May 1, 2018 Look with Wonder to the Stars
I look up at your heavens, made by your fingers, at the moon and stars you set in place. (Psalm 8:3)
Many would like to gaze at a star-filled sky, but are blinded at night by the modern cloud of light pollution; they see only a faint vision of what others even primitive peoples called "The Milky Way." As urbanization rapidly progresses those able to look up in wonder at bright stars grow fewer; pollution-free skies are unavailable to them without traveling long distances.
Youthful wonder may still occur when peering into a telescope and viewing space measured in hundreds of light years -- distance light travels in a single year (5,880,000,000,000 miles). The recent $600 million NASA space telescope Kepler probes the mysteries of 100,000 stars for little twinkles of light in our galaxy that show the periodic passage of orbiting planets around stars. Today they are building a mega-instrument, Cerro Chajnantor Atacama Telescope-prime (CCAT-p), capable of mapping the sky at submillimeter and millimeter wavelengths; it is slated for completion by 2021 and be able to give insights into how galaxies form, what lit up "cosmic dawn." Cornell Chronicle 8/10/17.
Many modern telescopes identify more than the North Star or Orion or Venus, and include millions of heavenly bodies that boggle our minds. Furthermore, we marvel at the experience, skills and diligence of ancient observers with far cruder instrumentation; they were able to determine the Solstices, to sight orbiting bodies, and to perform their sea travels guided by the stars. The grandeur and magnitude of creation made them (and us) humbled.
We marvel at the more recent astronomers who figure precisely when a comet will return, the composition of a star or planet, the shape and size of the Milky Way, and the complexities of the cosmos. Astronomers are true pioneers, going far ahead of us in finding God's grandeur and yet at times being ignored by those who do not understand what they are revealing.
Religious practices are often nature-based, depending on information about moon phases, equinoxes, length of the year, and Earth's place in the universe. From the second century A.D. our ancestors in the faith struggled with the dates for Easter and later readjustments of the Julian calendar. Those discussions continue as some argue for fixed dates for celebrating Easter.
On occasion we look down to the microcosm of infinite variety below our feet. Then we look up at the heavens and become aware of our own finitude. Still we ask how can we expend funds on Kepler and other spatial undertakings? Perhaps we need to look beyond our present needs. Yes, an advancing space program is necessary given our questing human spirit and wish to know more about the universe.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to gaze upward in prayerful wonder.
Coiling millipede in rockshelter, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
May 2, 2018 Derby Day Celebration
Derby Day this year is another bow to proud Kentucky tradition from Capital grounds to the Louisville racing site. Since I hate gambling, my world is not too taken up with this Derby tradition -- though I do like to listen to the start with a sense of nostalgia at the playing of "My Old Kentucky Home." When asked once by a wealthy person about having horses at our KY homeplace, I admitted our family had 4 horses, all work -- not race -- horses.
What is Derby Day and why celebrate it? This is in part a continuation of Old England in America and has much to do with nobility, music and fancy dress. In some ways Kentucky wanted to continue the privileges of the past, with black folks serving mint juleps to white folks, who were the upper crust -- at least that is how they thought of themselves. So much for annual displays of charm by certain ethnic groups. My folks were mid-nineteenth century late comers from Europe and excluded from such charm.
For many people today Derby day is a tradition worth celebrating once a year; they place money on one or other quaintly named horse, most of which will quickly recede into distant memory for all but the most confirmed racing enthusiast. Fun, mint juleps, cheers and hopes the winner will move on to a Triple Crown. Derby Day takes our minds momentarily off pressing problems at home or abroad. Granted, some few make a living buying, selling, training and grooming horses for these once-in-a-while four-minute events. The billion dollar horse business stretches back to pioneer days; they raced thoroughbreds down Lexington village's muddy streets in early 1800s. Then, as Revolutionary War memories receded, horse folks fancied themselves heirs to English nobility.
What has amazed some are the immense prices paid throughout American history for good racing horses -- in the thousands of dollars in the 1850s. The white-fenced horse farms that ring Lexington today disappear one by one as gradually spreading suburbs replace the bluegrass turf. I guess I should be more upset about this "destruction" of valuable farmland, except that the very fertile land was never used for a useful purpose except to pasture mares, colts, studs, and geldings, though all are likeable in themselves. On second thought, horse farms are greenspace. It is a recreation industry for better or worse and attracts tourists to come and see the Commonwealth that hosted the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games -- and an official candidate for the 2022 event. It makes horse owners nervous if you linger at the roadside, so go to the Kentucky Horse Park if you want to experience horse culture.
Derby Day is tradition and is somewhat harmless. We need to have celebrations as part of life, and these are all the more important in time of crises. Yes, celebrate with gusto for this gives the energy to take on bigger issues next week.
Prayer: Teach us, Lord, to enjoy a free day once in a while so that we can always be of greater service.
A quiet prayer by candle light.
May 3, 2018 2018 National Day of Prayer
We thank You, our God, for the gift of the Church, the gathered community of believers, who are fashioned into Your visible body called to worship You. Assist the community of believers in establishing peace and justice throughout the world. We thank You for the freedom of religion that allows us worshippers to assemble without fear, to express ourselves in prayer and adoration without harassment, and freely to give assistance to those most in need.
We praise You for the guidance You have given us down through the centuries, which has allowed us to show forth Your marvelous deeds to all the nations.
We beg Your pardon for our offenses both as individuals within the Church and for church communities. We ask pardon in a public manner --
* for failing to live up to our individual and collective vocations;
* for being silent about the many injustices in our world and about the waging of unjust conflicts;
* for not speaking up about the need to radically share our plentiful resources with the world's hungry and homeless;
* and for condoning the excessive militarism of our country and the entire world.
We beg You with thankful, praising and contrite hearts --
* to give all in the Church, especially leaders, the grace to spend some time with You each day in private prayer;
* to mold Your church into a glorious unity so as to be a more fitting instrument in a very troubled world;
* to help heal wounds that divide our communities of faith;
* to give us the grace to convert church properties into environmental models for others to imitate;
* to keep us from being court chaplains to the powerful;
* and to help us to give special attention to the poor and the voiceless of our country and world -- the unborn, the young, the elderly, the endangered plants and animals.
We beg You to purge us of any self-righteousness and conceit, to humble us as a united people, and to make us ever more sensitive to the needs of all who yearn for the basic essentials of life. We pray, especially, for our Church leaders: give them the backbone to speak out about internal difficulties and about social problems in our vicinities, country and world. Make them fearless and courageous people in addressing the climate change issues that plague us today.
Prayer: Teach us, Lord, as Church, to open our minds to Your presence and to soften our hearts with Your love. Mold us as Your people into a fitting instrument to do Your work, so that Your People will speak out to all the world about the Good News of Your loving and saving power.
Yellow trout lily, Erythronium americanum, Fayette Co., KY.
May 4, 2018 The Gift of Wildflowers
Wildflowers are God's special gift in spring whether on our roadsides on in distant deserts and mountains. On this website we strive to show their beauty through Janet Powell's many photos since 2007, for floral presentations enhance our ecological sense of well being. In springtime, Janet is quite busy taking photos of the many varieties that she knows or discovers. In our moderate Kentucky climate zone, tree foliage is virtually complete in late April -- thus the window of opportunity for annual spring forest wildflowers is actually shortening. They bloom briefly in all their glory in unhindered sunlight, and then they're gone with the foliage cover. When sunshine blazes hotter, Texas blue bonnets and Indian paintbrushes wither and the wild geranium and the blue flags are soon gone. Fortunately, in temperate rainy East we have spring wildflowers every year, and longer than in hot arid places.
When hiking, consider taking along a wildflower book and learn the native species in forests and pastures. It is amazing how many native species bloom in part of or throughout the growing season. Needless to say, don't pick the wildflowers unless they are the exotic species -- wild chicory, ox-eyed daisies, dandelions, sunflowers, Queen Anne's lace and others that thrive along roadways. Pick an adequate number of these, but leave the natives in place for they often find it hard to compete and survive.
Consider a wildflower patch in your own yard. We tried one using both native and exotic wildflowers at our Rockcastle nature center; for the first year it was a spring and summer explosion of color, but the crabgrass smothered out many of the plants in the second and more so in the third year. We learned that wildflower patches require tending on a yearly basis. Wildflowers do not necessarily come back with the same intensity, if soil conditions are not right. There is a gray area between wild and cultivated flowers, and so hard and fast guidelines are difficult. For instance, cosmos is a favorite in "wildflower" patches on the Interstate and state highway right-of-ways; it is also popular in domestic gardens. The only difficulty with roadside beautification projects is that drivers are distracted by the proliferation of color and it distracts their attention to the road.
Gardeners tell about carefully designed wildflower patches composed of wildflower species of different colors, designed to bloom successively throughout the growing season -- a succession of color on a nature plot. From the early yellow daffodil to the late autumn purple asters, one could observe a changing palette of vegetative artistic delight. One added bit of advice is the autumn seed harvesting at frost time; this proves cost savings, for wildflower seed is expensive. Consider a new wildflower in the garden for these add color and delight to your gardening -- and are good companions to the vegetables, herbs and domestic flowers.
Prayer: Lord, we thank you for the beauty and charm of wildflowers, brief harbingers of eternal glory to come.
A napping lap cat.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
May 5, 2018 Reaffirm Animal Care
I was not always kind to all animals when I was young -- and on occasion I recall such acts of youthful misdeeds. If a bull was fenced in, we might tease it, or scare a dozing cat, or target practice over the head of our pet dog. I've done all of these and yet have lived to regret such acts. Most of us learn kindness quite slowly with time, and strive to teach others so they don't repeat our mistakes. Kindness comes naturally to some and is acquired by the more mean-spirited through painful experience. Here are some ways to learn and practice being kind to animals:
* Give your pet or neighbor's fenced dogs an extra treat;
* Add bird seed to the bird feeder or provide a bird bath;
* Speak gently to the chained or fenced-in dog down the street, and maybe tell an "owner" to be kinder;
* Support legislation and policies to expand wildlife refuges and sanctuaries -- and to protect endangered species;
* Take children on a nature walk to observe wildlife, or to a petting zoo, or read to them about animals while talking with them about the need for kindness to all creatures;
* Reexamine attitudes about personal hunting practices (only hunting if you or others will eat the killed game and in order to control proliferating populations of wildlife);
* Encourage friends and neighbors to be kinder to their pets, and never play videogames that express cruelty to animals;
* Stop patronizing restaurants that get meat from corporate beef, pork or chicken farms;
* Become familiar with wildlife conservation for its needs confrontation defense at this time;
* Have stray animals collected and placed in an animal shelter -- and support that shelter with donations;
* Participate in programs to control the numbers of game or other proliferating species such as geese, turkeys, and deer;
* Support wildlife reintroduction programs in your area;
* Report those who abuse animals in any manner; and
* Regard all wildlife as friends even though some will have to be left alone for their own welfare and tranquility.
Prayer: Lord, we thank you for the order of creation with the wonderful variation of animal life and all its wonder.
Sweet pea, a gardener's favorite.
May 6, 2018 A Special Commandment of Love
This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12)
In the beginning of May and the height of spring we are aware of God's glory, a manifestation in nature of the mercy and love of our Creator. Love is shown in Jesus among us. We read in the Last Supper discourse of Jesus' special addition to the revealed commandments; this call for love by us does not omit or belittle the listing we all know as the "Ten Commandments." It takes an effort to avoid evil and do good, and thus our striving through life. But at the Last Supper something more is added to the great commandments summarized as loving God with all we have and also our neighbor as ourselves. But is not the issue one of not being able to perfectly attain a love like that what Jesus has for us.
That brings us down to the essence of the command to love as Jesus does. We know our weakness, for it is hard to live in this imperfect world and love terrorists reported so often in the mass media; it is hard to love those who deliberately step on our feet or sensitivities; it is even more difficult to love climate deniers or addicts. There are certainly reasons to hold back the act of loving even if we do not permit the word "hate" within our working vocabulary. My special array of dislikes has a way of acting as a barrier to loving the way Jesus does; differences crop up that I do not like whether they be social, economic, political or even physical. We have it hard to create or express love to everyone -- and even to a chosen few. Total love like Jesus has comes only with time and effort. Can we say more?
What then is the secret to increasing this love? We throw ourselves into the mercy of our God -- and discover that all we can give is not our efforts as such but our openness to what God can do with us. God gives us the love in which we are to act and express through deeds done to others. God is the author of all true love, and what we must do is be open so that this love passes through us. But is passive receptivity our only contribution or is there more?
In a world of distractions and allurements we cannot simply do nothing. We must make an effort not to allow these temptations to be entertained and turn us from God. Thus to develop and preserve that sense of utter openness to God requires our part in prayer and willingness not to be led into temptation. This takes our part for that is opening to God; this effort helps constitute the will power to love others in a wholesome and universal manner. The Holy Spirit acts within, but we must cooperate in grace, a grace to discover the way to stay and grow in openness to God. We do not stand alone as spiritual marines; we are not totally passive so God will do it all -- a void. Openness is in part created by us when we avoid distracting allurements that the Evil One directs against us. Openness takes our effort, and then comes love.
Prayer: Help us Lord, to love as You love, and to enter willingly into a spiritual atmosphere where You work in us.
Tennessee warbler, Leiothlypis peregrina, seasonal rainforest migrant.
May 7, 2018 Help Preserve Rainforests: The Planet's Lungs
A forested green belt stretches around the world from South and Central America across the Atlantic to Africa and on to Asia and Indonesia and New Guinea. This is a forest that has been millions of years in the making, acts as a pair of lungs for our planet, is nurtured by large amounts of rain and warm weather, and is home for a sizeable portion of the world's planets and animals. Often environmentally-minded people stress the many pharmaceutical drugs and other useful products such as rubber, chicle, bananas, coffee and coconuts that originate in and continue to be produced in rainforest areas. These forests help absorb water like a sponge, cool the landscape, and enhance precipitation.
On the other hand, overharvesting and the burning of these forests for plantation crops have proliferated in the past few decades increasing global warming in burning the vegetation. Furthermore, resulting deforestation leads to changing rainfall patterns that can affect the surrounding and broader global environment. The threats to these very valuable forested regions of many and varied species of plants and animals are from several sources. Some of the damage is due to heavier harvesting of materials by native populations and outside interests for such products as palm oil.
But before we absolve ourselves as distant observers, let's remember that serious threats are due to influences by our American consumer culture. For instance, wood from the rainforests is highly prized for its use in furnishings and building materials in the West, and this drives timbering outfits to penetrate and damage the rainforests at a shocking rate. Much of this damage could be repaired, but not without a long healing period. Another threat that is also consumer driven, is the cheaper beef from cattle raised on lands that were formerly rainforests. Increased beef exports from Brazil and other Latin countries go to make the relatively cheap burgers we consume in fast food outlets. Some of these exporting lands have inhabitants who are protein deficient.
Several decades ago Norman Myers wrote The Primary Source: Tropical Forests and Our Future with a forward by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The book asked us to see the immense and often unknown value of tropical forests, and to save them from utter destruction. Myers estimated that this ultimate destruction could occur within a century at present rates of impact. Only recently has the destructive pace slackened. Let's avail ourselves of chances to support groups who undertake rainforest projects and who sell non-exploitative forest products such as shade-grown coffee; they direct sales to socially just and environmentally sound native programs. Look for the Rainforest Alliance Certifiedtm Seal.
Prayer: God, Creator of all things, help us extend the deepest respect for the gift of the fragile rainforests.
Cichorium intybus, edible naturalized plant.
May 8, 2018 Review Democracy 101
Those of us old enough to remember that first V-E Day (Victory in Europe) on May 8th 1945 regarded this as a triumph for democracy over Nazism. However, the fruits of struggle do not endure forever but need replenishing. Today new crises including those of our current Administration can threaten democracy in more subtle ways: exploitation of the poor, lack of freedom of expression, terrorism in many forms, unequal distribution of wealth, suppression of valid regulations, ignoring the global climate change crisis, and lack of food and health care. A refresher course in democracy is in order:
* Every citizen has a right to life and liberty, not just a selected few, and these rights extend to food, health care accessibility, proper education and freedom of religious expression;
* Democracy is when all adult citizens have the opportunity to vote and are able to elect honest people to public office. They should not have to face such hurdles as unreasonable identity requirements or limited voting times or places;
* Democracy is making food and food-producing land available for those who are hungry and need a local supply source and ready markets for products;
* Democracy is giving citizen-workers the right to organize, and unemployed citizens the right to a livelihood with the obligation of finding work as part of a proper government's function as employer of last resort;
* Democracy means that greed is a vice, not a virtue, and that the excesses of the capitalistic system be recognized and adequately controlled;
* Democracy does not recognize the nobility of the privileged rich, for all citizens are answerable through taxes for furnishing the resources to be reapportioned among those in need;
* Democracy does not recognize corporations as "persons" with certain rights; rather, as intended in the founding of this American democracy, corporations are creatures of the state, subject to its laws and regulations, and capable of being abolished if they do not live according to just demands;
* Democracy proclaims the right of all to earn a living, and the state must guarantee that right for its citizens;
* Democracy exposes and works to eliminate tax havens in postage stamp islands and principalities where the super-rich get away with no taxes, but rather creates international mechanisms to discover who sequesters wealth within these tax havens;
* Democracy encourages the surrender of sovereignty for the sake of the larger numbers of people in such issues as global environment and fair trade among nations, as well as mutual defense in sensitive areas of the world; and
* Democracy demands eternal vigilance and ongoing questioning as to whether modern practices restrict or enhance the rights of people including minorities, the unborn, migrants and the elderly.
Prayer: Lord, give us courage to act the way we must so that our democracy will continue to flourish.
Spring flower of chives in the Kentucky garden.
May 9, 2018 Support Green Building Programs
During the Second World War Winston Churchill heard his staff complaining about the crowded conditions of his prime minister's offices. Several workers were jammed into each room. He insisted that much more work was achieved when the people were more crowded together. That may be true to a degree. One does not need spaciousness to achieve better quality work but it could help. In fact, the opposite may prove true depending on the type of collaborative work. As for spaciousness, worshiping communities mention how they prayed better when in a smaller space and closer together. Yes, moving to a larger house means more cleaning, maintenance, heating and cooling.
According to the National Association of Home Builders the average new single family dwelling was 1,570 square feet in 1980 and increased to 2,235 square feet a quarter of a century later.
Architects are often like car salesmen; they want to get your business except that the appeal is through complex design that often includes the size of the finished product itself. If the building has more accessories when it is being built, there's profit, for they may or may not be added later. Costs will be higher and the tempting contract a little larger. Why not sell a larger green building to the prospective client in order to have more "green"? They persuade buyers that space is needed for specific activities (sewing, mud, play, music, or guest room).
The client is ushered ever so deftly into the arena of needs and wants -- and finds it easier once the elementary structure is detailed to expand. One must have a larger office for this, a place to change clothes, a guest room, a reading room, an additional shower here or there. There must be larger rooms for the children (who will soon be gone), larger basements, garages and on and on. In the past half century America has doubled its spacial demands in every part of life -- education, worship, commerce, work, and domestic living. Do we need so much space?
"Greenness" or ecological consciousness in buildings includes good insulation, building materials with no harmful outgassing, use of native local building materials where possible, fire-proofing, renewable energy alternatives, absence of asbestos and toxic materials, proper exterior shading, water conservation measures, and devices to turn off lights or modify heating according to need. However, greenness is more critically related to the size of the building. But is more space necessary? Each size reduction saves building, heating, cooling and maintenance resources. Once I asked a minister whose church had an enormous parking space, "Why so much?" The unexpected reply was, "It gives an air of prosperity to the parish." He admitted it was seldom completely filled and on such occasions other parking could be used. Whether interior or exterior, true "green" certainly includes space-consciousness.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to know what is needed, to find ways of avoiding what is unneeded, and to donate the rest to the needy.
A meandering Kentucky stream.
May 10, 2018 Protect Streams and Channels
A gurgling mountain stream is a vital part of nature's ongoing concert. I could rest and listen to the soothing sounds for hours, if other pressing business did not call. Riverlets of water hit rocks, diverge and converge with a song that defies written description. Those free-flowing channels are some of wild nature's most beautiful assets -- and call for my appreciation. They are more than musical sources; they are waters again becoming potable; they are habitats for fish and wildlife; they provide clean water to the rivers and lakes that grace our world.
Keeping streams healthy is part of earthhealing. Different states have regulations relating to stabilizing streambed banks, removing logs and debris from streambeds, digging out stumps and roots, rechanneling streams, and harvesting timber near streams. We know that new channels will form naturally, especially at times of flooding, but we ought to protect streams and their banks from major damage. We also realize how reasonable these regulations are, when remembering that streamside trees hold banks in place, cool the stream, and provide habitat for wildlife.
Even more waterway particulars are worth considering. Some people target streambeds as sources of flat rock and gravel for building purposes. Much depends on how much is desired and whether state laws prohibit such practices. When streambanks erode, one should contact state conservation officials before beginning a remedial measure; actions taken may be based on good intentions, but may only lead to further and even more serious erosion. Removing a gravel bar may seem the reasonable thing to do to save the other side of the stream; but stream flow may be slowed down by the bar and the removal will exacerbate erosion.
Often human activities damage streambeds that may now need restoration. Logging or mining operations or development projects upstream may lead to brush and silt accumulation; increased paving upstream may increase water flow and downstream streambank erosion; tree falls may lead to channel change. Expert advice will always help before taking measures into one's hands. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation lists seven ways to prevent streambank erosion: 1) keep vehicles and equipment out of streams whenever possible; 2) keep trees and plants along streambanks; 3) remove fallen logs and other woody debris from the stream channel by winching or dragging as soon as possible; 4) provide a water source such as a pond or tank for livestock away from a stream, or provide controlled access to the stream at a stable location; 5) allow your stream to establish a natural path and slope whenever possible; 6) use anchoring trees, rootwads, large rocks, plants and other natural materials to repair eroding banks; and 7) conduct ongoing maintenance to keep small problems from becoming big ones.
Prayer: Lord, help us experience living water with all its rich symbolism of spiritual life.
Butterflies become more common as spring progresses in Kentucky.
May 11, 2018 Changing from American to Global Measuring Systems
We Americans are slow to measure things like the rest of the world and there is some hypocrisy in this reflection. I still think in pounds, acres, miles and quarts. We preserve quaint English expressions that designate measurement: what about a brace of wildlife (hunted as game)? Every February my family gets together to make homemade Alsatian sausage and we use "hog casings" (intestines) and find they are sold by the hank, which is an old English measurement for yarn. Strange words and yet our language and culture have many strange types of measurements, some retired after centuries and some still in use by more traditional Americans -- hands for horse traders, jewels for gem folks, sticks and rails for tobacco harvesters, and pecks and bushels for fruit- and grain- growers. We prefer to be monolingual, but should that extend to our measuring system? We differ from most other countries in that we have a dual system, one that we would like to abandon (the English measuring systems), and the metric system, used by most and the international scientific and commercial communities.
Americans grew up using pints, quarts, and gallons for liquid volume; ounces, pounds, and tons for weight; and inches, feet, yards, and miles for linear distance. This is not the same as the liters, grams, and meters of other lands -- but the units are convertible though not in easily remembered whole numbers. In fact, there was some common sense to the English system even though it was quite complex and involved perhaps up to 150 different sub-systems. A pound is about a pint of water and there are two per quart and eight per gallon. Even for certain nuts there was a special system of measurement, and the origins are interesting.
The ounce would be one 1/12 of a pound troy (5,760 grains) or 1/16 of a pound avoirdupois (7,000 grains). Confusing? But a "grain" is only 0.0648 grams. Troy weight was used from medieval times as a measure of gold, silver and precious stones. What becomes evident is that in medieval times measurements were often based on the substance, not on some standardized system for all substances.
One critic wondered why our public interest center did not spend more time stressing the conversion to the metric system. That criticism had some merit, but was not our reason for public interest science. Personally, I like the American system because I had a sense of the pound, the length of the miles and the area (from a small field on our farm) of an acre (the metric folks use hectare). Temperatures are now being given in both Fahrenheit (American) and Centigrade (global) and we are adjusting painfully. Through scientific measurements we soon learn to estimate a gram or a meter. Americans are slowly changing to the entire metric system with volumes measured in liters today. However, we still use an "eight penny" nail. Interstate distances have mile markers even though an occasional sign helps us to think kilometers. Slowly!
Prayer: Lord, teach us that conversion is always needed so we can communicate with and serve others better.
Aquilegia canadensis, native Kentucky columbine.
May 12, 2018 Simplify Lawn Care
The grass is growing with these spring showers and warming sun, and that brings out the familiar droning sound of lawn mowers. The old fashioned hand- or human-powered mower is almost a museum piece. As a youngster, I occasionally pushed an antique lawn mower over a half acre of grassy space -- a real job. Even our ever-busy mother did that work on occasion. Today, most people prefer to follow or sit upon a gasoline-powered mower and move about their lawn with grace and a desire to soak up sunshine rays and suck in fresh air. In past reflections (see May 27, 2017), I listed eight reasons for reducing the size of lawns, among which are the bother of the loud, polluting gasoline-powered lawn mower.
Gasoline-powered lawn mowers may include benefits: one can mow and do so more easily than with the hand-pushed varieties; the smell of new-mown lawns is a pleasant experience for a period after the weekly or biweekly ritual; youngsters find mowing a way of making money from senior, busy, or disabled neighbors. But the last two are also available to the push mower people along with some physical exercise of which most of us could use more. In a more modified manner the power mowers are improving. Surviving USEPA regulations, which have been threatened after proven efficiency, have reduced hydrocarbon emissions by one-third nationwide through mower replacements. California with its strict garden tool regulations has a 50% improvement.
Amid everything, the power-mower disadvantages are obvious: neighborhood noise is a problem even with community regulations limiting lawn care by power devices to specific days and times; one hundred million mowers take petroleum fuel, which we need to reduce and avoid; power mowers (along with leaf blowers and weed eaters), even the more efficient varieties, still pollute the air and contribute about one-twentieth of the pollution of an average urban area. Furthermore, power mowers are costly, require added time for maintenance (tune ups), take up storage space, and involve spilled gasoline in refueling operations.
An electric alternative to gasoline-powered mowers comes in cordless and rechargeable varieties, requires low maintenance and emits no fuel fumes. However even efficient electric mowers often (though not necessarily) take non-renewable fuel to generate and transport electricity -- and so air pollution occurs though at a distance from the particular lawn. In this age of increased environmental awareness preference is for a reduced or eliminated lawn. Certainly the better engineered human-powered lawn mower, which is easier to maneuver and stays sharper is one alternative. If the lawn were wildscape or converted vegetable garden, you could ditch lawn mowers, powered or otherwise, and convert the monotonous manicured lawn to an alternative landscape, even an ornamental low-growing native ground cover that avoids constant clipping.
Prayer: Lord, direct our hearts and minds to simpler things even when it comes to our individual lawns and landscapes.
Rainbow against the evening sky.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
May 13, 2018 Ascension: Why look to the Sky?
Why are you standing there looking at the Sky? (Acts 1)
The feast of the Ascension has been transferred from the traditional Thursday forty days after Easter to the following Sunday. Our celebration occurs in the full glory of springtime, when weather cooperates so well and we feel the surging energy of new life. Questions come to mind and we continue to wonder as occurred when I was a youth, "Why did he leave us?" "Couldn't he walk our Earth now as a 2000-year-old?" On second thought, the presence of someone so quaint would invoke fear not faith.
God sees things differently and invites us to grow in spiritual life. Jesus departs but the Spirit comes in a special way. Christ comes among us; he teaches, and he suffers, dies, and rises for us; he blesses us and ascends beyond our sight so that we can carry on the mighty works that he has begun. He reminds us that if he does not ascend the Spirit will not come at Pentecost. We are startled by the mystery of his departure, and doubly puzzled by what it means to be like Jesus while acting through the Holy Spirit. We are more than observers; we become other christs. Jesus goes ahead of us in time; we are invited to follow. This involves entering into the Divine family through Baptism. We help bring Good News to others through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; we help prepare for Christ's Second Coming.
In my more energetic environmental assessment days, I met a California adobe-maker at the Franciscan mission at San Luis Rey at Oceanside; with tears in his eyes he said I was the first visitor who showed a deep interest in the details of his craft. I indicated that his narrative should be videotaped, but I neglected to follow through. In some way his acquired skill was lost with his passing without his expertise having been documented. He was an overlooked "earth healer" who deserved to have his expertise recorded and used in preparation for the Day of the Lord. The Ascension mystery means preparing "A New Heaven and a New Earth."
God does not abandon us; the Spirit is present and assists us when we pray and in the creative acts we perform. Certainly by faith we believe that Christ is sacramentally present. Jesus has ascended and the departure is bittersweet; we hate to see him go, and yet he must so that the Spirit may come and be here. Now we undertake our calling to be empowered by the Spirit to move the Kingdom forward in glory. We experience Pentecost, are energized, take the Good News to others and invite them to join in finishing the tasks yet to be done. Even on the Mount of the Ascension the Apostles asked again whether the Messiah would still come -- as a political leader. Looking up to heaven is not enough; we must be on with the tasks ahead. "Go out to the Whole World and spread the Good News." Ascension is the launching pad.
Prayer: Lord, give us confidence to proclaim that You are with us always, and help us bring Your presence to others.
Wild blue phlox, Phlox divaricata, Rockcastle Co., KY.
May 14, 2018 Is Capitalism Compatible with Good Environmentalism?
The question is becoming ever more frequent since the 2016 election campaign and the Bernie Sanders rise to prominence. Many young people are asking whether Democratic Socialism is more in keeping with ideals with promoting good environmentalism than is traditional Capitalism and its resulting inequality among citizens. To save our threatened Earth takes public acts and involves governmental regulation at all levels and among active citizens. For them privatization programs following the philosophy of unbridled Capitalism of Milton Friedman with resulting billionaires and massive profits is outdated. See Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.
We are plagued by excessive private corporate greed (and some irresponsible public actions as well) resulting in deforestation and air and water pollution, with melting glaciers, extinction of species, and loss of wildlife habitat. One thing is becoming evident is that a determined and alert citizenry cannot trust the corporate tycoons and hedge-fund operators to protect the environment (foxes in chicken houses). Citizens must collaborate.
For decades I preferred to focus on positive rebuilding of a wounded Earth rather than on shocking narratives of a planet going to its ruin. Certainly a steady diet of negativism can lead to paralysis, utter distress or denial of the issue and an abandonment of citizen action. Positive approaches can also be ignored; the best strategy is to balance and give equal weight to the two approaches: try to shock AND still encourage people to reclaim.
Positive financial and ecological solutions are at time sparse and difficult to elaborate, because it will take a concerted effort to actualize them. When these solutions allow for capitalistic influence and power then most certainly greed takes hold and public interest suffers. Unregulated individual profit is a misguided motivation. To own your own house or private business is one thing; to control a large productive operation or company farm is another. The Social Democratic route does call for limits on wealth (even Ben Franklin wanted such safeguards to be in the Constitution). Positive alternatives (our books, Reclaiming the Commons and 99 Ways to a Simple Lifestyle) strive to give hope while accepting the need for hard work and the dedication required for healing our wounded Earth. We must take proper political steps to ensure that all have adequate food and health availability.
Faith in the future calls to discard a limited past and accept a new and more just future. The Book of Revelation actually combines negative calamity and disaster (persecution) with future glory that comes through fidelity to God and community with neighbor; this book supplies a 21st century spiritual guide to moving a world in crisis to a just economy. Godless Capitalism can be overcome; our Earth can be healed and made into a better place.
Prayer: Lord, help us lead the way to a new and just economy.
An aged, tattered - yet beautiful - butterfly makes the dandelion rounds.
May 15, 2018 Wisdom of Elders is Overlooked
Our country and world lacks the wisdom needed to continue in times of climate change and terrorists; North Korea has added to the wild brew, all calling for cool heads and loyal support of a wise citizenship. Where is wisdom when the world's top bankers will deal in billions of dollars and yet seek to abolish the very regulations that could hold them in check? What about a health care problem that is costly and out of control? Problems are far more evident than the road to reasonable solutions -- and yet wise decisions are called for while they are in short supply.
Wise people crop up in unexpected places; elders may lack prestigious degrees or not be world-renowned experts in one aspect of knowledge; they may be overlooked though they have life experiences that make them truly wise. As we notice folks younger than ourselves in obituaries, we recognize shortness of life, the beginning of wisdom. Reflecting on Psalm 90 reminds us:
* Older age is an advantage because we will not need to endure what we do not like too much longer. The time ahead is shorter than the mortal time behind, and yet the eternal time ahead looms before us and inspires us to use mortal time wisely.
* Older age brings less fear with time. Certainly there are normal fears about living and dying, but we do not have to fear achieving unrealistic dreams, or failing to impress others. We come to appreciate the good Lord's mercy and that is welcoming.
* Older age accepts limitations on who we are. We are better able to understand that some things will not be completed in this short life. On the other hand, we have an eternity in which to fulfill that understanding. Nor can we do everything, and so we accept that we can do only so much -- but with a generous heart.
* Experience teaches us to pace ourselves, to fill our time well and yet to regard periods of rest as meaningful in the ever shortening earthly sojourn. We know that resting is part of the rhythm of everyday living. Resting makes us aware that God is the Author of life and Giver of time, both of which are gifts to us.
* “Always be prepared." We heard that when we were scouts and it still applies years later. The wise of heart can find opportunities, which seem to arise so unexpectedly, and these prove to be moments of joy when we are ever more aware of fleeting time.
Hope burns in our hearts through the Spirit's inspiration. We take time to recognize and confront our distracting addictive behaviors, to acknowledge past mistakes, but to feel the warmth of forgiveness. Life is constantly restored and thus our wisdom grows, increases and shines forth to brighten our lives and others.
Prayer: Teach us to count how few days we have and so gain wisdom of heart. (Psalm 90:12)
A quiet backyard pond, home to a community of toads.
May 16, 2018 Sustainability and Environment
One of those buzz words among environmentalists is "sustainability," or the ability of a system to continue in existence through its own mechanisms. A non-sustainable system would be one that needs to draw on more resources than it can furnish; it becomes indebted to other systems for its functioning. Fair enough for a time, for someone who pays for all purchases with a credit card (without backup funds), but sooner or later the house of cards collapses. Such things must change; water aquifers must be allowed to be replenished and forests permitted to be restored.
To sustain means to keep something going. Here the term can be so often misused because what is kept going may not be a perfect practice as far as the environment is concerned. A corporation may be "sustainable" by making hefty profits by not paying fully for the resources extracted, or not contributing to the clean-up costs for pollution rendered. Part of its defined self-sustaining practice is profiting at the expense of the environment, an expense that is not compensated for by the industry that is withdrawing resources or polluting the air or water. But the so-called "sustainability" defined by the specific polluting industry does not refer to long-term sustainability, only to a short-term economic advantage lasting as long as the conditions exist to continue polluting practices through lax regulatory environment.
Our modern economy has been based on an unsustainable life that is ultimately detrimental to the planet as a whole due to the extraordinary demand for resources. It can achieve its limited goals through a focus on "consumption" of goods and the industry and commerce required to keep this going. But is this really sustainable over the long-term? An SUV has rotated on the dais of the auto showroom; people come to see and to investigate it, to observe its class and appearance, and to seek security in its interior; however, in driving this gas guzzler the purchaser is consuming a limited fuel reserve meant for others, and is adding a debt of pollution that deteriorates the environment for decades to come. Many vehicle buyers live for the present moment.
Some paint a religious veneer over our fast-fading resources as did a former Secretary of Interior who preached that these resources ought to be consumed for the world's end was near -- and there would be no future need of them. Living beyond our means is never sustainable; using up before another greedy individual or corporate person gets to it is the utter road to destruction. Our current climate change situation is an opportunity to rethink our goals, to ask whether what we have been doing is sustainable, and, if not, how are we to improve. Are we able to convert from a culture of consumption to one of sharing service for and with others? Can we curb those squandering resources who mortgage beyond their means? Do we have the time to act sustainably?
Prayer: Lord, sustain us with Your mercy so we can act accordingly as citizens of this world and beyond.
Stylophorum diphyllum, celandine poppy.
May 17, 2018 Holy Land: A One-State Solution?
The Holy Land, God's chosen place, is meant to be a place of peace for all the people. This ancient home of three great religious traditions, composing half the human race, ought not to be divided into separate states one of which is fragmented and broken into non-contiguous parcels. This small land is ONE and we should not have misguided leaders shuffling back and forth among some pampered and some suffering folk demanding sovereignty. The concept of oneness is not just solely cultural; it is also ecological. What is best for the land and its inhabitants?
I discovered the Holy Land ecology when a guest in 1992 of the state of Israel and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. The Holy Land's economy demands that all inhabitants show respect, for its incredible flora and fauna suffers so much from militaristic posturing, bombings and terrorism of all sorts; this applies to the dwarf cherry trees on Mount Herman, to the animals of the Negev, to the seashores at Ashdod. The Holy Land craves peace with nature calling out to receive proper protection.
Rabbi Michael Lerner reacted to my one-state thesis by emailing and reminding me that Yugoslavia did not succeed in a united condition. My response is that a better analogy may not be multi-cultural Yugoslavia with Serbia under its dominance; rather consider divided Bosnia, which ought to be a single state today instead of two including the unsustainably strung out small Bosnian Serb-led Republika Srpska (RS) scattered around the north and west side of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Neither the RS nor Palestine have much hope of full statehood and it is not the inhabitants' faults.
My hope has been stated elsewhere in these essays: that all three and a half billion people of the Book could at least once in their lifetimes have an opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. That means about one million people per week -- an influx that would demand restaurants, lodging and stores that would bring prosperity to all the people of the Holy Land. Turning this historic land into a welcoming sacred site for all peoples of faith and those others wishing to come would give prosperity to the millions of residents who need to be guides, cooks, hostel workers transport, and security forces.
What a blessing and it would not demand a competition for the scraps of land or living space where someone else is living right now. This is possible if living space is honored for those who are entitled to stay on their own land. In reality some might say this dream is unreal because of current conditions. Right, but the so-called two-state solution is also unreal with increased boundary disputes, check points, settlements, and other distractions that hinder pilgrims' progress -- and pilgrimage is a benefit to all.
Prayer: Lord, help us work for the day when our Holy Land will be culturally, religiously, ecologically and socially sound and then we visitors will all come without fear.
Sandhill cranes, Grus canadensis, protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
May 18, 2018 National Endangered Species Day
On this third Friday in May we again reflect on the many species that are threatened or endangered in our land and throughout the world. We feel irretrievable loss of plant and animal species, for the richness of our planet is diminished; when that loss is due to human greed and thoughtlessness, grief should turn to remorse. But we should resolve to do something positive all the while, lest other species follow in rapid succession as some experts actually predict they will:
* Know and recognize the various flora and fauna in your own backyard. Come to love the threatened bird species that lighten our day. The whippoorwill has its grand melody in early morning and at dusk; the woodpeckers have distinct sounds, shapes and colors; the owls are haunting and give flavor to the place; colorful cerulean warblers come but far less frequently. In May the migratory birds come north and their great variety is experienced during this period. Invest in a good bird book;
* Support the threatened Endangered Species Act;
* Encourage others like shut-ins to observe birds, especially when they have an unhindered view of a birdfeeder; get them to tally the order of frequency of each of the feeding birds;
* Read and teach others about how some specific extinctions have occurred, such as that of the passenger pigeon in the Cincinnati zoo in 1915. Even the estimates of species extinction rates vary wildly. Some species are pronounced gone forever and suddenly survivors crop up in the recesses of a forested area. However, expert opinions do converge on the fact that we are in a period of steep decline of both plant and animal species. How do we control the human insatiable appetite for forest products in areas of greatest plant diversity -- the tropical forest? How do we keep human intruders and pollution (carbon dioxide increases cause greater ocean acidity) under control so as to preserve the planet's spectacular coral reefs, which are virtually all in danger? How do we save bird habitats and migratory resting areas?
* Insist that the movement to curb the use of animal parts, e.g., eagle feathers, elephant ivory, tiger parts, and furs from many threatened small mammals needs continued support whether related to elephants of Africa or ocean whales. Support the efforts to halt the international trade in ivory that precipitates the rapid decline in elephants; and
* Advocate for endangered species through letter writing, talks, and articles. Consider joining the Endangered Species Coalition <www.endangered.org>.
Prayer: God, in the marvels of Your creative genius, You allowed the evolving of all the wonders that inhabit our Earth. Help us to be good protectors of these treasures of creation.
Finding nature, in black and white.
May 19, 2018 Hasten Green Energy Practices
How can climate change be arrested and fully addressed before heating Earth's warming reaches that 1.5 degree Celsius threshold, which climate scientists warn is a tipping point for major irreversible changes leading to catastrophe. We turn first to increased renewable energy sources (hydro, wind, sun, geothermal and several others -- but not nuclear energy). In a growing number of states, legislation mandates a mix of these alternative sources to be a specific percentage of the total energy or "generating portfolio." So far so good, except that it is far easier to fulfill the requirements in some states blessed with abundant wind and solar and geothermal (say Nevada or Kansas) than it is in others.
One solution is to look deeper in the green energy bag and discover materials that can be reused or tapped in decomposition stages; waste wood sources or biomass from certain cellulosic weeds or agricultural wastes can be utilized. What about methane gas produced from existing landfills? The argument that the methane gas would leak into the atmosphere and accelerate climate change or that it would be wasted through flaring is cogent. We are discovering that existing river dams could be tapped for hydropower -- a primary renewable energy source. Increasing the damming process can affect natural habitats of marine life and result in flooded lands. Generous tax benefits for solar and wind would hasten the process as well, and this must extend again beyond states to the federal government.
We should not forget energy conservation. This is another way to regard greenness -- not just in terms of energy source but also energy saved. Simpler lifestyles on the part of all are the major way to go. Curbing travel by auto and plane, installing LEDs in home and business, replacing inefficient appliances, turning off unused devices, and refraining from use of air conditioning by cooling domestic space with night air, etc. Yes, conservation is greener than even renewables! Be proud of incentives to acquire a stronger conservation ethic. A host of educational and incentive programs will be of greater moment than hunting frantically for an equivalent to what are current inherently wasteful energy practices.
Instead of single states competing with others as green energy sources, a sounder national policy would be to develop still more efficient transmission technologies on a grander scale than is provided for in the current stimulus package. Some states will provide wind energy on land or out to sea, but also surplus energy from both wind and solar will go a long way in enhancing the system. The advances in battery-storage technology are a major step in greening the planet. Another approach is to encourage the installing of heat pumps in domestic heating and cooling.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see enlightened energy use practices as not sophomoric competition but a good faith effort on the part of all Americans willing to utilize various resources at hand.
A wetland alive with sight and sound.
May 20, 2018 Pentecost: The Restless Wind
Today we celebrate one of the three great feasts of the year: Pentecost. This ushers in a long span of almost half of a year given to reflect on the gift of the Spirit in our lives. Today is the birthday of the Church; it is almost 2000 years old and a divinely guided institution. It is the living Body of Christ of which we are privileged to be members. We are Church, and so we pray for the power of the Spirit to help enliven others. This feast contains a number of points worth reflecting upon:
The Spirit first unlocks the closed doors of our hearts and penetrates within our fearful beings.
The great wind speaks in power and suddenness of profound change wrought by the Spirit in our lives. It is a restless wind which is beyond our prediction, and leads where the Spirit wills.
The tongues of fire descend on each person present, and that shows the uniqueness of the gifts bestowed on each individual by the Spirit. Each of us is touched and expected to be ourselves but also united in helping to form one community.
The public noise is heard by confused onlookers. Those who received the Spirit are impelled to go out and communicate with the crowd with each listener hearing in his or her native language.
The gift of communication to the larger public, rather than gifts to the individual witness or speaker, is primary. Pentecost reverses the Tower of Babel where human beings through self-interest divided and then spoke different tongues.
The mighty acts of God are shown here as the image of a living being, the Church. The Church is coming into being through a power of God; Pentecost is like the slap on the back, which begins the breathing process for each new-born who emerges from the womb. We begin to inhale -- take in the Spirit as in Church; we then exhale by going out to others and bearing witness to the Spirit. But this is not a one-time affair. Periodically, we need to come together as a small inner community and inhale; we need to find new ways of expressing ourselves and exhale; this involves giving witness to the Spirit outside of our community liturgies.
I once saw a tornado from a distance near St. Charles, Illinois; I did not recognize its power, its suddenness, its ability to do $20 million damage in a few minutes. The Spirit at Pentecost is far more powerful, inspiring us to perform uniquely forceful deeds. However, the impulse is part of a community, the Church, from which we take the message as Good News to others who have never heard it. Each professed word is also to be transformed into deed. We show our loyalty, our confidence and our enthusiasm as we launch the May through November Pentecost Season.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, inspire us to spread the Good News.
Kalm's St. Johnswort, Hypericum kalmianum.
May 21, 2018 The Call for Prophetic Response
Some regard hearing voices as mentally unbalanced. It may be true but not in every case. Hearing the often faint discordant sounds of the planet may be spiritually healthy, especially when the unsustainable practices of our own people trigger anguish from disturbed creatures -- and we listen as the cries of the distressed haunt us. These painful sounds of Earth include both suffering human beings and the endangered and threatened species of this planet. People who close off these urgent pleas include the overly affluent, those who are plagued by substance abuse and denial, and the self-centered who wander aimlessly through life. Those blessed through the spiritual graces of Pentecost to listen and hear should perceive the prophetic calling in its many facets:
* We may differ from one another in gifts, but share in a community of prophetic witnessing, including first listening to what is being said. Prophetic witness is not a solitary vocation as in the days of the Old Testament, but is something we all share through our Baptism/Confirmation.
* Failure to hear the call of the poor will weaken the fabric of our society; thus our prophetic witness is closely connected to the renewing of Earth herself, our nation and our local community. To miss the opportunity to do so is to threaten and endanger our Earth, nation, communal relations and personal salvation.
* We must distinguish the calls of the authentic sufferers from those of commercial and entertainment interests that may be loud and overbearing in our noise-filled world; the cries of the poor are unnerving and demand an ever deepening spirituality.
* We must give priority to genuine needs because our own energy and time are limited. Giving priority means we must struggle to come to know what is the right thing to do and when to do it. We discern through our ongoing spiritual/religious life.
* We do not know what the future will bring, but we have certitude that, if the present continues in its current path (e.g. climate change), a catastrophe will happen -- the conditions for true prophetic action. Part of our mandate is to make the future, not to predict it. This is a call to change what will inevitably follow if action is not taken.
* Our efforts rest in the hands of God. We will do our very best, and that is all that can be expected; we know that something must be done, and we know God calls us in our imperfect condition to be agents of change in this threatened world. Will we live up to the noble call and truly be a prophetic people?
Prayer: Lord, encourage us to listen, to hear, to distinguish and to respond to the cry of the poor, and thus to be prophetic people who have much to consider during the Pentecost season.
A long the shore of Lake Superior.
May 22, 2018 A Global Maritime Corps
On National Maritime Day we could well afford to consider what is needed today: a global policing organization that would address problems on the high seas that are not being met, namely piracy, drug traffic, ocean vehicle safety, whaling, and toxic substance disposal on the oceans. Piracy has resurfaced within this century as a problem, especially off the coasts of Africa first off of Somalia, an African failed state, and then near oil-producing lands on Africa's east coast. Note that foreign factory ships take far more fish off of Africa's coasts than do the local fishers -- and in turn a few of these decide to be pirates. The thousands of ships that use the waters off of the Africa's coast make it virtually impossible for smaller navies to protect, for every ship making the journey. A UN mandated Corps composed of trained regional navies could make maritime routes safer.
The time has come to consider the maritime commons of our Earth, covering eighty percent of her surface area as a joint responsibility of the entire global community, not just of the nations adjoining shipping routes. One can hardly expect Kenya to bear the total responsibility for the seas beyond their shores. The same applies to the critical international waterways such as the Strait of Malacca, Strait of Hormuz (between Iran and Oman), Gibraltar, the Suez Canal, and the Panama Canal. We are reaching a time of emerging collective responsibility in certain key areas such as Polar Regions, outer space, and fragile global cultural sites. However, one of the greatest of these responsibilities for the commons is our oceans, which needs its own police corps.
Improper toxic substance disposal occurs in our oceans for people who desire to rid themselves of wastes materials: "Out of sight, out of mind," "Not in my backyard,” and the oceans are ideal candidate disposal areas. All too often the resting place is a poorer country, the national leaders of which may turn a blind eye or extend a hand for rewards for toxic dumping -- as happened in West Africa (near residential zones). Medical and nuclear waste materials are worrisome, and the oceans are truly vast and beyond the watchful eye of costly disposal regulations. Furthermore, can anything be done about the volumes of ocean plastic wastes?
Could a "Global Maritime Corps" be a naval counterpart to the UN Peacekeepers with costs met in part by global shipping registration fees? Currently, not all ships registered in individual countries (Panama and Liberia have large registration programs) are forced to meet the safeguards that safety and worker-conscious EU countries impose on ships carrying cargo on the high seas. A world shipping registry may meet opposition from some shipping companies, but maritime workers need minimal standardized protection. Ships should adhere to international standards for the environment, whaling and commercial fishing operations.
Prayer: Lord, help us to learn and bear responsibility for protecting our oceans for the benefit of all parties.
Monarch appreciates butterfly garden.
May 23, 2018 Charity and/or Justice
When I feed the poor they call me a saint; when I ask why they are poor they call me a communist. Dom Helder Camara
Why are there poor folks when there are billionaires? I am going to my grave asking that question -- once the question about millionaires. Why unjust systems? No doubt when people are hungry we do not stand around asking questions. When they knock at my door and ask for food, I do not ask why they are hungry, unless one expects the obvious answer "because I have no food." Can we give food as an act of charity and still all the while work on changing the unjust systems that cause the hunger? Furthermore, can we not be doing saintly things by either handing out food or challenging legislators to act for the poor, by exposing unjust institutions that thrive on the real and raw conditions of poorer lands and people, and by marshalling people to demonstrate or confront vested interests? Are both right ways to bring ultimate justice?
How do we confront persistent injustices? We may donate food and receive the thanks of the hungry and the smiles of the neighbors. However, we could do more and ask searching questions about the system that brought about the hunger -- and resolve to effect answers. Getting funds to hand out food is far easier than to fund confrontational programs. Is it because charity is so immediately rewarding and allows us to remain comfortable? Is there not a hidden power in charity that forgets that the surplus was not "ours," but must be distributed because it belongs to others? Who really "owns" the wealth of this world?
A belly needs to be filled today and yet we know the same hungry person will be back tomorrow; immediate solutions to hunger in a world of plenty are temporary. If food becomes more available at lower prices will this make a difference? While poverty has been declining especially in China, still persistent poverty remains; perhaps one-tenth of the world experiences food insecurity right now with many going to bed hungry. Direct charity is short-term; a more just system that encourages small-time farmers with land and assistance and gives work to all the people is a longer-term solution to hunger. But implementation takes time.
Scripture tells us to share with the needy and to show compassion for those without enough. We are a democratic society! Our failure to act in the face of injustice is a mark against us. We could pressure our own government though the act of bringing justice and to press for fair taxes and expanded social programs. Jesus fed the hungry and cured the sick; Jesus also drove money changers from the temple, confronting the power establishment, called the king a fox, prepared his disciples to operate for the betterment of all under threats, and accepted suffering and death for a systemic change that continues to this day. What do we do?
Prayer: Charity is hard enough, but confronting the unjust system is doubly so.
Mound #10, Pinson Mounds, the largest Middle Woodland period mound
group in the U.S.. Pinson, TN.
May 24, 2018 Contrasting Economic Views
During this time of contemplating a new economic systems we find contrasting views, and ask ourselves which ones is more viable. Here is a series of those contrasts worth pondering today:
* Greed is a virtue; versus
Sharing is a virtue.
* Profits should be unregulated and undisclosed; versus
Profits are to be regulated, disclosed and taxed.
* Free market and free trade are articles of faith; versus
The market is not free and all trade must be fair.
* Charity is a concern and decision of the privileged; versus
Charity comes in different styles and some can be a form of power control.
* Consumers will be materially profit-motivated; versus
All should aspire to be spiritually-motivated contrasumers.
* Millionaires have a right to become billionaires; versus
Billionaires should be taxed down to thousandaires.
* Governments are generally bad and should be limited and all properties privatized; versus
Government at all levels is needed to function justly.
* The world's poor are a problem and are to be kept docile, hidden and well beyond the pale of concern; versus
The poor have the key to rising and saving our Earth.
* Financial problems are solved solely by secular and technical procedures; versus
Our troubles stem from a lack of faith in the future.
* Democracy means complete and unaltered free choice by the innovative individual; versus
Democracy is harmed by excessive wealth.
* The privileged know best no matter what kind of a mess the world is in; versus
The privileged are those who share and serve others.
* Overseas tax havens serve a good purpose; versus
Overseas tax havens ought to be abolished.
* Taxes are unfairly levied on all and should be reduced; versus
The rich get away with taxes that are far too low.
* The times are bad; versus
These are opportune times.
Prayer: Lord, guide us to choose wisely and well.
Oregon grape, Mahonia aquifolium.
May 25, 2018 Resource Conscious Acts of Love
Every act of love is a work of peace, no matter how small. Mother Teresa
In times when climate change challenges us as global citizens we need to look for small as well as grand things to do. Loving acts for others (a smile, a visit to the forgotten, or a donation to the poor) are all understood as being part of what is needed to create an atmosphere of love; what is somewhat more remote is conserving resources for future generations. These become acts of love and peaceworking practice worthy of our daily practice.
Space savings -- Excessively large amounts of space are a major resource expenditure in materials, heating and cooling and ultimately maintenance. How do we convince others that reducing the space we occupy is as important as using energy-saving techniques no matter what the size of the building? Are we willing and able to help older couples whose children have flown the coop to down size -- and what stops us from doing so ourselves?
Fossil fuel savings -- We can speak of driving less, more carefully, and engaging in carpooling and other sharing techniques. Do these work well in a time of multiple activities and distance demands? Do they apply to everyone or are some exempted?
Reusable items -- We are tempted to think that time and effort to take partly worn items and reuse them is not worthwhile. Should not recycling be foremost on our minds? Some people like to acquire junk and other unnecessary items. Is frequenting yard sales good or detrimental to a true resource consciousness?
Paper savings -- We may reuse blank sides of paper and share newspapers, books, and periodicals. But should we stop buying hard copy paper print and turn more to digital books and periodicals? This issue is difficult for some who favor paper print.
Plastic savings -- We hear how the oceans are filling with trash that does not decompose in reasonable time. Are we using too much plastic and should be more directed to bulk purchases?
Food savings -- One of our recently deceased parishioners told how during the Great Depression her mother would collect all the uneaten food after the meal and have her kids take it to the neighbors, because that large family did not have sufficient food for the day. Never did her family waste food! Do we make proper use of our food supplies -- and never to waste food?
Water savings -- Over time we have listed numerous resource saving techniques that are quite effective, e.g., during drought. Should people who apparently have plenty of water still conserve water as part of their own personal ethic?
Prayer: Lord, teach us to look about and question our everyday practices so that we may use things with respect.
Nest with small eggs of the Carolina wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus.
May 26, 2018 Rachel Carson's Birthday
The 'control of nature' is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and the convenience of man. Rachel Carson
Tomorrow is the birthday of Rachel Louise Carson (1907-1964), that very special American naturalist and science writer; she observed the deteriorating environment around her and penned her observations in the books, Silent Spring, in the 1960s. This book and her other writings were a prophetic call for the public to start giving special attention to our fragile land, air and water. Her message was shocking and we can only endure so many shocks. Her mention of the silence of spring refers to the demise of birds brought about by the overuse of pesticides, which impact these and other wildlife in very significant ways. The shells of raptor eggs were so weakened by DDT that they would break, and this phenomenon drastically reduced the numbers of offspring. With each reduction of bird life the joy of spring felt for millennia through twitter and song is reduced. Sometimes silence is golden, but not when the native birds are expected to be singing in springtime.
Rachel Carson recalls us to the nature that is alive and joyful; she shows us how human activity in thoughtless ways can harm that world which has taken so long to evolve into its present form. The Carson compassion extends to the delicate Earth, which can be damaged in such a very short period of time. Her eloquent writing aroused a generation of serious readers, who had not given balanced thought to the brave new technological world of the post Second World War era.
Perhaps the fullness in Rachel Carson's life could be found in a book published after her death called The Sense of Wonder (Harper & Row, 1970), where she leads a little child out to the great outdoors; there the child discovers butterflies and seashores and wooded lanes with Rachel as guide. What is so telling in this book of photographs is that our own love of Earth needs to be transmitted to be fruitful. So much can be done through the written word of which Silent Spring is one of the major success stories. But equally, much has to be done in the wonder we transmit to other individual persons so that what we experience deep within ourselves can have expression and continuation.
This book of photographs is a record of carrying on a tradition of love and respect, and thus of healing Earth in a most modest but profound manner.
Not all of us are writers of the caliber of Rachel Carson, but many can take a person out to see the world around us and to appreciate the treasure found there. This is a necessity, if earthhealing is to flourish on our troubled planet.
The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction. Rachel Carson
Prayer: Lord, teach us to honor those who respect nature.
Peony shrub with flower near tended grave display in Appalachian cemetery.
May 27, 2018 Resonating with the Trinity
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)
On this Sunday we again affirm the deepest mystery of our Faith, the affirmation of the Triune God. We are reminded that through our Baptism we are part of the Divine Family and desire to proclaim this in every way possible. We do this by professing our Faith when reciting the Creed; we do this in going forth and showing a harmony in our actions; and we further seek to discover and proclaim how all of creation has the imprint of the Trinity through the resonance at all levels of being. God is one; God is three persons. We say this even when the fullness of the Mystery confronts our being, for we are wrapped in mystery.
In our everyday actions we radiate wholeness in a harmony of hands, head and heart that reflects the harmony of the Trinity imprinted on us. Our hands gather in and mold the clay of our surroundings; we seek to use them better, and in doing so we express satisfaction in words from the mouth. The products of our hands and head; through loving hearts we share our works and experiences with others. Trinity has a mark on what we do and how we exist: resonating beings fill the created universe.
Action, reflection, and application are like the Trinitarian "procession." The more our inner lives are in harmony, the better we are able to radiate the God, Who is within. Earthhealing enters the Trinitarian mystery; through the work of our hands we re-create a damaged Earth; through our rationale we strive to halt deterioration of our environment and initiate restoration; through heart-felt efforts we apply known and proven results for the betterment of other creatures and especially suffering humankind.
Does all creation in some way show the imprint of the Creator, the Triune God? The discussion I make in the book Resonance that is available to that all levels of being from the sub-atomic to the macro, from chemical molecules to living cells, from those communicating and practicing art, from music to caregiving, all show levels of resonance that come from the resonating within the Trinity. The Spirit hovers over the entire world and gives it a sense of grand community of which we find our part by belonging through sharing and healing.
Prayer: All Good and Holy One, You establish balance and harmony on this Earth and invite us to protect and enhance it. Teach us to become caretakers of your creation. Allow us to spread the Good News by being good homemakers for a healthier Earth. Teach us to care for all things and to do this with a sense of compassion that draws us to resonate more closely with the creatures around us. Help us to experience your creative Presence in this season of life's renewal and with confidence to halt climate change and save our threatened Earth.
Memories of the Flanders poppy, Papaver rhoeas.
May 28, 2018 Memorial Day and Senior Moments
I believe I am the author of these senior moments but I am not fully sure of that either.
Senior times and moments have arrived when --
* I think they've already been here for a long time;
* All the work and hand tools we used on the farm are now displayed in museums;
* Well over half of the people on the obituary list are younger than I, as are most of the world's leaders;
* The "war" means either the Civil War or the Second World War;
* Strenuous exercise consists of taking a walk up a slight incline;
* I forget which of today's medicines I still have to take;
* Youngsters include those from 7 to 75;
* The journey from is far longer than the journey to;
* Childhood memories appear clearer than yesterday's;
* I start realizing how important it is to speak well of those who have passed on to the Lord, for my time will be coming soon enough;
* Time no longer seems to stand still but quickens its pace with each year, for Christmases and birthdays are always here;
* Prayers become simpler and more direct;
* Kind words and deeds are appreciated though we can't remember who gives them;
* Though formerly I checked to see whether the pants were presentable and the shoe laces tied; now I check to see if I have pants and shoes on;
* It is worth repeating Melville's words in Moby Dick,
"I am a man running out of time;"
* Past worries seem quite insignificant with time; and
* We are surprised to be able to start a new day alive and in relatively good health.
Prayer: Thanks, Lord, for helping us remember Memorial Day.
Sweetly-scented bloom of Robinia pseudoacacia, black locust.
May 29, 2018 Being Faithful is a Success Story
Was it Mother Teresa who first said it is better to be faithful than successful? She certainly attained both fidelity and success in her long life. This priority of fidelity sums up our stance before our Creator, but it is quite demanding and filled with risks. Fidelity means keeping focused on our original calling and commitments at all costs. The disturbances and noise of daily living can and do make us distracted. Thus we need to be called back time and again to see the road ahead of us, a recall that takes an ever-deepening spirituality. Fiction seems more inviting than the strain of the hard road ahead. Reality is so difficult because it demands faithfulness to original commitments and goals, even at the risk of being unsuccessful, belittled, and irrelevant.
Success-driven ventures multiply in the secular world around us but, even though tempting, we must be faithful to our calling without fully seeing the ultimate outcome of our efforts. We learn ever so slowly to discount the costs of the consequences; however, this does not mean that success is incidental. We would like to see the efforts succeed, but they may be so long-term that we will not live to witness them. With generous hearts we commit to achieving the work, but it begins to emerge that others may get credit. The world is never fair to those omitted from being credited with a given success. Let's be satisfied to be mere sowers, catalysts, or initiators; we may not be reapers and yet we must be faithful to our calling -- sowers are equally important.
False success tempts us to become sensational? Another Chicken Little! Should we announce that a nuclear powerplant will experience a meltdown tomorrow or that the New Madrid earthquake will be repeated in a year? This will be sensational for a moment, but it will undermine the teller's credibility, when the event does not occur. We cannot pretend to have powers beyond ourselves, and prediction is fraught with disappointment when it betrays the hunger for success. A true prophetic stance does not foretell what will happen, but rather what could surely happen if we continue our current course. Few if any of the mass media foretold the economic crisis that we are now experiencing. Prophecy is seeing the present for what it really is rather than forecasting the future. The "if" is that if we change our ways, the future will be better.
Beginnings do not always lead to success. Fidelity may be lacking -- but it could also mean lack of energy or time or enough motivation. Still, satisfaction comes in doing just what we can do well. "I'll do my best" is far better than "I dare not try." I need to be humble, for I cannot do it all. Faithfulness to the mission carries an internal reward that means more to the person than anticipated successes; we can be at peace with ourselves.
The fruit of Silence is Prayer; The fruit of Prayer is Faith;
The fruit of Faith is Love; The fruit of Love is Service;
The fruit of Service is Peace. Mother Teresa's "Business Card"
Common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina, sunbathing on a submerged log.
May 30, 2018 Internet and Spreading Good News
In the course of our Earthhealing "Daily Reflections" for the past two decades I must admit changes in my own estimation of the Internet. It went from being a curiosity that deserved a certain respect to becoming a serious peril to the careless user and an immense promise to those who wish to bring Good News to others.
The peril is found in the misuse of any gift, and dates back to misuse of gifts in the Garden of Eden. The Internet is an instrument that can be obtained quite easily by many and more easily with the broad band expansion and more available and relatively low-priced computers and hand devices. It presents tempting opportunities to use it for pornography, for stealing others' works, for demeaning and destroying the name of others, for spending more time at game play than outdoors in nature, and for losing private information such as credit cards. The temptations are great and require ever greater self-restraint in Internet use.
The promise is in the form of easy access to information and of ease of communication with others, especially those living on the other side of the planet. On the Internet we are only seconds away from the latest weather, or an exact route with roads and mileage from my humble abode to any road-side location in America, or the ability to communicate at very low cost on websites and email. For five years (1971-76) I lived two blocks from the Library of Congress (LC), the largest repository of information in the world. Yet right now, while living in what some term as "nowhere," I have at my fingertips more information than I could easily have gathered by going to the LC. Obviously, the serious researcher will find it more gratifying than "googling," but search engines do inform us in many good ways on everyday matters.
The glory of the Internet is that through proper contact we can now make a subject known to otherwise-unavailable interested parties. Sharing in specialty information was quite difficult in the past, but today services are available to put into digital reading format, material easily accessible at low cost. This does not require trips to bookstores or haphazard and chance findings. The global communications tool allows the Good News to be spread abroad -- and ordinary folks become part of responsible audiences.
All good things are mixed. The good graces of a responsible keeper of the website have given me the blessings of fewer SPAM messages. We have been hit once seriously, but contained the damage quite quickly and at reasonable repair costs. However, a major temptation is to spend more time on this electronic medium than is required for entry and exit twice a day. We appreciate the nature of the temptations to get more and more involved in chat rooms and other diversions. It is all out there at virtually no cost and without anyone looking over one's shoulder. Good tools must be kept ready and in good repair.
Prayer: Lord, send out Your Spirit and renew the face of the Earth.
Dwarf larkspur, Delphinium tricorne.
May 31, 2018 Be Conscious of Lead Contamination
Lead, as an environmental pollutant, never goes away. In the past decades sizeable quantities of toys manufactured in China were found to contain various amounts of lead paint. History tells us that lead contamination helped bring about the demise of an ancient upper Roman class who drank from leaded cups. In 1970, lead was one of the first toxic materials I focused upon at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. At that time the most worrisome source of toxic lead was tetraethyl lead inserted as an additive to raise octane levels in gasoline. Even after this practice was halted through prodding by many of us, additional toxic sources of lead remained from contaminated soil, road dust, paint chips, old leaded water pipes, older pottery and crystal glassware, and an assortment of antique leaded objects around the home. Even old printed matter had lead in inks.
Well into the twenty first century, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about one out of twenty-two American children has high levels of blood lead either due to the child's own present environment or through the passing of lead from a contaminated pregnant mother. These higher lead levels can lead to decreased growth, learning disabilities, hyperactivity, impaired hearing, and possible brain damage. Through simple blood testing the young person who was possibly exposed to lead poisoning can be checked and the testing results properly interpreted.
Prevention includes keeping infants and youth away from lead contaminated soil or peeling paint. Because so much toxic lead lingers in the environment, it is best to be safe: provide clean dust-free places where infants can play; keep toys, pacifiers and bottles clean; and ensure that children wash hands before taking food or drink. If your home was built before 1960, the chances are high that older paint coatings contain lead. Keep infant safe.
Most preventive measures are sensible; beyond getting rid of leaded objects, should homemakers attempt to remove the old paint as a do-it-yourself project? Perish the thought! Dust that is kicked up through this paint stripping operation could poison the workers and residents. Through a free government test one can determine the presence of lead. Through a decontaminating specialist the lead paint problem can be corrected with occupants vacating the property during the operation. If you suspect your drinking water is contaminated by old lead plumbing, contact the local utility or county health office.
USEPA suggests further lead preventive measures: a child who gets sufficient iron (eggs, lean red meat and beans) and calcium (dairy products) will absorb less lead, for good nutrition is protection. Encourage lead activism by engaging in the Lead Renovator Certification Initial Course <www.epa.gov/lead>.
Prayer: Lord, help us make this world a better place to live.