1, 2006 AIDS Day Revisited
Exactly twenty-five years ago, the first cases of HIV/AIDS
were reported and much has happened in this quarter of a century.
Those of us who lost family members have felt the tragedy very
deeply. My sister's husband died from AIDS resulting from a
contaminated blood transfusion during an operation in 1987. What
we don't always sense in the relentless statistics, such as 2.3
million African infants born with HIV and 12 million orphans in
that continent alone, is the hardship and hurt related to each
individual case for both victims and relatives. As we become more
aware of this epidemic we hope our compassion grows.
This AIDS epidemic, which has cost over 25 million lives and
caused some 39 million people to live with HIV infection, is
monumental. Quite a number of the latter grouping will have their
lives shortened, if their condition goes undetected and untreated.
These epidemic statistics are approaching the numbers of the
historic Black Death of the 14th century, though the base world
population is far larger and the current deaths spread over a
longer time frame. However, the AIDS epidemic is not over, and in
some parts of the world continues to spread even though early
detection is possible and drugs to keep victims alive are available
though at high prices. Furthermore, the epidemic has not peaked in
highly populated China and India or in Russia and other nations of
the former USSR. There is also the possibility that figures are on
the conservative side since some countries are deliberately under-
reporting infection rates. The world medical community is aware of
AIDS and is conducting considerable basic and applied research.
Several degrees of HIV/AIDS consciousness has to be considered:
* The first level is consciousness that this is an epidemic.
Paradoxically, South Africa has been quite late in coming to an
official recognition that AIDS is a disease. Today there are over
5 million South Africans with HIV/AIDS in a population of 44
million -- this country is one of 18 nations with current
declining native populations (-124,000 people in 2005). What a
hurtful way to experience population reduction!
* A second level is an awareness campaign to make clear that
one's own country, locality or family is suffering from some degree
of the epidemic. Some nations underestimate the impact due to
national pride, tourism or other reasons. Such campaigns of AIDS
awareness shorten the precious time available for detection and
prevention within the general population; this is deeply important
for those who share needles for illegal drug use. Some nations
take a leadership role in education and prevention, but even so-
called developed nations like ours have more work to do.
* The third level is assistance to those who are infected and
must be treated. Heroic people are working in heavily affected
nations, dispensing costly drugs and caring for those in the final
stages of the disease. One such group is the Medical Mission
Sisters. Please visit their site at <www.medicalmissionsisters.org>.
December 2, 2006 Environmental Stewardship
We have spoken about the proper use of our individual talents
in Resourcefulness and Stewardship (9/19/04)
and Land Stewardship
and our Earth (6/3/2004).
Why not more emphasis on this subject?
The answer is because "stewardship" has received a capitalistic
coloring in America. Stewardship is often confused with the
practice of a responsible property holder who doles out his
"possessions" to those he deems in greater need. When applied to
the environment, this becomes a disastrous misconception. The
commons do not belong to the individual property holder and thus
the doling process should not be interpreted as charity, when
really community justice is at stake.
Environmental stewardship principles. Stewardship does not
mean administering our own possessions through our own decisions
and in our own good time. Rather, the Earth is the Lord's, and we
are only temporary and cooperative stewards who see our work as a
privilege; thus the true nature of environmental stewardship is
that our talent or privileged gift is to exercise communal
responsibility for something that does not belong to us. A second
environmental principle is that we are mortal human beings and have
only a limited time in which to exercise this responsibility. We
have an immense task, an evident need, but we are limited in the
time in which it can be effected properly. In essence, we become
stewards of our time as much as of our responsible resources. We
are evangelists spreading Good News to victims -- creatures on the
troubled Earth -- and to fellow co-workers in the vineyard.
Use of stewardship. At the heart of the issue, good
stewardship means responsible caring -- and Earthhealing certainly
fits this description. However, when one (like this author) does
not believe that immense possessions are really to be retained and
dispensed at the will of the holder, then to use the traditional
term "stewardship" is open to misunderstanding. Simply singular or
qualified caring is not what we mean by Earthhealing. A sense of
capitalistic holding of air or water or even land commons, as one
feels inspired, is not proper Earthhealing. This false viewpoint
is pointed out at other places on this website (especially in the
concluding section of
Eco-Spirituality through the Seasons).
Application. A peace of soul results from knowing we are
inspired through the Good Spirit to do the best we can and to act
responsibly. Together with this interior peace is an external
disturbance restlessness: the world has been hurt by those with a
false sense of dominion over the resources of this Earth. The
disquiet generated by this awareness must be harmonized through our
interior wellbeing and ability to act. But our faith in God makes
us all the more aware that we must join with others to bring about
proper care -- it is not an individual exercise alone. Proper
stewardship includes placing ourselves before the Creator of all
things (including our energy and time) as well as joining with
others who are co-stewards of the Earth. Responsible Earthhealing
is a cooperative and an urgently needed venture.
December 3, 2006 Observing During Advent
There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars. (Luke
Signs in the heavens tell us something, and we must observe
them for what they are. So the Lord is asking us at the beginning
of each new Advent and Church year to be vigilant people -- to see
what is coming and to adjust our lives accordingly. Much of the
apocalyptic Scripture about impending disaster refers to the then
current period of Roman rule and threatening persecution. But, in
another way, it is also written for all ages, not just of events in
some particular period of foreboding. Each age has its unique
dangers calling for vigilance. What must we look for now?
* Wars and the dangers of nuclear proliferation exist. For
those caught in the ravages of war the darkest picture is now, and
so every effort to bring about peace must be undertaken;
* Famines in the Horn of Africa and other parts of the world
affect actual people, and for the hungry who could expect nothing
more disastrous than to die of the diseases caused by this
condition. We hardly become concerned when hundreds of thousands
go hungry. This is as dark a picture as can be painted for the
future of that person now endangered in this mortal life. Are we
with full bellies compassionate?
* Epidemics seem to ravage many parts of the world especially
that due to AIDS, which we heard about on World AIDS Day. Again,
the victim sees this lifetime as limited, for quite often this
victim has no access to or money for life-saving medicines.
* Damage to the Earth is an area that is often overlooked and
yet the uproars of the heavens and the seas can be observed if we
but just take notice. These environmental disturbances are caused
by human beings through overuse of materials and emissions of toxic
substances. Global warming and its many predicted side effects
make us all wonder what is to come: deserts expanding, forests and
endangered species dying, the shut down of the Gulf Stream,
tropical diseases spreading, and island nations being inundated.
Warning signs are here and now present. Advent tells us to be
alert to them and to adjust our spiritual life accordingly. How do
we do this? First, we cannot deny that they exist, and being
realistic about current conditions takes a solid spirituality.
Second, we do not excuse ourselves, for all of us are part of the
social community that is to blame; we are called to make
"reparation" through our prayers for the wrongdoing that we have
done as a people. Third, we do not seek to escape or to avoid what
is before us through drugs or other means; rather, we are to face
the world in which we live, trusting that God is always with us in
these times. Jesus tells us that we are not to be bowed down, but
that we are to stand up straight and be secure in our faith and see
that we are called to change the signs to better ones.
December 4, 2006 Advent: Guarding against Entrapment
Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with
debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will
be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. (Luke 21:34)
Why must we be on guard against entrapment? We are not simple
ground squirrels who fall for the bait in the Hav-a-Heart trap, or
are we? We have security systems in place in this great nation
that will stop terrorists, but external agents are not the only
trap. There is never enough guarding, enough alert systems. Jesus
tells us that entrapment is subtle and all too often overlooked.
We are rational individuals with sound minds and willing hearts --
so why are we fearful of being tripped by the hidden trap?
One clue might be the all prevailing advertisements that block
our vision and interrupt our silent space. We are immersed in a
sea of consumer culture, the likes of which the world has never
experienced before. Could it be that the multitude of creature
comforts in our lives have some sort of hidden power to mesmerize
us? Could it be our cushy easy chairs, customary television
programs, refrigerator full of fresh and relatively low-priced
food, space heat and cooling, plentiful gasoline supply, or
expected police and fire protection? Certainly none of these
normal parts of life are wrong in themselves, so how can they trap?
But wait? Does each convenience and service that we take for
granted make us restless for a bigger, better or new one. And is
this striving for more of the same the trap itself?
The basic restlessness of our soul is not wrong in itself.
However, entrapment is seeking satisfaction from inherently
unsatisfactory creature comforts. No one of these items need be
evil or wrong, but the desire for more of the same fools us into
thinking "just a little more." We succumb to the cares of life --
to acquiring, maintaining and securing ever more of these, and this
is the entrapment. And before we know it, life is over and we
little to show but a pitiful bunch of items we can't take with us.
Entrapment involves the addictive power of such comforts.
They sort of cry out that we are deserving of them to every degree
possible. When we use them day after day and the use is reinforced
by our friends and peers doing the same, then saying "no" becomes
all the more difficult. Do we dare to stare them in the face and
say that these do not give ultimate satisfaction, only a drug
induced desire for more and more of them.
Spotting traps. Observation and a willingness to say "no" go
together, as this season teaches us. If we always bow in to the
desire for more of the same, we need to work harder and devote more
and more time to the acquisition and maintenance of creature
comforts. Our insensitivity grows along with our insecurity and we
turn more and more into ourselves. The trap is closing and we are
within, not outside. Would that our people were bright enough to
see the traps and willing enough to avoid them.
December 5, 2006 Tinsel Day: Comfort or Discomfort?
We live in a society that highly values convenience and
comfort -- but on Tinsel Day we ought to look carefully for
the allurements around us could be a sham, a show, of little worth.
This drive for tinseled comfort carries over in home, work, study,
entertainment and even worship. We often hear the soothing sounds
emanating from elevators, stores and even mega-churches with their
host of sweet enticements and sermons. Are they to be listened to?
Or can we turn them off?
What about a goal of maximum comfort? Religion is meant to be
comforting to some degree for it is help to bring, encourage and
recognize interior peace of soul. However, a religion that
furnishes maximum comfort to its members in times of massive
suffering, hunger and lack of basic services in this world is ill
placed. To exclude oneself through "religion" from suffering is to
indulge in escape, the opiate to which the communists in the 19th
and 20th centuries were so fond of pointing. In fact, maximizing
comfort for affluent people in a troubled world is giving in to the
allurements of the evil one.
Christ brings true comfort. We must distinguish because Jesus
speaks a message of personal peace on many occasions, and
especially right after the resurrection when the disciples are
fearful and afraid. A peaceful interior with all its consolations
is a good thing and we each need it, for living with Christ is
comforting. However, having said this, we do not withdraw from
this world, as we know from the priestly prayer at the Last Supper.
True religion has a streak of discomfort. The message that
truth is not always comforting is not accepted easily by many. In
fact, discomfort of any kind is looked upon by these as a work of
the evil spirit, since they know their consciences bother them when
doing the wrong thing. But the Good Spirit could be the source of
the discomfort, for God shakes us up a little to bring us back to
the straight and narrow path. While fire and brimstone sermons are
not popular today, we need to ask why not -- not that they were
good things, only why not popular. Does America's success make us
feel good? And isn't success part of America's civic religion?
Christ confronts a troubled world. Jesus experiences
restlessness and a discomforting situation. The Lord's concerns
are for those who do wrong, for sheep without a shepherd, for
fields white with the harvest. He also challenges us by saying he
does not come to bring peace (a tinsel form of tranquility), but to
divide some from even their loved ones. Discipleship demands
accepting responsibility and concern. We, as other christs, are in
but not of this troubled world -- and this takes a lifetime
discern. To be in the world means we are like Christ in being
restless and yet compassionate (suffering with another). We do not
allow ourselves to be in a state of utter denial that could cost us
our soul. A holy restlessness about a troubled world is Christian.
In Christ we experience interior peace and exterior concern.
December 6, 2006 Harmony of Comfort/Discomfort as Gift
On the feast of St. Nicholas we ask what kind of meaningful
gift we can find that will satisfy our friends and relatives this
holiday season. Obviously, our materialistic culture steps forward
and wants us to think about what things we can buy in the mall or
on the Internet that bring some sort of satisfaction to the
receiver. How do we meet great expectations? St. Nicholas gave
all of himself for others. So should we, but many of our potential
recipients are not in need of charity. If they are, we should give
not as "gift" but out of justice for their demands are greater than
ours. So we look elsewhere, for what we can give.
Possible gifts. We look at the spiritual level and repeat
potential gifts mentioned in past reflections: visits, acts of
kindness, prayers, homemade signs of love and affection, cooked and
baked dishes, songs, works of personal art or poetry, etc.
Harmony, the potential gift. The harmony found in Christ who
is able to balance an interior peace of soul with the restlessness
to confront and enter a troubled world is what we seek to find and,
ultimately, to give. The difficulty is that this gift is not ours
jut to disperse because we are not its author, only its recipient.
True religion brings interior comfort and peace of soul -- and many
testify to this. But God is the author of that spiritual comfort
even as it resides within us, so how can we give what is not ours
to give? Our participation in that peace is our openness to God's
entry this Christmas season. All we can ultimately give is the
invitation to the other for a radical openness to receive the Lord.
Christ as gift. Christ, God-man, has the unique balance of
inner peace and a restlessness to confront and change a troubled
world. Here in the union of the divine and human (one person with
two natures) rests a harmony that goes out to us who are baptized
into the Divine Family and are willing to share that divine gift
with others in a troubled world. Herein our own harmony comes into
play, for we find the spiritual comfort of the peace of Christ
within and we are concerned about a troubled world all around us.
The harmony of divine and human spring up in our time, our faith
journey, right here and now. The God within is Giver; Jesus is
Gift; we are inspired by the Spirit to give, and thus sharing is
our gift. The harmony of Christ becomes our harmony, and only God
can give this to us in a special way.
Sharing is the gift. What then becomes the gift is the
harmony that is within us, a harmony that allows us to share with
others exactly as God has shared with us. In one sense, this may
disappoint for it is not something materially tangible. On second
thought, if we share by word and deed the harmony that is within
us, we proclaim that Christ has come among us and we are the
messenger to give this to another -- and we share in the
incarnation event. If we express this harmony in the manner we
give and perform a deed, we then have given something tangible --
and it is godly as well.
late autumn scene,
Sunrise Ridge, Stanton Kentucky
(Photo: Marge Para)
December 7, 2006 Keep America Beautiful Day
About 50 days ago the United States officially passed the
300,000,000 mark in population. Some of us remembered the passing
of the 200,000,000 point about forty years ago. The United States
is growing in population at rates far in excess of Europe and
Japan. And along with population growth and adequate labor force
come some detrimental impacts. Density and congestion can impact
wilderness and natural settings all around us. The natural beauty
of America was marred by white settlers through cut-over forests
and eventually crisscrossing roads, railways and utility lines.
Population growth does not necessarily mean destruction of beauty,
but it could, if safeguards are not undertaken, for in numbers we
must redouble our environmental efforts. As individuals we must
tidy up our residential surroundings; as citizens we must press for
broader based local community and national governmental practices.
Zoning is resisted in many parts of our country as though it
were a restriction on individual freedom. But some way to restrict
unnecessary sprawl is needed to keep America's beauty for all. The
soothing effect of well cultivated lands is harshly broken by the
presence of gaudy and expensive housing. The commercial sprawl is
even worse as mile after mile of outlying regions near urban areas
are cheapened by such so-called development.
Restricting signs is really a corollary to zoning for
development. The billboards, flashing signs and other such
commercial devices are part and parcel of unchecked sprawl.
Although they actually cover far less land surface than buildings,
commercials mar the countryside by disturbing the natural beauty of
the viewscape. It is better to consolidate signs at certain key
places along highways, or to furnish food, fuel and lodging
information and literature on the Internet and at rest areas.
Protecting wilderness areas and especially old-growth forests
is a necessity if our country is to keep larger areas of scenic
beauty such as forestlands and wild areas. The tendency to cut
over or use destructive recreational vehicles on such land is a
problem area, which population pressures exacerbate -- not just the
pure number of people but rather the number of irresponsible users.
Urban homesteading (refurbishing urban abandoned and slum
areas through governmental loans and grants) is proving to be a way
to furnish residences without disturbing additional wilderness or
farmland. The advantages of living nearer the heart of cities are
becoming known, and this reversal of land usage (return to the
city) may actually slow sprawl and preserve America's beauty.
Gardening in underused urban and rural areas could be a way
beautifying the landscape. A public interest group, with which I
am acquainted, the America the Beautiful Fund in Washington,
distributes garden seeds to lower income communities and sponsors
memorial tree grove projects; it co-sponsors beautification
programs with Wines of France. See <www.america-the-beautiful.org>
December 8, 2006 Say "Yes" to God
Let what you say be done to me. (Luke 1:38)
"Yes." It's one of the first words we learn, and yet as an
affirmative attitude it may take a lifetime. "Yes" is designated
non-verbally through a smile, a gesture, a combination of nod and
facial expression. We affirm ourselves a multitude of times
throughout the day and potentially millions of times in an average
lifetime. What we do in saying "yes" is to agree with the call of
God and the circumstances in which we find ourselves along with the
privilege to say "yes" or "no." Merely saying "yes" may not always
be the best option, for martyrs and others may have to just say
"no" with courage and forthrightness. So the saying of "yes" comes
not in some automatic fashion, but through a gift of free will that
has before us the choice of a yes or no. And we honor that choice
with all that we have.
The Incarnation event was God's eternal yes to us poor sinful
human beings. That affirmation is one of infinite love and can
only be hinted at in our answering with a free "yes" back to the
prompting of God. God initiates, but we must freely accept just as
Mary accepted to be the Mother of God through her "fiat" -- let it
be done. By accepting, we allow God to enter and reside in our
hearts and our whole being. We say "yes" to the potential to be
totally what God wants us to be.
An equally early word is "no" and that is just as often used
and repeated and sometimes for good. Bumper stickers say, "Just
say no ... to drugs or alcohol or tobacco." A negative response
may be necessary to avoid evil and do good, to flee false
allurements and grow in love. With choice comes our many
opportunities to say either "yes" or "no" at the right time and
place. Sometimes we become confused and must turn again to the
Lord to hear once again God's eternal "yes" in Christ. Jesus always
says "yes" to the Father's prompting, and so should we. Our
attitude must be one of eternal gratitude for the chance to choose
what is right. We reflect on Jesus' way; we feel his power at work
in the world; we strive for the Christian virtues; we seek to
become one with him in his body the Church. What must I do to be
Christ to others who are our extended neighbors?
Our openness enhances a positive environment in which we can
say "yes" to God. God creates and invites us into the creative
act, but this can not be achieved with a negativity that includes
wrongdoing and lack of faith. We, like Mary, need to be open to
grace, a grace wherein we can freely say "yes." Today the dark
clouds of negativity seem to overwhelm us on every side -- and they
seem to overwhelm others who are our neighbor. Can these folks
proceed in freedom to say "yes" to God or are they panicked by peer
pressure and allurements to the point at which their freedom
erodes. A positive atmosphere must prevail for us and for others
as well -- and we can do something about it; we can encourage
others to say "yes" freely when it is called for.
December 9, 2006 House Size and Spatial Demands
We are supposed to be developing an environmental
consciousness in this country and yet we note always that
residences are built ever larger. These mega-houses take a massive
toll on natural resources through extraction and processing along
with associated emissions. Larger houses as with all interior
spatial demands (see
July 20, 2006) become an irresistible trend
that is hard to curb for a number of reasons: pressure by home
builders and architects to make residences bigger and more
appealing; desire to keep up with the Joneses with ever bigger
homes; privacy and convenience demands made by various members of
the family; and accruing equity in the expanding housing market for
the more desirable but often not affordable larger homes. In 1950
the average size of an American home was 963 square feet; today it
is 2,434 square feet; then one-third of homes lacked complete
indoor plumbing; today, virtually none; then 45% of residences were
rented; today, about 30%. The differences in the first suburban
homes and current ones are dramatic.
How can we encourage greener and small housings, or is that an
impossibility? We can relate home size with resource demands with
a conservationist argument, but that is generally overlooked:
increased size requires more space heating in winter and cooling in
summer, more resources to build, and more effort to maintain and
keep clean. We can seek to shame others by comparing American home
size with the size of houses in Africa. Who wants to retreat into
underdevelopment? We can appeal to the sturdy homesteader and say
that pioneer homes were quite small and basic and be reminded that
ex-pioneers built the large "anti-bellum" brick homes one or two
decades after the original log cabins were cut from the woods in
While no appeal other than a depression (hardly appealing) may
work, there are still one or two cards worth playing. We need to
counter the myth of accrued wealth from inflationary home values.
We need to fight rear guard actions through scientific evidence
against the practice of "greenwashing" or building modern housing
monstrosities with their cathedral ceilings and unused spaces.
One of the worst culprits that solar advocates mention is the
sopping up of solar funds by owners of oversized homes that
deliberately avoid introducing conservation measures when they add
solar features. For instance, one midwestern state expends its
limited subsidies on a small number of spatially extravagant
"solar" homes with no cap on the amount of subsidy. Thus only a
few of the informed affluent are able to benefit. Unfortunately,
this form of modern phariseeism extends to commercial, academic and
worship construction patterns as well. We cannot do much to change
ingrained American consumer practices, but we can point out the
hypocrisy involved, because many folks are uncomfortable in that
category. And who knows, the comfort of small, cozy, green,
economic, easily heated, cooled and maintained structures may be
appealing in the near future?
December 10, 2006 Being Heralds and Evangelists
A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord.
In Advent we look into history and reacquaint ourselves with
the past. For we are to be the forerunners of the future and thus
we continue along the path of salvation history. Ours is then a
unique journey of each individual, and it is a continuation on the
long journey that has gone before us.
History. John the Baptist, last of the prophets in the
tradition of the Old Testament, was that voice in the desert who
fulfilled the words of Isaiah the prophet. And he was a
transitional figure, a bridge from the past to the future New
Covenant. The Romans in the time of Christ were ace road builders,
and the spread of Christianity could not have occurred as rapidly
had it not been for the Empire and its excellent straight and well-
engineered roads. Travels on rugged secondary roads were
experienced in the fullness of what makes a "journey" what it is.
Biblical people knew that journeys were not pleasure trips and yet
they had no giant earth-moving equipment. The prophet Baruch (5:
1-9) told a travel narrative of people returning from exile to that
spiritual goal of Jerusalem. And it was one of comfort and hope.
Being heralds today. We prepare the way in order to bring
Good News. This then becomes a form of pre-evangelism, a condition
of preparing for the Word. So often those who bring pre-
evangelistic messages such as those who advocate for simple living
techniques are regarded as not as important as those who
specifically evangelize. But on second thought the herald is as
important as those who follow. If the condition is one of
materialism, problems must be pointed out, and ways of overcoming
them must be shown. In fact, the herald is in many ways a doer,
and the evangelist the proclaimer -- and here the doer comes first.
Being evangelists today. As Paul says (Phil. 1), we are to be
pure and blameless for the coming of the Day of the Lord. All our
being is to focus on making the road easier for those around us so
they may receive the Lord in their lives. Salvation is for all and
we are on an urgent mission, saving our fellow human beings and the
Earth itself. We need to drive energy efficient vehicles, eat
wholesome food, and tone down home heating in a healthy manner.
Thus through example we show who we are as prophetic people. At
times, we need to speak out and that is another matter.
A challenge in America today. Some regard the practice of
their religion as a private matter. However, Christianity is
something public; our interior spiritual life must be revealed and
made public for others to see so they can judge for themselves. We
can be prophetic by telling them just how we feel about the
practice of our faith -- how much we hurt that they are
irreligious. "But I don't want you to hurt," they may say. As
bearers of Good News we must be true and not false witnesses.
December 11, 2006 Candles in December
We use Advent candles in reference to Medieval ox cart wheels
brought next to a fire place to keep them from warping. As the
autumn gave way to winter more and more candles were added to
compensate for the growing darkness. Remember, candles were used
for illumination in pre-electricity days and thus had a special
place in every home. Since then, the soft and gentle light of
candles has been missed. Perhaps that is why there is a connection
with decorations and use of candles during the Christmas season --
a festival of lights. However, placing lighted candles on wreathes
and Christmas trees can be quite dangerous. Nor, for that matter,
do we recommend the ancient Scandinavian practice of a lighted
crown of candles worn by maidens on St. Lucy's Feast (December 13).
The candle is often used in this season for dining, when the
overhead lights are dimmed and the intimacy of the special occasion
is more pronounced. In former times when candles cost much, a
multi-candle event showed its importance, (High Masses had six lit
candles when Low Masses had only two.) Of course, making
liturgical candles from beeswax added to the expense, since
securing this source of fuel took so much effort on the part of
beekeepers to say nothing of the bees themselves. Candles thus
express celebration and hospitality, and give dignity to the event
being illuminated -- and that has always been easily recognized
from the youngest, who are fascinated by candles (and like to blow
them out), to the oldest, who recall candle light in past family
and community get-togethers.
Advent, Christmas, Hanukkah, and birthday party candles tell
us much and seem to trigger our hidden treasures of sentimentality.
Candles take us back to our past and point the way to our future
journeys. One candlepower is a very small unit of measure and yet
when derived from a humble candle it has immense potential. In
some ways, candles are not only the dispellers of darkness when
days are short, but the deliverers of light, far beyond the range
of usefulness. Candles become signs of hope for we need the
flicker of light to show our hidden strengths. We all prefer
gentle light and enlightenment, not the harshness of a bolt of
lightning or the brilliant flash of insight that shatters all
Jesus says he is the "light of the world." We reflect at
times on what that light means: photosynthetic enlivenment, a
lighthouse in the storm, a dispeller of domestic darkness, etc.
But we often forget to connect the light with the source of light.
Jesus must have had a special love for candles, just as much as for
lamps that gave light by burning oil. Perhaps one of our
reflections about divine light could be the physical source, for we
are to be fuel-conscious as environmentally-concerned folks. Let
us start to think of light from candles, and then realize the
softness, quality, and host of accompanying thoughts that go into
lighting a candle -- and do so especially during December.
December 12, 2006 The Plants of December
This is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the
Americas, and also Poinsettia Day. According to tradition, on this
day we celebrate the appearance of the Virgin Mary to Juan Diego
who convinced the bishop of Mexico City by opening his cloak and
displaying the image of Mary along with a shower of roses in
cold December day. The favors of heaven are shown through roses
and so flowers enter into religious events, being used for
decorations and for messages and signs of affection. Yes, plants
in this non-growing portion of the year are of special importance
in our celebrations, especially during the Christmas season.
Christmas plants include the poinsettia, the color of which
really the bright red leaves that surround the plant's flower.
This plant is a favorite decoration in the United States even
though it is regarded as a Mexican plant. A variety of evergreen
boughs are used in various countries as decorations for Advent and
Christmas. Holly is a favorite due to its deep green color and its
ability to withstand the dry interior conditions of the domestic
atmosphere -- and the beautiful red berries adds to its appeal.
"Deck the halls with boughs of holly." The mistletoe, a
plant growing on evergreen or deciduous trees, with pale green
leaves and poisonous white berries, is an ancient decoration. Men
are allowed to kiss any woman standing under a sprig of this at
Christmas. We would add it to our home decorations, but found that
retrieving from half dead branches was dangerous, and so we would
shoot off a bunch with our trusty shotgun.
In post-depression days, our family would make a family hike
in mid-December and select a nice native red cedar (Juniperus
virginiana). This choice "tree" would reign supreme and be
decorated for a whole month in a prominent place in our home. Our
farm had limestone soil and more than enough cedars, a "weed" bush.
However, the selected tree would fill our house with a beautiful
scent, which to this day reminds me of the coming of the Lord --
simple but exalted and fitting in perfectly for its beauty and
economy. Though some regard cedars as pests, we saw them as
friends, always greening up the sparse and gray countryside, a good
hedge and a tree with long-lasting fragrant wood that had
preservative qualities especially as cedar chips and cedar chests.
Another Christmas plant was salsify root, the "oyster plant,"
which is cooked in exactly the same way as oysters and eaten as a
non-meat/fish dish especially on festive occasions. This reminds
us of a host of other plants and parts used as nut or fruit or
berry for the holidays. What we soon realize is that the Christmas
message is told through plants as well as through animals (see
December 19). Christ came among us all and plants figured in
various ways in his life just as did animals -- frankincense and
myrrh as Magi gifts. Our Earth is defined in part by the presence
of plants of every sort. We would not do well without fruits,
grains, grasses, berries, nuts and vegetables for these are God's
gifts to us especially during this season.
December 13, 2006 Saint Odile
Today is the feast of one of my favorite saints, Odile or
Odilia (660 to 720), who is also patroness of Alsace and those who
have eye troubles of various sorts.
Odile's life is an interesting one that involved her being
born blind; her father, Etichon, Duke of Alsace, wanting
marriageable offspring, strived to get rid of her. Her mother
slipped her to Burgundy where she was raised and baptized by Bishop
Erhard of Regensburg -- and gained her sight at this event. Her
brother brought her back home but that enraged her father so much
that he almost killed him. She had to flee again from Etichon's
anger and hid in a cave near Basel at Saint Ottilien in Germany.
In his pursuit of Odile, her father was injured by falling stones
and he finally came to the conclusion he could not harm her. In
time, her love for her dad and her nursing him back to health won
him over. Etichon then built a monastery in the Hochwald on what
is now Mont Sainte Odile. She became the abbess of this
foundation. When her father died, he was buried there, and Odile
spent much of her time praying for his soul -- for he appeared to
need all the prayers he could get. Odile's chapel of prayer and
her tomb are there on the mountain in a pilgrim shrine.
Mont Sainte Odile, in the Bas-Rhin Department of France, is
about 40 kilometers from Strasbourg and is famous as a place of
pilgrimage. John Paul II visited the shrine at the top of the hill
on an official visit to France. The site is truly picturesque with
a wonderful view of the distant Rhine Valley. The church in the
Fritsch home village of Dumbach in Alsace has a window dedicated to
her. With my brother Frank and his wife we were able to visit Mont
Sainte Odile, the only place to which I ever took a formal
pilgrimage. On that beautiful autumn Saturday in 2002 we found the
mountain top jammed with other pilgrims -- something quite
surprising for those who consider France as totally secularized.
At Ste. Odile's well further down the mountain we poured spring
water over our eyes. When I told my eye doctor (also a Catholic)
that I attribute my eye improvement (for my glaucoma) to Ste.
Odile, he appeared startled for that is rare.
Mont Sainte Odile is also an archeological tourist site since
here is seen part of a wall built in early Roman times by Celtic
inhabitants as part of a Rhine Valley fortification system. It is
called the "pagan wall" or Mur Paien and runs for about ten
kilometers. At the base of the mountain we visited a former hostel
for pilgrims and tasted some of the best Alsatian wine -- and the
favors of Ste. Odile continue to this day. What the shrine, the
saint and the pilgrimage itself taught me is that we need sacred
places in our lives associated with good people. That combination
of people and place attracts others and the place becomes a special
environment. Through sacred person and place we learn a sense of
respect that radiates out to all the Earth. The more we love our
roots -- people and places -- the more we desire to take care of
Earth, a peopled place.
Zoophycus trace "rooster tail" fossil, found in
association with the Borden member
across parts of eastern
Read more here and
(photo: Janet Powell)
14, 2006 Lead in the Home
The home is a place of refuge and comfort and yet we should
also remain alert, for vigilance and good housekeeping go hand-in-
hand. We have already mentioned a major source of lead
contamination (paint) in a previous reflection (May 16, 2005) but
need to remember that just knowing about lead paint problems may
not be sufficient for good housekeeping. The combination of older
homes and higher risk young children and pregnant women can require
special vigilance during this Advent season.
Lead effects. Infants tend to put way too many foreign
objects into their mouths; the U.S, Environmental Protection Agency
estimates that in our country alone about 900,000 children, ages
one to five, have a blood-lead level above the level of concern.
The origins of this lead are not always clearcut, but lead
contamination has been with us for some time, especially derived
from leaded paint chips and dust and also from the use of lead in
gasoline that entered soil near highways and from lead utensils and
other domestic objects. This lead danger applies especially to
children whose growing bodies absorb more lead and whose brains and
nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.
Lead effects include behavior and learning problems such as
hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, and headaches.
Adults may suffer from difficulties during pregnancy, other
reproductive problems for both men and women, high blood pressure,
digestive problems, nerve disorders, memory and concentration
problems and muscle and joint pains.
Lead contamination. Some older homes built before 1930 still
have water pipes made from lead, which can still infiltrate the
domestic hot water used. Lead can also come from the solder used
to join or repair water pipes or from cistern water collected off
of lead painted roofs. Since so much effort has been made in the
last thirty years to reduce lead use, the problem may be becoming
less with time -- but it could still be present since so many
people live in older residences or tend to use older household
items that could have lead in their containers. Using a metal
container or implement for such acidic materials as grapefruit
juice could be an unsuspected cause of lead contamination. The
special warnings again are directed to older homes/household items
and youthful or pregnant occupants. Remember, home renovations may
remove the lead paint but leave some residual lead dust.
Lead suspicions. Obviously removal of or ceasing to use lead
objects is a first step. Rust-colored water is an alert but water
appearance is not a clear sign. Use only cold water for drinking,
cooking and for making baby formula and only after draining away
the standing water. One must remember that water treatment systems
do not remove lead and some water softeners may actually increase
the amount of corrosion and lead content of the water. If you are
suspicious and live in an older house, have the water tested for
lead content, for your peace of mind and for the safety of the
December 15, 2006 Underdog Day
The "underdog" is the one who is losing in a dog fight, and
that designation is shared by people or groups who are expected to
lose in a contest or struggle; also those who are handicapped or
have some disadvantage are regarded as underdogs. In one way or
other, we are all underdogs, but this title could be applied to
those struggling to save and enhance the environment. We may have
a certain degree of sympathy but, when push comes to shove, those
who champion the many unrecognized causes are truly underdog
lovers. I had a sympathy for Confederates not because I liked the
South's stratified slave system but because the cause was truly
underdoggish. And today we may regard the "environment" as
defenseless and thus in need of defenders to protect the underdog.
The same is said for Appalachian culture, middle class values,
intercity youth, various sectarian groups, Hispanics, and just
about any group or individual within certain defined limits.
On second thought not all compassionately love the underdog.
Many regard the one on the bottom of the heap as deserving to be
there. Many prefer to root for "number one." Americans may like
the winning side and that means despising the underdog who might as
well fade into the shadows. They say "who likes the loser, the
bankrupt, the jailed, the marginalized, the voiceless, the
invisible, the flunked?" Favoritism for the loser is for them a
sign of being unpatriotic and non-competitive. American dogs are
not meant to be peaceful; they are meant to fight -- and win.
We can conceive of "underdog" in many ways: stoically, we
accept that we are truly underdogs and can do nothing about it but
suffer; sociologically, we can strive to understand how an
individual or group got into such a position; religiously, we can
pray for the underdog so that he or she will not lose courage. But
then we move to another psychological level: why overdogs and
underdogs? Why dogfights in the first place? Under and over
denote strata that should not exist. It is not that we strive to
elevate underdogs from the bottom of the heap; why the heap? A
world of underdogs of whatever sort is not a peaceful world. If
school grades are posted as to position in a class -- someone is at
the bottom. If they are not posted, and all competition is within
oneself, then there is not a need to show positions.
Underdog Day is also Bill of Rights Day, and the
be a clue to how we should consider the first. Rights are what we
have by nature of our person, though we can never be equal in all
aspects. Human beings are unique and endowed with different gifts,
but all gifts are worthy of recognition and glory. Through
uniqueness, we are not so much over or under others as far as gifts
go. Putting everyone into a contest in which certain ones
undoubtedly have certain highly rated gifts, makes the contest
unequal from the start -- and is directed to the victory of those
regarded as privileged overdogs. And the very notion of this
perceived privilege should be called into question.
December 16, 2006 Mobilizing Faith-Based Communities
The start of the feast of Hanukkah is a good opportunity to
reassess our interaction with the faith communities, especially on
environmental matters. This could be done as interactive religious
efforts at moral consciousness-raising, activities to be undertaken
by church institutions, and through joint ecumenical endeavors.
Moral awareness. Professor E.O. Wilson of Harvard recently
discussed on National Public Radio why he is attempting to relate
to evangelistic faith communities as a scientist; he says that
communities may differ about the origins of the Earth but not about
its fate due to environmental damage. Most evangelistic and other
faith communities would agree that having dominion over Earth does
not mean that people can trash it, but rather that all people of
good will should become involved in caring for Earth. Thus
environmental responsibility rests on a common grounds of morality.
Wilson mentioned that damage to this planet reduces the
effectiveness of eco-system services (natural water or air
purification services, etc.); he said the latest estimates were
that this damage amounts to $30 trillion per year or more than
total annual output of human goods and services. All human beings
must be aware of these facts.
Religious institutional activities. A deeper level of
awareness is what each community could do in order to become good
models of eco-justice. Here at this deeper level is where many of
the faith-based groups whom we helped with environmental resource
assessments fit. So many things from proper land use and gardening
to renewable energy and conservation fall into these categories --
and faith-based groups can obtain basic assessments and undertake
ongoing auditing over the years. One group can encourage similar
replicating effects by other groups.
Joint environmental endeavors. Back in the 1980s, I strived
to work with a group called the North American Conference on
Christianity and Ecology. A major conference did occur in Indiana
in 1987, but the headaches in putting on this affair and keeping
the organization functioning gave some of us a new insight. It is
far easier for faith-based groups to work with other environmental
groups in their locality rather than to try to harmonize
theological and judicatory differences. Mobilization could mean
working together as faith-based alone or immersed with others --
and from experience the local activities take far less time and
resources. At some local level, two or more faith-based groups
could be present, but the clustering of diverse faith-based groups
on a far-reaching issue like the environment can be best achieved
through secular/religious groups working together.
Mobilization of faith-based groups is of major concern. Those
groups that want to be totally removed from Earthly concerns need
to be shaken, and prophetic individuals are often called to do just
this. Once shaken, the group should decide how to proceed to
implement their environmental actions.
December 17, 2006 Liberation, Inner Peace and
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has
anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly.
Gaudete Sunday means rejoice as the word is found in the
opening of the First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, "Rejoice
always, never cease praying." Do not quench the spirit, but let
it burst forth within us at all times and in every place.
Rejoicing while working for justice contains two aspects -- the
Christians working for justice see hope in the future; those who
bear the injustice see the dignity of being a human person deep
within themselves -- and see an opportunity to overcome injustice.
Realizing the hope in our calling is reason to rejoice, not to be
dispirited nor to lose heart. We rejoice in our liberation (a past
event), the gift of inner peace (present condition), and the
anticipation of greater things to come (future possibilities).
Liberation has come. We proclaim a time of jubilation which
is for all oppressed -- prisoners, those in hospices, the elderly,
the overlooked in any way. Jesus, the liberator, has come. The
first and most basic liberation is to confront the unjust
conditions without hating either perpetrators or victims. In
bringing justice we discover inner peace, the fruit of spiritual
liberation. This message is the Good News that needs to go out to
all the world. As the liberated we await the Lord's coming.
Inner peace is present. Gratitude is the principle key to a
happy disposition. When a person harbors a need to have more, a
forgetfulness of gifts given, or a demand that someone who cheated
them must now repay, there is little happiness. No litany of
demands can be fully satisfied, and so the unhappiness continues.
On the other hand, the person who sees all of life as a gift, is
not jealous of others who have more of something, because we have
so much. This knowing that God is present is the beginning of an
interior happiness. We find a balance and harmony even while
knowing that the world around us is in a most troubled state.
In fact, we preserve our inner peace in the midst of a disturbed
world and thus we show that Christ is with us right now.
Enthusiasm looks to the future. The faithful hold their
enthusiasm even amid bad times and personal troubles. Such an
enthusiasm is inspired by God and looks out with faith and
confidence to a future of better things to come. Enthusiasm means
the God within; it is God's present with us, giving us creative
thoughts, allowing us to mature in a wisdom that embraces all, and
inspiring us to share what we know with others. Enthusiasm is more
than people bubbling over with exuberance or having a special
effervescence. Calmer souls may profess enthusiasm through the
twinkle in their eyes. Can we remain enthusiastic even when taking
some of life's hard knocks? Troubles will continue but ultimate
victory is the hope of our calling -- and we greet it with joy.
virginiana) fruits, ready to be
(photo: Janet Powell)
18, 2006 Internet Freedom and Gatekeepers
Often we take our freedoms for granted, and one of these
relates to the freedom of speech and the use of the Internet. As
of now this valuable source of information and communication is
free, but the powerful phone and cable corporations would have it
otherwise, if they can persuade the U.S. government to restrict
access and charge fees. We might think this an improbable possible
situation, but it is not. This could happen to us just as the
commons in other parts of the world scene has been robbed. And it
could occur without our hardly knowing it.
Enter the gatekeepers. The phone and cable companies have
spent about $100 million up to the end of this year with lobbyists,
political campaigns and public relations firms in order to
influence legislation that would deny network neutrality and favor
a closed and toll-setting Internet. This concentration of money
continues a national and global pattern of reducing freedom and
ceding public access to private interests such as the powerful
phone and cable communications companies.
Grassroots speak. However, on the opposite side of the
controversy and speaking for freedom are a vast number of blog
users and just interested folks who like the Internet. Our website
and many others would have to close, for
the free access just like free highways is the only way small
groups such as ours could stay afloat. The remarkable thing is
that spreading the Good News has means of access that has never
before been furnished in history -- and we must keep taking
advantage of it.
Vigilance. This season of Advent is a time of guarding what
we hold dear. Every person who reads this should send a clear
message to Congress that we like this freedom, even if some people
are determined to abuse it (as always occurs with emerging
freedom). A coalition of groups known as "Save the Internet.com"
has acted as a pre-alert system for defenders of Internet freedom.
The coalition warns that certain members of the U.S. Congress will
sneak into bills at the dead of night communications-related
legislation to restrict the freedom of the Internet that we now
enjoy. So very much in profits is involved that we can never rest
contented that our freedom will always be preserved.
This coalition has suggested activities:
* Write letters to your hometown newspapers:
* Call senators and congresspersons to support the issue;
* Spread the word to others. Tell your friends to stand up
for Internet freedom --
December 19, 2006 The Animals at Christmas
Today, at numerous "live crib scenes" caretakers are feeding,
and freshening the bedding, for a host of livestock that have been
brought to enliven the stable backgrounds for the Christmas creche.
If we look back in history, we can thank St. Francis of Assisi
for including animals in that first creche -- and he is a friend of
animals. Furthermore, salvation is for all, and the stable animals
in Bethlehem testified to this.
Crib scenes, whether statuary or actually breathing livestock,
include primarily the shepherd's sheep and lambs; Jesus is called
the "lamb of God" and we continue this designation to this day.
But the herders guarded goats as well and so some stables include
them too. Also there are the watch dogs of the sheep, which were
part of the company who visited the stable as the first to greet
the Savior. Then there are the stolid oxen who are most likely the
regular inhabitants of the cave/stable. Let's not forget the
donkeys as well for they were the favorite mode of travel for Mary,
Joseph and all the poor who journeyed to or from Bethlehem. Last
of all, the scene changes as we move closer to the Epiphany and see
the camels used by the Wise Men from the East.
Animals fit in quite often in the story of Jesus well beyond
Christmas. Wildlife are with him in the wilds during his forty day
retreat prior to his public ministry. Remember Jesus speaks of the
birds of the air and their contentment and lack of anxiety; he
mentions sparrows as well, and God's concern over them. Fish enter
into the picture quite often because of the employment of the
majority of the disciples. And, if we include Old Testament
accounts, many animals appear, from ravens and whales to snakes and
Animals are creatures who accompany us, assist us with
supplies, give us enjoyment and enliven our surroundings. Jesus'
coming is for all of "us" and this includes the animal world as
well. We should never overlook how much we humans depend on the
animals for food and companionship. We are part of an extended
family that includes the plants and animal kingdom. Earth would
not be otherwise without animals, and a human population minus
animals (hardly conceivable) is beyond our speculation. Jesus
comes to establish a New Creation and, in the words of both Old and
New Testament, a New Heaven and New Earth. Is this "Earth" in the
making devoid of animals? We know more specifics than we care to
mention: the lion and the lamb will get along and the animal world
will be at peace with itself.
Ecology and its patron, St. Francis, indicate a simple reality
that should be considered, though still somewhat speculative:
animals are part of salvation history -- that ongoing series of
events that brings about the culmination of all things in a return
to God. Those of us who regard the animal world as friend and
companion would not want the human beings to be considered in some
sort of exclusivity. What is good enough for the infant Jesus is
certainly good enough for us as well.
December 20, 2006 Finality
Each season gives clues to where we are,
and how the journey goes.
An energetic telling, a life's unfolding,
which the Puzzle Maker heralds.
Fall draws a line of our earthly time,
and yet returns as circle again;
for lines and circles form the spirals
of our life.
These sweep our beings far beyond,
up snowy roads and iced potholes,
past naked trees on silent hillsides,
to wood fires and yuletide carols.
December 21, 2006 Milder Winters Ahead
Today the Winter Solstice begins. As people get older and
find cold weather and icy conditions harder to negotiate, they may
come to dread this season. But maybe global warming is not all
disaster to all of us in the next few years. What just if the
winters get milder and include less snow. Maybe not this year, for
in October western New York state got the heaviest snow ever
recorded at that early date for that part of America. Trees broke
down because they still had their leaves and yet were covered by
two feet of snow. However, a tread is beginning to occur outside
of these singular wintry events --our winter seasons are generally
getting milder. I bought a snow shovel two years ago and have not
yet used it once -- but let's knock on wood. These warmest years on
record (most in the last dozen years) seem to be extending through
summer and into the winter season as well. Granted there are
pluses and minuses and some are quite obvious:
Advantages of a mild winter: The winter seems to go faster in
milder weather; the temptation to go further south is removed; the
space heating bill is far less; we don't need the snow removal
equipment and the use of salt on the driveways; we don't have as
many icy surfaces to contend with; we can more easily access basic
materials; we can get to appointments that would have had to be
cancelled due to unexpectedly bad weather; we can see more of the
ground squirrels scurrying about in the dead of winter; there are
fewer days when the schools are closed and that means more study
and less snow recreation on days off; more opportunities are
available to do outdoor exercise and winter camping; more
migratory birds besides the Canadian geese will stay near; there
are fewer injuries due to winter automobile accidents; there seem
to be fewer colds and flu, but that is not proven; winter crops
such as collards continue to produce; and we don't have as many
weather-related issues to complain about, though they are a good
Disadvantages of a mild winter: We need the cold weather to
"set" certain temperate fruit trees (we could plant other
varieties); we lack the beauty of the snowy countryside and the
utter quiet of falling snow; we don't have a chance to try on our
heavier winter clothing; the fireplace does not seem so inviting;
there is less of a smell of wood smoke in the locality; a
softening of the great differences between the seasons can be
observed; there is less of the insulating effect of snow cover on
the roof; we miss drinking hot chocolate when it snows;
mosquitoes are more able to survive in milder weather and tropical
and semitropical diseases are edging north; we do not have as many
opportunities to get out and shovel snow; there is less time to
rest and read the reserved winter reading materials; we track in
the mud if we are not alert, just as we are free from tracking in
snow; we miss the excitement of the great blizzard of ---; and we
don't have the conversation piece of weather to complain about to
December 22, 2006 Capricorn and Goats
Every month we seek to feature a particular animal. Though
mountain goats are in the American West, the domestic goat imported
from Europe is more familiar in Appalachia. Thus our interest is
not in zodiac signs, but rather to the caper (goat) and
of the goat) with our attention given to the animal, not the
heavens. Many of us treat the subject of goats with ambivalence.
Environmental degradation. For one thing, we know that
grazing goats as livestock in various parts of the world has led to
deforestation, for these critters have a habit of eating saplings
and just about everything else that someone does not want them to
eat. Some of the desert areas of the Middle East may attribute
their condition to the overgrazing of goats that seem to eat
foliage down almost to the roots.
Back in 1982 our nature center was given some prime quality
goats, and we attempted to keep them but found they loved to hop
onto a sapling and rip it down to get to the topmost leaves. They
became tangled in the tethering, and some passersby were totally
incensed that we let them get into such a condition. For the sake
of the forest we had to give them to the Heifer Project to give to
Appalachians with cleared pasture land and good fences. Though
visitors loved them, goats do not go with nature centers.
Proper uses. Goats are most friendly and affectionate, and
thus one of the best uses of goats is for pets. This is true of
all varieties, but larger animals require more grazing room and
goats like to live with others and are quite unsatisfied alone. So
if one has land enough, fencing enough, and shelter enough, goats
can become good pets, especially the pygmy or dwarf goat varieties.
Like all pets these goats require the right feed, shelter and
medical care. If one is going to such trouble why not double goat
pets with livestock and obtain milk products or beasts of burden
for very light carts? Some would add to this, using goats for meat
purposes, though many Americans may not be drawn to goat's meat.
Certain varieties of goat's cheese are highly prized and goats milk
is prescribed for those with certain deficiencies. In fact the
dairy aspect of goats is a specialty area of considerable
importance in various parts of this region and country.
Another unusual use of goats is as companions of horses and
other livestock. To "get my goat" refers to this utility. Perhaps
many other animals regard the presence of goats as a blessing as do
children and some adults, especially if they do not have to contend
with them. Goats are good for things but demand some of our time
as well. No one should have goats unless he or she plans to stick
around and care for them at all times. Goats can make people stay
at home and enjoy the local scenery. If one must travel, it is
hard to take the goats along in the car. Caretakers must be found,
and if not, an additional advantage of goats may be that they cut
automotive fuel consumption and keep people closer to home.
December 23, 2006 Gifts from Prisons that Glisten
The spirit of the Lord Yahweh has been given to me,
for Yahweh has anointed me...
to proclaim liberty to captives,
freedom to those in prison. (Isaiah 61:1)
Today, I will share the liberation message of Christmas with
the prisoners at the maximum and minimum security prisons at
Manchester, Kentucky. I continue to do this even with two
parishes, because there are no other priests available to celebrate
Mass with the Catholics there -- and our small diocese has more
federal prisons than any other in America. Sister Mary Glass, a
physical therapy worker well beyond normal retirement age, visits
these men twice weekly for communion services and bible study, so
they are not forgotten. But they deeply appreciate the comfort of
the Mass and Eucharist and I, in turn, get an immense pleasure in
helping to serve them because they are so appreciative.
While still able to visit the prison before daybreak a few
years back, I saw a display of glittering razor wire and flood
lights which made the prison complex that filled the Clay County
valley look like a vast Christmas display set amid the hills of
Appalachia. Nothing seems to glisten more than high fences of
razor wire with the light reflecting off them. When the spotlights
are shining during a wintry night, the place sparkles like
sprawling shrubs adorned with a million Christmas lights.
Behind the fences are over one thousand unfortunate human
beings who are segregated from society and isolated from the normal
home life of this holy season. Some keep the secrets of their own
offenses in fear of being shunned by fellow prisoners or because
these are private matters -- a condition of theirs I prefer to
honor as well. Some remember the hurt caused loved ones back home.
Others regret the loss of time for making a decent living for their
families. All hurt separately and most especially at Christmas.
Prisons in Appalachia have become a growth industry, an
opportunity for employment for local residents. America has more
prisoners per capita than any other industrialized nation, and our
country almost delights in incarcerating them in expensive
institutions, and neglects giving them programs through which they
could make positive contributions to society. We as a people, have
much to learn, even from primitive cultures, on how to rehabilitate
On another level, the prisoners make the best of a rather
difficult situation, and their efforts are worth encouraging. I
think many try to help their cell neighbors in their own way -- and
do. Some even express appreciation for the many prison blessings
that they have received. I try to present the Good News that their
appreciation is most kindly received by our merciful Lord. And
that gratitude in hard times is the greatest gift that can be
given. This again is my Christmas message.
December 24, 2006 Emmanuel is Present
He himself will be peace. (Micah 5: 4)
During Advent, we went from the first Sunday's longing in our
hearts, which was similar to Israel's, to the second Sunday and the
prophetic manner of acting, to the third, which was to act with
enthusiasm, and now we focus again on the heart of the Christmas
message -- Jesus Christ.
Visitation. We travel with Mary -- bearer of God to visit her
Cousin and meditate on what they go through -- the hospitality of
Elizabeth and the urgency of Mary to help another. We look more
deeply into this mystery and find that God visits us through these
holy people -- and God is made incarnate in our lives through our
own bearing of Christ to others. This mystery reaffirms all life
even the life of the fetus in the womb, for John jumps with joy.
This event affirms motherhood in the deepest fashion for those who
can bear children; it affirms men as well for the only one we can
bear is Jesus at communion. At Christmas we find the harmony of
God and people; we are not created as the animals and plants to
just affirm life; we are free to choose, and thus that right to
choose for good is an inalienable right of human beings. At times
we see this choice conflicting with the right to life of the fetus
and this makes us all the more aware of what freedom means to all.
Bethlehem. This city is small and insignificant beside the
city of Jerusalem, yet destiny was to meet here in Christ's birth.
The view of the city is my remembrance from behind barbed wire on
an Israeli outpost where I spent a night. The crib and cross are
never far and that is known to us as Christian people. Those who
celebrate and those who suffer are part of one body. We journey
together on the uncertain journey of faith with others who suffer
hardships and that includes the people of the Holy Land.
Our Origins. We are descendants of people of faith. They
believed in the future to such a degree that they bore and nurtured
children and these were concrete acts of faith. For about 99% of
us, our ancestry is only a few generations of names and dates. We
may not be sons or daughters of David, but we are sons and
daughters of noble people. We honor their graves; we celebrate
their memories; we revere their photos.
Our Hopeful Destiny. As people of faith, we look back and we
look ahead. The story starts at a cave in Bethlehem, but that in
one sense is only a way stop. Here history stops as well for a
moment -- the most important birthing moment. The star stops and
points the way; the light of heaven illumines the darkness as the
new days are soon to be increasing in light. A hopeful ray extends
from here into the future, giving us courage and energy to move
forward. The Lord is presence and as our consciousness grows of
the coming of the Lord we find the presence of the Lord ever more
vivid in our world. The Lord is here and now and we are the ones
now chosen to bring Bethlehem to the wider world.
December 25, 2006 My Christmas Gift
As one gets older and older, the themes of Christmas (peace,
joy, and cheerfulness) begin to seem overly used. There are only
so many ways to speak of Christmas and to give a gift. What new
can be said or done? Maybe we try to say too much and miss the
major point -- the gift of Christmas is Christ, an infinite Gift.
This year is more important for all of us because our troubled
world is in such need of peace. How will we ever get the Middle
East conflict resolved -- or can we? It only starts to dawn that
God is the source of peace and any peaceful solution must include
the hand of the Divine or it will not be lasting. In saying this,
we become ever more aware that a totally human peacemaking
undertaking is not sufficient -- the deed must be a unique union of
the divine and human -- and without this union the spirit of
Christmas is dead and true peace is illusive.
With maturity, we come to see that material gift-giving has a
divine aspect that is the love of neighbor shown through
expressions of charity. But gift-giving on this occasion needs to
have a more specific spiritual aspect and include acts of
neighborly love. Today, a secular Christmas event rests in
material-giving that involves planning, shopping, gift-wrapping,
gift-opening, and gift-returning for a better color or size. All
that is missing is the central Gift, Christ himself.
With maturity and spiritual growth, we gradually begin to
appreciate the supreme act of sharing. God so loves us and is the
supreme Giver; the Son of God, Christ himself, is the Gift; and the
Spirit is the act of Giving, a divine person. The realization only
gradually dawns as the new light now starting to come: we are
invited into this act of sharing for we are now part of the Divine
Family. We are called to give through godly deeds but this cannot
be done alone. We need divine help; we need nourishment in order
to carry on the immense work to which we are called. And this
assistance, this nourishment, this support cannot be something
small. Our sharing can only be done through the presence of God in
the person of Jesus Christ, our Communion.
The whole reality of this Gift has struck me with special
force this year more than ever. Our helplessness within the human
situation is coupled with the gigantic need to do something; our
powerlessness (as an infant babe in a crib) and our power in the
Risen Lord come together in the star-lit night, the moment of
spiritual insight. We do not have to look beyond the stars; we
have in our midst the Gift needed to carry on the awesome work and
overcome our own weaknesses. At this Christmas, more than at any
other time in my life, I sense the need for and the reality of the
Gift that is God with us -- Emmanuel. This simple testimony is my
giving to you -- and in giving I am more able to enter into the
spirit of this holy season. It is not a totally new revelation but
it is a renewal -- humble in one way and yet profound in another.
December 26, 2006 Solar Power Made Easy
The October/November issue of Mother Earth News has a feature
article by Cheryl Long entitled "Easy Solar Power." This describes
a new type of photovoltaics that is thin-film PV coming in 16-inch
wide rolls that can be easily shipped, not the bulky stand-up
panels with which we are familiar. These are peel-and-stick
laminate rolls that can be applied directly to the roof surface as
fast as they are unpeeled.
Advantages. The inventor, ECD Ovonics co-founder Stan
Ovshinsky, says advantages of this approach include: they perform
better in high temperatures and in partly shaded conditions; they
require only one percent of the high-priced silicon used in
conventional PV panels; the expense should come down as consumer
demand and production increases in the coming years. Furthermore,
the application is far easier, for it takes from five to ten
minutes to apply each PV sheet to the roof panel. The connecting
wires are snapped together along the ridge of the roof
and the direct current output can be wired into an inverter to
convert to standard 110-volt alternating current. This system is
certainly suitable for intertying into the utility grid through net
metering (feeding excess solar-generated energy into the utility
grid and pulling energy from the utility when the building needs
more energy than the PV system is generating).
Solar costs. The cost today for this roll-on is about $4 to
$5 pr watt (about the same as current conventional solar systems).
However, labor installment costs are somewhat less. Inverters and
wiring are the same price. Final cost will depend on where you are
located and the state rebates and tax credits available.
Incentives and net metering (40 states) are available in the
majority of places but electricity differs in cost in these places
-- and thus so do paybacks. However, one can calculate the payback
period knowing current electric costs. One can easily discover
what incentives are available in a particular state by going to
Questions: Those of us who have been engaged in demonstration
work over a period of time are obviously somewhat skeptical, since
many things are called "easy" until the practical application is
evaluated. Of course, there can be no shifting of the panel slope
during different seasons of the year. Potential solar PV roll
buyers want answers: Do the PVs work on all types of surfaces
equally well? Will they sustain punishing weather conditions as do
the panels? Can they be short-circuited in currently unforeseen
ways? Can portions be amended, repaired or changed easily? Will
they sustain the electricity-generating capacity over time? Do
obstacles or shadows decrease effectiveness? These and other
questions will be answered after some years of practical
application. If all can be answered satisfactorily, the price of
solar electric generation will pass another price breakthrough that
we all have been awaiting for over three decades.
December 27, 2006 Radon and the Home
Sometimes it is best right after we have domestic feasts to
look a little more closely at the cozy homes in which we live.
Most Americans are unaware that the second highest cause of lung
cancer (after smoking) is naturally occurring radon gas, which
could enter a home due to home materials and construction, and rock
formations where located. Over half of the country has a high or
moderate chance that radon may prove a problem in a given
residential area. Your state environmental protection agency can
advise as to whether radon testing is needed.
If the house radon levels prove to be four picocuries per
liter or higher, some form of remedial action is needed. Sometimes
basements or below-ground resident areas prove unacceptably high,
while above-ground living spaces fall within acceptable ranges.
Retro-fitting the house will be somewhat more difficult than
installation during construction; radon reduction costs can range
from $800 to $2,500 with an average cost of $1,200 depending mainly
on the size and design of the structure. Some techniques operate
to stop the radon from entering the house in the first place (USEPA
preferred methods) or to reduce the radon levels once in the house.
Houses having basements or a slab-on-grade foundation may use one
of four types of radon reduction soil suction methods: sub-slab
suction (depressurization), drain tile suction, sump hole suction,
or block wall suction. For houses with crawl spaces, an effective
method is to cover the earthen floor with a high-density plastic
sheet and draw the radon gas outdoors with a vent pipe and fan.
Other radon reduction methods include sealing, house/room
pressurization, heat recovery ventilation, and natural ventilation.
If it is determined that your house has a radon problem, you
need to select a qualified radon mitigation contractor and to
determine with this person the appropriate radon reduction method.
Installment requires a certain amount of technical skill and is not
a do-it-yourself project. Read and understand the contract before
signing for installment of any reduction method. Try to understand
how the particular system operates and whatever needs to be known
by the resident to ensure good results.
A small amount of maintenance is also in order through the
years. Less expensive systems may require more time and effort to
maintain. The homeowner must look at the warning device on a
regular basis to make sure the system is working correctly. Fans
(never to be turned off) may last for five or more years and may
need replacement. In radon problem areas, the USEPA advises
retesting a house at least every two years to be sure the radon
levels are within the determined safety range.
For further information on radon reduction go to
Each state's EPA
can supply a listing of qualified contractors.
December 28, 2006 The Golden Fleece Award
The late Senator Proxmire of Wisconsin would give "golden
fleece awards" to governmental agencies, programs, or projects that
were misusing tax-payer money. Such awards would capture the
attention of the press and electronic media and serve the useful
purpose of embarrassing the recipients as well as the bureaucrats
doling out the dough. Unfortunately, those awards ceased when the
Senator left Congress. They need to be resurrected due to the vast
amount of taxpayer money that is currently misspent. On Holy
Innocents Day it is fitting to give this matter proper attention.
Below are areas of governmental subsidies where 21st-century
"golden fleece awards" nominations might be in order:
The Biofuel programs: This is a real hog trough for so-called
renewable energy alternatives. Excellent farm land is diverted
from human food for biofuels (for inefficient internal combustion
engines). Farmland is needed for lower-cost grain to feed the
world's hungry. These programs result from successful lobbying and
selfishness -- all under the guise of something "environmentally
friendly." If profitable, why do they need governmental funds?
Nuclear power outlays: This gets virtually an annual award
for the programs are not mothballed by the current administration
and are a waste of taxpayer money as well as promise of problems
for years to come. See our Critical Hour.
Forest "protection" projects: Here the Department of
Agriculture seeks to impose its large-scale harvesting practices on
our valuable forestlands through roadways in wilderness areas,
harvesting old-growth forests, and allowing timber harvests on
Military procurement -- The Defense Department has much to
defend, but it seems to focus on defending its profit-making
contractors who give goods and especially Middle East services at
extremely high prices. The price tags decided upon are worthy of
scrutiny on numerous fronts. Some of this is reported to be due to
"most favored" company status that does not allow competitive
bidding, and results run into the tens of millions of dollars.
Transportation practices -- The construction of I-66 across
the country is an example of an unneeded highway. In fact, it is
so unneeded that only sections are planned, with no terminus in
sight (similar to I-99 in Pennsylvania). The tragedy of I-66 is
that the Kentucky portion is going through some prime wilderness
areas and will threaten endangered species. Parallel roads are not
congested, and so the areas are already well served. The greatest
"need" is for subsidies to road construction companies.
Corporate agriculture ventures -- Small African cotton
find it impossible to compete against the American corporate cotton
producers with their lush subsidies. These cash crop benefits are
not capped at reasonable levels, and only big-time producers
Bigtooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata), Cave
Run Lake, Kentucky
the southernmost edge of this tree's range.
Click here for more information
about the Bigtooth Aspen.
(photo: Janet Powell)
December 29, 2006 Sustainable Energy Network
It is utterly important that those who seek to promote a
combination of renewable energy alternatives and conservation of
resources make their voices known at this time. Some mistakenly
promote the phoenix of nuclear power as a viable alternative to
replace non-renewable fuel sources such as petroleum and coal.
Others are fighting for sane energy policies and need all the
support and networking that is possible. The Sustainable Energy
Network seeks to fill the gap.
The name "Sustainable Energy Network" is used by both U.S.
governmental and private groups, but here we refer to the network
operated by Kenneth Bossong out of Takoma Park, Maryland. Over the
years, Ken has directed a variety of public interest energy
projects for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Public
Citizen, the Peace Corps, and other public interest groups. He is
the founder of "Sun Day" and has served the renewable energy and
energy efficiency community for over a third of a century. Ken's
modesty may not move him to make a complete and public listing of
all his achievements and publications.
Ken is highly creative and diligent; he has the ability to
find key political issues and to sense when these issues are going
to need support or are going to be misused within the national
policy arena. One of Ken's great attributes is a tireless ability
to round up a host of groups and individuals to sign on to letters
of concern or endorsement on sustainable energy-related issues. He
serves as a voice of conscience and a student of a wide variety of
resolutions, propositions and impending legislation that deals with
safe energy subjects.
Having worked with Ken over a long period of time both in
Washington and via long-distance communication in Appalachia, I can
testify to his dedication to the right causes. I would call Ken
Bossong "true blue," but think that this title has a certain
partisan tint to it. He has been true to his calling and
persistent in standing up for renewable energy in the best manner
possible. I recommend that all concerned people get on his mailing
list by sending names and addresses to --
Address: Sustainable Energy Network
8606 Greenwood Avenue, #2
Takoma Park, MD 20912
Phone (301) 588-4741
December 30, 2006 Being People of Service
As we prepare for the year 2007, we must review our direct
service commitments that are worth focusing on this coming year.
Being people of service is easier said than done. We looked at
doing Service for Others (4/24/05) and talked about service,
being a mandate for each and every one of us. Here we burrow a
little deeper into this multi-faceted concept of "service" (which
has about two dozen meanings in English), so that we each may
discern where we are being led. Since we do not want to see our
services turn into disservice, it is beneficial for us to outline
some activist service characteristics:
Openness: We have to be open to what the Lord wants us to do
with our own individual talents and circumstances in life.
Everyone can and must do services, but the ones we undertake and
the manner in which we undertake them are uniquely ours -- even
though circumstances may limit our decisions. The service may not
necessarily be carried out alone but in cooperation with others;
Compassion: We often mention the need to have compassion or
a "suffering with another" as part of our way of looking at the
world. This is a prevailing atmosphere in which we perform the
services that we are called to render. Without this, our service
can become joyless and forced.
Local sacrifice: It takes some effort to do a service. It is
not enough to tell others to make an effort and thus to relieve
ourselves of part of the work, for service is more deeds than
words. A billion ways people have sacrificed for loved ones or
others could be found, but each of us must be willing to commit
ourselves to doing what has to be done. Only you and I with God's
help can come to some determination.
Distant sacrifice: We each must look beyond local needs for
we can become too narrowly focused. For most of us, local service
requires talents and circumstances; few have distant assignments or
can afford to leave home, but we can pray and offer our daily
living sacrifices for others in distant places. A world community
exists and needs help; just as wrongdoing can affect the greater
community, so can good actions do the same. Because of her loving
service offered for others, St. Theresa of Lisieux (though staying
in her convent) has become patroness of foreign missions.
Risks involved: A decision to be of service may involve a
risk (travel or health dangers, misunderstandings, opposition from
peers or others, failure to achieve assignments, etc.). If one
works in a dangerous neighborhood, there could be safety issues as
well. Risks actually merge into sacrifice of time and energy.
Needing Reevaluation: The end of the year is a perfect time
to look at what we have been doing and ask critical questions as to
whether some other line of service would be more effective as
times, place, people, and energy levels change.
December 31, 2006 Holy Family and Modern Family
Today many people struggle with raising a family, and each of
us must be deeply sympathetic with their struggles. We need not
blame them when things go wrong but should assist them in as many
ways as possible. In fact, it does take a village to raise a child
and more; it takes a community that is close to God. It takes a
believing community that has faith that the people being raised
will grow in faith and hope and love. Too often we overlook the
hurdles that stand in the way, the prevailing materialistic
surroundings that overwhelm us.
Family responsibilities. We know much about people by knowing
their family roots and the activities in which the family engages.
Family ties need treasuring and recording and strengthening through
periodic reunions. The Book of Ecclesiasticus (Chapters 3 and 6)
tell of the duties of various members of the family. Public events
trigger reactions and undoubtedly the presence of Jesus was known
both by good folks (wise men and shepherds) and also by Herod who
sought to terrorize and destroy. Lincoln summed up his youth's
history as "I was a poor boy," and much of his hidden life was
turned into a myth with a historic nucleus. What we find in this
narrative from Luke's Gospel is the struggle of a family and an
event, which was most memorable for Mary. She realized that a
family was being formed and was not a static entity, but a growing
dynamic reality. So much of that growth is hidden in our own lives
and yet is a reality.
Temple losing and finding. Jesus becomes an active
participant in the psychological journey of the Holy Family. He
grows into an exuberant youth, able to move faster than kinfolks in
that traveling group, which included both young and old. The
parents lose contact with Jesus who honestly knows he can catch up
after attending to "his Father's business" in the temple. Here is
a youth breaking away, and he has parents willing to accept this as
part of his journey of life, his ongoing bar mitzvah. But God is
with this family. How will we tell children about the insecurities
we presently endure? Answer: Tell them the truth, and do it
honestly and lovingly. Anxiety is turned into a teaching moment,
and Jesus goes down to Nazareth and becomes obedient; and he
advanced in wisdom and age and favor. We realize that within the
Church the parallel of the Gospel of Luke -- the Acts of the
Apostles -- took place and all believers as one body advanced in
age and wisdom and favor before God and fellow human beings.
Reflection. Family qualities include compassion, kindness,
humility, mutual forgiveness, obedience of children (Colossians .
3:12-17). Compassion involves pondering in our hearts; kindness is
needed for creating healthy home environments; humility permeates
all family relationships; mutual forgiveness heals old wounds and
invites new life. Through obedience, Joseph and Mary take steps to
make their family function well. Families today need the graces to
withstand hostile forces. Raising a family today takes courage,
submission to God's will, and sacrifice.
The sun rises to a new day.
Sunrise Ridge, Stanton, KY
Best wishes to all for a
wonderful New Year!
(Photo: Marge Para)