spiritual and religious element to it for both of us that we thought seemed kind of like a unique idea.”

Through that partnership, Barkhauer and Lyons have published two books on national parks and monuments, America’s Holy Ground and America’s Sacred Sites.

“Brad and I did these books together out of a common love for the national parks and our desire that these legacies be preserved,” Barkhauer said, “and our acknowledgment that the visit to the park gives one an opportunity to reflect at several levels about what happens when we have a natural encounter.”

Barkhauer and Lyons will appear together at Chautauqua at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, as a part of Week Seven of the Interfaith Lecture Series, with its theme “Nature as Sacred Space.”

Barkhauer serves as the minister for faith and giving for the Christian Church Disciples of Christ in the United States and Canada, where his role is to “serve the entire church in the area of stewardship and generosity,” he said, aiming to “create a culture of generosity across the life of the church.”

“We teach stewardship as spiritual discipline and the full and broad biblical understanding of stewardship, which is more than money,” Barkhauer said.
“It’s about care for creation, it’s about care for the gospel, it’s about care for self and the observing of Sabbath, and it is, of course, about the care and proper management of our material resources.”

Lyons is the president and publisher of Chalice Press, a Christian publishing organization focusing on progressive Christian topics like anti-racism and LGBTQ+ inclusion. Lyons has a background in print journalism and faith work.

“I came to Chalice Press about 12 years ago,” Lyons said. “It was a perfect combination of my publishing background and the faith community that I had been working with for more than a decade at that point.”

Barkhauer said he and Lyons will be speaking on the “intersection of spirituality and the national parks.” He said that many people have a “theophany of sorts” within the national parks.

“They encounter the divine in some way, are moved by that experience,” Barkhauer said. “Sometimes it is so significant as to change a little bit — or a lot — the trajectory of their life or their interaction with the creation as a whole.”

Barkhauer said rather than talking simply about “the awe of God and nature,” he and Lyons will be asking spiritual questions about stewardship, which Barkhauer feels “calls to mind preservation and protection.”

“The issue, though, is that when it comes to the national parks, that’s a mixed bag,” Barkhauer said.

Initially, Barkhauer said, preservation of the national parks included keeping things as settlers found them while venturing west, “which included keeping the First Nations peoples on the land.”

“Unfortunately, the view that worked its way to the top and dominance in preservation was to scrub the land of human content, if you will, human interaction,” Barkhauer said. “We went so far as to take predators out and other things to try and hold on to a mythical preservation of a land that never really existed.”

“Because we have gotten it wrong,” Barkhauer said the discussion will also include thoughts on the spiritual aspect of repentance, rethinking preservation and thinking about “restoration and reclamation” as well as “reconciliation with the folks that we have harmed in this process.”

“We’re kind of taking that tack that there’s spiritual work to do with our encounter in the parks,” he said. “It’s very American to think about me and my experience, but we also have this collective responsibility to together work for this preservation of legacy.”

Lyons said he hopes attendees think about how national parks fit into their own faiths.

“They’ll have an appreciation for what it is when they go to a national park,” Lyons said, “how they might prepare, or think differently once they’re there. Eventually, I’m hoping that if folks go to national parks they will be thinking about the different ways that that can fit into their faith life.”

Barkhauer said he and Lyons are “excited and delighted and scared to death” to speak at the Institution.

“It’s very humbling to be invited to be in this company,” Barkhauer said. “We hope that we will not disappoint.”


The author James Buckser

James Buckser is a rising junior at Boston University studying journalism. At BU he works with The Daily Free Press and WTBU News, among other campus publications. He is very excited to be reporting on the Interfaith Lecture Series during his first season at Chautauqua, and for the opportunity to interview a wide array of interesting voices. While currently residing in New England, James grew up in Upstate New York, and is looking forward to returning. Outside of reporting, James enjoys going on poorly-planned runs and playing the guitar badly.