August turning leaves of the poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans.
(photo: Janet Powell)
August 1, 2019 The Blessings of August: Thank God
At this time of high summer it is good to pause and thank God for good things that abound. Thank God for:
* A sense of gratitude that we have survived the hot weather and are now moving into the second half of summer;
* Security personnel who guard our buildings, keep our streets safe and watch over local, regional and national security;
* The gift of being able to pause, even when other activities seem to demand all of our time. In this pause we give a sincere thanks to God for all we have -- and bask in the reflection that this gratitude is why we were created as free beings;
* The warmth of the sun in hot weather as well as the contrasting coolness of the water we drink up, bathe in, wade through and swim about in;
* The particular tastes of August -- ripe peaches, crisp cucumbers, green beans either fresh off the stalk or cooked, and the same for "roasting ears" of corn, and juicy, ripe tomatoes;
* The sounds of growing corn on moist August nights, of swimming pools in midday, of quarry operations in the distance, of tractors in the fields, and of cawing crows pleased with the sight of filling ears of corn;
* The smell of earth after the rain along with the recognition of all the benefits that a rain at this time of year can bring to the maturing crops;
* The sight of greenery all around and precious eyes with which to see and admire such sights;
* The means of communication whereby we are not isolated but can receive good news (and bad) almost instantaneously when generated and transmitted globally;
* Good neighbors who become summertime friends when weather allows us all to circulate in the neighborhood;
* Minds in which we can still process the vast array of data coming to us each day -- and mental health that allows us to retain what we receive in the mind; and
* Mobility to the degree that we can move about here and now. Being unable to rise, walk or run is a burden on the sufferer, a loss of freedom. Thank God for mobility past and present.
Prayer: Lord, we know that August will pass ever so fast, and still we are filled with gratitude for the fleeting moments in which we can enjoy the season.
Harmony in the Universe
From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has
been groaning in one great act of giving birth. (Rom. 8:23)
A goal that must be reached for the ultimate success in curbing climate change is a global harmonious collaborative effort. Can this occur for all practical purposes with so many people of various backgrounds and aspirations? The task will not succeed at only lower levels of governance such as cities or regions; it must be among nations as well. All must resonate in an effort to save our threatened Earth. This is the theme of my recent book Resonance: Promoting Harmony When Confronting Climate Change, which is available from Amazon Books.
The first portion of this reflection is an undertaking to see our global willingness to join forces with others through a harmony similar to what exists in our universe or in our art or music. We seek in an act of good will to cooperate with others for a common good and future. In our will to live we include the vitality of the environment and world around us; the core group are believers in the future and are pro-life. If one is hostile to any aspect of life, a barrier exists that must be overcome in order to save our threatened planet. To marvel at the grandeur of our universe is something celebrated in common with others of different cultures and religious practice; this is the beginning of global collaboration that is a unique experience.
The second portion is addressed to Christian believers who are committed to working for a future. A Trinitarian God creates a vast universe, the mystery of life itself, and human beings endowed with free will; this God is expressed in the harmony of all creation, but especially in inspiring us to curb and address the climate change crisis that is demanding unprecedented human harmonious cooperation. Harmony works at both a universal and at a local level; so it is expected to work in a global undertaking. Ironically, in so acting we can show the presence of God in our midst in a unique manner never before experienced in human history. The global crisis becomes a golden example of human empowerment.
The universe as now known through the latest advances of science is a starting point, a fresh source of enthusiasm to aid us in the gigantic enterprise ahead. Science resonates with the theological truth of a beginning that believers call a creative act of God. The concept of a “Big Bang” beginning includes from a scientific standpoint a dense quantity of matter undergoing a set of complex initial conditions; this beginning initiates a long 14-billion year process with a basic sound, the echo of which is heard today by us humans through a sophisticated form of scientific observation. In turn we resonate with our beginnings -- and with a future that lies ahead.
Einstein and other brilliant intellectuals have no answers prior to the universe’s beginning, but only showed it to be more mysterious. The act stands out in a world of mystery. Modern science, rather than being arrogant, humbly brings us closer to the ongoing creative act that is truly unique. And Earth's vitality is part of that uniqueness. Even a few hundred billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy and a hundred billion galaxies, then the chances of similar systems are possible, but are they actual? Heaven knows! Some are searching for other life today on planets similar to Earth. Are we alone even in our seven billion human beings community in all this vast and expanding universe?
Beyond our imagination are the observations of modern astronomy and cosmology. We recognize that extremely delicate conditions had to exist for cosmic processes to come to where we are today. Sub-atomic forces must be strong enough to hold the protons and neutrons together among elements, but weak enough for fission to occur. If it is difficult to explain the existence of galaxies and planets in the star-studded heavens, how can we ever explain the origins of life in its manifold expressions on this Earth? Some brilliant minds say life forms came from another cosmic source; but we then ask how did that source acquire life? Planetary conditions had to be just right for "random" situations, which for the believer is meant to have an eternal purpose.
A resonating harmony envelopes our world both in its beginning and its continued endurance. The 14 billion years have had a purpose that is not just hit-and-miss, but moving to a designated end point that is still beyond us. For many believers in the future the teleology is eternally beset and will reach a goal though our disharmonies are capable of holding us back. God gives us freedom and that means we can do good or evil; the first can hasten the day of the coming and the second can retard it -- since God truly respects our freedom to act.
The universe has a destiny. Our universe was created so that we humans may share in the glory of God through the invitation to be part of the Divine Family. Why focus upon this destiny except to show the immense privilege of partaking in a saving deed at a time of crisis? We have covenant responsibilities to be faithful and to follow the basic precepts of proper service as partners with the Lord. Thus we accept the Anthropic Principle that our universe is uniquely suited for the emergence of intelligent life as it exists today here on Earth -- and there's a future ahead. As Francis Collins says “The existence of a universe as we know it rests upon a knife edge of improbability" (p.73 The Language of God). Even the Non-Christian cosmologist Stephen Hawking states: "It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us." A Brief History of Time.
We start our process of finding harmony to work together in the atmosphere of a world in which we are destined for greatness. If we were to allow our threatened Earth to collapse through an eco-suicide then we will not fulfill our destiny. Rather, we are called to accept the challenge and save our fragile Earth.
Poke berries, ripening on stem. Click here for video.
August 2, 2019 Coal Ash: Searching for a Green Solution
In December, 2008, the coal ash impoundment at the Tennessee Valley Authority Kingston Fossil Plant collapsed, and 5.4 million cubic yards of coal fly ash sludge escaped and damaged homes and contaminated the Emory River. Cleanup costs have run over one billion dollars. Coal ash storage is present in over five hundred U.S. sites and constitutes a problem. The 150 million tons generated annually in the U.S. is regarded as second only to mining wastes in the total American waste stream. Real puzzles challenge us, namely, how do we reuse this potential resource?
Environmentalists are quick to point out that this ash contains lead, arsenic, mercury and chromium and several metals toxic in large quantities but, in some cases, essentially in trace amounts. Chemical analyses show these metals entering waterways when barriers break as at Kingston. Some folks scratch their heads saying, "Aren't these substances found in coal naturally?" For them the problem is failure to use all the large amounts of combustion products. "Isn't manure a good fertilizer when scattered but a stinking mess when heaped?" This puzzle is harder because simply scattering ash is not a good solution. Regulators know that the immense amount of coal ash is a puzzle; they are caught in conflicting demands from various interest groups and thus have avoided any specific regulation. Many environmentalists want to treat coal ash as a hazardous waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been part of regulatory proposals that have been changed, deleted, appended and essentially rewritten.
Two options emerge under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act: Subtitle C regards coal ash as a hazardous material requiring federal monitoring and control of handling, transportation, disposal and reuse (coal ash is currently used in a host of applications); Subtitle D treats coal ash as a waste material as is household garbage (here the EPA has little management authority). Obviously, many environmentalists opt for the first option and see the hand of special interest groups in textual changes in the working document; for them, an extended rule-making period has led to weakening of original regulatory proposals. The Federal government has generally opposed the Subtitle D approach. Business and some in government believe that designating coal ash as hazardous will reduce reuse possibilities.
Let's consider a second practical environmental perspective, namely an aggressive reuse program ensuring "locked" reuse of coal ash and little prospect of escape. The wisdom of Solomon could apply to the coal ash puzzle. Emphasis on encouraging enterprising users to help rid powerplants of waste is safer than rules to contain ash over time. Ash can be mixed to make concrete and in road building materials that will stand in a rather locked in fashion for years. We need to regard the ash as a resource and encourage its use in beneficial industrial and other applications.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to use our "waste" products wisely.
Red admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
August 3, 2019 Environmental Solutions: Work AND Pray
Environmental problems exist in our current world, and these can be quite serious. If we are unable to make an effort to remedy and correct them, at least we can pray that those who are more able will have the courage and take the effort to do so. Yes it takes work to solve these problems and they must be more than mere symbolic gestures, which have a minor place indeed. The combination of work and prayer may save our threatened planet.
Work in solving environmental problems is of utmost importance. One could not reach long-term solutions if the howling mob is ready to lynch those giving a "wrong" outcome. Physical circumstances demand a certain tranquility, proper work conditions, cooperating team workers, access to all the required information, and a regulatory atmosphere wherein agreements are translated into policy, action and enforcement. Environmental work is certainly essential on all fronts. However, quick fixes are not sufficient for longer-term solutions. Secular problem-solving goes only so far when it comes to healing our wounded Earth; however, citizens when acting together can begin a process of renewal.
Prayer is also of utmost importance, for through prayer we –
1. Enhance mutual respect for all parties involved in solving the problem. A respect for God extends to respect for all human beings and for the flora and fauna of our planet as well. All creation is part of the glory of God, and in an atmosphere of thankfulness we find our part in the creative process, and we do this with enthusiasm -- the God within;
2. Recognize the seriousness of issues and avoid denying their existence. We can see blatant faults in our world; we can begin the process of remediation, but we do not see deeper causes without an atmosphere of prayerful alertness. This requires a spirituality that does not flee from problems, but accepts the puzzles of our times as related to social (and eco-) justice issues;
3. Take responsibility for being part of the problem at least through citizen neglect to act; the need is to participate in seeking forgiveness for human mishaps whether caused by us or others. Let's extend the blame as something social and ask God's forgiveness through prayer. To accept blame is empowering, for we can see past mishaps as joint learning opportunities; and
4. Exude confidence that real solutions can be reached for the benefit of all, and refuse to be tempted to move on to easier and different matters. This confidence becomes contagious for it means to involve all people, especially those so often overlooked in problem-solving activity. Show appreciation to God for all good gifts in our world.
Prayer: Help us, Lord, to teach a secular society of the power of prayer in attacking the environmental problems of our age, and show a duty to enter the healing process in a prayerful manner.
Pink-tinged color of dry-site Queen Anne's lace, Daucus carota.
August 4, 2019 Spiritual Motivation: Becoming Truly Secure
"My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many good years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time." (Luke 12:19)
This kind of foolishness is never far from most people's minds, when a little extra material security happens to come their way. The added stuff will carry one over for an indefinite future -- or will it? Perhaps God has other plans for all of us. The foolish ones forget that material security is an illusion, and yet money and material things mesmerize many who think that the more plentiful the possessions, the better prepared for the future. Few reflect that spacious villas crumble, fields erode, and fleets of vehicles need servicing, protection and sometimes crash. Unfortunately, the foolish do not look beyond the immediate wants and have no long-term future in mind. Where are the deeper spiritual and lasting motivations that should be part of life?
At the death of confirmed materialists or those who put trust in political or economic power, we pause and ask ourselves some basic questions. What moves us? Were we envious of their achievements and now feel triumphal that they had no lasting city? Do we gloat that their peers, followers, relatives and neighbors are like lemmings rushing to the sea of mortality? Do we have a perverse satisfaction in their ending? Are we powerless to change the foolish motivations of others when our own are imperfect? Here are some approaches worth reflecting upon:
Materialists act foolishly. Jesus gives us the primary way to view the quest for material wealth and security. Within our community are people who work hard for such gain and then something strikes them, whether cancer or a speeding car or mental difficulties. Their material empire fades virtually overnight and many of their efforts seem to have been in vain.
Giving people are at peace. The second approach is to show spiritual benefits resulting through giving of self for others. Most likely such people are all around us, if we but look out and observe carefully. They are the selfless caregivers who seem to always have enough and yet share radically with others. If we trust in God and strike out to help our neighbor, the Lord provides in ways we do not at first anticipate.
Material gain can be frustrated. Confront materialism by pressing for removal of the excessive gains of those who need to share with the ones who have little. Challenge youth who are bent on the road to material success to see the futility of such striving. Health and education costs are high and need to be provided for, especially for those under one's charge. But what is enough? When do we stop? How do we attend to other basic needs? Can one easily perceive the addictive nature of material things?
Prayer: Lord, teach me spiritual motivation and to see this so clearly that it becomes evident in the world in which we live.
Summer bouquet of cone flowers.
August 5, 2019 Hemp Reintroduction: The Time Has Come
Within the two decades of this century we have observed a relaxation on the growing of Marijuana for medical and commercial purposes. Along with this is a growing willingness on reintroduce marijuana' cousin hemp that was unfairly banned in the 1930s through influence by synthetic fiber producer DuPont and others who wanted a future for Nylon and other products of the petroleum industry. It is time to redress past grievances; hemp is environmentally more benign than extracting petroleum for synthetic fibers -- and hemp has many good commercial uses.
In 1859, central Kentucky was the hemp-growing capital of the nation and really the world, since Kentuckians at the time prided themselves on having better hemp than even the Czar's Russia. Just before the Civil War, the U.S. produced 143,000,000 pounds of hemp and half of that was in Kentucky; the Bluegrass State remained number one in production with 88% of the acreage until the turn of the twentieth century. Rope, twine, burlap sacks, wrapping for cotton and canvas were all requiring immense quantities of fiber. However, American hemp became a victim of both alternative practices and outsourcing.
Hemp, the substance with 25,000 uses (fiber, feed, food and fortune), lost its luster with the demotion of sailing, since steam-driven vessels that lacked sails did not need canvas and rope (Kentucky Explorer, June, 2010 pp. 46-48). As time went on, jute- and other hemp-growing regions of the world furnished cheaper products for the American market, especially after the demise of the slave farm economy. Before mechanization hemp harvesting was extremely hard work for one would cut the stalk at the ground for maximum yield and the tall stalk demanded sweaty "slave" labor to handle properly. Far less labor intensity is demanded with modern machinery. I recall that during the Second World War hemp was reintroduced for a brief period of time in our Kentucky farms.
Nationwide over 30,000 acres of hemp is now being grown in 19 states (2018) with a heavy emphasis on research into its maximum production. About one fifth of this is in Kentucky. A host of processors are entering the promising field, but investments are holding off to see what the final conditions might be. It is only a matter of time when hemp will return to be one of America's major agricultural crops on a par with corn, soybeans, cotton and wheat? It is a healthy replacement for tobacco. Our farmers need added income (and hemp can yield about 800 pounds or more per acre). Furthermore, hemp is ecologically friendly and requires little in commercial pesticides, cultivation or commercial fertilizers. Finally, the agricultural history of the "momentum of an early start" favors a high-quality product like Kentucky-grown hemp. It is about time that economy, environment and common sense join forces for the renewed natural product emerging today: hemp.
Prayer: Lord, help us to find honest agricultural needs and to promote them for the welfare of our farm families.
Fowler toad (Bufo fowleri) on slab of fossil-laden Lexington
August 6, 2019 Transfiguration: A New Heaven and A New Earth
The verdant season of mid-summer inspires us to reflect on our part in renewing a troubled Earth. It is a perfect time to pause and celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration.
To transfigure means to transform or change the outer appearance. The event we celebrate today is where Jesus is going up the mountain with his chosen disciples and becoming exalted or glorified in appearance along with Elias and Moses, an event that foretold his glorious future -- and ours as well. This prefigured the Resurrection event that was to come; thus, this gave Jesus the consolation and support that all human beings need. However, the event and how to respond or celebrate it appear as mysterious to us today as to Peter and the disciples two thousand years ago. How do we celebrate this event by more than witnessing with the disciples as spectators? Is there an aspect that involves us along with the Lord in a participative manner?
Individuals discover the glory ahead. We have our mini-transformations through smiles each time the Lord gives us some consolation, some sign that a glory road is ahead for us. This may be encounters in natural settings (a sunset or sunrise, the glory of a morn in spring, birds singing, etc.). At other times we experience consolation at funerals of a faithful person; we hear that our lives will be transformed, not ended, and this gives believing survivors hope of what is to come. We are meant for the glory of eternal life, and the funeral Liturgy, which celebrates the life of the dead person, is a sure sign of future exaltation. Amid flowers and music and communal prayer we have a solemn promise that glory will come -- and this is a consolation for believers.
Communities worship as one. What occurs at funerals when we need special consolation also occurs for believers who gather in larger festive celebrations. A festival or well-executed, major public event can be the occasion when a transformation occurs in our attitudes to the world around us. Our spirits are raised for the harder knocks of life ahead, and this is something we really need. We see our journey of life as suddenly highlighted in preparation for what is expected to come.
A New Heaven and a New Earth are promised in Scripture. It is fitting that our active participation is expected in the light of the mandates given at Pentecost to spread the Good News. We are more than spectators; we are actors on the stage of cosmic transformation. The ordinary consolations, meaningful funerals and grand liturgical celebrations inspire us. We are called to be dispensing sharers of hope given to us through the empowerment of the risen Lord. Our message is Transfiguration; we console those who lose heart; all must work together and heal our wounded Earth.
Prayer: Lord, give us the consolations that we need to keep going, and to share these. Help us to experience them with Jesus, our glorious brother who is our promise of eternal life.
Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) at the gate.
August 7, 2019 Euphoria: A Worker's Attitude
A decade ago my brother Frank and sister-in-law Mary went to China for the Shanghai World's Fair. In conversing with people they met, they observed a sense of euphoria among Chinese workers, something somewhat strange to Americans who think we have everything. The Chinese they met explained their vigor and high spirits as stemming from the experiences of their parents and the previous generation; those unfortunate souls had experienced the horrible effects of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and, as survivors, impressed on their offspring the blessings of better working conditions. China seems to be a nation making itself anew with massive outlays on building infrastructure (railroads, highways, factories, apartment high rises and parks) -- and the expansive mood is contagious for many of ordinary workers.
Many of us experience some euphoria in the work we do -- and only feel limited by flagging energy levels and lack of time to allow the attitude to grow on us. Maybe our American culture is such that we are not permitted to express the fact we enjoy our work and it gives us energy; we may be restrained because so many of our compatriots are underemployed or unwilling to seek a more satisfying job. We may feel that to express our own euphoria is to rub salt into the wounds of the unsatisfied. A photo of a line of worker applicants showing a person with dignity but a forlorn, almost despairing facial expression: "I can't compete."
We harken back to a suppressed film clip of one of Franklin D. Roosevelt's last talks where he sought a guarantee of the "right to work" to be guaranteed along with other of a new Bill of Rights. Why are we not insisting on the right of every citizen to work as a privilege of citizenship? Our nation certainly needs labor to rebuild and expand a decaying infrastructure -- roads, bridges, trails, parks, and educational facilities. We could accomplish this with a twenty-first century version of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). All we need is to unlock the billions of dollars in the hands of billionaires through fair taxation.
Why shouldn't the funding sources be the public coffers? Does the United States need to fund large military projects in which the cost per dollar spent hires few Americans (e.g., ten people per million dollars WPA-type versus two or three people per one million in military expenditures). A funding source may be redirected military funding (57% of our total federal budget). Can we afford to be "the policeman of the world?" America has infrastructure needs; we have people willing to work; we have military funds as well as taxes from the wealthy and from breaking open the tax havens. Rebuilding our country would most certainly allow euphoria to grow as we watch our nation come back to life. We have much to learn from the Chinese today.
Prayer: Lord, help us to roll up our sleeves and expand work opportunities for all the un- and underemployed -- and to find the funds to give them meaningful employment.
A lovely task for the buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia).
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
August 8, 2019 Reclaiming the Commons: Our Maritime Commons
During the past decade we have become aware that the oceans are fragile and can be polluted by oil spills, drilling mistakes and plastic junk accumulation. One single BP oil well leakage did immense damage to a vast sea. Sailors tell us that they see plastic and other junk out on the high seas in an area as large of Texas; we hear about fisheries being under heavy stress in many parts of the world.
Water, making up four-fifths of the surface of this planet, is no longer pristine; we need to protect our water commons because oceans are the last exploitable frontier on this planet. Immense resources of minerals, natural gas and oil lie near or under the ocean floor, inviting still more human activity. The maritime commons has a rich store of natural treasures as, for instance, many colorful but quite fragile coral reefs. These reefs are often tourist destinations but their vast expanse makes them nearly impossible to police. Furthermore, rising ocean temperatures, acidity and general water pollution are causing the coral color to fade and coral formations to erode. Some coral is stolen by thieves, but this pales at damage from global climate change.
The oceans are ours, the collective people of the world. They do not belong to exploiters, as though unconquered and ready for the taking. Exploitation of ocean mineral and petroleum resources will most likely continue to occur due to poor regulations on the part of nations with shorelines and the United Nation agencies. Overwhaling is occurring and is a challenge to check and regulate, especially since some is done under the aegis of scientific research. Currently overfishing, especially by the use of corporate factory ships with immense draglines, takes in many marine species indiscriminately, and injures or kills many others in the process. Corporate mineral and resource extractors are poised to start massive extraction processes when the technology is fine-tuned. Corporate interests influenced the United States not to sign the "Law of the Seas" in the early 1980s so as to keep UN-sponsored international rules from being truly effective.
Another age-old worry, piracy, continues to plague this planet even though monitoring systems can today tell far more about the whereabouts of these "demons of the sea." These pirates are most active in recent years off the coast of parts of Africa, in part due to the dire poverty and lack of policing on the part of the coastline nations. Nations with their shipping interests at stake are taking measures, but what are a few protecting vessels in vast regions?
Shipping discharges and spills of course have captured the news and the 2010 BP catastrophe has eclipsed the March 24, 1989, Exxon Valdez oil spill. The current Administration has succeeded to open Arctic waters to offshore oil drilling and the critical dangers that can easily happen with new spills.
Prayer: Lord, incite us to act to save our seas -- the treasure of your creation that is entrusted to us.
Harmony in the Life Process
I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth. When I bring clouds over the Earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings... (Genesis 9:13-15)
Life on this planet is threatened by the rapid human caused climate change that is becoming more evident with each day. The chances of finding life in this vast universe are so very remote that each of us must cultivate the deepest respect for life in all its forms. Personally, those who are cruel to animals or trample over wild flowers are offensive -- and remind me of my very young immature years. Today, to disregard the life of the fetus or the condemned prisoner or the elderly is offensive. Those who disrespect life are party to an ecosuicidal tendency that is within our midst. Respect for life involves both seeing its glory and knowing its fragile nature. Thus we are committed to defend life -- and to even think twice about sacrificing animals for meat.
Life has grandeur. Look out and experience life all around us. Each manifestation of glory from the surprise stirring of birds to the opening spring blossom, from scampering wildlife to ocean waves shows us the glory of the Creator if we but pause and observe, listen and feel the vibrations of each moment. We are not creators of such manifold beauty; we only acknowledge our presence at an already existing scene for which we deserve no credit in bringing into being -- but we can give great glory though praise and gratitude.
Life is fragile. The start of life is so improbable that only a God who creates us could have initiated the elements to naturally come forth with proteins and the DNA needed to replicate and continue and form new life. It is the fragile nature of this life that demands our respect and protection. If human beings are called to take care of life we are servants, not overlording masters, of what is placed under our care through divine command. Our living planet is extremely rare, if not alone in all the universe. For believers, it is more logical to speak of the hand of God. Secondly, this makes our deep respect for life all the deeper, but if we are careless with life we will damage or destroy Earth's delicate vitality and ability to sustain human or any form of life. Human wrongdoings can upset harmony and cause major threats to our environment. Yes, we who can protect are also capable of upsetting a fragile planet and make it uninhabitable.
The uniqueness of life in its current complex form calls out to our ever greater amazement. The advances of science point all the more to a wise and merciful Creator:
a) Not too hot and not too cold -- Water is the medium in which the life process occurs, and yet where else does it occur in the billions of planets in the universe? Most of the countless stars' planets are too close and too hot or too far and too frigid for water to be liquid and an active medium for sustaining life. Earth is the planet where water exists in its liquid state (100 degree Celsius range) for reactions to occur and not totally evaporate by proximity to the hot sun. We human beings could not flourish except in a narrower portion of that liquid water range. The presence of a vast body of ocean water that many say was derived from volcanic activity is mysterious enough. How did all that liquid water get here on this convenient planet to continue in its present quantity and quality? Mystery deepens with each scientific advance; with each we are called to protect the purity of water.
b) Highly protected from ultraviolet and cosmic rays -- The long-term warming effect of the planet from the nearby star will in many cases result in highly lethal ultraviolet radiation and cosmic radiation that would destroy the delicate condition of budding life. Substances could not last long bathed in UV radiation, which in Earth's atmosphere is protected by an ozone protective layer around the planet. In recent years this layer decreased through reaction with some human-generated fluorocarbon pollutants that had to be terminated through halting commercial production. Only a system that allows the light to enter and shuts out harmful radiation could possibly lead to life. Add to this ozone layer the rare magnetic force (arising through Earth's molten iron mass) acting as an umbrella to divert much of the likewise lethal cosmic radiation from the planet's surface and thus allowing life to flourish here. Little wonder why no other life-supporting planet has yet been discovered in this galaxy and beyond -- though the jury is not in.
c) Presence of carbon for living matter. Abundant carbon along with oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen are four constituting elements needed to form the chemicals that compose living matter. Most of us do not realize how rare the formation of the element carbon is in the universe itself and its concentration to such a degree that life can begin. Scientists describe the formation of carbon and even how rare this action is along with other aspects of sustaining living matter. Yet carbon, the fourth most abundant element (after hydrogen and helium (99% of matter) and oxygen comprises a fraction of 1% of matter.
Life can be threatened. Many of us do not appreciate the delicate balance of planetary vitality; this disrespect leads to human-caused resource waste and polluted air and water. Yes, we must respect life in all its forms in the way we act in our lifestyle and practices. The current failure by the U.S. government to collaborate globally with others is a crime against humanity and is certainly an impeachable offence. Would that all who are pro-life could see the seriousness of damage to our fragile planet and see a contradiction in their positions, whether they be disregard for weaker forms of life or disregard for the vitality of Earth herself in environmental matters. The pro-life issue is far from being partisan, for all must grow in a deeper sense of respect.
Magnificent patterns of the blackberry lilies.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
August 9, 2019 Urban Gardens: Twenty-First Century Victory Gardens
We note that "urban gardening" is a popular topic for articles and media discussions. Environmental awareness, social concerns, anxiety about purchased foods from unknown sources, and pure economics lead many urbanites to seek out space for growing things. The first hurdle for many urbanites is the prevailing concept that farming or gardening is an exercise of simple folks -- mere sowing seeds and reaping mature crops -- and nature does the rest. Once this bias is overcome, other issues need solving. Urbanites generally have less space to grow things. Lack of experience and lack of abundant space can be compensated for in several ways:
Be Patient. First, gardening is a learned art and not the result of a textbook exercise; mistakes can occur and can be embarrassing. No one starts gardening as an expert. Be aware that it takes time and ongoing experience.
Select according to available space. Some have vacant yard space or a nearby undeveloped plot of land. That is great, but some are more confined; they may have a roof, but gardening on roofs has added problems and costs. What about window sills, stairs, landings and porches. Use flowerpots and start growing things -- not corn or potatoes but rather salads and tomatoes.
Select proper produce. Parsley and dill thrive in flower pots and are productive year round. Herbs are favorites for urban gardeners since they take up less room, are near at hand, and have wonderful flavor for immediate cooking needs. Besides growing herbs, consider greens since these are expensive at the store and can grow well in smaller space. Also certain types of tomatoes, when well fertilized and amply watered, can bear a healthy crop from one or two vines. Don't try space-demanding corn. However, select crops that bear through the winter when protected such as kale, endive, Swiss chard, mustard and collards.
Start simple and simply start. Begin gardening in any month. However, August has some advantages as a time to start pots of herbs for indoor growing during the coming winter. Refrain from purchasing gardening paraphernalia, for most will be underused in urban gardening. Consult other local gardeners and that will save expenditures. Consider your own composted kitchen waste as a source of fertilizing material. Start plants in late winter if you prefer not to buy them. Exchange surplus with other gardeners.
Learn from the experienced. Experienced gardeners in your neighborhood can give some very helpful hints to you on gardening. Use all the resources available. Just as the "Victory Gardens" were extremely popular during the Second World War and the thirty million resulted in substantial food production, urban gardening could occur again with many physical, mental and economic benefits.
Prayer: Lord, give us the opportunity to touch the soil in some meaningful way and thus be more in tune with your creation.
Early August backyard gardens.
August 10, 2019 Reality: A Basis for Authentic Spirituality
A generation raised on novels and computer games can hardly find time for a heavy dose of reality. Some only pause to satisfy physical hunger or thirst, snatch some dream-filled sleep, and get medicine for imagined or real ailments. For many of our people, reality is too hard to handle and must be shoved to the recesses of mind. Why be serious about long-term spiritual salvation, community goals or planetary prospects? Often we place reality between a pessimism that leads to paralysis or cynicism and an optimism that sounds good on the surface, but can also diverge into the fantasy world just mentioned. A certain sense of realistic hope is absolutely needed, but an overly optimistic or pessimistic set of expectations is not reality either. Realism is seeing the inevitable up ahead, unless we make immediate and effective changes to secure the good and avoid the foreseen bad effects. Acknowledging climate change strikes at the heart of realism.
Authentic spirituality is based on realistic assessment of who we are and what we are capable of doing. Through an enthusiastic spirit, people are open to loving service to and with others. Thus, the dual role of such a spirituality is improvement of the soul's wellbeing before God and doing so by being attentive to the needs of neighbors. For those who cannot assist in a concrete way, the arena of praying for the good of others becomes a realistic spiritual frontier. Fiction-oriented spirituality can make people fool themselves into thinking that they can achieve imaginary grandeur and selfish satisfaction; on the other hand, they may stumble carelessly over hungry, homeless or wayward neighbors.
Spiritual discernment, generally with assistance from others more versed in spiritual ways, is called for today. We can fool ourselves, if we are not realistic in our outward service. A pessimistic outlook will convince us that we are limited and that service is for others to do. An overly optimistic outlook can say things are already taken care of and little more needs to be done. Thus a fiction-driven life may lead to inaction: this includes denying that a real need exists; this may be conceding the need but feeling ill-equipped and thus excusing oneself from entering the fray; this may involve knowing the problem exists, but simply escaping from it using imagination to fortify irresponsibility.
Sometimes our denial, excuse or escape could be triggered by a perceived inability to handle a given situation. Here paralysis could change to the willingness to accept the need for divine help. Spiritual realists see they cannot do the work alone. Our salvation is a cooperative endeavor. We are saved in the act of sharing and helping to save others; we join in being part of the community of the needy, and realize that working together with God's help is the only path to salvation. We cannot do this alone; we can be part of the Body of Christ in our journey of faith.
Prayer: Lord, direct us to an ever more authentic spirituality that sees reality for what it is and to call for your divine help.
A heart in the clouds (look closely).
August 11, 2019 Destiny: The Best Preparation Is in Giving
When we have had a great deal given to us on trust, even more will be expected of us. (Luke 12:48)
Individually, many people are unwilling or reluctant, or they loathe talking about their ultimate destiny. Take a survey and find this subject utterly unpopular, and yet it is as inevitable as taxes and death -- for it follows the latter. Since some do not believe in eternal life, believers living in a secular culture may feel restrained from bringing up the subject. Our short-term perspective is often the product of this culture; we speak openly about acquiring, servicing, and hoarding material things for near future use. Ultimate destiny is not a proper subject in our polite society. Only slightly more acceptable is our collective duty to give to the needy here and now.
Peter asks Jesus a good question: Is this message (Luke 12: 32-48) meant for the disciples only or for the whole world? Lest we forget, all Scripture has both an individual and a social message, and the story of keeping our lamps burning and being watchful certainly applies today, both because traditional fuel supplies are dwindling and because we are often so distracted by other things. However, destiny includes individual and social levels as well as current spatial and future temporal dimensions.
Individually, we believers strive for an eternal destiny, and show our appreciation for that promised destiny by the quality of the work we perform. The more appreciative we are, the higher the quality of the work. God has entrusted much to us -- reading talents, comprehension, reflection and resulting action. Through using entrusted and undeserved talents we show appreciation through responsible service to and for others. God does not need these gifts, but our fellow human beings and neighbors who share this planetary space do. Gifts given to us must be used properly, for we are reminded that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Socially, the same arguments can be made for sharing resources with people in other lands. The destiny of our country cannot be a selfish and nationalistic one, for our future is also wrapped up in sharing our national goals and resources with others. In the longer run, this may demand the surrender of national sovereignty to a broader world system of governance -- a destiny. However, our destiny is also spatial right now; we must share hoarded resources with our needy neighbors in other countries, for gifts received are morally destined to be shared in the global commons. Our nation must act in gratitude for God-given gifts. Thus to share both sovereignty and current resources becomes a type of spiritual security that is far superior to attempted military security.
Prayer: Lord, you tell us to be always prepared. Help us to see that preparing for our destiny is achieved through sharing what we have that includes material resources and sovereignty.
Prairie that is ready to be cleared by scything.
August 12, 2019 Scything: Battling August Weeds
I do not recall when I last used the scythe (pronounced like "sigh" plus a "the" at the end). Are you familiar with this tool? Scything comes through Old English from Latin scindere (to cut). To put things in perspective, many of the tools I used on the farm are now displayed in museums. The scythe is better known among small farmers and families in poorer lands and is still used for cutting grain and hay. My dictionary judged it necessary at this entry to show an illustration, namely, a fellow cutting grass with this large curve-handled instrument with a cutting blade at the bottom and wooden pegs on the handle for proper use. To scythe properly requires skill. The blade needs to be kept parallel with the vegetative surface and allowed to glide smoothly, while the operator grips the curved handle by the two pegs.
I feel the sensation of scything as though I were taking the instrument to cut those worrisome August weeds. When done well, the vegetative stubble could have a lawn-like look -- but you had to be a good handler to achieve this appearance. We spent considerable time scything in moist periods between the harvest of silage and tobacco when weeds grew so fast you could watch them rising -- well almost. That was the time you had to clean the hedgerows and borders and around the orchard trees and other inaccessible places where the bushhogs and mechanical mowers missed. Daddy insisted on a clean farm. Scything became an opportunity I had to bond with our black neighbor, Dennis Smith, who was about my age. I worked one side of the fence and he the other. On other occasions, scything was a singular activity for one wielding such a dangerous weapon could easily hurt others.
At the home place we had two such cutting instruments, one an antique, non-descript lightweight cutting tool that could do a good job; but it required special skill to cut well with even and steady strokes. The other scythe was a red-painted heavier instrument, which I liked because it could easily cut thick saplings and briars with a single stroke. Daddy kept both implements sharpened and ready by use of a round grindstone mounted on a stand; this stone could be turned by hand (by a young assistant) and revolved over a pan of water and thus kept moist at all times. The scythe's edge had to be sharp, for weeds were tough and occasionally we missed and hit a rock or wire in the fence that could take the sharp edge off quite rapidly. Effort was made to avoid such mishaps and only glide the blade a few inches from the soil surface. With proper sharpening and handling a sizeable amount of work could be done in a short time. Maybe we all need to use such handtools.
Prayer: Lord, help us to respect those who work with their hands to gather crops and beautify the landscape. Help us respect the nobility of human sweat and the tools used to accomplish the feats of labor. In so doing, help us create an environment in which all can exercise their right to perform meaningful and necessary work.
There will be a
memorial for our dear friend Pat Brunner at the Berea
Baptist Church at 11:00am on August 31st followed by lunch. Her obituary can be found here, and a her contribution to our Youtube series, "How to Master Wheelchair Gardening," can be found here.
The cool tones of water.
August 13, 2019 Collectibles: Educational and Green Aspects
Many of us are prone to collect material items of various types, or things they judge needed for a rainy day, or books to enhance their intellectual or professional life. A materialistic culture like ours makes a business of dispensing junk or some sort of collections: leather-bound classic books, antiques, paintings, figurines, coins, socks, baseball cards, or heavens knows what. People may hoard items for future use: types of clothes, garden seeds, survivor kits, or reading materials for a rainy day.
Collecting is in the blood of many but not all. A number of folks want to travel light through life and thus rid themselves of anything under the title of "worthless junk;" often they pass the stuff on in yard sales or give it to friends and relatives who are thought to hoard such items. Some pride themselves on seeking to invent new uses for the collected items. Others simply transfer collected items from their home shelves to a school or museum, especially if they can persuade the institution that the insects, fossils or stuffed birds are of value to viewers. With time, collectors come to understand that collectibles take up space and are often of only fleeting value.
For another group, collectibles are business ventures, depending on whether some fellow out there with money wants to make purchase. Old comic books or certain novels are now worth hundreds of dollars because someone with money wants to collect them. Collectibles increase in value with current interests and when artists become popular and thus these become today's "tulip bubbles" or "Bitcoins." Some wealthy folks become collectors by loving the art or the investment potential or both. Where does art for its own sake stop and greed enter the picture? Beyond art does this apply to guns, stamps, coins, pottery, cane chairs, beer cans, blue bottles, bottle caps and barbed wire?
How about collecting only items with some lasting educational and social value? One who collects tree leaves in order to learn all local varieties has education in mind -- and a desire to impress on a community the treasure of the surrounding flora. Thus, certain collecting activity becomes a model teaching device, namely a respect for the local environment enhanced through collecting items of value. There are some rules for the game. We don't shoot a bird to paint it in detail; rather, photograph it at different angles. We need not root up a rare wildflower when a photo is sufficient; be environmentally conscious and take a picture on the trusty camera. Green collecting is now in vogue. Photographing in detail is better environmentally than obtaining and storing -- and libraries and nature centers are getting the message. Twice while directing a nature center I was asked to accept college botanical collections that were cluttering their respective institutions; but photos of items are less costly.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to gather benefits that will last forever, and to see limited value in material collectibles.
A community garden in Lexington, KY.
(*photo by Sunny Montgomery)
August 14, 2019 The Great Divide: Rich Get Richer and Poor...
Reasonable people agree that wealth differences exist in our world and inequality is increasing. There are the rich and there are the poor; most of us can make distinctions. Wealth leads to better access to health, education and quality of life for some. However, the poor suffer from lack of power, health access and influence -- and opinions vary on what to do about it.
Free marketers hold to the myth that a "trickle down theory" of "the invisible hand" is operative; they are convinced that more generated wealth will lead to a growing middle class and ultimately (if all are willing to wait) benefits will reach down to the underclass. Some contrasting of statistical averaging of GNP and aggregate national populations may indicate this is starting to happen when comparing years or decades. But is the increased wealth spreading to all the people who need it? There are still a billion global folks who lack food security and more who could use better access to health facilities. The equalizing distribution dimension is often neglected, and while billionaires increase in numbers (by hundreds) so do the needy even while poverty is decreasing in this century. Wealth generates greater wealth and then we hear about 100 or 500-to-1 pay differences between American CEOs and laborers. The richest three Americans have more wealth than the total wealth of the bottom half of the population (160 million, many of whom are in debt).
No doubt some nations such as China have seen a rapid rise in income on the part of the rising middle class in the hundreds of millions. However economic distribution is not even in the world as a whole. The recent U.S. tax legislation has only exacerbated the inequality problem in this country. In the UK it was estimated within the decade that the richest 10% were 100 times better off than the poorest 10%. Improvement is really only for the already privileged. For them, patience is needed on the part of the have-nots who ultimately will be rewarded. However, the Great Divide in wealth exists and actually deepens.
What makes this somewhat unsettling is that access to communications allows poor folks to see the differences, and yet they know they can do little about it. Patience wears thin for youth with few prospects for jobs. Such long-term conditions give birth to terrorists. A military action is hardly a solution, for such action leads to similar reaction. Voices are heard echoing across the Great Divide demanding that impatience can be a virtue when considering the plight of our neighbor. Uncontrolled "development" leads to greater accumulation on the part of the privileged. In turn, this will result in greater impoverishment or less relative growth of the less financially well-off population. Entire nations especially in sub-Saharan Africa are falling further behind. For world unity we must do something about this condition.
Prayer: Lord, your priestly prayer (John 17) calls for all to be one, a goal calling us to bring justice to a divided world.
A collected old coffee container becomes home for new family.
August 15, 2019 Mary: Gentle Woman and Revolutionary Model
On this Feast of the Assumption let us reflect on Blessed Mary's role in the world today. We may part company with traditionalists who turn Mary into a passive being who does no more than stand stoically as drama swirls all about her. These idolize Mary, but fail to see that a plaster statue is not a living person, a person who has made the world's greatest choice -- to accept into her womb God-becoming-man. Mary is not plaster; Mary is a real leader who is ahead of us in time -- her assumption is a fore- shadowing of our resurrection and an eternal embodied condition.
Many of us champion the gentleness of Mary, and rightly so, for she is not loud, bombastic, or overbearing. Mary's qualities are far more loving and merciful, and thus gentle in a quiet and subdued manner. Her confidence requires no shouts or wild gesturing. At Cana the words, "Do whatever he says," were not said so loudly that the entire room heard her. Mary stood at the foot of the cross when disciples went into hiding, and yet her standing was a gentle objection to a system that crucified her son. Mary's gentleness seems foreign to aggressive modern business practices, but it stands in contrast at times when we have major issues.
A business professor once reminded me that if I quote Mary's Magnificat some might think I am a "socialist." For him, that would be a catastrophe -- a loss of funding and respectability. I am unable to pinpoint the authoritarian Latin American leader who did not allow his subjects to write the Magnificat, for he thought it might greatly disturb the poor and make them rebels; for him, Do Not Talk about those in high places being brought low and those who are in low ones rising. That is revolution!
Mary's Magnificat is a gentle chant with great potency. Whether Mary said the very words or not, her spirit is captured in this song that needs to be treasured and is repeated by the Church each day. This is what we attempt to do in our "Blue Book" that is found today in the Special Issues section of this website. We regard this as a spiritual foundation for a new world order, a replacement of the elitism of the more distant past in its noble classes and of the immediate past in its privileged wealth of the few. This is the rising of all people, and especially the poor, through Mary's encouraging words spoken in a gentle manner.
Mary, as model, tells us that all people are to glorify God and thus discover the blessings in their God-given powers. Mary brings revolution with a gentle touch, but nonetheless profound change. Her Jewish tradition is honored and yet her "fiat" (let it be done) is new with the power to change a world order. See her as model for what is new and magnificent and yet is sensitive about the past. On this day we testify that change must come, so let's help extend and usher it in while being sensitive to our own past.
Prayer: Mary, gentle mother, inspire us to act in a profound manner so that our world will be a better place for it.
Harmony in Human Freedom
From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty
has done great things for me... (Luke 2: 48-49a)
Experience the effects of what human beings are created to be -- different from other creatures on the Earth. We are free to choose right and wrong. The greatest individual choices we make refer to our willingness to accept the gift of continued life and to work in that direction. For the believer in the future the most important social choices we make pertain to saving our planet from threatening climate change; to achieve these demands appropriate action on our part. We will to live and to share life with other creatures and learn to live in harmony with them as well as to work harmoniously in collaboration in this saving action.
Freedom of choice is not simply an individual action apart from others. Every choice has a social aspect and some are greater than others, such as the choice of bearing a child to term. Our freedom to act comes within a social context, for we can freely choose to assist others in benefits that accrue to all of us. This condition of free choice can easily be lost through lack of vigilance: autocratic leaders could trample on that freedom; libertarian individuals could overwhelm others with their own supposed demand for selfish rights -- an issue that is confused at this time.
Freedom and harmony. Slaves or serfs are not free persons and thus they must endure a system which does not have a harmonious atmosphere where their free choices can be exercised. One can add to this those who are economically indebted with little possibility of being freed of their debts and their current economic condition. This condition can be expanded to include those who cannot afford bail or a lawyer for their offenses, as well as those who lack proper food security or access to health facilities or treatment. Gone are the days when someone in financial or social trouble could pick up and move to another part of the country and start over again in anonymity. This current inability to start afresh is actually a severe restriction on human freedom and a symptom of lack of forgiveness.
Constant vigilance. Yes, our precious freedoms can be spelled out more easily than they can be constantly protected. In living our lives we discover barriers, many of which are hidden and then we suddenly crash into them. We break a parking rule; we find that a credit card has a higher than expected interest rate (listed in unread fine print); we run into thieves and those wanting to crash our website. While some call for less government, that condition certainly does not guarantee more freedom for all, but rather more risks of seeing our precious heritage eroded by the unscrupulous few who take advantage of the unpoliced areas of life. We need protection from hidden threats; we need limited government.
Solidarity. Furthermore, we come to realize that others are equally or even more vulnerable to unpoliced areas of life. Our sense of solidarity takes hold and "spirituality" becomes more than just what impacts our individual lives. We find our collective freedom threatened both for "me" and for "us." Splendid isolation is fantasy; we need ever greater vigilance to exercise our social freedom. Authentic freedom involves interdependence -- and this at times seems to impinge on our individual libertarian practices: our locality demands lawn-grass size conformity; office requirements to fix hair or dress; and our choice of language and jokes must be under control. Freedom requires a watchful atmosphere of respect for the common good for all citizens.
Good or evil. The long history of establishing and cultivating freedom has often been accompanied by expressions of discord by some. Yes, God makes us humans free in an act that is "very good" (Genesis 1:31), but in freedom some do harm and are violent. Our growth in freedom ought to be accompanied by profound gratitude to our Creator. We do this in the name of all created beings, which lack the capability to freely render an expression of thanks even while they render blessing for being. However, human freedom is fragile and can be weakened through wrongdoing, making us forgetful of how easily good can be contested with evil.
Freedom to do good. The choice of doing good is part of the glory of being human. We are unlike other animals in that we are not led by what instinct or nature dictates. We can break out of the mold of rigid behavior and uniquely do what we are moved to do; we are free to choose what is right and proper. This is a struggle over choosing right from wrong, in saying "yes" or "no" to the God who offers us an opportunity to respond in gratitude -- the greatest act that individual human beings can do. When called to do a special act together such as curbing climate change, the stakes are suddenly very high.
Freedom to collaborate. Our exercise in freedom is best exemplified by collaborating through social intercommunication with others within family, locality and larger social aggregates. We must accept responsibility for the welfare of other humans under our charge -- and all creatures on our fragile Earth. A false humility diminishes or belittles the special human gifts and causes some to excuse themselves or others to take advantage of a situation. Jesus tells his disciples not to scramble for places of honor as the worldly do. Following Jesus, Christians are servants to plants and animals and all creatures. We must see greatness in healing Earth and protecting creatures; we are to be champions in an upcoming revolution. That is a noble calling!
Freedom to save our planet. Can we save our threatened Earth? Hope impels us to succeed. The current trend to transfer to vegetarian (traditionally meat) dishes that are less resource-demanding gives us hope; if many are willing to change personal cuisine practices they may be willing to change other lifestyle practices for the sake of our Earth. Will power is needed to grasp greater resource efficiency; this, coupled with social regulations, is a foreshadowing of global collaboration.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
August 16, 2019 Blueberries: Beneficial in So Many Ways
Each month we ought to feature one or other fruit or berry. While the peach is a major August favorite from the American South, still a wider-ranging American candidate could be the blueberry -- that berry from tiny huckleberry varieties to large cultivated ones the size of marbles grows in many parts of our country from deeper South to farther North. In some parts, one could designate blueberries as July's or September's fruit of the month, but let's rest with August. Whenever, the blueberry is sought by many birds, bears and humans. Blueberries' distinct blue to purple/black color is so rare; the taste is subtle and yet exquisite; the nutritional value is immense; yields are sizeable -- and there are no blackberry and raspberry thorns to contend with. Furthermore, the blueberry is cultivated to such an extent that the cultivated varieties have features that equal or exceed their wild cousins.
Blueberries are inserted in literally hundreds of recipes from muffins to cobblers and pies, and from pancakes to scones. Blueberries are flavorful when fresh, after being refrigerated, and after being preserved as frozen. Some like them fresh on breakfast cereal, in jellies and jams, in ice cream and cakes, and with cream or when mixed fresh with other fruits. The color adds to the attractiveness of the final dish. Picking blueberries for cooking is often desired because they keep better than strawberries and many other berries. Of course they are enjoyed just off the bush.
Once while hiking on the Appalachian Trail, our party stopped for a rest, and I stretched out on the rare grassy knoll near trailside. I looked up and saw that I was right underneath a blueberry bush with fully ripe berries, and by simply raising my head a few inches could graze some berries right off of a branch. No fooling -- it was not a dream. Never again in my life was there such a pleasant experience -- all due to a mountain blueberry bush.
Besides being naturally tasty, the blueberry is touted as a beneficial food in perhaps more ways than any other commonly available food. A University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center study is often cited as suggesting a reduction in belly fat occurring from a diet rich in blueberries -- thus improving one's heart condition. Others speak of health benefits ranging from improved digestion and urinary tract health to brain food and reduction of the effects of Alzheimers and cancer by eating blueberries. Certain blueberries are high in antioxidants, neutralize free radicals and provide a rich source of fiber.
Many fans want to grow blueberries. It is wise to learn which of the many available varieties grow best in your vicinity and whether your own microclimate (whether a north-faced hillside or sequestered valley or proximity to a building) is suitable for a particular variety. Blueberries thrive in acid soil and so can grow where many other plants find it difficult.
Prayer: Lord, help us appreciate available nutritious foods.
Wild hyacinth, Camassia scilloides.
August 17, 2019 Revelation: God-Given Opportunities
Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down. (Luke 13:8-9)
In this parable the servant begs the landholder who wanted to cut down the unproductive fig tree, which has not borne fruit in three years, to give it one more chance to be productive -- and the petitioning servant is willing to assist by fertilizing and nurturing the plant. In some way, this kindness is also what God shows to each of us by giving us individually and collectively additional opportunities to change our ways and improve our lives. Furthermore, we become other christs to our fellow human beings by becoming the servants who fertilize and encourage change leading to a fruitful life.
Individually, each of us needs these opportunities all too often, lest we simply sink into the ruts of our lives. Let us not forget from this parable that it takes another to help afford the opportunity to be productive. Our second chance is a community endeavor, not solely an individual acting alone. God affords us additional time and space to make the changes and really acts as servant as well as landowner. Likewise, we who work through grace are those looking for change and yet are willing to take the extra step to give another further opportunity. Those who seek to abolish the death penalty so that the convicted can have another chance in a productive life (even while in prison) are proponents of the second chance. Some touch the lives of those who are overdrugged and seemingly hopeless. Others try to educate those who feel worthless or people without hope. Still others want the illegal migrant to be given another chance.
Collectively, much the same pattern of second chance is God's mercy and care for communities, peoples and the entire human family. As responsible citizens, we become the God-given opportunity to change the way we live within local communities, regions, nations and the community of nations. Former wasteful use of resources is now seen as a sign of unproductiveness. Now the world needs us to be servants willing to fertilize and nurture, to abandon wasteful luxuries, and to share in a radical manner with our suffering brothers and sisters in other lands. If we do not seize the opportunity to be servants to and for them, entire island nations can be swallowed up by rising oceans and ultimately the poverty of sufferers will extend to our own doors. God gives us opportunities to convert as a people from economies where natural resources are undervalued to ones where all have a chance to live quality lives in a sustainable world. God's mercy and compassion holds back a wrath that could easily overcome us. However, if we see our way to giving service for others, we become the opportune moment and place when and where change is possible.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see that You are quick to give us one more change; inspire us to share Your patience with others.
Delicate seeds of the white sweet clover, Melilotus albus.
August 18, 2019 Peacemaking: Tearing Down and Rebuilding
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the Earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. (Luke 12:51)
In Luke's Gospel Jesus challenges us through his honesty and directness. If we accept the invitation to follow him, inevitably we will find that divisions undoubtedly appear among our friends and relatives. Some will walk away and others softly or loudly disagree with what we say or do. They may interpret peace as seeking an enticing tranquility devoid of confrontation. However Jesus' way is different; he is not silent, complacent, or withdrawn. He enters into the public forum and demands open commitment on our part as his followers. He accepts divisions as a reality and tries to overcome them.
To follow the Lord to a new energy level means breaking with peers bent on keeping the status quo. If we do not break, we are bound down and cannot help form new structures -- a new order. From a chemical standpoint, bond-breaking often (but not always) generates an internal energy that results in a new bond-formation. From a political standpoint, firebrands are those who torch the barriers that hold society back, but they have to treat fire with respect. If they are energized to forge the new in tearing down the old, they must also be willing to retain the good from the old.
In order to build something new we must become somewhat more sophisticated in what we do. Yes, we may tear apart the bonds of the past, for they hold us back; failing to act -- as though inaction is a virtue -- is really a fault. We must be willing to accept the risk of contention and controversy. Jesus says over and over, "Peace be with you" to people who are troubled. We need to be at peace internally, so that we have the stamina to live through controversy and build up a lasting global peace. The risk that we might be marginalized should not stop us. We must act by "dying to self interest" in order to be of service to others.
In the 1970s the Bishop of Nashville was troubled by having his flock on both sides of the bitter Blue Diamond Coal Strike (some as strikers and some as owners of the coal mine). Justice called him to risk much in order to bring the controversy to a head and help settle the issue. He listened to both sides and insisted that the strikers' grievances must be heard. He realized the awesome task of bridge-building takes its toll and risks having one party given more attention than the other. However, one party may need greater attention because it is weaker or under-represented. True bridge-builders need to establish equality and accept that discord may occur within the construction process. Being Christ to others means accepting the risk of division -- and confronting it.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to hear today's word: Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more." (Luke 12:48)
The red fox, Vulpes vulpes. Washington Co., KY.
August 19, 2019 Marginalization: Jeremiah, Jesus, and FDR
The "marginalized" are those at the periphery of a predominant culture; they may be groups or individuals who are known but that the powers-that-be have decided to ignore. Few enjoy being overlooked, and so effort is made to stay in the mainstream. Note: some margins are meant to be barriers in order to prevent the wayward from influencing youth and others -- and thus marginalizing is not inherently wrong; however it can be a dangerous practice in an open and freedom-loving society.
Jeremiah the prophet tried with all his powers to convince a distracted and affluent people that their days as a nation were numbered. The people were distressed with his message; he had to be overlooked for he was bothersome. Was Jeremiah the father of the "marginalized"? While the word is somewhat new, the phenomenon of being marginalized is certainly not. Today, sophisticated methods are employed to bring about the marginalizing condition.
Jesus directly confronted the establishment, a sure agent for the act of marginalizing. Thus the leaders plotted to silence him because he was popular with the crowds. We note that crowds that sang "Hosanna" on Palm Sunday yelled "Crucify him!" on the following Good Friday. The defense mechanism of marginalizing the potentially popular is as old as political action itself in its many guises. Jesus opened himself and the cross followed.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was president of the most powerful nation on Earth through the Great Depression (1933-45). When he became ill at the closing of the Second World War his final State of the Union address was broadcast on radio. In the filmed portion of that radio message it is evident now that he called for a second "Bill of Rights" -- but it was suppressed. FDR called for every American to be guaranteed a job with a living wage, a decent home, medical care, protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness and unemployment, and freedom from unfair monopolies. The film was locked away, but Michael Moore's film team unearthed it from an archive in South Carolina and concluded his "Capitalism: A Love Story" with it. FDR, the grandfather figure of my youth, was marginalized and his final message deliberately suppressed.
Depending on personality, the marginalized react differently, with surprise, anger, self-pity or a sense of resignation; almost always they find it uncomfortable to be regarded as a "nobody." Some may passively accept their condition with humor or stoicism, and live with it; even here their firm testimony may be observed by others and they can influence these few while cut off from a main stream. Others accept the existence of the temporary condition, but refuse to accept it as normal. They stand at risk and through faith their message will eventually be heard by all.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to know when we are marginalized, and inspire us to respond effectively to this inevitable temporary but hopefully non-permanent condition.
Lemon balm with visitor.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
August 20, 2019 Imperfect Prophets; Unclear Prophetic Messages
Jesus was a prophet and Jesus acted perfectly. Unfortunately for us, baptized and confirmed with the Holy Spirit, we are called to be prophetic and yet we are imperfect people. We tend to forget that the prophetic message is rendered more effectively through perfect internal conduct. Thus, we may have a sound message such as the one presented first by Pope Paul VI, "We must live more simply so others may simply live." Those words need to be pronounced both from our tongue and through our daily lives; the expression in word and in deed must be balanced and operative.
We often focus totally on a specific prophetic message that seems more akin to our goals at a particular time. The message seems so clear and so straightforward (e.g., we must stop climate change). Why cannot others see the truth? Perhaps we need not so much to hone the message into clearer terms as to look more deeply into ourselves. Can we be better and then be able to express our message better? Other prophets of old discovered this need as well and sought to improve their personal lives. Unfortunately some did not. Down through history we saw imperfect and false prophets. Words and actions were out of balance -- and an observing public was able to detect this fact. People speak in admiration of those who are "true to their word." These are the folks who testify to the truth consistently in simple ways of both word and action.
In this series of Daily Reflections we have taken a strong prophetic tone as to the need to save our wounded Earth. We must pause occasionally and see whether these wounds are all external to us or whether some of these are deep within us as inhabitants of our fragile Earth. If we ignore and fail to address these internal wounds, we are unable to spread the word with force. History has shown that charismatic speeches are not the sole domain of the more perfect people; false prophets can also be charismatic and can lead others astray by their words. But the false prophet has only a short-term impact. We need to be in it for the long haul.
Granted, modern prosperity Christianity is proclaimed by those in tailored-suited, bejeweled speakers who tell materialist-oriented audiences that if they pray hard enough they can be like them, the materially endowed. This perverted Christian message is contrary to what Jesus said and did. He preached internal simplicity as well as radical sharing with others; he suffered and died because of his power in teachings. Material success was never part of his message, though it is often that of the false prophet.
Being imperfect we are tempted to remain silent, but that need not be the case. In a humble way we are called to speak even while imperfect, and others will come to understand our ongoing efforts. We can and must seek to perfect ourselves in an ongoing enterprise, an internal undertaking that accompanies our prophetic word.
Prayer: Lord, help us see the need to speak prophetically and to live internally the goals we externally profess.
August hike to a favorite sitting-spot.
August 21, 2019 How Many Ways Are There to Age Gracefully?
On Senior Citizens Day it is proper to consider the learning associated with aging. I have met people over the years who were graceful in welcoming older age; others kick and fight the inevitable process of aging and want to forget their own birthdays, which seem to come more rapidly with years. Why not ride with the tide? What do you think of these ways to grace advanced years?
1. Refuse to retire. Rather, increase personal services as a benefit for others as well as for personal enrichment, for ultimately even this enrichment may work to the benefit of others. Retiring could mean switching to less stressful work that is more in keeping with limited energy levels.
2. Rise early and have much to engage yourself whether essential to the welfare of others or hobbies and practices for your own enjoyment -- ultimately for others. Those of us who rise early get more done -- though we may be overly busy at times. Thus this suggestion comes with a caution: let's pace ourselves.
3. Exercise regularly. Young children need safe outdoor space away from congestion and well-policed; older people need outdoor opportunities for fresh air and exercise as well, even if the stretching of all muscles is done in a seated position.
4. Eat healthful food is heard from childhood on, but for many of us it needs to be a daily flashing sign. We may be tempted to cut short on nutritious food and follow the fast food signs to burgers and fries, sugar and salt. Keep veggies, fruit and whole grains in mind and learn to create a new dish each day.
5. Care for plants either in a garden or on a window sill. All of us should take charge of encouraging life in some form each day. Some have more energy and can fill outdoor space with herbs and vegetables; others may find indoor plants enough and satisfying in all their beauty and vigor.
6. Learn something new every day and keep the mind active. Look for new intellectual challenges that can both be enriching and assist in giving service to our neighbors.
7. Mentor the young and keep in touch with old friends who are also seeking to age gracefully. Pass on the tips that work for you in an acceptable manner, for both the young and the old. Seniors are supposed to give wise advice, and know when to keep silent and simply allow others to do their thing.
8. Be hopeful about the future, for we can be the heralds for those who are tempted to give up. That includes our prayer life being such that we remember those who are in need whether they ask for help or not.
Prayer: Help us, Lord, to age with enthusiasm and humor.
Many strands of an extensive spider web.
August 22, 2019 A Poem: Deep Service
Nine ninety-nine and still more kind
of serving folks; some mean, some don't mind:
Service stations, public relations,
church, military, United Nations;
Health, finance, guidance, tax preparers,
grief bearers, auto repairers, travel carriers;
Some measured by punch clocks that dispense
incomes spelled in bucks and cents.
The Master of service came for others,
Obedient to Father, gathered sisters, brothers,
Toiling, praying, snatching sleep,
Harvests to reap; promises to keep,
Took no wife, worked wonders, cured the ill,
and on that Friday on a windswept hill
gave up his life for sister, brother,
and gave his mother to the care of another.
In a vernal call we vowed to serve,
Never to swerve, reserve, lose nerve.
In the flush of youth it worked a while,
wonders, yes and self‑made style.
Now autumn's mist brings unrequited deed,
Few wonders, not success, not fully freed,
Loving fidelity alone, it's all we own,
God speed, intone! God Speed!
Harmony through Human Collaboration
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. (Mark 10:44-45)
Collaborative success is forthcoming in a global attempt to curb climate change, the greatest threat that has ever been encountered on this planet. The 2015 Paris Climate Change Accord has acheived partial success. A major barrier is the rapid rise in energy consumption that calls for retaining fossil fuel applications while renewable (wind, solar, hydro, etc.) applications strive to meet demand; last year the greenhouse emissions, which should have been declining, rose by about 3%; this cannot continue; however, there is no change in the first part of 2019. Add to this the horror of the U.S., the largest polluter since the start of the industrial revolution, being the only country that does not work within the Accord -- a crime against humanity.
Individual collaboration. On a positive note the individual undertakings of multitudes of people in among the larger consumer nations have become willing to make basic food choice changes; this means replacing meat-based fast food items such as hamburgers with veggie substitutes that taste and look identical. This small change of choice is an immense savings, for veggie burgers use less resources (land, feed and energy) than hamburgers made from beef; animals take immense resources to graze, feed and mature and give out almost one-sixth of greenhouse warming methane. Savings in resources can curb climate change and help feed the hungry.
Libertarian and regulation. While some actions such as eating less meat can be -- and are being -- done by individuals, we are aware that the cumulative effects may not be reached quickly if at all. Too many think they can take a little extra from the commons because of self-interest (e.g. extra air trips) and they can offset them by some donation to reforestation. This offsetting practice has been debunked as a sham by a recent UN report. The issue is too important and the climate change damage, especially to the poor, is so great that we must consider social regulations as well.
True environmentalists. The efforts of individuals count but are insufficient; all people must be brought into the effort at curbing climate change -- and this means governmental regulations for the common good. The collective efforts of the concerned does not compensate for the growing appetite for private autos, air travel, domestic air conditioners and electronic devices (immense energy to keep the Internet system operating). Governmental regulations as to curbing energy use through required efficiency standards, protection of wildlands and endangered species, and phasing out of fossil fuel applications is absolutely necessary if the curbing is to be successful. This last is so evident and yet the current administration is moving in opposite directions to sound ecological practices. Environmentalism demands regulation.
Solutions difficult. Part of the problem is the influence of prevailing Capitalism that strongly colors ordinary lifestyle activities; a tolerance of inequality allows those who are rich enough to take and do what they want with their immense undertaxed financial resources. Furthermore, it allows the poor with their grasped lottery tickets to cultivate aspirations to follow the billionaires who have purchased legitimacy through their support of candidates for public office. The current cultural tolerance of the wealthy is so deep-seated that the concerned become doubtful; will evil ways be exposed and good practices (fair taxes and redistribution of wealth) be implemented in time to curb climate change? Or will the privileged continue to extend the wasteful practices that have brought us to our current conditions?
Spiritual struggle. The salvation of the planet herself looms before us; the question is whether we will make a correct choice in curbing climate change in sufficient time. As mentioned in the July reflections on this website, the ability to overcome evil that tempts individuals and institutions to greedy self-interest is both powerful and frightening. It is problematic whether enough believers will respond to this immense opportunity to save a threatened world. We can save our world but will we succeed? However, if not all see the spiritual ramifications of this titanic struggle between good and evil unanimity it is not needed -- provided that those who are believers in the future respond forthrightly and prayerfully.
Imprinted opportunity. We have the privilege to be here at this time and place when our very Earth is threatened by human misdeeds of which we have participated. Our grandparents could not conceive of such a struggle, but we can follow the Spirit and show God's imprint of harmony and mercy in our world. God leaves an imprint upon us and our world and in discovering this, we open ourselves to new possibilities in our journey of faith. In doing so we may be drawn to increase in gratitude for being called to serve in this time and place. While our efforts as believers can add harmony to a threatened world, the process is the ultimate return of the harmony that is in Godself -- a Trinitarian expression.
Harmony and mercy. In an atmosphere of gratitude we open ourselves to work with others, for the grandest manifestation of the divine harmony is in our collaboration with fellow human beings in saving our wounded Earth, for this harmony is Trinitarian in nature. In the fullest sense, the harmony among people of good will is to be proclaimed, for it is God at work in the world around us. The very imprint of God is realized in the world of vibration, not primarily in visibility. Do we feel it beneath our feet? God loves us with a tangible love and asks us to reciprocate in a resonating love. God sends us the Messiah who opens the way to new life; the Spirit remains with us inspiring us to use our talents for global betterment. Divine mercy gives us time to respond, but that time is short. God's guidance is needed to collaborate in saving our threatened Earth.
Intricate patterns in the poppy flower.
August 23, 2019 Fear: Need We Be Fearful or Fearless?
All of us know times of being "afraid," of being fearful, being apprehensive, being paralyzed with fright, and being watchful and cautious. We need to distinguish, for some fear is salutary and some is not. Being afraid in the dark can be overdrawn; being fearful of a grizzly bear is to be alert to possible danger. We are also apprehensive of future results and thus are "afraid" when going to take an exam or to see a doctor.
Fear of the Lord (December 9, 2016) is a gift of the Holy Spirit, for we dread offending God in any way. Our mission in life is awesome, and yet we are aware of weaknesses that hold us back from goals; we fear failure in what is entrusted to us. Fear of God involves proper concern over whether gifts given are properly shared with our neighbor. An extension of this respectful fear is our conduct to others in the human family; that includes our courtesy and civility. We ask ourselves whether we still respect our culture, our national symbols, our religious practice and way of treating the environment. Does respect erode through our inaction and neglect? We need a reserve of fear and trembling, and to incorporate them in our accountability for gifts we possess and need to use well. Fear of God is salutary.
Fearlessness (Matthew 10:31), on the other hand, is often preached by Jesus. Be not afraid is the message Jesus gave his disciples on a number of occasions, especially when he had just performed mighty works of calming the sea or appearing to them after the Resurrection (see June 25, 2017). Misplaced fear can stalk us and play tricks on us; our fears can be real or imagined; fear can be a virtue or, when uncontrolled, an illness. As believers, we are mindful that we can overcome paralyzing fear, for God is with us. Our life's journey is not a cold, harsh, lonely trip to an abrupt end; rather we have travel companions to a New Heaven and New Earth. Earthhealing involves an element of trust and concern, for our planet is fragile and our efforts are often imperfect. We trust that Divine Providence overshadows all actions and that grace is sufficient to heal in a meaningful manner both at the individual and the global level.
Fear can be generated in order to bring about change, but we learn through experience that generating certain fears is not spiritually healthy. Fire and brimstone messages may cause hearers to move to denial, excuse or escape, or lose heart. We must take corrective measures, but a positive approach to loving service is far better than a negative one of fear of eternal loss -- though that approach has worked at times. We do experience fear and trembling; we must realize God's ways are supreme; however, we are called to be God's companions in quickening an unbelieving world; we must encourage those paralyzed by fear and trust in the Lord.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to discern the times; help us fear when we must and act fearlessly, for there is a time for everything under heaven -- and excessive fear takes a toll.
The Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura).
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
August 24, 2019 Population Decline: Some Ill Effects
Japan saw a record-breaking fall of 244,000 in 2013 and expects a decline of one-tenth of total population by mid-century. Eastern Europe former Soviet republics have seen dramatic declines since 1989: Albania from 3,182,417 to 2,893,000 in 2015; Armenia from 3,604,000 in 1991 to 3,010,600 in 2015; Belarus from 10,151,806 to 9,480,868 in 2015; Bulgaria from 9,009,018 to 7,245,000 in 2011 or one-quarter of its people; Estonia from 1,565,662 to 1,314,370; Georgia from 5,400,841 to 4,010,00 in 2014 census; Latvia from 2,666,567 to 1,986,086 in 2015; Lithuania from 3.7 million to 2,988,000 in 2012; Romania from 23,185,084 in 1991 to 19,947,311 in 2014; Ukraine from 51,452,034 to 42,439,822 in late 2013 mainly through net emigration. Yugoslavia-spun nations suffered a one-tenth loss due to emigration. Russia has halted a 6,000,000 decline through immigration and higher birth and lower death rates.
Some populations fluctuate. Germany reversed a decades-long population decline by waves of recent immigration though it has suffered high internal East German declines since unification. Ireland went from 8,000,000 before the 1841 famine to a low of 2.8 million in 1962 and rising to over 4.5 million in 2011. While the U.S. has positive population growth mainly through immigration, still within the country rural areas and some urban ones (Detroit went from 1.85 million in 1950 to 677,000 in 2015) have witnessed dramatic declines, but some cities have recently reversed this.
A century ago population growth was regarded as a harbinger of disaster, but now population decline or "crash" bring on the fear mongers; these call for a fresh look at Europe and the Asian rim. A shortage of laborers is cropping up in lands of declining birth rate. Demographers point out that this goes beyond mere movement of populations from place to place. In 1988, 216,000 children were born in East Germany; in 1994, 88,000 were born there, and numbers have not increased. Europe is running below population replacement levels and stability or slight increases in relatively more prosperous countries has occurred through immigration from Africa, Asia, and the Western Hemisphere.
Some paint a bleak future of inner towns and cities filled with empty buildings and crumbling infrastructure. Depopulation brings on a condition of depression among the remaining people. When the elderly increase in proportion to total population, this leads inevitably to skewing resources away from child educational concerns to those of senior health care and maintenance. When the number of able workers dwindles economic conditions deteriorate. Immigration can be one solution. Gradually, costly social networks come under fire and cutbacks in benefits are demanded for financial stability. A vicious circle occurs with fewer women of child-bearing age -- and decline becomes severe. Population decline below reproduction levels is often regarded as a threat to the culture of the place and can lead to reaction against immigrants.
Prayer: Lord, help us to promote family life and growth.
Ladybird beetle in tangle of lush vines.
August 25, 2019 The Narrow Gate: Self-Satisfaction and Smugness
Yes, there are those now last who will be first, and those who are first who will be last. (Luke 13:22-30)
Our life's journeys are in for some surprises. We hope for the best, expect elements of the worst, and discover living a challenge in itself. Our best preparation as believers is to commit ourselves to humble service according to our baptismal vows to follow Christ and avoid evil. We are to serve the needs of others and trust in God's mercy and love. We look to the examples of saintly models who perform humble service and through their efforts attain eternal salvation. Often we misunderstand our total commitment to Christ; we neglect the call to avoid excessive desire for and possession of material things. These unfulfilled desires distract us from service for the needy; they desensitize us to the needs of others and we become consumed by material distractions in our consumer culture. We seek to become self-satisfied to the degree that consumer goods can try -- but this is foolishness.
In our better moments we are drawn to focus on Christ, deny ourselves, and accept responsibility for our individual selves and neighbors, along with an expanding arena of responsibility that includes the local and total world community. The road may seem easy, and the door wide, but it is somewhat constricted on closer examination. The narrowness is rendered by the focus we must afford ourselves, a turning of our attention to what really matters in this troubled world -- to humble service through Christ for and with others. The universal outlook mentioned in yesterday's reflection is expressed both in word and deed. Service to all others with whom we come in contact is our concrete testimony to being inclusive. We become confident in doing this through our union with Jesus expressed through love. Our faithful community declares this in the Creed, and each individual knows this to be part of our mission.
A note of caution: we cannot accept being "institutionalized" and thinking another individual or agency will do the hard work of helping with salvation apart from our own monetary contribution. We are called to take on the responsibility to be doers; we serve by living simply and encouraging others to live in the same manner and to focus on God's call to them. We must set up conditions to challenge the smug folks who are mesmerized by the consumer goods all around them. Let's shake our own and their self-confidence in material things lest they let life slip away without ever rising to the challenge to become spiritually motivated.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to see our work as humble service for and with others. This takes attention to what really matters, a narrow focusing on spiritual values and a turning away from the glitter of material goods all around. Help us to discover ways of breaking the grip that consumer products hold on both ourselves and on our neighbors as well.
Scene from evening at Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary, Kentucky.
August 26, 2019 Capitalism: State, Corporate or Neither?
The world knows little else today since the demise of many of the communist regimes around 1990 (USSR and its satellites and sponsored states in Africa and elsewhere). During the last three decades unfettered capitalism under a variety of forms has dominated this world. Ought this to go unchallenged when the gap between the rich and poor widens with each year? Furthermore, certain nations struggle to keep social networks in place; the unfortunate people in absolute poverty (hunger, inadequate housing and inaccessible health) are actually increasing in number if not percentage of population. Adding to current environmental problems is the rising middle class emerging from poverty in Asia and elsewhere with a growing appetite for consumer products; this can wreak havoc on limited available world resources and worsen resulting pollution issues. To date, climate change continues to be a catastrophic planetary condition. Misplaced faith in the "free market" is curbing discussion of meaningful alternatives.
China is becoming the economic success story of the twenty-first century, and its rise has been a short-term combination of state-run communist bureaucracy wed to an acceptance of market economics (though not totally free); politics and economics tend to clash and in other developing nations seeking their own systems of governance. Chinese economics thrives but there are large numbers (30 million) of rural migrants in cities and yet unable to earn enough to settle down in a stable fashion (partly due to unusual male to female population ratios). Will such unsolved social problems lead to national instability there and elsewhere?
Corporate capitalism is just as dangerous (and maybe as threatened) as the state variety. In part, this is because the private nature of this form of capitalism is more favored; yet the risks taken by corporations are ensured by an influenced compliant governmental system. Concentrated wealth yields to power, and that to access to legislative policy, and that to influence over governments. Large corporations can overwhelm many nation states. Such corporations are often directed by officers who wield power by diverting wealth to electing selected people and thus are able to gain control over legislators, political groups and unbalanced regulations. Democracy can be and is being eroded by the exercise of corporate power -- and tea party folks overlook this corporate influence (forgetting that the owner of the Boston tea was the multinational East India Company). The story of private "capitalism" in cahoots with the state is often overlooked.
Contrasting state and corporate capitalism does not mean these are the only options. Today, our Christian hope requires us to look beyond, for our civilization and the health of our planet are at stake. Such elements as strong regulatory government, fair taxes, and democratic participation by all citizens are necessary. Can an alternative system with these elements be established?
Prayer: Lord, give us hope for a better economic system.
Stone sheep in northwest Alberta, Canada.
August 27, 2019 St. Monica: A Saint for Our Times
Monica was a Christian wife and mother at the time of the crumbling Roman Empire: she stands a fitting model for this age, even when history attempts to, but never quite, repeats itself. Today we celebrate the life of St. Monica (332 to 387 AD); we are best acquainted with her through her son, St. Augustine in his Confessions (Book IX). Monica was a person with many attributes: prayerfulness and trust; patience and endurance; single-minded acceptance of the state of affairs; and absolute confidence that, with God's help, people can be converted from wayward lives.
Monica was a North African and most likely born near Tagaste in what is now Tunisia. Patricius, her Roman husband was violent tempered, a hard drinker, and unfaithful. However, Monica's patience and prayer prevailed, and he was baptized shortly before his death. Likewise, Monica was patient with her mother-in-law and won her over; she gave great attention to her three sons, especially the wayward Augustine. Monica learned of his move to Milan along with his partner and their son, and so she followed him. Monica befriended the bishop, Ambrose, who took up the task of confronting Augustine and being instrumental in his profound conversion. All through this period of uncertainty Monica practiced patience and poured forth her prayers to God. A kind cleric encouraged her saying, "It is not possible that the son of so many tears could perish." Monica saw Augustine baptized in 387 and died during the party's return trip to Africa. She was buried at Ostia near Rome.
Monica had qualities we need desperately today:
* Praying for wayward loved ones -- The mother of the great doctor of the Church (he was to live another 43 years of service after her death) was humble through it all. Her life was one of never losing hope that her own relatives would be converted, and thus she gave her physical span for their spiritual lives;
* Persevering in prayer and fasting -- Today, the call is for many mothers and other close relatives to pray for the return of people to the graces of God. During these troubled times, may each of us find in Monica the same fortitude and strength to persevere in begging for divine grace for those who are on wayward paths;
* Using creative means to call attention -- Monica left no stone unturned and begged for the assistance of influential people to assist her son in his moral and faith struggles; and
* Seeing potential in the loved one -- Monica could intuit that her son would be a powerful writer and defender of the faith, and so she threw herself wholeheartedly into his conversion.
Prayer: May those who pray for backsliders find solace in St. Monica's life. Through her intercession may the many who are wandering be brought to the service of God within our wounded human family and threatened Earth.
Prairie dog (Cynomys), North Dakota.
August 28, 2019 The Corporate Person: A Form of Idolatry
On this feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, it is most fitting to highlight the terrible toll taken a decade ago by our U.S. Supreme Court in its 5-4 Citizens United versus Federal Election Commission decision. Here corporations considered "persons" now have a First Amendment right to free speech. These creatures of the state can now influence legislation by spending unlimited money on elections. Goodbye democracy. The shame is that the five majority were Catholic justices. Didn't they understand the Christian and sacred concept of the human person, a creature made to God's image?
The tendency to idolatry is not something out of an outmoded past, for all people tend to idolize objects and some institutions of their own crafting. They give attributes to corporations that belong to human beings, that is, to persons created to God's image and endowed with powers of free will. These human persons have inalienable rights as spelled out in our Constitution as well as duties and responsibilities to protect and enhance the common good.
In contrast, the "corporation" is a creature of the state, a legal entity that is a humanly-conceived tool to enhance industry and commerce for the common good. Over time, these state creatures have been granted human characteristics, namely the right to property and the protection of the first amendment as though they were human persons. Democracy is forfeited when power stemming from unrestrained corporate wealth is used to influence elections, and the elected are subject to the influence of the purchaser. What was endowed as a tool becomes an idol, and elected citizens now become subservient to the corporation; they promote idolatry as though it were patriotism.
Capitalistic "theologians" scramble to find adequate Scriptural quotes and historic thinkers from whom to justify this perversion. Through confusion, the U.S. Supreme Court regards created human instruments (corporations) as endowed with divine-given attributes solely reserved to the human family. Powerful corporations are puppets of their directors who receive influence that overwhelms the citizenry by influencing the legislation through power, access and influence. Idolatry comes when this accrued power is attributed to itself (the giving of a human artifact as something that is God-given). The sacred God-like character of free, rational human beings is bestowed on a lifeless tool of the state, an irrational corporation that can be guided by directors to paths of self-interest devoid of responsibility or duty. Idolatry follows from the perversion of a divine bestowal and when made operative this becomes an abomination.
To attempt to do something about this condition sign petition on <End Citizens United> website and receive emails on the progress to the promotion of a necessary constitutional amendment.
Prayer: Lord, help us expose the inanimate corporate "person" for what it is, and to encourage others to do the same.
Appalachian stream in August, eastern Tennessee.
August 29, 2019 Interconnectedness: We ALL Need to Work Together
They will proclaim my glory to the nations. (Isaiah 66:20)
The work of salvation extends to the entire world; it is universal in scope -- and this is Good News to all peoples, especially the poor who are often overlooked. People are meant to be liberated from being marginalized; they need to hear that they have a role to play in a world that has in the recent past glorified wealth, overlooked injustices, and tolerated an un- or underemployed class. To allow unemployment when people want to be productive denies them their free expression of what it takes to live a meaningful life. A system that tolerates unemployment is really repressive, and this corrodes the democratic spirit. This lack of meaningful work drives some to desperation and terrorism. Privileged exclusivity (jobs for some and not for all) harms the participative work in which we are to jointly share.
At this present moment, we proclaim God's glory by being productive in word and in deed. Yes, experts and geniuses have roles to play, and so do ordinary people, for we are all called as brothers and sisters to glorify God together. Small groups can work together, but others left out can spoil the works. The challenge is to bring us all together, to work together as bridge-builders and community organizers. If there is to be privilege in this world, it ought to be the privilege of assisting others to be inclusive. Exclusivity hurts family and community relations and leads to basic insecurity in our world.
Inclusiveness extends to the entire chain of creation, and thus we show this by living sustainable lives and using the resources at our disposal in such a way that they can be shared with others including future generations. When resources are wasted in unsustainable ways, we damage the entire world order. Our interconnectedness means we are aware that we must consider resources and preserve the habitats of all creatures. Isaiah says that Jerusalem will be restored and become a drawing card, a magnet to attract others. Our believing community is this city; we can make it into a glorious model for future generations.
We have the difficult task of hearing and responding to the cry of the poor, especially those who suffer through hunger, poor health, and inadequate housing. Others, especially primitive peoples are witnessing the quality of life deteriorating. For centuries, the Sami of Lapland in northern Europe have been quite sustainable in the way they cared for their harsh environment. Now they cry for justice, not charity; they suffer because of climate change and yet their threatened sustainable ways have much to teach us if we but take notice. The Sami want connections, not external largesse, and a sense that their message is heard and acted upon.
Prayer: Lord, give us the sense of being connected with others and, in so being, extend our deeds to cementing the bonds that unite us as one through listening and sharing.
Through the treetops: a pine grove in Red River Gorge, Kentucky.
August 30, 2019 Watering: Slaking Thirsty Garden Plants
I use a rain barrel to meet basic water needs for my garden in dry times; this is far superior to using chlorinated and expensive municipal water. When more water is needed I use cistern water that is untreated rainwater. Dry periods come often this time of year, and good quality water even in smaller quantities is far superior to chlorinated water. Should you hear voices from plants saying, "Water me," weigh this carefully, for most plants just look thirsty in their silence. If water is plentiful, give thirsty plants an ample dose.
If your water supply is scarce, follow some suggestions:
use domestic water preferably non-treated water; use waste water (dilute urine can be put on for autumn delicate leafy plants); water in late evenings or early mornings; soak seeds before planting; use row instead of surface cropping in dry times; direct water to the plant base and not over foliage; water every other day rather than daily; practice garden "triage" on plants.
A more refined set of suggestions is meant for those who have a traditional rain barrel, and who will divide the fifty-five gallons over a possible dry period. Beyond that, other sources will be needed for the small urban garden of 400-square feet (my garden's size). Assume seven watering sessions of eight gallons every other day for two weeks, hoping for showers at times. The order of watering might include no spraying or foliage wetting. Applications depend on the amount of water available:
First level watering includes new seedlings and early plants (keep covered with Reemay in order to reduce moisture evaporation). Water such crops as close to plant base as possible and attend to spinach, endive, kale, mustard, Swiss chard and collards. If weather is dry, avoid leaf lettuce altogether.
Second level watering (if ration is sufficient) includes those needing the most watering such as cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, peppers, celery, many herbs and legumes (again at the base only). Often tomatoes need to be picked early due to watering demands. Some gardeners will insert a tube into the ground next to tomato plants and insert bottled water without moistening soil surface.
Third level watering is the root crops such as beets, onions, garlic, parsnips, and carrots, matured crops such as sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes, and drought-tolerant okra, mint and peanuts.
A question arises about most herbs and flowers. Follow your own instincts but try to water younger and transplanted herbs first and then the rest. Take some plants you expect to grow during winter into the building early, because this avoids drying out further during an autumn drought.
Prayer: Lord, remind us that accessible resources are limited and we must become resource conservationist people.
...but he then said, 'My grace is enough for you: my power
is at its best in weakness'. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
There's nothing perfect in this world and that fact burdens us as we age. Often we have "to glide with the tide," and still not lose our peace of soul; the strain could lead to a heart attack. Disharmonies accompany all forms of organizing efforts and a global effort to curb climate change is no exception. In fact, failure by the U.S. Administration to cooperate with the 2015 Paris Climate Change Accord is a form of disharmony that all Americans must address. A wider community must be willing to control groups like ISIS which are bent on destroying our civilization. We are bound to recognize, expose, and confront these disharmonies.
Recognizing disharmonies ranging from personal selfishness to contentiousness, from differences in personalities to cultural misunderstanding would take too long to list. The hope is we recognize disharmony as it arises and start to prepare for it as best we can. In some ways, it is to our credit if we distinguish those disharmonies that are bothersome but not destructive and those that are harmful and need direct confrontation.
Exposing disharmony is risky as to securing collaborative work. Part of our work is to discover people who are better suited to address persistent disharmonies and still restrain them to some degree before they become contagious; such talented persons are rare and demand our encouraging support. Our weaknesses must be acknowledged, those that either cause disharmony or detect it and still find resolution difficult. Some disharmonies are merely bothersome and can be overcome through humor or compassion. Some are more serious and can disrupt the collaboration that we are working so hard to secure -- and demand that those spiritually inclined seek to resolve the difficulties through prayer to God.
Confronting major disharmony is important. Some disharmony is overlooked; we are often unable to establish a counter harmony that is needed to resolve disharmony. We tend to excuse ourselves from this messy task. Human efforts are limited, and we are slow to see that when actions have an immense import it is the Evil One who is behind the disharmony. When our harmonizing efforts are intended to be global, then evil intents at postponement or denial can appear and must be recognized as highly influential. When we discover our weaknesses and strive to do something about it, we will be willing to acknowledge a need that transcends what we can do ourselves; I am unable to conquer the evil by myself, nor can the collective we in a secular mode; we need divine help -- and we are not gods, though some think otherwise.
Degrees of harmony exist just as degrees of disharmony. Just as music can be designated as superb or good or just passing; we can enjoy the better performances and yet some lesser degree is serviceable, so in our global efforts at harmony we can accept working together as a means to a common goal, even when some degrees of perfection sets two parties apart due to cultural or political differences or antagonism. A more perfect system may have to be delayed so that a general compromise can be accepted, while confident that progress could be forthcoming.
Distractive disharmonies are real problems. Sometimes when the problem is too great, a sense of psychic wellbeing makes someone move to a more bearable issue. All of us can get distracted when minor goods and benefits suddenly emerge as a major issue. Calling us back to our collaborative experience is important, especially when we have allowed ourselves to wander afield. Part of the climate change problem is that it is scattered and is affects us at different rates; thus residents will experience the full effects of rising oceans or extreme weather events in different degrees and ways.
Selfish disharmonies are more a problem then we might expect. Hidden Capitalistic disharmony could arise in the change to a renewable energy economy; it is similar to what occurred in the transfer from the USSR economy to the present Russian system, where those in high positions were able to become instant millionaires. Disharmony comes when a few cash in and make a killing and others are left out of renewable energy benefits. Since change will be global in scope, the potential fortunes of those privileged few could be quite large. Distributed benefits, especially with solar energy in domestic and micro grits, offers to be a good opportunity for multiple benefits far different from that of multi-billion nuclear powerplants and mega-grit distribution systems of the fossil fuel economy. Benefits can be shared and individual profit-taking moved to a back seat; ideally emphasis must be on the public domain.
Personality disharmonies arise always but more so in times of emergency, for all are under strain and some fail to take advice; those in panic mode will attempt to do something in his or her own way when leadership is not easily accessible. Much depends on how fast personality difficulties are spotted and addressed by those seeking maximum teamwork. What do we concede? When and where should we draw attention? These are not easy questions to resolve.
Historically disharmonies arise and must be addressed. Read the letters of St. Paul in the New Testament and his beginning faith communities; observe the narrative of the American Revolution and the interactions of George Washington and Benedict Arnold. Some disharmonies can be dealt with in an easy fashion and some are so great that they can upset the entire process. The possibilities of success in curbing climate change are real, though the exact path is hard to anticipate. We need people of a spiritual outlook who know that the process is beyond our best laid plans; we need divine guidance and assistance. To win the critical battle to curb climate change -- the focus on our current writings -- requires us to pray that we might be successful, for only in God do we trust.
Family farm near Bardstown, KY.
August 31, 2019 Finishing a Phase: Time to Move On Hopefully
But life to me is not a thing to waste words on, provided that when I finish my race I have carried out the mission the Lord Jesus gave me -- and that was to bear witness to the Good News of God's grace. (Acts 20:24)
Perhaps, like St, Paul, we find definitive times in life when a particular phase of our journey is ending -- and we would prefer to see what has passed as a completed achievement. With summer's end those who had a graduation in the spring are now ready to start a new aspect of life; thus the old is now fully finished and a new career or aspect of life is starting. It may be taking on a new job, or having a new-born or a departing family member, or trying to accept retirement. It may be a dying person preparing for eternal life; for some it's more a race than a journey.
Let hope prevail. Finishing a phase needs not be melancholy or full of remorse; in fact, let it be filled with the adulation of the "last hurrah" and the feeling that what took so much effort has become a definitive step forward. In this more positive approach one refuses to walk backward in history, or to be filled with regrets. Life is not ended but is transformed, and fuller life lies ahead. Time to move on contains hidden possibilities. Yes, past security must give way through hope to better times.
We seek to heal our wounded Earth. Coming to see the effects of human misdeeds is an initial learning period, but that has its limitations. Knowing is not correcting. We face reality and the challenges that are formidable; but we can finish the next stage, if we have confidence that better things are possible through our efforts and God's grace. Renewal can bring improvements. Even death itself need not be loss but eternal gain. In a Christian way of thinking, a better world awaits those who freely prepare for it. Old economic, political and social structures had a place, but let's accept that they are outmoded and something new is needed.
The past must be remembered and respected, for it has much to teach. A fruitful past is one that expresses the need to undergo a metamorphosis, a shedding of old ways and a taking on the new. Accept the fact that we have outlived this old structure and are preparing for the new one where democracy will be enhanced, prosperity will be distributed to all, and the poor will have needs met. God is at work in the world where we bring a new beginning through enthusiastic hope. Despair about the future will paralyze as much as an antiquarianism seeking to remain in the past will stifle creative ideas. Hope for a better future energizes us, allows us to see new opportunities, and gives us the possibilities to incorporate the best of the past, thus conserving it and allowing it to color the new creation.
Prayer: Lord, give us hope to complete things and to make improvements; also allow us to see that our efforts can contribute to the rebuilding of the New Heaven and New Earth.