ON DATE BELOW TO READ
Copyright © 2006 by Al Fritsch
early April sightings in Kentucky
Photo: Janet Powell
Welcome to April, the month of gentleness and great contrast. We
start with confirmed signs of spring in the air and end the month
with a fully clothed woodland. Much happens in between, and we sense
the suddenness of metamorphosis each day of the month. Nothing gives
such satisfaction to the nature lover as a warm April shower and the
feeling that life is stirring all around as springbursts forth. The
long anticipated resurrection of nature occurs before our eyes. New
life! God loves us so and divine mercy is more expressed in
Appalachia in April than in any other month.
Thank heaven for Easter! Winter's bleakness
now gives way to summer's vitality and foliage. The harsh March
breezes are behind us; the snow and sleet are gone. Birds are
arriving and departing over the migratory flyway, and are filling
the air with their cheerfulness. The delicate clothing of the earth
occurs now with spring flowers and buds -- dogwood, redbud,
buttercups, daffodils, crocuses, tulips, and the carpets of yellow
dandelions. Even the greens we gather this month to eat contain
contrasting tastes worth savoring, for they will soon give way to
the stronger flavors of May's sunshine and seasoning.
1, 2006 Foolishness and Credit Cards
Last year the April first essay dealt with the foolishness of
our foreign and interconnected energy policies. At least this year
the President is talking about renewable energy, switch grass for
ethanol, and making longer life batteries for hybrid vehicles.
Some of this is just talk, but it is better than total denial of
the need to do something about our oil addiction and dependence on
foreign fuel sources. However, we need to go a step further and
focus on another persistent problem that overarches the oil one,
namely, living on credit.
We call this day "All Fools Day," and thus we all are. We
tinker with and allow excessive credit as though it is a hallmark
of freedom. The outflow of money for purchases from abroad is
symptomatic of our deep inability to live within America's means.
I receive enough credit card enticements to know what is coming to
many who have a slightly harder time saying "no" to the plastic
dispensers. As of yet, I do not use credit cards (except on a rare
case when I could not rent a vehicle without one in Puerto Rico).
I don't want this occasional use of credit cards to make me like
people who brag that they are non-smokers and only mean they don't
But we non-credit-card folks are finding it harder and harder
to do business without one -- and that is exactly why the banks are
fashioning us into fools. We are rapidly becoming a debtor nation
and part of this is reflected in the use of the credit card by
people of all ages and financial conditions. Put it on credit! I
know a fellow who set up a non-profit organization and the
donations and funds did not come in too quickly; I asked how he
continued. "Well," he said, "we have a lot of credit cards." I
now believe that he really meant it; they were existing on credit
because the day of reckoning was in the future -- so the foolish
Many have adopted a "credit now, pay later" attitude for it is
our national policy and they think a patriotic thing to do. But we
must ask, "Who will pay off the ever increasing debt of our
nation?" It will demand a day of reckoning sometime after I am
gone. The nation could undergo a severe decline and so will
individual credit situations, if that attitude continues for very
long. Unfortunately, the general conservative wing of both major
political parties used to be concerned about the matter. But so
few voice concern today that one must think our fiscal conservatism
is as outmoded as the Model T. But really is it? Are we not to be
prudent people who use things only to the degree that they lead to
our own salvation? And where do credit cards fit in? When they
call me promoting a particular credit card, I always have to ask
the question, "Aren't these things sinful?" And maybe I need to
modify the question with the next caller or junk mailer, "Aren't
these things sinful and foolish?"
2, 2006 Selflessness through Dying to Self
I tell you most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls to
ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies,
it yields a rich harvest. (John 12:24)
As we approach Good Friday in twelve days, we find Jesus
instructing his disbelieving and confused disciples as they come
near Jerusalem. He speaks of hating one's life, which means being
willing to sacrifice one's life for a greater cause. And this is
what Jesus is willing to do at this time. But why? Each disciple
asks himself the question, for all are unable to connect the
prophecies foretold about the suffering servant with this Jesus,
the Messiah determined to face the almost certain hostility. The
image of the grain's dying to self for the production of something
greater (a fruitful harvest) is Jesus' way of instructing his
followers in the need to be self-sacrificing for a future good that
is most bountiful.
Create a clean heart in me, O God. We know that the narrative
in the Gospel has a fulfilling message for all of us. The promise
expressed by the prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34) is that God will place
"my law within them, and write it upon their hearts." The law of
self-sacrifice is not something that will need to be taught to kin
and friends for all will know. God's promise includes forgiving
evil-doing and remembering sin no more. This promise shows us that
we too, just like Jesus, are to be prepared for what is to come --
the impending clouds of our own suffering and deaths. With a clean
heart we can give up the attachments we hold so dear so that we can
come to the Lord in all the fullness of God's glory. Through a
clean heart we await his coming and show a willingness to endure
what is in store for us no matter how foreign it seems at first.
Self-sacrifice. We are often called to sacrifice for others.
To the degree we can give up our own attachments, we can make this
a meaningful sacrifice. Still we must respect our own needs and
choose proper nourishment and rest for the sake of self and the
other. Throughout history some heroic souls have made immense
sacrifices, even at the cost of health for the sake of loved ones -
- all to be like Jesus as bearers of Good News. Generally, care
for health is expected. To sacrifice requires a metamorphosis, a
change in our being from a spiritually immature to a more adult
stage -- a clean heart. Then we can find a new self in Christ.
Results of sacrifice. So often as in the case of St. Theresa,
the Little Flower, we will not see the results of our sacrifices.
She prayed that she could bring good things to others after she
passed from her very short life -- and that certainly happened
through many wonders and miracles. In some way every one of us who
seeks to do good things, whether educating children or building
some enterprise, expects that benefits will live long after us --
and the fruition may occur only after our passing. That is what
dying as grain to produce a harvest is all about. And we have
Jesus as our model as we sow the Good News.
3, 2006 Rose Bouziane Nader
The following are excerpts from the notice about the death of
the mother of my good friends Ralph and Claire Nader.
Born in Zahle, Lebanon on February 7, 1906, Rose Nader became
a high school teacher of French and Arabic. She married Nathra
Nader in 1925, and emigrated to the United States shortly
thereafter, settling with her husband, a businessman, in Danbury,
and then in Winsted, Connecticut where they raised four children --
Claire, Laura, Ralph and Shafeek (predeceased).
In the nineteen fifties, after the destructive hurricane and
flood of Winsted in 1955 -- the third disastrous flood there in
thirty years -- she famously pressed then Senator Prescott Bush in
a public gathering to pledge to push for a dry dam by not letting
go of his handshake until he had promised to do so. And it was
built. No more floods since. After the flood damaged the local
movie theater she also arranged for a community room at the local
YMCA to be devoted to the recreational needs of local youngsters
who otherwise might be loitering on the streets. She also
initiated and led the Women's club International Relations
Committee, bringing distinguished speakers to the Town to inform
the citizenry about world affairs.
During the seventies, Mrs. Nader was criticized in an
editorial by the Wall Street Journal for having insisted that her
children munch chick peas on their walk to school instead of
presumably something sweeter. They charged that she was
puritanical. This so amused her. Later, when hummus became a
popular dish, she remarked, "I suppose I was a little ahead of the
times for the Wall Street Journal."
In 1991, after years of orally responding to questions from
people curious about what formula she used to raise her children,
she authored the book It Happened in the Kitchen, which contained
her philosophy of child-rearing, the intimate connection between
good food and diverse kitchen table/family conversations and some
100 recipes to nourish this food and thought combination. The last
segment includes many perceptive observations by her husband, Mr.
Nader, during discussions with her children. She was featured on
the Phil Donahue Show with her book, which received wide
circulation. One of the recipes presented on the show was hummus!
Rose Nader was a joyous person with an engaging vibrant
manner, a love of singing songs and spreading proverbs and an
irreverent sense of humor. She was not a person of many words but
her content contained much memorable wisdom. To her growing
children she would teach about priceless things by asking the price
of sunshine, or songbirds or cool breezes. She declined to read to
her little ones, preferring to draw on her wide historical and
literary memory and speak directly to their eyes so as to discern
their reactions and expressions.
Rose Nader consistently conveyed to her children their duty to
improve the country to which she had emigrated. "One day, when I
was about nine years old," Ralph recalled, "she asked me if I loved
my country," I replied that I did, whereupon she said "Well I hope
when you grow up, you'll work hard to make your country more
Memorial contributions may be made to The Shafeek Nader Trust
for the Community Interest, an educational foundation, PO Box 500,
Winsted, CT 06098.
4, 2006 Ginseng Dreams
Kristin Johannsen (my co-author in
has just published her valuable opus entitled Ginseng Dreams: The
Secret World of America's Most Valuable Plant. The book tells the
story of ginseng, focusing on the American rather than the Asian
variety, and why it is considered so valuable by the public -- and
has been for thousands of years. Today, ginseng is valued by a
billion people for its curative properties. In Kristin's words, it
is considered "a tonic that strengthens and sustains every system
of the human body." The high medicinal demand permits this humble
root to bring remarkable prices of up to two thousand dollars a
pound. The American variety, which is still grown wild in our
woods, was one of America's earliest exports and is in such demand
that it is now threatened by overharvesting by ginseng thieves, as
well as by logging, mining and urban sprawl. "One step away from
endangered species status, this precious plant could soon be lost
to us forever."
From an ecological perspective this book offers challenges to
the promoters and legitimate wildcrafter of wild ginseng. Various
efforts are being made by governmental regulators to preserve the
ginseng which is highly sought by all types of hunters. Other
efforts are being undertaken to isolate active ginseng ingredients
and to grow virtually wild ginseng in an effort to meet supply in
the coming years.
As W. Scott Person author of American Ginseng: Green Gold says
in endorsing the book --
Kristin Johannsen reveals the fascinating and often hidden
world of American ginseng through the stories of the people who
inhabit it. She describes, with equal grace and felicity, the
centuries-old culture of 'sang diggin' that pervades the hills of
Appalachia; the dramatic contrast between Hong Kong's towering
glass skyscrapers and the modest traditional medicine shops that
thrive in their shadows; the enticing but uncertain enterprise of
ginseng farming; and the compelling new Western research evidencing
ginseng's efficacy as both aphrodisiac and cancer treatment.
Kristin has a uniquely readable style in delving into this
highly complex subject, for the topic of ginseng covers a variety
of fields: agricultural history, forest wildcrafting and
cultivation, medical research and chemical analysis, international
marketing, Asiatic cultural practices, ecological protection,
criminal justice, governmental regulation, and modern herbal
remedies and practices, and still more. This wonderfully written
Ginseng Dreams, is now available through the University Press
of Kentucky for $24.95. We highly recommend it for all aspiring
healers of the Earth.
5, 2006 The Dignity of Gardening
No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much
dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.
Booker T. Washington
Born April 5, 1856
We return each month to some theme related to gardening.
While we seem to exhaust the generic topic, more and more specific
aspects seem to emerge. All of us see a dignity (the quality of
being worthy of esteem or honor) in many practices and works such
as teaching and healing. What we often overlook are the everyday
operations usually performed by hobbyists, retirees, local day
laborers and migrant workers.
Essential works. In order to create an environment for
healing our wounded Earth, we must see the role played by each
essential labor activity whether it be housekeeping or gardening.
We must see the dignity of tilling the land as a way to obtain
adequate quantities of produce in a world that has long since found
it impossible to subsist on hunting and gathering. The growth of
human population elevates agriculture including horticulture to the
level of essential occupations. We need tilled land for growing
food, and we need to see dignity in doing just that.
Holistic approach. No doubt writing prose and poetry, public
speaking, administering in sizeable institutions, and taking legal
actions bring honor and esteem. We call the performers of some of
these occupations by dignified titles and hold others in special
esteem for their creative endeavors. But we can easily overlook
the tillers of the land as Booker T. Washington indicates. To till
in an orderly and practical way takes experience that calls on the
use of brain and brawn, arms and heart, a sense of courage and
trust in nature's cooperation. Gardening is not just sowing seeds
and expecting a plentiful harvest. Nurturing, cultivating and
providing tender loving care are essential components of tillage.
Plants must be set in place properly, protected, nourished,
watered, and pruned; a prior planning must include variety,
spacing, and provision of proper types and amounts of nutrients and
water; caring includes the entire psyche of the gardener.
Benefits in dignifying gardening. Many of the advantages
pointed out elsewhere in these essays enhance the gardener's sense
of dignity. Youth can be taught the value of gardening; people of
all ages can be made to appreciate where food comes from and the
effort it takes to produce it; with enhanced dignity comes a deeper
appreciation of the spiritual and sacred aspects of gardening;
encouragement comes to the budding and somewhat inexperienced
gardener; older experienced gardeners receive joy in showing others
the fruit of their skills; the vast resource of potential backyard
gardens begins to emerge; and the spiritual value to all people of
touching the soil with their own hands is becoming known in this
age of increased environmental consciousness. The dignity of
gardening will reenforce the dignity of healing the Earth itself.
6, 2006 Hospital Visits
I serve as a voluntary chaplain at the local Marcum & Wallace
Memorial Hospital, an institution under Catholic Mercy Sister
auspices, even though the title does not reflect this fact. I
share turns with a number of other local clergy and religious
leaders and am asked to go several days on the assigned week every
Entering a hospital room harks back to academic debating days
when you don't know what comes next. All I know for sure is
someone is there who would rather be outside the hospital and he or
she needs some sort of assistance. What any chaplain finds is
someone who may be troubled, resigned, sleeping, unconscious,
puzzled, smiling, crying, frowning, pre-occupied with television or
the need for the nurse. In some cases the person is angry with
self, relatives, friends or God.
Public or private? In only a few brief moments as visitor, I
must size up the individual person's situation and respond
accordingly. Of course, resignation to what is ahead is the
easiest to handle and anger the hardest. Many people focus on
their health and future. How long must I stay? In some cases they
treat the chaplain as another health care person with some sort of
insight into their particular case. What must be said at this
moment requires a combination of tact and inspiration as well as a
cheerful approach. And I cannot help but feel very sorry for the
patient and the accompanying relatives. They in turn almost always
feel uncomfortable -- a sense of public view in the moments of
Spiritual resources. A hospital visit calls forth much of our
deeper reserves of spiritual resources because we must make contact
and seek to pray with someone who most likely doesn't even recall
the words of the "Our Father." Some are churchgoers, but more
often in Appalachia the hospitalized person is unchurched with a
basic Christian belief. A better way of categorizing patient
differences is that some believe in the power of prayer and others
do not; however, most do appreciate someone's praying with or over
them. We do gently remind patients that those believing in the
power of prayers have proven better recovery rates.
I try to show the willing individual patient that the illness
is an opportunity to join with the Lord in suffering for the good
and salvation of other people. This is surprisingly foreign to
most people, even churched ones, who see illness as personal
problems to be overcome with modern medicines. Maybe this offering
of one's suffering is a Catholic concept, for virtually all of the
patients at Irvine's hospital, whether Protestant or non-believers,
finds the concept foreign to them until explained. Virtually all
Christian churchgoers see this in a renewed light. "You mean the
sickness is not a proof of my poor health care?" No, in fact the
sickness is an opportunity to live a very meaningful life when
offered up in union with the sufferings of Christ on Calvary.
7, 2006 World Health Requirements
We celebrate the annual World Health Day today and, as said
last year (April 7,
2005), we realize the disparity of health care
among various of the world's people. This disparity is reflected
in different lengths of longevity, in amount of access to basic
health needs, and in available sophisticated health treatments.
Should this continue to be the case? We all affirm the right to
all having good health and living high quality lives both
physically and mentally. Fulfilling these requirements is a
worldwide responsibility not limited to individual nations, states
or local communities:
* Basic health care. Though it is impossible to provide the
newest and highly sophisticated medical technology to all people,
still basic health care in the form of vaccination for common
children's diseases and treatment for malaria and skin diseases are
attainable goals. Such possible worldwide treatments would require
only tens of billions of dollars. A one percent tax on the so-
called developed world's income could meet this basic need. All
should consider such a tax to be the shared responsibility of the
world's people and in gratitude for the blessing of economic and
accessible health services.
* More comprehensive medical research. All too often our
medical research is based on the profitability factor and not need.
However, in many so-called underdeveloped lands, basic medical
research is lacking; drugs and treatments are simply not currently
available. One answer is international and United Nations funding
because local or private sources are insufficient.
* Keeping doctors at home. This is a challenging subject since
we all know good health providers who have come to parts of America
to assist in providing needed care in lower income neighborhoods.
The problem is that this rather bright and aggressive cohort of
foreign health care givers is part of the brain and expertise drain
from nations that can ill afford such losses. It may seem drastic,
but it may be necessary from a global perspective that such health
care workers should not emigrate without an assurance that a
replacement will come into their country. Is this feasible?
* World inventory of health needs. This inventory is
something that a large private foundation may be persuaded to
support. Why? Because this is something that some governments
would be reluctant to conduct in an objective manner. It is needed
on a global level so that people understand the global health
situation and where needs are greater.
* Health Education. We need to know more about holistic and
other alternative health programs, about available nutritious
foods, and about practices that contribute to healthy living.
Anti-smoking campaigns are needed as tobacco use becomes a global
problem. Health education materials need to be developed and
translated for targeted areas.
8, 2006 Seniors and the Driving Privilege
This past week I drove over and told a person recovering from
severe health problems that his children and health providers deem
it best that he not continue to drive. By the end of the week I,
a senior, had a terribly near miss by not seeing a turn off at
night and resolved to curtail night driving. It may seem a simple
assignment for a parish priest or anyone, but discussing such
decisions either for self or others is very difficult. The fact is
that to drive on our public roads in a motorized vehicle takes a
certain level of mental and physical capability and sometimes that
ability erodes beyond the immediate recognition of lovers of the
freedom to travel. We must come to the realization of our own
involvement in the driving privilege and the risks to others of our
own eroding conditions. Far better would be to live where we would
not feel a need to drive to work, services, and other needs.
The first argument to modify driving practices is that
Appalachian roads are narrow and involved in many severe accidents.
We have to be all the more careful due to human safety and
financial (liability) reasons. Family members are keenly aware
that they may be held responsible if there is a terrible accident
because a person is knowingly impaired or unable to drive safely.
We simply should not take such very grave chances.
A second argument given by author Kristin Johannsen (see
4) when she told me that their family had to stop her grandparents
from driving: the other drivers out there are insensitive because
of their travel speed and the chances they take; only the best
drivers can cope with this deteriorating situation. Such an
argument takes the problem of poor driving out of the person's
personal realm and puts it in a hurry-up and move-fast generation.
The spiritual context. Each of us is to obey God's will at
all times. Times are changing as Jesus tells Peter in John 21:18 -
- When you were young you put on your own belt and walked where
you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will put a belt round you and take you where you
would rather not go. We put on seat belts and we drive about
rather than walk. Now with age we must do what the Lord directs us
through knowing our physical and mental condition. We have to do
what is best, and sometimes this obedience to God's will is
difficult, at least at the time we are called to follow it. With
new arrangements things become easier.
Our paschal mystery. We are all asked to give up things
throughout life -- and the driving privilege is one such. To do
this graciously is a sign of a deepening spirituality and an
immense teaching moment in the life of the person. Giving up
driving on one's own is ultimately rewarding; it is passing from
independent to semi-independent living, which generally comes when
people are in their seventies. It's hard for those who keep neat
homes, maintain their vehicles perfectly, and have provided for
their loved ones for decades. The difficulty is just aging.
9, 2006 Palm Sunday and the Messiah Complex
Most likely all of us suffer from a little of the Messiah
complex, and the one who does this least is the Messiah himself,
Jesus Christ. Today is the day most would expect the complex to be
fully operative for Jesus could enter with a triumphal procession
into Jerusalem, his city, vested in full regalia and pomp. But it
is not in Jesus' character to act like a triumphal king reigning in
glory and to receive the acknowledgment of all his subjects as they
line the streets. We are haunted by the images of "Hosanna" this
Sunday and "Crucify him" on Friday. Are they the same people?
Our messiah complex can take on a variety of forms. On the
individual level we find the words: "I told you so," which assume
that we know the future with greater certainty than the next
person. "It seems to me" could sound to some as a manifestation of
greater knowledge than the speaker could have at a given time.
Messiahship may mean means saving a given situation even apart from
complex and unknown global consequences. Our advice to others means
that we see the scene far better than they; we have come to raise
them out of their confusion and elevate them to our level of
understanding. We often fail to see how Jesus teaches us humility.
On the national level, our messiah complex goes back for
centuries. In fact, the roots go way back into the Puritan dreams
when they landed at Plymouth Rock. Americans are destined to lead
the way for others to follow, and we are to impose our Manifest
Destiny by the westward movement of people from sea to shining sea
and even throughout the hemisphere. In recent times there has been
a greater tendency to impose our messiah complex through guns
rather than diplomacy, which can only accelerate a distaste for
Americanized evangelization. Even this could have a good effect,
for our lack of success may force us to reexamine our attitudes.
Too often we see our democracy in rather fundamentalistic terms,
and need to give others the space and distance to express their
aspirations in different ways.
We can learn something from Jesus, and Palm Sunday is a
perfect time to do so. What lies ahead is not necessarily a road
of continuous success, even though it may be seen as a success in
the longer view of history. We need to sacrifice if we are to be
those who help bring salvation to a troubled world either locally
or globally. Jesus enters the fray in a humble way; so should we.
Jesus sees the limits of his companions, his boosters, his means of
travel, the culture and vicinity (Jerusalem); so should we face
the limitations that lie in our path with patience and an open
spirit. Jesus accepted the hosannas as coming from fickle people;
we should not let first indicators of success go to our head.
Sacrifice comes at a cost to us and we need to be able to hope
for much but not let temporary setbacks stand in the way of our
fidelity. In some ways our Palm Sundays may be harder to practice
than our Good Fridays. Each day requires the grace of God; and,
knowing this, we may become mini-messiahs in the Jesus mold.
10, 2006 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
On this day (Easter) in 1955 Teilhard died in New York at the
age of 74. He was a paleontologist by training and also a
theologian as witnessed through his writings. He died at the very
time I was considering entering the Society (which occurred in
1956); my further interest was raised by reports in the media that
he was a noted scientist and a Frenchman as well. Most of his more
extensive writings only became available over the next few years
following his death. During philosophy studies, three years later,
I read the English translations of The Divine Milieu and The
Phenomenon of Man.
Inspiration. Teilhard's life and works inspired me and many
others both in his manner of approach and in the content of his
writings, but it is the former that still appeals to me most. He
had a freshness and a creative manner of writing that touched me
deeply at a time prior to Vatican II when a renovation in thought
was in the air. He was not afraid to pioneer new intellectual
frontiers when others were seeking to always appear safe in what
was taught. Even today Teilhard comes to a dry world as an
adventurer who is quite poetic, intuitional, and manifesting a
happy blend of science and theology in ways never previously
expressed. Teilhard's writing show a deep spirituality enhanced
through the years of the Second World War in China, his many
studies and his international connections.
Content. Teilhard's works are difficult to categorize; they
are certainly not Scholastic in style and, while containing a
modern scientific worldview and terminology, are not analytic. In
Teilhard's world view Christ's incarnation takes immediate root in
the wedding of scientific knowledge and his firmly held religious
beliefs. Teilhard sees the divine truth of Christ's drawing,
through his redemption, of all the universe to an Omega Point, the
terminus of the natural evolutionary process. Christ energizes
this natural process and thus is the Alpha and Omega, the
foundational source giving direction to the movement of history
itself. For Teilhard that movement is towards greater complexity
and a higher consciousness.
Perspective. I am unsure whether I share Teilhard's
overwhelming optimism born perhaps in a spirituality seeking to
cope with his tragic circumstances of having to endure a major war
on foreign soil. His spirituality is sometimes described as a
shared Ignatian and Franciscan vision of the universe: a practical
approach to seeing God in all things and an almost mystical grasp
of a world on fire with divine love. History moves towards ever
greater complexity and higher consciousness, and we are not mere
observers but participants in this movement. The difficulties that
Teilhard had in getting his views accepted while he was alive tell
us much about the acceptance of new ideas; they are often received
only at the passing of the individual -- a grain dying in order to
give a plentiful harvest. Thus his death during the height of the
paschal mystery seems very apropos.
11, 2006 Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science
It is very fitting near the birthday of Teilhard de Chardin to
reprint a letter signed by more than ten thousand clergy of many
Christian denominations in response to the movement by certain
fundamentalist circles to restrict the teaching of evolution in
public schools. Across the country people are currently debating
the "evolution versus intelligent design" issue, which has become
a hot topic in national and international circles.
A copy of the "Clergy Letter"
Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of
dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret
Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible
seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and
practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible
literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved
stories found in the Bible -- the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and
the ark -- convey timeless truths about God, human beings and the
proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the
only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to
generation. Religious truth is of a different order from
scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific
information but to transform hearts.
We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different
traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the
discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe
that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth,
one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of
human knowledge and achievement rest. To reject this truth or to
treat it as "one theory among others" is to deliberately embrace
scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.
We believe that among God's good gifts are the human minds capable
of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift
is a rejection of the will of our Creator.
To argue that God's loving plan of salvation for humanity
precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is
to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board
members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by
affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core
component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science
and that religion remain religion, two very different, but
complementary forms of truth.
Reprinted from Zygon Center of Religion
and Science, News and
Views, December, 2005, p. 8.
12, 2006 Young People's Herb Garden
During Library and Garden Week let's talk about one neglected
herbal subject -- those plants targeted for cultivation by youth.
We have treated Herb Growing and Use (Oct.
2, 2004), Herb and
Wildflower Week (May
2, 2005), and Medicinal Herbs (July
Two of these topics are utilitarian in nature and one beautifies
the landscape, for herbs growing among themselves or intermingled
with other plants are delightful to behold. Youth can quickly
sense herbal beauty and utility though they cannot be expected to
tend an extensive herbal enterprise as can grown-ups. Here are a
few hints worth remembering.
* Plan a proper-sized garden. The smaller the child, the
smaller the herbal patch that is planned. Overly large herbal
gardens take more effort, and some of this may fall on the sponsor
when the youth are away at summer vacation or pressed in academic
and athletic programs. Don't create a burden for yourself or one
for the youth. If they can work with older brothers or sisters or
with friends, the project may prove more successful.
* Think variety. Try a variety of herbs for some may not fare
so well and others may flourish. The young people may favor an
herb that you do not find most pleasing, but their choices should
be honored as completely as possible.
* Consider educational signs. Mark the containers with the
herbal names (even scientific names for older youth) so the
youngsters can see and taste the herbs and come to an extensive
herbal vocabulary at an early age. Visiting friends of youth can
learn from what is done and aspire to do the same.
* Encourage youth to share herbal products. Let them give the
products to others as presents (e.g., to mothers or grandparents),
offer them for use as ingredients in soups or salads, and show them
how the various herbs are used in ordinary and extraordinary
* Give the site its own prominence. Be proud of what the
budding gardeners can do, encourage them, spend a little time
looking over the plants, tell the gardening feat to others, open
the way for "show and tell" in school, and ask the youth to provide
pots for floral displays in various indoor (or outdoor) events.
* Harvest and care for herbs in winter. Most herbs can be
dried easily or their seeds (dill or basil) can be gathered, or the
pots can be brought indoors to stay as houseplants and as a
beginning for next year's herb garden.
* Spread the word. Herb growing can become part of the well-
being of the young person. The many advantages of gardening
mentioned in these essays can be duplicated in the herbal garden.
We need to enlist as many folks as possible to the good aspects of
gardening, and young growers of herbs can become good evangelists.
13, 2006 Holy Thursday and Washing Feet
Recently a Baptist woman mentioned to me that she had taken part in
Communion and in washing of feet a number of times; she was
surprised to hear that the opportunity comes to us Catholics every
Holy Thursday -- though it is an optional liturgical ceremony. I
remember that the spring I was at Marquette University the Jesuit
community was very reluctant to take part.
Personal experiences. My feet have been ceremonially washed
(after I had put on clean socks) and I have washed others on Holy
Thursday -- but find the ceremony somewhat difficult in older age
because of the need to get up and down. However, I find washing
feet meaningful though not an overly delightful practice. In doing
this we enter more formally into the Paschal Mystery and especially
into the suffering and death of the Lord. Today is also Passover
and we remember the celebration of the unleavened bread, cups of
wine, lamb, bitter herbs, and the familiar story of the Exodus.
Amazingly, an innovation from Old Testament liturgical practices
into New Testament ceremonies is the washing of feet. Jesus
reminds us that we must be committed to serving others and that our
Christian ministry is one of humble service.
Symbols and reality. Often in recent years we have
substituted for the washing of feet the washing of hands, though
the ceremony is not as emphatic for the washer or the one washed as
is the actual foot washing. However, it can be facilitated so that
a large assembled community may participate more easily. Does this
reluctance to wash feet have something to do with feet being closer
to the soil and thus a lower portion of the body? The weary foot
traveler in the Holy Land did not want to track road dust into the
home of a guest, and so going to the washroom before settling in
for a meal was a customary function. The repentant sinner who
washes Jesus' feet a little before the Last Supper event leads the
way by drying his feet with her hair. Only when participating in
such a ceremony are we struck with the fullness of that feat.
Applied feet washing. When there are major oil spills in the
ocean, we hear of volunteers diligently washing some poor covered
gulls, but wonder whether the washing has much effect beyond the
media op. However foot washing could remind us of some Appalachian
needs. Large numbers of humble people walk along the sides of
streets and roads in our region. As in all parts of the country,
this is a hazardous practice since pedestrian right-of-ways and
sidewalks are not provided. When near a road puddle, these poor
walkers get a heavy splashing. Do we even see them there? Foot
washing may take on a more serious character if more of us defend
the right to travel on our heavily subsidized roadways. Why should
those with vehicles have so many privileges though the ones who
must try to travel on foot are forbidden to use Interstates? On
closer inspection, we find that this can easily become a violation
of the rights of the poor to free access. "Foot washing" may
include the humbling task of defending foot travelers. Shouldn't
they be able to travel as freely as auto drivers?
14, 2006 Calvary's Cross Today
Each year on Good Friday we discuss the wounds found upon our
Earth today, wounds that become today's Calvary. These areas of
suffering are bound in the Paschal Mystery because they are part of
the extension of Calvary's event 2000 years ago to the happenings
of our own age; this we do each time we celebrate the Mass.
Wounds of the hands: Production of nuclear bombs, which could
devastate our globe; making all weapons of war, which consume over
a trillion dollars in resources each year, which could easily
furnish the basic health, educational, housing and dietary needs of
the world's poorest people; discharging these weapons in clashes
and military confrontation through the world; manufacturing and
scattering pesticides that harm wildlife and human beings living
near the points of dispersal; doing violence to one's self or to
other people in many different forms of aggression and enslavement.
Wounds of the feet: Terrorist attacks on innocent people in
many lands; forms of tourism that heavily impact habitat and
damage fragile ecosystems; walking away from responsibilities such
as breadwinning for families and nursing disabled individuals;
congregating with peers who lead one to waste time; travel that
carries pathogens from one infested region of the world to another;
transportation of contaminated foods.
Wounds of the heart: Failure to love others, to show
compassion for them, and to recognize the legitimate needs of the
poor people of the Earth along with threatened and endangered
plants and animals; heartless treatment of senior citizens, the
hospitalized, and prisoners of war or terrorism.
Wounds of the body: Stripping the land of its resources such
as minerals and forests; destructive methods of agriculture that
cause erosion and soil depletion; pollution of air and water;
substance abuse practices that harm the body as well as mind;
AIDS and other pandemic threats that go untreated; lack of basic
health for the world's poorest people.
Wounds of the head: The propaganda that leads to emotional
responses that can prove dangerous; deliberate racist provocations
and discrimination; Internet and advertisement allurements that
harm body and soul; bias of all kinds and especially the
insensitivity that overlooks the needs of lower income and
destitute people; untreated mental illness; deliberate forms of
isolation by or to individuals; silencing of individuals or their
creative expressions; festering anger and hatred of others.
Burdens that must be carried: Grudges, unforgiven wounds,
daily work loads, and backbreaking tasks with no time for rest;
handicaps that are not addressed by a sensitive and caring
community; attempting to live on unjustly low wages; inability to
provide enough food for a family; the guilt of past wrongdoing.
15, 2006 A Prayer for Restoring Damaged Lands
A fellow Jesuit, Bob Sears,
has an insight that is worth
noting: land suffers and remembers harsher moments and thus is in
need of healing through prayer to God. We went to the unreclaimed
Black & White Coal Company's strip mine site about fifteen years
ago and prayed over the land. Though the site was never formally
reclaimed due to regulatory mismanagement, that prayed-over land
did seem to reclothe itself with vegetation and first generation
trees such as black locust. A revitalization of a resilient but
wounded land has occurred. Prayers to God for a more profound
healing initiates and effects restoration. As we await the
resurrection of the Lord, let us pray for our individual tracts of
O God, merciful and loving Creator of all things,
Look kindly on this landscape before us,
In past times it gave praise and glory to You
through its abundant vegetation and unique beauty.
See it today in the starkness of the devastation
that human greed and thoughtlessness has rendered;
Do not do what we humans so often do, namely,
turn away and deny what has occurred.
In the bleakness of the empty standing cross,
let us have the power to look and see
what devastation human beings have wrought,
that we now witness with profoundly heavy hearts.
We first ask pardon for human faults to You
and to the land itself in all its gentleness;
We beg forgiveness for it was a human family affair,
and perpetrators went their merry way.
Let this prayer of contrition be something more,
for mere words do not suffice for what has occurred;
Let us pledge to match word with deed
in the spirit of the Calvary event before us.
Now we stand as witnesses before the tomb
knowing full well what we have done,
If not in deed at least in omission
of our duty to care for all creation.
Here we make our pledge to repair as best we can
the wounded Earth around us
and to work for the needed regulations
to keep this from happening again.
O God, renewer of all creation and giver of new life,
Bring the graces of resurrection
on this harmed piece of Earth;
And allow us to be bearers of its Good News.
16, 2006 EASTER PASCHAL MYSTERY
Faith, God's gift to each of us,
For some, fame, glory, beauty plus --
Nature lovers on a wind-swept hill
Sunsets when hugging breaks the chill.
Gusto! Sound health is the moment's clutch,
Life is such. Wine, dine, Midas touch,
Their sign is but an empty cross.
What a gloss! Proclaim the loss.
Choose life or death, the Good Book implores,
Faith cast in deeds, James underscores.
The choice is blessing, not curse or worse.
Imprisoned, purgatory on Earth, hospice nurse,
When life ebbs during the final strife,
"I am the Resurrection and the life."
With a final scene, a bier beneath the rood,
And then the solemn rites conclude.
The scene, the temple, holy place for all
Faith-Justice personified in the Spirit's call
For those who push and shove lowly ones about.
Righteous anger, upturning tables, he drove them out.
It's a place of prayer not a den of thieves.
Then they plot to halt what he believes,
The final scene, Calvary, a broken reed,
The just one, a living crucifix indeed.
Named in Jesus, faithful service the aim,
We teach, preach, disclaim, proclaim
Here or elsewhere, explore, restore, implore.
Alone, I do so little, together so much more.
Make clean the moneyed coffers of our land,
Sharing with others, a world's rightful demand.
If peer, friend, advisor sneer, don't veer.
Our lonely cross, a jubilee that's near.
Modern temple-cleaning, an unpraised task,
We find no applause, a bit of glory from the past,
Visit the sick, do mercy's works for sure,
Follow Jesus, bearer of the poor.
Accompany him in this desecrated world indeed
Stand up with others, take Abe Lincoln's lead,
Don't tolerate a world half indebted, half free.
Yes, a sign of cross in awesome Trinity.
17, 2006 All creation gives praise to God
This is Keep America Beautiful & Wildlife Week, a time of
immense natural beauty in the resurgence of the plants; it is also
the time that we hear the scurry of wildlife all around as a new
generation is being born and is moving about.
Scripture, especially the Psalms, tells how creation gives
praise to God through its very presence.
Let the heavens be glad, let earth rejoice,
let the sea thunder and all that it holds,
let the fields exult and all that is in them,
let all the woodland trees cry out for joy.
The fullness of creation with all its
beauty and majesty give
praise to God. But does not all creation, even that which suffers
from human greed and mismanagement give praise as well? The
untouched and unhurt landscape seems to shine with joy, but when
crying is heard on the landscape, is there praise coming to God at
that time? The healthy land in springtime and the mourning of a
wounded creation must give some praise. But what about the quality
of that praise?
We say when human beings suffer and offer their sufferings to
the Lord, the quality of their activity surpasses that of others;
but it takes that free will offering to make it especially
praiseworthy. Is the same to be said for all of creation? If the
free will offering improves the quality, how is this effected in
the wounded Earth, which does not have a free will to make an
The theological answer must rest with human beings to the
degree that we are affected by the natural world. When the healthy
natural world moves us to prayer, the joy is all the greater. If
and when the wounded natural world moves us to become more active
in stopping the pollution, then the wounded Earth gives greater
praise to God, for it enters into the Calvary event through human
interaction. Should human beings remove themselves from the
wounded Earth and deny it exists, excuse themselves from the
healing task at hand, or escape to other activities, then the added
praise is lacking -- and wounded Earth becomes less praiseworthy.
Yes, all creation gives praises with and through us as human
beings. When we are disturbed by damaged creation, then we would
expect that our total praise would be reduced through distraction,
unplaced anger, and even despair. When we human beings cause the
degradation of the Earth and then neglect to heal the wounds, we
are at fault for allowing this form of "sacrilege" to continue. Is
our motivation to praise in the midst of degradation lessened?
When we hear discordant notes and are motivated to redouble our
efforts to restore all creation so that our joint praise will be
enhanced, then greater praise is forthcoming. And we give this
praise together with the Earth.
18, 2006 Third World Day
Has this day lost its significance? It is hard to designate
the poorer nations of the world -- the "have-not" lands as opposed
to the more affluent "have" ones. We used to use first, second,
third and even fourth (the most destitute) world terms. This was
popular during the latter half of the 20th century, when the USSR
and its empire held sway in much of Eurasia; we spoke of the
Western alliance lands as "First World" and the Communist block as
the "Second World." Japan and the Pacific Rim joined the first
world category; the communist block crumbled; some Middle Eastern
countries became affluent and yet did not feel comfortable in the
existing categories. The rest of the world split into Third and
even Fourth World designations and the latter were mainly
hopelessly indebted lands (e.g., Haiti or Zimbabwe) or
dysfunctional nations lacking the power to govern (Somalia).
Amid challenges to terminology emerge newer designations
equally unappealing, as for instance "developed" versus "un-" or
"underdeveloped" countries. Really? The truth is that some of the
secularized nations including our own country are not nearly as
developed spiritually as somewhat poorer lands. Is a highly
secularized state really developed? Does our materialistic culture
make us something to be emulated? If enough lands, including
emerging China and India attempt to be like us, our world will
collapse through greed and overuse of resources. Even the terms
"have" for some countries and "have-not" for others make us forget
the have-nots amidst the haves who could not flee New Orleans at
the time of the Katrina Disaster last year.
The questions may give us a clue that categories of nations
are somewhat unrealistic generalizations. However, some good may
come from this day and its quibbling over terms. First,
differences do exist at least in access and use of resources. The
poor, the Anawim of Scripture, and the "low-income" among those
lucky to have jobs, are respectable folks, all desiring to live a
good life. A national category does not change individuals who
suffer from want in any way, though it may challenge us who have
more and wish to retain our "legally" obtained goods at all costs.
We feel quite uncomfortable attempting to create a satisfactory set
of categories for others. Why? Is it because we come to know
differences and just how many benefits a few have? Doesn't this
prick our consciences? For to know the poor and say "goodbye and
good luck" is our own condemnation.
Ultimately put, the "Third World" is a sign of our own defeat,
our own lack of collective sensitivity to the needs of others. We
make them into a problem area and set ourselves apart, thanking God
we are different. The story of Lazarus reemerges with ever greater
force. We are Dives -- the rich man. We see the Third World at
our doorstep and even the dogs come and lick their sores -- Jesus'
words are quite vivid if you ask me! We still fail to act though
we spend 400 billions annually for defense. As for being
"developed," it is a story of categorizing by the arrogant.
19, 2006 The Nuclear Phoenix
In Egyptian mythology the phoenix is a beautiful lone bird
that lives in the Arabian desert for 500 to 600 years and then sets
itself on fire, rising renewed from the ashes to start another long
life. This symbol of immortality may be ascribed to the nuclear
industry, which seems apparently dead due to the grave concerns
about nuclear safety, uranium mining and enrichment problems,
permanent disposal of nuclear wastes, and expenses in case of
accidents. The nuclear phoenix seems to die and yet arises again.
Breaking the environmental movement. The utterance of people
like health expert Helen Caldicott who said that "If we all hang
out our clothes we could shut down the nuclear industry" is
overlooked by energy policymakers. The pro-nuke folks always have
a response because they have flourished by the grace of government
materials' processing and willingness to bear the insurance
liabilities. The battle lines have been drawn for years but the
hope in the ever-rising nuclear industry is that the environmental
community will become permanently fractured and that the people who
worry about global warming will choose nuclear generating
techniques as the better of two evils. Fractures appear within the
environmental movement as some show contrition for ever doubting
nuclear safety. Governmental approbation (and funding) and
industry handouts assist these "confessions" of environmentalists.
Military connection. Few want to admit it but the movement to
acquire nuclear weaponry on the part of Iran and North Korea and
the failure of the nuclear powers (United States, Russia, United
Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and presumably Israel) to
move aggressively to disarmament all add to the nuclear power race.
When one of these powers agrees to assist another to acquire
nuclear energy and thus eventually the ability to make nuclear
weapons, it spreads instability to another part of the world.
Unfortunately, it is the public's desire to separate military from
citizen uses that is the achilles heel of the nuclear age; in
actuality, these cannot be fully separated.
The waste problem. The great impasse that still exists within
the nuclear industry is the nuclear waste accumulating at
powerplants. Now a Native American tribe in Utah has offered to
store the wastes on their own land. But can they speak for those
who will inhabit the vicinity a thousand years from now? The
proposal to break the stalemate has yet to be finalized. Placing
or transporting waste materials near populated locations has proved
a major point of contention. Conveying the wastes long distances
requires many safeguards not yet in place, a major citizen concern.
New outlooks. Energy analysts in increasing numbers are
demonstrating that we can move into a renewable energy economy that
is free of excessive carbon dioxide emissions as well as of nuclear
power plants. Let's think about hanging out clothes tomorrow on
National Hanging Out Day, for energy conservation is a key to
burying the nuclear phoenix.
20, 2006 Lotteries and Sanity
Recently someone within my parish bounds won a sizeable
gambling prize, and the feat became known all over the county and
neighboring ones as well. It tempted me to think that maybe I
would be lucky also and could then turn these massive amounts of
winnings over to a Center to Fight the Lottery. But then I
realized that the chances are less than those of being struck by
lightning, and thus returned to my "no-gambling" lifestyle.
Does the lottery craze that is sweeping this nation have
anything to do with healing the Earth? I think it does in this
way: people become so unrealistic about striking it rich that they
carry their lack of realism into other more pressing matters in the
everyday world in which they live. If the average person hooked on
gambling would take those dollars they peel off so handily in the
places I buy gasoline, and invest them in other ways, they would be
better off. It would be a saner practice and would improve their
own work and money management ethic.
For many Americans (enough to make lotteries a whopping
success), gambling seems to have the opposite effect, which they
find heightened when they read about people in Nebraska winning the
PowerBall sweepstakes' tens of millions of dollars. They will be
the lucky ones next time; they feel it in their bones. What they
really feel is the hopelessness of poor financial management
together with the cost of keeping up materially with the Jones next
door. Their overall condition is not improving and thus they take
that long shot of winning really big just around the corner. But
with each disappointment the addictive feeling may simply increase
and lead to still more money expended on the next lottery program.
It is a spiral that ends only in death. And gambling flourishes.
Why the mentality of gambling is so detrimental to good
citizenry is that if each individual person were to win big, the
world would no longer need to share. No more financial worries.
What makes this such an insidious way of thinking is that everyone
at the gambling table is against everyone else -- the opposite of
good citizenship. A win will wipe out all problems and so the
range of possibility is narrowed to that anticipated victory and
does not depend on the hard work of improving our environmental
conditions through sacrifice and cooperative endeavors. Soon the
gamblers see a mere win as what is important, and not the struggle
to resolve differences, make compromises, and move as an aroused
citizenry to solve some of our pressing environmental problems.
An added difficulty is that confirmed gamblers think that a
good part of their losings go to the state's educational and other
needs. Thus this justifies losses. However, this unsocial gambler
now is prey to being a champion of more gambling and less levying
of taxes for the core needs of the community. Instead of spreading
taxes fairly, the lower income people will spend more and more to
rise above the financial conditions into which they have sunk. The
lottery mentality leads to less fair tax incentives?
21, 2006 John Muir and the Environmental Movement
John Muir was born 168 years ago today. I often wonder
whether this 19th-century lover of the natural world in which he
moved and lived would be satisfied with his many admirers. In my
reading of his life a few years back some three characteristics
that we need to reemphasize today stood out: his doing things on
his own; his consistent love of nature throughout life; and his
willingness to live the simple life while being an activist.
Creative ways. We may feel uneasy about striking out on our
own. It is the day of an overabundance of critics and so-called
experts who glory in shooting down what we strive to do. Creativity
takes on more restricted confines in the modern world of the 21st
century. Most of what we dream up doing can be easily shot down by
those who know better, and this makes us move to another outlet or
get our of range of their critique. Actually the environmental
movement can become a little inbreed from lack of new blood; is it
designed to welcome people with new ideas? Do the oldtimers hold
on too tightly? Do the younger ones get too discouraged from
starting new things and leave what appear to be overly traditional
organizations? And isn't it difficult to start new ones?
Love of nature. In the busy world in which we live, we who
champion the environment seem to have less time to live outdoors
amid the scenic beauty, just accepting that nature becomes our
greatest teacher. In some ways, this very essay is a
contradiction, because it takes up time that we need to allow the
scenes to flood our minds, the sounds to touch our souls, the
smells and tastes of April's goodness to be savored, and the full
spectrum sunlight to warm and change us. Nature seems so gentle
and those who cry "fire" so much more noticeable in our fast-moving
century. Slowing down in the Muir manner would be helpful right
now, for we have to find the hikes and meditative time needed to be
out on our own so that nature educates us. Sometimes this must be
done alone, and John Muir shows the way through his life.
Simple but active. John Muir was quite able to defend the
lands that were national park candidates; yet he did so through
simple means of communication. Today, the noise of so many
competing messages forces us to take more sophisticated steps, but
shouldn't we regard simplicity as part of the environmental
message? We are equipped with the latest in computer equipment,
which requires constant upkeep, virus sweeps, and
intercommunication with those who know so much more. Pretty soon
our own simplicity is being compromised, because it takes time and
money to answer emails and maintain websites. Even the message of
simplicity has been made complex. What we have got to see in Muir
and others is that simplicity is part of the message, just as much
as composing, editing, and spell checking is. Granted, to live
simply takes extra time, but that may make the message more sincere
and catchy. People seem to know when we abandon simplicity for
time-saving devices. Maybe John Muir calls us to think "simple
living," and stick to it.
22, 2006 Earth Day -- 2006
A few months back a concerned reader asked me if I were
depressed when I wrote the February monthly contribution to the
"Eco-Spirituality through the Seasons" featured
elsewhere on this
website. That month contains a litany of the damage being done to
our Earth through human exploitation. I said it is necessary to
say as much in order to realistically appraise the process of
healing the Earth. It is realism and not depression that is the
motivation, and it is a down-to-earth spirituality that helps us
fight depression as a result of what we see face-to-face. All of
us must see what has to be done and yet not be overwhelmed by the
magnitude of the problem.
Our present course of resource use as a nation is leading to
the destruction of the Earth. We are gradually awakening to the
realization that our oil addiction is destructive to our economy
and our national security, but it is only gradually that we see the
environmental connection. As a people we give lip service to some
recycling and tree planting programs, but for the most part we
still consume resources that are leading to the global warming that
could be disastrous in the coming years. And within the past few
months scientists have voiced public concern that the glaciers of
Greenland are moving and melting at a far more rapid rate than had
been predicted only a few years before. Within a century the
oceans may rise up to five feet and that would have disastrous
effects on low-lying island nations of the Pacific as well as other
lands such as Bangladesh and parts our country such as Florida.
We must be aware of the consequences of our wrongdoing -- and
there is hardly any greater wrongdoing than the omission of
restraints on our consumption. But what do we do to get people to
use less? Some would argue for the ushering in of the renewable
energy age as quickly as possible -- and I would agree. But in all
honesty, the perversity of pipeline disrupters in Iraq and Nigeria
and anti-western policies in Iran coupled with Venezuela's
movements to curb oil exports to the United States could have a
salutary effect; these happenings could hasten the day of
renewables more than any internal environmental argument. We are
terribly vulnerable to fuel disruption that can only be ultimately
remedied by using the wind and sun that are right here for the
capturing -- and it doesn't take a military budget to effect the
changes in a very short time. It can be done.
In reality, this Earth Day is far more sobering than many in
the past. Our window of environmental grace is certainly narrowing
for we see the effects of global warming. We must do things at
all levels of endeavor: public and private, local, state, national,
and international levels. This Earth Day does not need any more
grand standing as in its early days. It's time to act and to do so
quickly and not to allow this Earth Day to be commercialized by
industries or non-profit six-figure executives. It's time for all
who believe in healing the Earth to join forces with others and
save what is so threatened, namely our Earth. Where do you stand?
23, 2006 Sun Day and the Commons
The community of believers were of one heart and one mind;
none of them ever claimed anything of their own; rather everything
was held in common. (Acts 4:32)
This Sunday, "Sun Day," is designated in order to consider
energy alternatives that will not harm our wounded mother Earth.
This Sun Day follows on the heels of Earth Day, which has a more
generic environmental perspective. Today, we consider the portions
of the environment that have been harmed by fuel extraction and
emissions from non-renewable fuel sources. The answer rests in the
sun -- solar and wind energy.
Acts of the Apostles. Today's passages in the Sunday readings
includes the quote above; this verse in the Acts of the Apostles
describes a primitive Christian communism. Believers took the
welfare of fellow community members so seriously that they shared
all in common. Really religious communities throughout the world
still emphasize this ideal through their vows of poverty. Such
sharing is an extraordinary practice that cannot be imposed by
mandate but that includes some aspects for all: namely, that what
is owned by some may have to be shared by those in need. Here the
"commons" includes resources that are meant for the common good,
and this use for essential needs right now takes precedence over
some sort of retention by property holders for vague future use.
The Commons extends beyond national or state parks or the
public square in a New England town. The commons have been part of
many cultures throughout history and embrace common rivers and
lakes, hunting and fishing areas, meeting and public gathering
space, woodlands for fuel gathering and marshlands, and the
essential food producing and storage areas. Commons also include
the fresh air we breathe and the sun's rays that beam upon our
planet and the wildlife that move about. Commons include our
oceans, Antarctica, the aquifers and the icebergs. What is
actually common is far more all-embracing than what is held by
individuals -- even when admitting that they have a right to
Fresh air and fuel resources. We connect the readings of
Scripture to the Sun Day event through the need to share air and
natural resources, because these are part of what we have in
common. Without fresh air, which is so often contaminated by air
pollutants from powerplants and auto exhausts, one cannot live a
healthy life. Fresh air is essential. Without access to fuels of
all sorts people cannot warm their homes or cook their foods. On
this day we confirm the commonality of our needs and point out that
all of us have a responsibility to assist those in need to meet
those needs. Solar and wind (ultimately a solar effect) can be
harnessed using the common financial resources now used to process,
transport and protect non-renewable energy resources. With the
just and proper use of the commons all people could have a higher
quality of life through use of renewable energy. This is Sun Day.
24, 2006 Metamorphosis and Butterflies
The colorful butterflies that now are appearing near April's
flowers and mud puddles have a colorful history. We hear that the
monarchs are on their thousand mile trip back from Mexico; those
other butterflies present have not traveled so far but have
undergone a "sea change" through a normal biological development,
which we find marvelous to behold. The dictionary defines
"metamorphosis" as a physical transformation more or less sudden,
undergone by various animals during development after the embryonic
state as the larva of an insect to the pupa and this (usually as a
cell or cocoon) to the adult. Thus the caterpillar crawling about
on its many legs becomes a flying colorful butterfly in its adult
stage. What a history of experiences in one short life!
A delight to the senses. From general flowerbeds that are
coming to their full radiance soon in May to specific butterfly
gardens created to attract the butterfly, we all find a sense of
joy in seeing these winged delights flitting about. In younger
years I was hard on crawlers, and especially tobacco worms, but
never on the butterfly. It seems so delicate, so fragile, so
fulfilling in our world that craves more color.
Butterfly places. One of my treasured visits in 2002 was to
the butterfly museum at Hunawihr (famed for its church in the
vineyards and its stork nests) near my ancestral home in Alsace,
France. The museum is a massive greenhouse with many plants all
about and then there are butterflies, hundreds of them in every
color and shape, graceful creatures flying about as though they had
no care in the world. They may be of different sizes, colors and
endowments but they still get along so well. Places closer to home
such as the Victoria Butterfly Gardens in British Columbia are
places worth visiting.
Butterfly resources. Many nature lovers wish to attract
butterflies in much the same way as to attract birds or other
wildlife. Through a Google search we find many topics and leads on
butterflies: how to make butterfly gardens (University
Kentucky); where to buy books, pictures and
drawings of these colorful creatures; how to attract hummingbirds
and butterflies <http://www.GracefulGardens.com>;
and details about
organizations including the address for the North American
Butterfly Association. For the budding butterfly promoter or
admirer there are a host of resources to help get started.
Spiritual application. Do human beings move through their own
metamorphosis? Perhaps we do, for the humility of being low on the
scheme of things strikes us deeply during our respective maturation
processes. Then with time we advance and go through a retreat or
isolation and from this become someone far more realistic but still
colorful, and at least able to take flight in our dreams and hopes
about eternal quests. In opening our hearts we become transformed
and prepared for the fullness of the Paschal mystery we are now
experiencing in this springtime.
25, 2006 Holocaust Remembrance Day
This year more of the thinning ranks of Holocaust victims will
pass from this life. Even the World War Two youngsters are now in
their 70s and 80s. The president of Iran may deny there was a
Holocaust and seems to be attracting followers with his strange
rhetoric; a historian in Austria apparently with Nazi sympathies
was recently jailed for denying the Holocaust existed. With the
thinning of the ranks and the denials in prominent circles, it is
all the more imperative that a remembrance day for the millions of
victims be so designated and observed.
Such a terrible 20th-century happening should never occur
again, but how do we ensure that this does not repeat itself?
Looking at those horrible concentration camp pictures can only turn
us away, and many will practice avoidance. Remembering takes on a
variety of forms and it may not involve the vivid depictions of
allied liberation and the emaciated bodies of the liberated. A
revisit to the gas chambers will be quite difficult for some -- for
we can only handle so much of this sort of wrongdoing and
destruction of the human spirit. Furthermore most of us don't know
victims and thus have no first-hand information about that period.
A proper remembrance could include any of the following:
* Offer our day's troubles to God as a contrite prayer for
the crime of the holocaust -- thus individually repairing some of
the damage that this tragedy caused he entire global social
* Offer prayers at any public affair this week in remembrance;
* Challenge those who wish to deny the occurrence, justify the
happening, or downplay the importance of this remembrance;
* Retell and emphasize the life and story of Anne Frank and
others who were the victims of the Holocaust; recall the heroic
action of St. Maximilian Kolbe and others who gave their lives in
the torture chambers of that horrible period.
The best remembrance is to see that human rights are always
observed in prison situations. When that is not the case, we need
to hold our country accountable for the camps now holding supposed
terrorists or criminals. Treating all people with equal dignity
and respect could prove the best remembrance of those who died so
innocently in the concentration camps of Europe in the 1930s and
40s. Seeing that the death penalty is abolished, treating with
dignity all people when imprisoned, and examining conditions in
local jails, state corrections institutions and the federal prison
system all are needed as part of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Nothing is perfect. No acts will bring those victims back,
but their suffering need not be in vain, if we learn lessons that
can be passed on to future generations. The main lesson is that
even some of the most civilized people can do horrible things to
others, and so we cannot afford to deny that it has happened in the
past, that some abuses are happening today, and that holocausts
could actually happen again.
26, 2006 The American Interstate System
Perhaps history will be so kind as to call the Eisenhower era
Interstate system in our lower forty-eight states the monumental
achievement of the United States in its age of glory in the 20th
century. Other distinguished developments may compete but the
42,000 plus miles (and climbing as new roads are added) of highways
tie our country tightly together. Without maps and knowing our
general directions, we can travel to within a few miles of most of
our nation's population (though those final ten miles are much more
problematic). The Interstate roads are relatively safe, well
engineered, containing uniform signs, built for moderate speed, and
interconnected at key locations. For rural people caught in
isolation, the Interstate offers access to places, and a market for
products and services. No doubt Interstates have many advantages.
For over a quarter of a century I lived within hearing of
Interstate 75's traffic. Virtually every long trip I have taken
has made use of one or other of these highways and, as I now slow
down, I find that I have explored all but six of the main numbered
Interstate highways. Though there is some monotony in Interstate
travel, there are some spectacular sites such as I-70 in Colorado
and I-40 as it passes through the Great Smokies near Asheville,
North Carolina. The roadcut on I-68 and its museum in Maryland are
a true geology lesson as are many other cuts in various parts of
the country. All in all, younger folks take this high speed road
system for granted and do not recall traveling across this broad
land over the older U.S. Highway system.
In recent years people have sought to build Interstate 66 (not
the famous cross country U.S. route of the same number). But a
significant number of us do not find that this added route from
Washington DC westward to the Pacific coast is so necessary -- and
have argued against it almost in vain because of its routing
through environmentally fragile regions. Why this additional
highways when existing one that consumed good farmland and
greenspace have proven sufficient? Widening from two to three and
more lanes in each direction can prove more environmentally
friendly than carving still another highway across the countryside.
The Interstate system appears in good condition and is
expected to last a long time. However, we should still ask some
questions: Does this system entice more traveling than may be
warranted and thus extra fuel consumption? Does it entice urban
populations to escape from more congested cities to suburbs and
exurbia and thus continue to expand urban sprawl? As citizens, we
must guard the Interstate System's integrity with continued
maintenance and ever better signs and directions. One improvement
would be to drivers way ahead whether left turns will occur from
left or right lanes. When unfamiliar with the highway, I always
find the lack of this immediate information burdensome. Another
possible problem is the creeping to higher speed limits and the
accompanying waste of fuel and increased accidents. The system is
not perfect -- but it is a pretty good one all the while.
27, 2006 Youth and the Work Ethic
Today is "Take Your Daughters to Work Day." I expect that
many from miners to businessmen will find some excuse not to do so
even if they hear of this day or if their lovely daughters beg to
go to the mine or office. Perhaps the task will be easier to
fulfill for those working at their home office or farm. Many may
find the possibility less inviting due to types of work or
visitors' safety requirements. But the basic idea is certainly
worthy of implementation even though the rush of the ending
academic year may make April less than ideal. Why not in July?
All things said, there's more to the day than a singular
experience. Youth need to experience work in some form and to know
the demands made on all. In former times with fewer regulations,
young workers were more numerous. And some work conditions such as
child labor for 12 hours a day in a factory or mine are not worthy
of repetition today. Many of us farm youth had necessary everyday
chores to do (we milked cows twice a day 365 days a year and one
extra day in leap year). Our summers were spent in a host of
smaller jobs suited to our respective ages and abilities. We
learned the work ethic while the amount and degree of work varied
considerably among a hundred different farm tasks each year.
The horrors of child labor in times past and even today in
countries with emerging industries and few regulations must be
acknowledged. Laws now in effect are certainly salutary. Many
states have rather strict laws as to the age at which youth may
start to work and for how many hours and under what circumstances.
Regulations may scare potential employers. Did we work too much in
my younger years? I don't think so. The environment was healthy
and the work supported an entire family enterprise. We learned to
do our particular task and were personally accountable for its
success. That meant a work ethic that was expected and did give
satisfactory results, which made us proud of what we accomplished.
Those directing volunteers tell that many youth do not know
the first thing about work and are essentially unemployable even
for minimum wage jobs. They may learn quickly or they may be fired
and not understand why they were phased out when a fellow youth
continued to be employed. The total work experience involves
learning to work, and this demands diligence, patience, effort, and
a sense of responsibility. But it also demands an ability to use
a broom, hammer, hoe, and other instruments. The use of mechanized
and highly sophisticated tools in place of simple devices limits
the options for beginning workers. And that need for appropriate
technologies suited to the youth must be addressed by our society.
Perhaps an introductory stipend for beginners that is not a minimum
wage (if not taken advantage of by employers) could be a good
start. Youth who run errands and do appropriate tasks for sponsors
of their high school education in the Christo Rey schools and other
such work/study programs are moving in the right direction. Youth
need employment opportunities that are not oppressive and yet good
learning experiences. Yes, they need some work experience.
28, 2006 Arbor and Bird Day
Last year we observed this Arbor and Bird Day by speaking of
ways of observing and protecting birds. Let's now reflect on the
combination of birds and trees and how they complement each other.
Trees attract birds, and birds vocalize the joy of their lofty tree
perches through their song. Trees and birds thrive together in a
symbiotic relationship that is hard to designate with specificity.
Many varieties of birds exist within the edges or the actual
interior of the forests of our land. Here they find food, nesting
areas and places of refuge from predators. Fragmentation of
forests can prove dangerous for some species, especially those
susceptible to cowbirds that lay eggs in other species' nests.
Birds are often found to withdraw into the forests to get away from
the noises and congestion of modern life. They need this retreat
area that is tree-covered, for there they can find protection.
I like to observe how the plentiful tribe of robins uses the
branches of the tree to entice their young to leave the nest, to
cling to branches until each achieves some confidence and then to
move about from branch to branch and tree to tree. The tree
becomes the training grounds for the young ones acquiring a new
experience of flying. A second observation is the many woodpeckers
that use the trees as a source of nourishment. Interestingly
enough our fruit trees (especially the cherries) have become a
source of desserts for a number of varieties of birds. In winter
we see swarms of starlings descend on a holly bush and in a few
minutes denude it of all its bright red fruit. I saw the same
phenomenon this January when a flock descended on my favorite
persimmon tree and shook off all its remaining fruit in a matter of
The relationship of trees and birds affects us as human
beings. In winter, the naked tree branches furnish wonderful bird
perches, and the evergreens are of interest to some non-migrating
species because they provide protected refuges. During the rest of
the year trees are shelters, nesting spots, and resting places for
many of the migratory species. The birds passing through make the
trees come alive for us. The combination of birds and trees is
served by planting more trees, an exercise we recommend each year
in one or other format. Many of our tree varieties are under
assault through opportunistic and imported diseases (hemlock, ash,
white oak, dogwood, etc.). The listing is almost endless and we
hear of a new major variety under attack each year.
Trees are truly for the birds, and we help make this happen in
an age of deforestation, road construction and other forms of urban
development. Both trees and birds require protection and special
favors; trees can propagate naturally but under current conditions
need our added planting skills to allow full restoration; birds
can naturally feed themselves, but under current conditions of
depleted habitat many birds could be assisted through feeding
programs especially in wintertime and through droughts.
29, 2006 Bread for the World
Each month we try to feature and highlight one or other group
that is making an impact on the world in which we live. It will be
quite proper to focus in this start of the food-growing year on a
food and hunger-related group. One of those that stands out is
"Bread for the World," a group seeking to reduce hunger on our
planet through charitable and policy changes at the national and
international levels. This group was founded in 1974 as a
"Christian voice for ending hunger in God's world." Now it has
grown to be a non-partisan citizens' movement of 57,000 people of
faith, including 2,000 churches that represent 45 denominations and
The group is really more than a charitable organization
directly furnishing food to hungry people. It wants governments to
help tackle world hunger at a more systemic level. It urges its
members to write, call and visit senators and representatives in
Congress -- urging them to adopt legislation that addresses hunger
in our communities and around the world. Each year, Bread for the
World -- through an "Offering of Letters" that is part of a
legislative campaign -- generates hundreds of thousands of letters
in support of a specific piece of legislation. Again and again,
these Offerings of Letters achieve significant progress in the
long-term drive to end hunger.
Bread for the World admits, amid its modest success story,
that there is still much to be done to meet the Millennium
Development Goals by the target date of 2015 (a goal by the United
Nations to cut extreme hunger and poverty by half in developing
countries based on numbers listed at a starting date of 2000).
Commitments by our own government to double aid during that period
have not yet fully materialized. With so much being spent on
military defence, one sees that the Bread for the World goals are
becoming difficult to realize. But the group is really trying.
For more information and to join this group that works for
social justice contact: Bread for the World, 50 F Street, N.W.,
Suite 500, Washington, DC 20001; (800) 822-7323; <www.bread.org>.
30, 2006 Scripture and Fulfillment
'This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you
that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the
Prophets and in the Psalms, has to be fulfilled.' (Luke 24: 44)
We continue the Easter story in today's reflections. We see
that the Scriptures indicated the manner in which the Christ was to
come, live, suffer, and die for us all. The fulfillment could be
looked at more deeply. We could conclude that the words written in
previous times were now coming to pass; that would certainly be a
fulfillment in one sense and a very valid one. However, so many at
the time of Christ expected the Messiah to be a political leader
paving the way for a glorious state independent of pagan Rome and
shining before the entire world. Weren't these the expectations of
Jesus' disciples even at the time of his ascension? Only after
Pentecost was the sense of humility and suffering in the manner of
suffering servant more fully understood.
The reading of Scriptures has been a component of the Sunday
Liturgy since the first Last Supper and very early Christian
celebrations. The communities of believers read from both Old
Testament readings and the letters or epistles and Gospels of early
New Testament writers as they became more widely circulated. We
reverence the Holy Book and carry it in solemn procession,
incensing it, and holding it high. We carry on the Jewish
community's reverence of the Torah, the first five books of the Old
Fulfillment now takes on a new and fuller meaning for us. We
are more than passive observers of a fulfilled event; we are
active participants in a fulfilling opportunity. As people who
carry the Good News to others, we help bring about "fulfillment,"
for the hearts of many burn for the Word of God. We are the ones
called to become other christs, and we take on a proper messianic
role of bringing salvation through our physical presence and
actions including what is presented on the Internet. We play a
role in fulfilling for we make full the suffering of the Lord. At
Easter we help lift the believing community's consciousness; Jesus
is risen, has gone ahead of us, and beckons us to follow in his
footsteps. We are the fulfilling word of God in many ways:
First, we should use the Scripture as a basis for our study
and meditation. When we read passages, we need not try to cover
much territory, but rather follow the ones highlighted for the
season, so that we live the Paschal Mystery at this time of year.
Reading from one or other unrelated passages has some fruit, but
thinking and celebrating with the body of believers in the Church
allow us to be in tune with the season; and Easter is a season of
great joy. Other passages are meant for other times and seasons,
and all have their place. Furthermore, we are to take Scripture to
others, encouraging them to read and reflect on the Word of God,
and helping them to see Scripture as being at the heart of their
own prayer life. Then many more hearts will burn with Easter joy.