ON DATE BELOW TO READ
Copyright © 2006 by Al Fritsch
field in winter
Photo: Janet Powell
February is to winter what August is to
summer, a time when in
the latter half of a season one can detect subtle changes for a
milder time to come. In the past, I would always bash February
because it seemed to be part of an endless winter, but in reality
the first haunting calls of the mourning dove (though I hear them
in January this year), the freshening wild garlic, the growth of
dandelions under the leaf cover, and the sprouting of chickweed
make us all the more aware that spring is surely coming though
still over a month away.
February is when we continue the observing process
the dead of winter. Look about and see nature barren but
beautiful. Listen, the sap is rising! Smell the season in the
fresh air! Hope springs eternal, and February is when we feel this
with certainty. At first glance the countryside appears lifeless,
but we can help give it life. The commercial establishments
brighten the environs with decorations and displays, with hearts
and red bunting. St. Valentine's Day points to warmer and gentler
days. On the first warm day of the month we get out with hoe and
stir the garden soil for the first sowing of peas -- at least we do
this in Kentucky. Prime yourself, for spring is coming; survey the
garden space; alert the neighbors. There will be work to do in a
matter of a few weeks. We can't wait to get started.
February 1, 2006 Extolling Freedom
Today is called Freedom Day. Take your minds back to January
1st, 1863. It was late in the evening when the wires finally
carried the anticipated message that President Lincoln had signed
the Emancipation Proclamation, that statement that all slaves were
declared free in territories still in rebellion. The President
could do no more constitutionally. For slaves, the prospect of
liberation was unbelievable, and they overlooked the hardships
ahead, hardly knowing that freedom takes more than a pen's stroke.
The march to freedom has a long history. When the first human
beings were created, God found them "very good" (Genesis 1:31).
These were free agents who could do good and give that awesome
"thanks" to God, thus giving special glory that animals without
that freedom were incapable of rendering. But this freedom also
entails a great risk. Instead of giving thanks, we sometimes miss
the mark, sin, give offence, and thus bring disharmony to the
created order. We are free to do good or to do evil -- and that,
in some ways, is the glory of being human. We do more than just
what instinct or nature demands or dictates. We can break out of
the mold of behavior and do what we are moved to do, and that
motion is from within ourselves, our freedom. This is a struggle
over choosing right from wrong, for the power to say "yes" or "no"
God continues to bring peace and healing to the planet and
offers a special covenant, which will remain as long as the Earth
continues, for it is a covenant with more than human beings.
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)
Freedom is not exultation in power but an acceptance of our
responsibility for the welfare of other humans under our charge and
also for the other creatures on the Earth. A false humility would
make us like other creatures. Rather we accept our greatness from
the Creator but see it in a servant's capacity. Jesus tells his
disciples not to scramble for places of honor as do the worldly.
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). Human beings are thus the servants of the plants and
animals and all creatures. Mary says, From this day all
generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great
things for me...(Luke 2: 48-49a). We do not improve our service by
thinking of it as nothing; we have been given a great assignment to
heal what has been harmed and to protect what needs guarding. We
see this mandate in all its greatness and know that we are
empowered not through our achievements, but by the grace of God.
February 2, 2006 The 2006 Garden: A Light
On Candlemas Day we also launch our new Garden Year. Let's
seek to make the garden a "light" on our own journey of faith. The
garden can be like a candle that beautifies and lights up the
landscape, and it enlightens those who come to see it grow.
Garden as light. Some people have grave doubts about their
own expertise at gardening, the possible weather, or potency of the
seeds planted. If these doubts persist, the garden is not going to
be successful. Certainly, external factors influence crop
conditions -- but there is one ingredient that makes for success,
namely, we have to trust that the plants will grow and produce.
The success of the garden depends to some degree on the gardener's
inner attitudes, which are communicated in hidden ways to the
plants themselves. A doubter will most likely have a bad garden --
and the plants know it. Confidence must exude from each of us to
the entire crop throughout 2006.
Light of the landscape. God's mystery unfolds in time, first
in the evolving world of creatures large and small, and then
finally in human life. We each enter into this mystery of God's
creative act when we marvel at new life, whether a hatching chick
or a growing youth. Life, whether animal or plant, is still a
mystery for each of us, even when we experience a long somewhat
routine life. Sometimes we can become forgetful and lose that
sense of wonder and respect for all mysteries that we held as a
child. In turn, the garden lights up the landscape and helps us to
experience the mystery of God close at hand.
Enlightening others. A well-tended garden is a sign of love,
work and care. It tells others where we focus some of our own
physical efforts to stay healthy and keep gardening. Thus, our
gardens become our word to the rest of the world. We testify that
we love the Earth, believe it will yield abundant harvest, and hope
that this will happen again in 2006. We are reinvigorated through
gardening and the resulting produce; when we give some of that
produce to others, that vigor is transmitted to them as well.
Through gardening we look more deeply into ourselves: we hear and
answer the call to do physical exercise; we learn to take our time
and pace ourselves; we become consoled through performing joyful
work. At Eden, our ancient forebears loaded with guilt trudged
into a world of stressful toil and away from the Garden of
Paradise. Through gardening we as community can enter into the
mystery of life and re-create an Eden.
Gardens grow in light. We become other Christs who are lights
to the world. Our garden becomes the ideal place for such
revelation to unfold before our eyes: it is the chapel of the
healers of the Earth; it is where we speak to God through spades
and hoes; it is where the little bit of Earth under our own control
is renewed with our own stamp upon it; it becomes a brighter
light, a groundswell for others who are losing hope that they too
can heal a piece of Earth.
February 3, 2006 Bird Flu Pandemic?
It is risky to speculate on the next 9-11 attack or where the
2006 hurricanes will strike. Maybe this entire controversy over
the possible bird-flu epidemic is in the category of highly likely,
especially due to recent reports coming out of Turkey when I was
writing this. Millions of domestic birds are being killed; some
farmers and especially children who have direct contact with their
chickens have become sick and as of this writing some 80 have died.
Are the elements of a pandemic present; and has this disease been
prevented from spreading, only by means of careful health
procedures in the affected nations? Will the bird flu mutate in a
manner to be passed from person-to-person and then become a
Some hold the "Gamblers' Fallacy" that a pandemic is overdue
and thus statistically more probable. That is simply not accurate.
Perhaps the biggest fear is not that it is overdue, but that we
can't do a whole lot to stop it should it arise. We like to
control things, especially our future health. Have we become so
institutionalized that we would like the big government to do
something about this possible pandemic? Actually we as individuals
can do some things:
* Be alert but don't panic. The work by individuals or small
groups is considered by emergency planners to be as a better
approach than government programs. Stay calm, and make sure others
stay that way as well.
* Obey strict quarantines. Travel less and work at home. If
such a pandemic arises, lands may have to endure strict quarantines
for the sake of others. It will not be easy for the people
quarantined or their loved ones. Plane loads of tourists would
strain to return to their homelands, and this will make the nightly
* Curb social and commercial interchanges. Try to tell the
youth to stay home for a day, a week or a month. Curbing ball
games, parties and meetings could work against all known social
customs, but could delay or halt the spread of such a flu. By
laying in a stockpile of basic food items (mentioned elsewhere as
part of emergency preparedness), you minimize the need to go to the
store. A buddy system for a small neighborhood could assist those
in need of assistance during such an emergency.
* Provide for the community. No one knows if vaccination
against bird flu is a measure of prevention in the short- or long-
term. Older stockpiled vaccines lose their potency, and newer ones
may not address the specific mutated virus. Some experts testify
that recently produced vaccines will lower the bad effects of the
flu without providing outright total protection. Avoid direct
contact and yet keep phone contact with neighbors and friends. The
routine protection of face masks and washing hands most certainly
applies. But someone must help others. A pandemic will impel
those of service to come to the rescue of neighbors. Total
isolation is not a perfect approach at such a time; stay close and
February 4, 2006 Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs)
Community Supported Agriculture or CSAs are gardening
operations wherein an individual or group will supply a
predetermined amount of fresh produce to a customer over a certain
number of weeks each year. This service is performed for a base
fee that helps tide the grower over before the crop yields it
produce. In addition to furnishing good produce without a middle
person, the program has many merits: the customer may have
interaction with the grower as well as live close enough to
actually visit the gardening area to observe the growing process;
the grower has a steadier income and has a relationship with the
consumer; the grower can teach recipients how to expand their
tastes to other varieties of herbs and vegetables; and the grower
can furnish a supply of organic and locally grown foods not
normally available. And there is a reasonable CSA income as well.
With so many benefits why would I see any drawbacks? The
answer rests in what our hopes are for people, namely, to grow
their own produce. People are disabled, or too elderly, or have
the most time consuming occupations, or no land (one can do
something with containers, of course) are not included in the
"large part" of the population who should be growing their basic
produce, not buying it. Some are simply not producers, and so are
legitimate consumers even when they desire to produce or have been
producers in more healthy times. In these cases, the CSA becomes
a community support system and is highly praiseworthy. If a good
CSA becomes the excuse for someone with land and a strong back and
other good health not to grow produce, it is not really as "green"
as it is cast to be. CSA is a good program for those who can't,
not for those who won't. And the latter category often includes
those affluent enough to pay for others to produce their food.
Alternative specialty farming. Very few of us gardeners
produce all we need. And so the commercial production could be
directed not to general produce for a few but specialty crops for
a greater number. It might be blueberries or parsley, rhubarb or
late mustard; it could be flowers or pets, or honey or miniature
horses for that matter. There are at least a thousand generic
possibilities and these can have sub-divisions as well. A
specialty grower frequents the farmers' or growers' markets and
does not attempt to supply individual customers on an ongoing basis
or spend time peddling the produce. From the growers standpoint,
much depends on whether the crop has a niche and is not zucchini
when everyone else is growing that crop.
Successful growers must audit their resources: land, physical
stamina, local marketing needs, and the popularity and
accessibility of existing farmers' markets. State agriculture
offices usually furnish information on possibilities for local
specialty markets, and economic development personnel can be of
help. The grower should not become too narrowly specialized, but
attempt a small variety of crops, as a matter of good insurance.
Such growers can earn as much or more than the CSA grower.
February 5, 2006 The Trials of Job
Job (7: 1-7). This story of Job takes us beyond ourselves to
another who is at the edge of despair. He turns to God in his
misery. We need to reread the story of Job, the one who is
virtually lost at one moment and then takes a longer view in his
depression. With God's grace at work, Job discovers that there is
more to life, but one must search for the more. It is true that
life is filled with trouble but somewhere out there is a glimmer of
hope that something will be better. With Job we reflect on the
meaning of our lives. We find life is fleeting and bleak without
a reference to God, our rock of security. Without God, life has
little meaning: back-breaking toil, subhuman living conditions,
repressive governments and meager prospects. Even affluent people
with all their money struggle for happiness and meaning in life.
Going towards the Goal (I Corinthians 9:16-23). Here, we find
the servant role of St. Paul, one of the greatest of Saints; yet he
sees the meagerness of his own testimony that he is impelled to
deliver. We follow in the footsteps of Paul and look up the road
to salvation; we see the resurrection in our future as did St. Paul
in his life; we keep a clear goal ahead of us; and we pray for the
courage and vision without which we wander aimlessly.
The Goal is a Person: The Compassionate Jesus (Mark 1: 29-39).
We are each asked to prod the Scriptures for something deeper. A
million homily preparations for today's readings will give as many
differences in what to focus on and how to apply the Scripture to
our lives. For me, the aimlessness of our political and social
structures is worth focusing on at this time. Job's story applies
to our political system as well as to our individual lives. We do
have the Resurrection in clear view and we expect the light of a
new day. The darkness of a seemingly unending war surrounds us and
it will soon complete its third year. Yet the Lord breaks through
the darkness and gives light. Let's pray that this light enlighten
our leaders and decision makers. In following the Lord prayerfully
we can keep a clear goal through all the troubles that beset us.
Silence of the Heart: The trials of this world are real. We
each need to discover where we stand before God, understand the
goals before us, and seek the quality time it takes to reach these
goals. We need to have an active prayer life and to converse with
God. But we are also people with a heavy schedule, a multitude of
things to do, and with interruptions in our busy everyday life. We
can confront our trials by reserving or creating silent time and
space -- even the silence of the heart, for that is the ultimate
silence that each of us must have in order to find the Lord. Jesus
took time to pray, he saw the need, and he implored the Father for
help. We too must create time and space to pray, reflect and
focus. Often this is challenging for us due to the pressure of
everyday life. God will provide what is lacking. But we must
discover space in our heart, the ultimate frontier, which no one
can take from us. And there we find our God. Let's also pray that
our president and leaders find that time and space as well.
February 6, 2006 The Threat of Logging -- Bialowieza Forest
In this month of February,
conservationists in Poland and Belarus are campaigning to protect
the 16,000 sq km (6177 sq mile) Bialowieza Forest, the largest primeval
forest in northern Europe. The forest, a remnant of the forest that once
is being logged for its valuable timber.
The word primeval is used in Europe to mean a forest that has experienced
little or no direct disruption by humans and looks much as it did centuries
ago. Such a
forest has not been grazed by domestic animals or much logged. In the United
we describe such a forest as old-growth, ancient, or primary.
Primeval or old-growth forests are of incalculable environmental value. They
demonstrate natural processes, for example replacement of trees that have
fallen because of old age or storms; they serve as benchmarks against
which to evaluate forests that have been manipulated by humans;
they teach scientists and foresters how to manage forests sustainably;
and they provide habitat for native species. They also have
historical and, some say, spiritual value.
Less than 0.1% of Europe s woodlands are completely protected, let
alone primeval. Bialowiez survived, largely intact, from the fourteenth
century to the early twentieth century, because it was a royal hunting
Logging began with the Germans in World War I.
After World War II, the forest was divided between Poland (40%) and the
Soviet Union (now Belarus 60%). In the Polish portion, a 4700-hectare
Bialoweiza National Park has been strictly protected.
Commercial logging is taking place over the remainder of the Polish portion
despite the doubling of the area covered by the National Park in 1996 and
the establishment of new nature reserves in 2003. As of 2001 stands 100
years of age or older covered only 20% of the managed forest.
The portion of the forest in Belarus was
not logged in the Soviet era, but standing
water was drained. When Belarus came into existence, it set aside a
national park but encouraged logging elsewhere in the forest.
Despite the destruction, patches of
forest that retain characteristics of primitive forest,
not found in other European temperate forests, remain in Bialowieza: stands
multiple stories, much dead wood, large trees, diverse tree communities, and
in age and size of trees within stands, with some individuals 400-500 years
The wildlife population is diverse. Although the forest has not yet been
known inhabitants of the forest include some 900 species of vascular plants,
3000 fungi, more than 9000 insects, 178 breeding birds, and 58 species of
including the wolf, lynx, and European bison.
The completely protected portion of
Bialowieza National Park is not large enough to preserve
the characteristics of the primeval forest and its natural processes.
Already the wildlife is being impacted.
Scientists, non-government organizations, and many members of the general
public in Poland and
Belarus realize this, but presentations to the governments and protests have
not stopped the logging.
In fact, it is increasing.
The forest can only be saved by
international pressure on the governments of Poland and
Belarus and on European institutions, particularly the European Union. In
the long term, the entire
forest needs to be transformed into a strictly protected binational park. In
the short term,
logging of all stands of natural origin must be banned. Coverage in the
media would be
most helpful; letters are also important.
Please write to:
President of Poland
ul. Wiejska 10
Janusz Reiter, Ambassador
2640 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
President of the Belarus Republic
A. G. Lukashenko
38 Karl Marx Street
Minister of Natural Resources of Belarus
L. I. Khoruzhick
10 Kollektornaya Street
The letters to Poland and Belarus will require 83 cents each in stamps (air
mail). The letter to Khoruzhick can be a copy of the letter to Lukashenko. If
you can’t manage all the letters, choose one or two addresses. The letters can
be short. Say that the forest is a national and international treasure. Ask that
logging of natural stands, stands not planted by humans, be immediately stopped.
If you can call Bialowieza Forest to the attention of a journalist, it would be
extremely helpful; and, if you are willing to go the extra mile and live in a
major city, visit the embassy or a consulate to speak to the staff (US addresses
of consulates at
Further information and photographs can be found at
February 7, 2006 Charles Dickens and Compassion
On Charles Dickens' birthday (1812-1870), we recall that this
famous English writer recognized the conditions of his own
country's rise to industrial power. He worked at age 12 in a
blacking factory in London while his father was in debtors prison.
Dickens suffered and he manifested social compassion -- suffering
with others who have experienced some of the same conditions that
he knew. Dickens's concern grew from The Pickwick Papers (1836-37)
through Oliver Twist (1837-39), The Christmas Carol (1843), David
Copperfield (1849-50), into the great novel towards the end of his
career A Tale of Two Cities (1859). He knew and showed in the
characters that he presented that the poor were being mistreated,
and he insisted that social reforms were needed.
Month of eco-compassion -- On this website is emerging a
concurrent work -- an eco-spirituality -- rising in
the manner of
a structure. This month the framework of compassion is being
introduced, because that is the key to the full development of the
emerging treatise. Certainly we all suffer in some degree from
cabin fever, the malady of February. However, here the compassion
discussed is directed to the wounded Earth itself. We become more
aware of the pain involved in Mother Earth once the coverlet of
snow disappears and the wounds of the Earth become more visible to
us in a telling fashion -- and this calls for eco-compassion, a
virtue that is difficult to promote.
We could not heal the Earth without a heavy dose of
compassion. Healing the Earth imitates the process of God's love
for us, a compassionate love, which Jesus shows in his suffering
and death on the cross. Some will talk knowingly about the
compassion of Buddhism or other religious traditions. I do not
doubt that compassion extends throughout the world, in the
primitive religions of Oceania and Africa and the religions of the
Western Hemisphere. Compassion is a human emotion and is enhanced
with proximity to the suffering and evolving Earth. When we are
in harmony with the Earth, we are able to enter into the rhythms of
the planet; we learn to suffer with another, and people of all
persuasions who are close to the land experience this.
The Good News is not that Christians tell others that they
ought to be compassionate; the primary message is that what others
do is good and that we can learn to live from coming to know how
they handle the suffering all around them. Good News is to say
"yes" to the God who creates in all people a social sense that one
must enter into the suffering of those around them. Good News is
to take what these people in every part of the world do and offer
it to God, and that means that we as other Christs enter into the
sufferings of all people. Now we are the bearers of the message;
we bear compassion together with all willing sufferers through the
community of believers in this Earth.
February 8, 2006 Ongoing Education
Education is important and yet there has never been a
reflection on this subject. Why? I think the reason for my
reluctance is that I have always been a proponent of informal
education, though one must realize that learning is generally quite
formal with classes, reports, testing and grading. Informal
education? Yes, it ought to be ongoing. Formal education? It all
depends. I am not inclined to be a formal teacher and my few bouts
of teaching were satisfactory but nothing I craved to continue. In
this modern world we know that college courses and degrees are
almost a necessity for those who leave high school, though some
seemingly highly successful people have not had them and have done
very well. The conventional advice is to engage in college if you
haven't already, and to continue to be educated throughout life.
This comes down to continued or ongoing education. Here are some
* The ongoing education should suit your current goals and
ambitions. If you know what you want, take the measures to get it.
Ongoing education to find a goal is not always worth it; determine
at least a preliminary goal first and work from there. If such a
goal is not in sight, at least keep the education more informal.
For many people, however, distractions will interfere with informal
education and their personalities demand formality.
Work/study programs are good for determining how much further
one wants to go. They give one a sense of achievement or they
definitely provide a negative insight -- "this ain't for me." These
programs also give a person more time to think about the temporary
course of studies and how goals are important in continuing
enthusiastically in what one is engaged.
* Don't force formal education on yourself or others. If
youth do not want to go to college, don't make them go. If they
prefer to postpone or take a furlough, see this as possibly a good
thing. They are at least not being dictated to by peer pressure
and are making some choices that they will have to live with
throughout their lives. But they are making them.
* If you choose the formal education route, talk it over with
those who know you best, just as youth should seek counseling with
respect to their own talents and goals. Look over programs or
courses and, if possible, find out how much they benefited others.
* When considering scheduling and other requirements, consider
whether you have the self-discipline to handle programs through
correspondence, Internet, or tutorial routes. Most forget that
taking notes in classes started in the Middle Ages when books were
scarce and study materials virtually impossible to obtain. We have
advanced since then, but how formal must our education be? Can we
find it in materials and books without taking formal courses at a
distant place or a specific time? These questions are worth
considering before launching into the deep.
February 9, 2006 Lightning
Lightning is such a concern that I thought I had mentioned it
before -- but my records of the last 800 essays say, "no, I
haven't." Lightning is part of our American environment and some
80 persons are killed and an estimated 300 injured each year. Yes,
we grow up with lightning as part of our lives, but it is something
to respect rather than be terrified about. When the first wave of
my Jesuit colleagues came to Kentucky from France in the 1830s the
phenomenon in America that they mentioned most often was the
severity of the thunder storms.
Lightning is an accumulation of negative-charged larger
particles and positive-charged smaller ones; through currents and
updrafts a large electrical potential develops between either the
clouds or the clouds and the ground. Resistance is overcome and
the flash occurs with an electrical discharge of millions of volts.
Don't try experiments; yes, Franklin survived his kite string and
key experiment. Lightning flashes reach us at the speed of light,
186,000 miles a second; thunder travels at one-fifth of a mile a
second, and so we can determine our distance from a recent strike.
Protection? Recently the regional U.S. Weather Service
interrupted the local radio programming to announce that a severe
storm was heading in what I knew from simple geography is THIS WAY.
Sure enough, the storm rolled in about a half hour later, and I
dutifully unplugged this computer and took the most recent writings
into another room just in case there was a strike and destruction
of the work as well. Some prefer the added insurance of depositing
valuable disks at a more tranquil time at a neighbor's place for
fear of a very heavy lightning bolt striking the whole structure.
Safe places? Houses and cars are regarded as relatively safe
places from lightning. We need to avoid mountaintops and higher
exposed ground. Some say to stay off open land but maybe the
emphasis should be to stay away from isolated trees on higher
ground as well as towers and tall metal structures. Absolute
safety is unattainable, so pray for safety.
Lightning rods? Install them if in a rural area. On our
family farm our major tobacco barn was most likely saved once
because the lightning was drained away through the metal rods.
Look around. If the building is on high ground and nearby trees
are not higher, then certainly see that the structure is grounded.
I recently observed a wind tower being erected within fifteen feet
of a residence and wondered about grounding, for I would not feel
comfortable living in that structure. Some lightning strikes can
become erratic and travel over water pipes and other artifacts.
And many can do major damage.
Animal protection. Some dogs have a very hard time with
thunder storms. Dogs, perhaps more afraid of the thunder than the
lightning, will destroy property in order to get to a quieter
hiding place. See <www.wildwildweather.com>.
February 10, 2006 Jogging for Health
Each of us should choose a type of physical exercise for our
own health and wellbeing. It may be walking, biking, swimming, or
running. For youth, it may be just breaking away from the tv or
computer game long enough to get exercise, fresh air and full
spectrum sunlight. But more than youth need these; everyone
should be able to get some exercise in the great outdoors, and
especially is this needed during February's cabin fever time. Not
every day in winter is conducive to the great outdoors, and so
sometimes we can have a substitute by working out in the gym or
engaged in indoor aerobatics, or using exercise machines. But the
goal of getting outside is salutary for all who can do so -- and
that includes most of us, even the wheelchair- or walker-bound.
I prefer jogging; but I abandoned this a few years back when
my back ached so much that it was becoming increasingly difficult
to jog. The doctor said it was okay to protect my back and watch
where I step; so I bought a broad elastic jogging belt, which
supports the back quite well. I am blessed with living near a park
that has green grass for running. Actually I have worn a jogging
trail around the perimeter and am the only one using the park
virtually every day of the year -- it's used for baseball during
the summer months. This park is bordered by a woods, and the
mountains are in the background. Though the path is uneven, by
always jogging on the same track during daylight, I have been able
to avoid the pitfalls that are present and have made me tumble
twice. Jogging is best in the morning, and I do it very early,
with the breaking light, from April through October, and then
resort to afternoon daylight the rest of the year. Certainly some
days are too wet or snowy but for the most part I can exercise
about five days a week.
No doubt, returning to this four-decades-old form of exercise
has had many advantages, and they need to be emphasized again. The
more vigorous exercise allows one to sweat out salt and toxic
substances, helps refresh the lungs, lowers blood pressure,
controls weight gain, and reduces anxiety and edginess brought on
by everyday stress. And there are other good reasons as well.
There is so much written about jogging -- types of shoes and
clothing, care for legs, how much time to spend in warm-ups,
competitive events, what to eat before events, medications, etc.
Many people refuse to jog and say that it is downright dangerous on
heavily congested streets or roads and when forced to breathe
pollutants. Good point, and don't do it under such circumstances.
They do not like to compete or jog with others who are faster.
Fine, and regard this as a personal exercise by competing against
oneself not others. I try to beat old personal records in length,
but not by time, since that would be an unneeded stress. If I
still jog in even older age, I may wait until the oldest are
younger than I and return to jogging events -- but no promise. It
is good currently being non-competitive, just jogging around and
around. But you have got to like doing it or it becomes boring.
February 11, 2006 Inventor's Day: New Uses of Our Hands
Most of us are unable to invent a gadget that has not already
been patented. There are too many people wanting to make money on
possible inventions over and above the millions of ideas already
patented. One wag said, "They'll invent a way to copyright an
individual's tatoo." Given the situation, what have we to do on
Inventor's Day but praise Thomas A. Edison, whose birthday is
today, or some of the others who have been known for inventiveness?
It seems horribly non-participatory.
The 2006 Simple Lifestyle Calendar "Footpaths of Appalachia"
gives us a hint to invent a new way to use our feet. Maybe we non-
patent-seeking inventors can create new ways to use our body in
service to and for others. Why not think about your own use of
hands, not feet? I used to "stand on my hands" by putting my knees
on my elbows. It was using my hands when I couldn't use the
standard hand-standing procedure. Hands are quite versatile, and
their dexterity has greatly advanced the human cause. Some tell us
that when our distant ancestors started to walk upright, the hands
were no longer used for locomotion except among very small infants.
And think of a one-year-old's joy when walking upright -- and able
to put his or her hands on everything around.
How about use of hands in any of the following conventional
pursuits that we do not yet do individually -- typing, playing the
piano or other musical instrument, hoeing, digging, sewing,
stitching, darning, knitting, drawing pictures, sculpting,
woodcarving, pottery making, cutting and trimming, cooking, bathing
self or another, folding hands in prayer, learning sign language,
rock-climbing, playing handball, doing push-ups and acrobatics,
operating surgically, playing cards and other games, nursing with
compassion, emptying a bed pan, directing traffic, driving with
hands on the wheel and without a cell phone, gesturing while
talking if we do not know how to say it with emphasis, directing a
symphony at least in our dreams, acting in a play, etc. You get
the picture; there are many traditional things.
What about untraditional ways to use the hands? I don't know
the answer, for it will demand your inventiveness, not just mine.
I suspect that we could learn to manipulate (manus is "hand" in
Latin) our fingers so that we could create strange figures and
images in the shadows on a wall and entertain children. We could
learn some magic sleight of hand tricks. Or we could find
something that is not conventional and yet serves others who are in
need in new ways. And the hands can become a key to the success.
Few regard the work of the hands as godly work, but maybe it is.
We become more like our God when we have a perfect interplay of our
head for knowing, our heart for doing, and our hands for creating
or making what has got to be done. The Earth certainly needs
healing. Does the use of our hands hold a key to how this can be
accomplished? I am convinced that it does. Think about it this
Inventor's Day. We can become the hands-on inventors of a restored
February 12, 2006 Dealing with Troubles
I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with
the joy of salvation. (Psalm 32)
We try to deal with all forms of difficulties in this troubled
world through a variety of strategies and practices:
Through direct confrontation with the trouble -- A trouble can
be of such a variety of issues one would fill the page merely with
general possibilities ranging from personal health to international
battles and wars. Part of our own spiritual growth and maturation
is to face troubles when they come. We ought not deny their
existence or attempt to escape from them through a multitude of
allurements and distractions.
Through selective isolation -- Isolating and distancing the
troubled people from us, as has been practiced in dealing with
communicable diseases, is a drastic step that should be avoided at
all costs. It was the method for dealing with leprosy in Chapter
13 of the Book of Leviticus and continued through New Testament
times. The outcast status was the result of the inability of
people to control the disease in any other manner. A bird flu
epidemic may actually use such practices at the present time -- but
it is always traumatic for those declared unclean.
Through compassion -- Jesus knows leprosy is pitiful and has
compassion for the leper; he cures him. The cleansed leper is to
appear according to the Mosaic Law and be declared cured so that
the social outcast status can be removed. The cured man is charged
by Jesus not to tell anyone about his cure but to carry out the
prescription alone. So far so good. But as one could expect, the
cured fellow is bubbling over with enthusiasm and so reveals his
healing to all; thus he disobeys Jesus and that results in
hindering Jesus' ability to preach openly. Being compassionate
comes at a price.
Emancipation Proclamation -- On Lincoln's birthday we should
recall again the troubles of our nation in 1862-1863 and the
struggle that Lincoln had to go through when dealing with the
slavery issue -- the process of coming to the freeing of the
slaves, the opposition from members of his own family, party and
Congress, and the singular battle he underwent in his soul-
searching for a solution. He eventually frees all slaves in
territories then in rebellion and leaves the rest for the amended
constitution, which is passed immediately after his death. He
dealt with this matter to the best of his ability at the time. His
hand trembled so much he had to wait before signing the
proclamation on a busy January 1st, 1863. But that proclamation
was a long time coming and long awaited by all parties.
Through prayer -- We must confront, we must treat people as
best we can, we must show compassion to the best we can, and we
must pray, for we can only do so much, and the troubles are still
with us. Through prayer we mature spiritually, and we are better
able to handle the difficult situations that confront us.
February 13, 2006 Lincoln Memorial
It took me awhile to come to like him
Shining white cast, cold marble seated seraphim.
Though we share torn northern-southern sympathy,
Growing up lean and gaunt in ole' Kentucky.
In flesh I find a right friendly fellow,
Humble by birth, certainly no marshmallow;
Grows up working hard on farm and wood,
Trying to live like everyone should.
He's learned by a log fire after nightfall,
He started slow, heeding a distant call;
Postman, boatman, soldier, storekeeper
But as lawyer his thoughts ran deeper,
He struggled to see all created free,
Antietam's guns, presidential decree.
Then when Civil War was truly won,
Booth's bullet laid him; Thy will be done.
What we get from Abe's disquieted life
Is to boldly face ongoing strife;
Don't disguise big questions, let them be.
Shouldn't indebted countries also be free?
Why with poor folks' many basic cares
Should purchased laws allow billionaires?
No, this good Earth needs Abe's honesty,
"All need be free," Lincoln's prodigy.
February 14, 2006 Saints Valentine, Cyril & Methodius
On our everyday secular calendars we find that very few saints
are mentioned, though many church calendars have entire lists with
specific communities and places having their own additional saints.
Most people could name three well-known "secular" saint's days:
St. Patrick on March 17th, Santa Claus (St. Nicholas) on December
6th and St. Valentine on this day. What most people don't know is
that the first two are celebrated by the great majority of
Christian churches but that the feast of St. Valentine was
suppressed in the 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar. He
still exists, only that his is no longer a commonly held feast day.
And that is true for Orthodox and Anglican churches as well.
Although veneration of Saint Valentine goes back into the
distant past, we do not know much about the good fellow.
Apparently he was martyred, most likely on the Flaminian Way just
outside Rome during the persecution of Decian about 250 A.D. This
information was collected in some of the oldest Roman martyrologies
(lists of early martyrs). We don't even know anything about the
connection between him and sending "valentines" on this day.
Actually, we have a very widespread feast today of Saints
Cyril (826-69) and his blood brother Methodius (ca. 815-85). They
are the patron saints of ecumenism because they have served in
their ministry in both East and West, and they are regarded as the
patrons of Europe by John Paul II. These two are venerated in the
churches of the East (on May 11th) and the West (today) by the
Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, the Episcopal Church
in the USA, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
Their ministry was within the present nations of the Czech
Republic and much of the Balkans. It was Cyril who invented the
Slavonic alphabet (Cyrillic), and they both translated the Bible
and the Liturgy into Slavonic, which they advocated for use in the
Divine Services. Use of Slavonic was approved, and Cyril died a
short while later while in Rome. Methodius was ordained and later
made bishop, but he had to endure much troubles with German and
Hungarian political and religious leaders, which continued for the
rest of his life. He was able to use Old Slavonic (vernacular
language then) in the Liturgy, the language used to this day in the
Bulgarian, Byelorussian, Hungarian, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian,
Serbian, Slovak, and Ukrainian Churches, both Catholic Eastern and
Orthodox. In his last years of life Methodius was able to complete
the translation of the Bible into Slavonic.
No one can doubt that Cyril and Methodius made a major impact
on the history of the continent. But then, if we look at it another
way, maybe Valentine also made an indirect impact. Maybe the love
expressed by so many was a continuation of the love that he showed
as a witness to the Lord, whom he loved so much as to give his
life. In some ways he represents the tireless love of the
forgotten people who really are the glue that binds so many
communities together. We really need both kinds of saints.
February 15, 2006 Vibrational Pollution: Use of Blasting Materials
Ground vibrations have been known since human beings first
walked the Earth; these movements are now identified as the seismic
tremors of Earthquakes and their aftershocks. People along with
animals have always been terrified by these natural but unexpected
movements of the Earth. Today we know far more about how and why
they happen. Still, natural quakes are frightening phenomena at
any time -- and do immense damage as did last year's quakes in
Pakistan and Kashmir. These quakes are not vibrational pollution
but harm people nonetheless.
Vibrational pollution includes the tremors caused by human
operations, which involve moving earth in road and building
construction and more importantly in mining operations. Vast
quantities of blasting material are used each year to remove the
overburden that is above the desired coal seam. Care must always
be taken not to harm those people residing or being in the vicinity
of the blasting operation. Aquifers can be ruptured in such
localized blasting, and thus water sources can easily be
contaminated. Foundations of buildings crack, and land settles,
affecting the structures on unstable building sites. The amount of
damage can be extensive, if the blasting parties are not careful
about the manner (amount, depth and direction) in which the
blasting is carried out. Local citizens must be made aware of the
potential for such damage, and examples have occurred of injury and
death due to blasting materials acting like missiles or trucks.
Three decades ago, when ASPI was just beginning, one of our
first projects was to hold a national conference on the effects of
using large quantities of blasting materials in surface mining
operations. Since there was considerable contour mining of coal at
that time, residences and waterwells in the vicinity of the mining
operations were affected in large numbers. Now in surface mining
areas there is a requirement to perform a pre-blast survey on homes
and waterwells near the mining operations. We spoke before
Congressional committees on the need for such information prior to
the Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. We
said also that local residents should keep accurate records of
damage done during blasting and mining operations, because homes
are definitely damaged and compensation from the operators is
expected but is sometimes difficult to receive.
Though mining operations have now become far larger and
consist of slicing off entire mountains, the amount of surface
mined coal extracted per amount of disturbed area has greatly
increased. Homes and the residents along with their other property
are still being affected but not in the numbers impacted in the
early 1970s, though other disturbance effects are quite noticeable
(see May 26,
2004) and serious. A project that looks into how
well that Act works in vibrational pollution is really needed in
the light of increased surface coal mining in recent years.
Greater care could help reduce damage done by this ongoing form of
February 16, 2006 Authentic Puzzles
I could never figure how anyone could get pleasure out of
constructed puzzles for which the creators already know the
solutions. You may enjoy these constructs but think about another
possibility -- real puzzles to which no one yet knows the answer.
There are many out there, from what makes a witching stick turn in
the presence of water to the exact habitats of your local wildlife.
Some such puzzles are unappealing or trivia! And some are very
worthwhile and entertaining.
How much energy do we use? -- Creating the "Lifestyle Index"
was a 1970s puzzle that I found could only be partly solved and
that became more complex with further research. In those pre-
personal computer days, some of the work of calculating how much
energy went into every article, service, and practice of American
modern life could be carried out. However, the big trouble as to
whether the service was done by you or for you soon arose. Do we
charge the ice cream man's expenditure to that person or to the one
receiving the ice cream cone? Individualizing services was further
complicated in dealing with military defense (either to the service
person or prorated to all Americans or others), a complex policy
question that is not yet resolved.
Ethnic Atlas --
The book that is now sold through our website
is the result of about three decades of off-and-on work. This
subject has remained a puzzle requiring an immense amount of work,
and yet it is satisfying just to know something about the ethnicity
of the United States. The project started by my wanting to know
where different groups congregated when they came to America, and
the specific ethnicity of the inhabitants of the Appalachian
Mountain Range. Since then the project has grown into a national
puzzle and then changed as the movement of people has produced a
changing atmosphere of ethnicity. The changes can be plotted on a
decade-by-decade picture, but work for 1980 and 1990 is incomplete.
Tobacco -- My own personal attitudes about tobacco have
changed over time from the days I was on a tobacco farm in the
1930s and 1940s, through the smoking stage, then the discovery of
tobacco's polluting effects in the 1970s, and finally education on
the health effects on both smokers and nearby non-smokers. Today,
in the 21st century, tobacco is regaining a beneficial place
through being the substrate for the production of certain
pharmaceutical agents at quite a low price.
I have been researching this as a puzzle worth presenting in book
form at some future date.
Eco-spirituality --This has been the most intriguing puzzle
and the one I am presently spending my spare time. My own eco-
spirituality seems to be quite different from that described by
others, and yet I am convinced it is based on Earth-related
experience. I prefer not to discuss rightness or wrongness, but
the authenticity of a broad base of eco-spiritualities is
intriguing. Please visit that portion of this website.
February 17, 2006 Random Acts of Kindness Day
That best portion of a good man's life
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love.
William Wordsworth, "Tintern Abbey"
I recently received a free CD from The Teaching Company "The
Great Courses." The sample was a lecture at Oxford on "The Good
Life" by philosophy Professor Daniel N. Robinson. He spoke of the temptation
of people to program the brain to deliver a feeling that is similar
to what these people believe that the best life for them will
bring. The problem is that this perceived dream state would
certainly not satisfy anyone seeking the good life, for that life
must, from the accounts and lives of great people including saints,
always include service for others -- something totally missed by
this induced mental state. The saints were able to live the good
life without being conscious that they were doing anything
This brings us back again to Wordsworth's unremembered and
nameless acts of kindness. Perhaps we remember regrettable acts of
meanness or negligence when we allowed the opportunity to do good
to pass us by. But let's give ourselves credit; we don't remember
other good things like holding the door for someone or picking up
some litter on another's lawn; we show hospitality to strangers
who seem lost. These unremembered acts may make us kinder and
gentler people, and can reinforce a set of habits and a form of
civility (see "Civility Eroded,"
September 6, 2005)
that will do us
in good stead in years to come. From little acts can come bigger
ones. Should we try to give an order to our random acts like
recording them? At first thought maybe it is best not to keep such
a record, but leave it to God who is the perfect recorder in "The
Book of Life." We could simply settle on recording those valuable
acts done for us even when they were purely random ones. However,
more could be said.
Let's expand the scope of acts of kindness to include
assisting others who do not practice the art of healing the Earth.
It is not that they need someone to perform the act of composting,
mulching, organic gardening, recycling, insulating, and on and on.
They can and should do it themselves. The act of kindness is to
encourage them, to teach them, to support them, and to congratulate
them when they do such things. An act of kindness is to refrain
from being mean, accusing, demeaning, embarrassing, or
condescending. We accept the human condition and the consequence
of the power of false advertising that has educated a public to
wanton consumption and disposal of material goods. Many, even
highly intelligent people, are profoundly ignorant of environmental
matters; they may spend time absorbed with doing some small things
like recycling and forget some major ones. When a person points
out these missed opportunities kindly rather than harshly, the
results will be most gratifying for the learner, the teacher, the
neighbors, and the Earth itself.
February 18, 2006 Faulty Product Complaints
Every consumer deserves high quality, long-lasting products;
they should do what the enticing advertisement said they were able
to achieve. We deserve what we paid for; the junk that is so
often sold lasts a short time and is discarded, wasting resources
in the production and more in the disposal. All lose except for
the corporation making the junky product. One way to reduce such
greed and careless practices is to complain about what was
purchased, whether a product or a service. Here are some simple
steps given a few years back through the U.S. Office of Consumer
Affairs at the White House. Perhaps you may wish to compose a
letter after gathering the basic information and finding on the
Internet the specific person and address for the company that made
City, State and Zip
Dear (Appropriate Name):
Last week (as soon as possible after noticing the fault) I
purchased (or had repaired) (name of product with serial or model
number or service performed). I made this purchase at (location,
date and other transaction details).
Unfortunately, your product (or service) has not performed
satisfactorily (or the service was inadequate) because _______.
Therefore, to solve the problem, I would appreciate your (here
state the specific action you want). Enclosed are copies (not
originals) of my records (receipts, guarantees, warranties,
cancelled checks, contracts, model and serial numbers, or other
I am looking forward to your reply and resolution of my
problem and will wait three weeks before seeking third party
assistance. Contact me at the above address or by phone at (home
or office number).
Remember to include as many details as possible, give the
history of the problem, ask for satisfaction, and ask for action
within a reasonable time. Do this by regular mail rather than by
e-mail. And keep copies of your letter of complaint along with all
related documents and information. Good luck!
February 19, 2005 Miracles and Forgiveness
Jesus, in today's Gospel reading (Mark 2: 1-12), does two
important things: he performs a miracle of curing the paralyzed
man; and he forgives the man's sins. Amazingly the miracle is more
easily accepted than the act of forgiveness; the crowd begins to
regard Jesus as a wonderworker; the Scribes who were present
accuse Jesus of blasphemy. Neither opinion is correct. Jesus
worked wonders but he does not want to be regarded as a magician or
wonderworker; and as God he has power to forgive sins and thus is
Miracles. Through the centuries miracles have occurred
through the power of God. Albert Einstein says There are two ways
to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The
other is as though everything is a miracle. We need to see that
God's power extends beyond the parting of the Red Sea or the
providing of manna in the desert. Yes, each time we have Mass a
miracle occurs to which each of us is a witness. Also we know that
God works wonders in our midst, but we must see with the eyes of
faith and we must believe that more can occur.
Forgiveness. God is merciful and quick to forgive, and this
willingness has been transferred to the Church itself. God wants
each of us to know that we can be forgiven, that we certainly are
forgiven, and that we are permeated with an atmosphere of
forgiveness. This we believe, for forgiveness is so wed to that of
the miracle of the Resurrection, namely, to forgive is to give new
life just as God gives new life after death.
Miracle as sign. Jesus does not work a miracle so that his
wonderworking powers might be revealed to his favor; rather Jesus
works a miracle as a sign of what God is doing for each and every
one of us. God is forgiving, and miracles point to that more
wonderful act, which is spiritual and not merely physical healing.
Through forgiveness, souls are healed, and the forgiven can renew
their spiritual lives. God's mercy is marvelous to behold.
Wonders. We often are so close to marvelous events and
happenings that we can overlook the wonders all around us. When we
forgive another, as did Pope John Paul II his attempted assassin,
we have done something wonderful. My cousin, Spanky Fister,
journeyed to Florida and went to the prison and forgave in the name
of the family the murderer of his brother. This was heroic and a
wonder of God's grace at work. How hurtful it is to see people who
refuse to forgive. But let's glory in those who can, for in doing
so we glory in our forgiving God.
The miracle of forgiving another. Among the great miracles of
grace is willingness to forgive others from the bottom of our
heart. We hope that this forgiving is passed on to those we hurt
and who need to forgive us as well. Yes, we pray for those who
find it hard to forgive, for forgiveness never comes easily;
sometimes it is a miracle that it even comes at all.
February 20, 2006 Presidents' Day
Today we celebrate our American presidents, not only George
Washington and Abraham Lincoln who have birthdays this month, but
all the presidents. In the old days our bank calendar would have
the pictures of each president on his birthday, but I used to think
some were more worth celebrating than others. Earlier stamp
collectors remember the series of presidential stamps from one cent
for Washington through the sixteen cent Lincoln and each person
according to the numerical order of the presidency. There was even
a half-cent for Ben Franklin, a booby prize for not making the
presidency. One could remember that Zachary Taylor was the twelfth
president because of the twelve-cent crimson stamp.
Many of the more precocious English youth can list the order
of kings and queens from the Norman Invasion (1066) to the present,
but then there are fewer of them in that 940-year-period than there
are presidents in our 218-year-period. Those three long-living
queens (Elizabeth I, Victoria, and Elizabeth II) made the English
task a little bit easier. Still most of those monarchs died in
office, because they possessed life terms. But on the other hand
the four-year terms of presidents result in larger numbers in
shorter time spans. Add to this that four presidents were
assassinated (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy) and four
others died in office (W.H. Harrison, Taylor, Harding, and F.D.
Roosevelt) and the numbers mount rather rapidly. Long-term
continuity in office does not come with the American presidency,
especially with a constitutional amendment limiting each person to
Every American should be interested in their presidents, what
brought them to the office, their individual personalities, how
well they conducted themselves, and what history had to say about
their decisions and policies. By knowing the presidents we have
some indication of the direction of our history over the past two
centuries. It is certainly something worth reading and reflecting
upon. It also gives us reason to pray for our present leaders even
when we disagree with their political stands on certain issues.
The office is certainly influential, and many people depend on
policies these individuals implement -- even granting the checks
and balances of the legislative and judiciary branches.
In so many ways the American presidency has been unique. In
1788, for the first time, a major world head-of-state was
democratically elected by the people (examples of democracies
occurred in some places in history along with republican forms of
government, e.g., San Marino. This form of government has become
so widespread that we overlook its history. The president is a
citizen head of the armed services; the presidential powers are
limited by the power exerted by the legislative and judicial
branches of government. Lastly, when the president leaves office he
returns to being a plain American citizen like the rest of us.
There are no royal benefits (though some security guards), but
there has always been the temptation to become imperial.
February 21, 2006 Share Community Resources
During Brotherhood and Sisterhood Week, it is wise to consider
how we can share community resources even when it becomes hard for
independent and self-sufficient Americans. This sharing is of
value to less well off communities where individuals have special
needs. I reside in Appalachia, which is suffering from a major
drug problem among people of all age groups. Sharing resources to
answer local problems is paramount to working together. We can't
expect outsiders or the federal government to furnish answers to
all local problems even though they can offer valuable assets. If
possible, it is always better to share resources at the local
Common equipment. Sharing a chainsaw, garden tool, or
cooking pot is difficult because of availability, access, and
notions about maintenance and storage. However, if someone is in
general charge of the device, the community can share successfully
such small, generally personally owned, resources. A fair program
of sharing avoids overuse by a few. Know the condition of the
commonly shared item lest someone says it was damaged after the
initiation of common use. Bigger pieces of equipment may demand
even more organization. These need to be controlled within an
accessible library, post office or other public building.
Common space. We often ignore the fact
that community sharing
depends on common space. Purchase of common space is most likely
out of the question and rental fees can be quite high. Expecting
someone to donate existing private space normally gives that person
tremendous control over the exercise of the activity. If all can
work successfully, the program may thrive quite well. The
agreement on sharing must be explicit and may even require legal
advice. Vague arrangements will undoubtedly lead to
misunderstandings among the sharing parties.
Common services. In this age of specialties, community
projects can generally work better through the sharing of more than
mere equipment and space: services are a major factor in
completing a project. Such services may include bookkeeping,
accounting, telephone answering, publicity, website design,
interior decoration and art work, repair of buildings, interior and
Community expertise. Some services must be paid for while
others can utilize retirees with the expertise needed. The success
of many projects depends on procurement of these volunteer services
or the funds needed to hire experienced personnel. One person may
be a good publicist or writer and, if enlisted, could be of service
to the entire community. The volunteer may do a good or even
excellent job, and yet people are biased towards paying money as
though that will yield a better service. Tap the community for
expertise in a host of areas -- social work, physical therapy,
counseling and guidance, chaplaincy work, and auditing, to name a
February 22, 2006
Few people in all of the Sacred Scriptures equal St. Peter in
the number of appearances, and also in development of character --
from a rough fisherman to the leader of the disciples and head of
the Church. In the Gospel of Luke (5:1-11) we read the first of
such episodes. Peter is called by God, just like Isaiah (6: 1-8),
who was "a man of unclean lips." Yet he is purified by the Lord
slowly and patiently over time. Peter follows and sees his
unworthiness in the face of the immense works of God through Jesus.
"Depart from me, Lord for I am a sinful man."
The initial call to follow Jesus is the first recorded one for
Peter (though he was already a married man and called by God to
that state of life). But there are repeated calls and calls within
calls. After his betrayal and the crucifixion and resurrection,
Jesus asks Peter three times (John 21) does he love him -- since
Peter had denied him three times. Peter is soon to participate in
the event of Pentecost and is impelled by the Spirit to go out to
all the world. Also at the post-Easter occasion of Jesus'
confronting Peter, Jesus says he will lead him where he does not
want to go, thus signifying the manner of Peter's death.
Peter is a person discouraged because of overwork. "We have
worked all night and caught nothing." Isn't this the story of our
own lives, how we spin our wheels and how we fish and catch nothing
but grief? This episode shows Jesus' special relationship to and
concern for his emerging body of church personnel. The story is a
foreshadowing of the success that the whole church will witness in
the coming of the mission to the Gentiles. It is a story of
consolation -- something we all need to ponder.
Peter stands out as a greater model than first anticipated or
expected. He is ordinary in comparison with others living in the
Roman Empire of his day: people far better educated, closer to the
center of power, more agile and political, or more creative. Why
is he of all people chosen? Peter is rough; he is deeply devoted
but not totally loyal; he is honest in his own way; he is
homespun, gentle, humble, and loving; but he is impulsive. Peter
is above all ordinary and that gives us reason to like him all the
more. However, we do need some saints who are extraordinary, and
who are models worth observing but harder to imitate.
Peter is approachable, for he is much like many of us in ever
so many ways. We have our rough edges that can be made smoother
through God's grace; we are called; we need to make major
transformations; and we respond in our own ways. We have our
starts and stops, affirmations and denials, impulsive defenses and
retreats. We recognize our sinfulness and our weaknesses. We find
ourselves working all night and catching nothing; we are asked to
leave everything and follow Jesus even if we do so only at the hour
of death. God is prepared to mold us, transform us and make us
into instruments of divine grace. St. Peter can lead us on the
February 23, 2006 Peace and World Understanding Day
Peace and understanding go together just as war and
misunderstandings are coupled. We may make peace through a variety
of actions in which we give direct assistance to people of other
cultures, through working with conflicting parties, through change
of attitudes on the part of antagonists, through interactions among
groups who do not know each other, through interracial and
interfaith dialog and joint projects, and through mutual care for
people who suffer from hurricanes, tsunami, earthquakes and other
such natural or humanmade disasters.
Let us focus on methods of improving understanding among
peoples. This is truly a trying time for, if people were to take
their ideas to Iraq and move about the countryside trying to bring
peace, they might get killed. If that Middle Eastern animosity is
so strong, can anything be done on a person-to-person level?
Perhaps we can, if we do one or more of the following:
* Strive to make peace in the local community, parish,
neighborhood in which we reside;
* Contribute to radio shows or opportunities to speak, pray or
interact with others of good will;
* Interact through the Internet or the printed word to spread
better understanding among peoples of different cultures;
* Invite people either already in America or who are visitors
to come here into our home, church or civic organizations;
* Instead of going out to others in person, send gifts,
messages or other forms of communications to the other as a way of
breaking down the barriers in the hopes that the climate will
change and a personal visit may be made later;
* Work for a foreign policy that will afford other cultures a
better chance to manifest their differences in an atmosphere of
good will rather than antagonism;
*Discourage any forms of discrimination, racial slurs, ethnic
jokes and other such barriers to friendship among cultures;
* Distribute literature that is favorable to people of other
cultures among friends and in public places where people must wait
* Prepare the neighborhood for the entry of people from other
cultures and have them meet others;
* Plan an ethnic festival where the foods of different people
are celebrated; and
* Pray constantly for peace and understanding among all.
February 24, 2006 Solar Choices
As the temperature rises and the days lengthen, we are moved to
discuss solar applications in our own life and that of our country
and world. Solar energy is out there and, if properly utilized on
every available roof space, we would have enough energy to run all
operations without depleting resources or causing air or water
pollution. The barrier is the cost of equipment and installation
and the will to move to a solar/wind/renewable energy economy.
Many choices are available as shown in the listing of solar
subjects treated in these reflections over the past two years.
Solar Cookers and Ovens (2/11/2004)
Solar Powered Car (3/20/9/04)
Thinking Solar (4/3/04)
Solar Clothes drying "National Hanging Out Day"
Solar Photovoltaics (7/7/04) *
Solar Hot Water Systems (7/23/04)
Solar Greenhouses and Cold Frames (9/8/04)
Solar Food Drying (10/23/04)
Solar Home Tours (10/1/05)
* Photovoltaic domestic lighting
street, path and trail lighting
refrigerators and medicine storage areas
electronics and recording equipment
electric fencing and barriers
institutional and residential signs
entertainment devices, etc.
Solar applications are almost endless. What is needed beyond
the choices is the ability to get tax write-offs and governmental
incentives to purchase and install these devices. The day is
coming, but will most likely be postponed as relatively low-priced
fossil fuels are favored by governmental policy. Some may want to
start thinking of a solar home that they could build. Demonstration
are found in all parts of the country and more
information is available through good literature that can be found
by searching the Internet. It is wise to talk to someone who is
versed in solar applications to find out what can be done at your
If you have not started already, begin slowly and move
gradually into the Solar Age. But do begin. That may prove to be
the best earthhealing resolution that can be made during this
coming Lenten Season.
February 25, 2006 Make a Persimmon Pie
Persimmon (Diospyrus virginiana) is one of our North American
fruits (others are crabapple, pawpaw, and mulberry along with wild
plum and cherry plus many, many types of berries). The normal
persimmon growing range is the Central and Southern Appalachians,
the entire Southeastern United States and across the Mississippi
for several hundred miles. I have observed a grove of persimmons
at Sand Springs, Oklahoma, and the trees were loaded with fruit and
were thriving though at the western edge of their growing range.
In the dry year 2005 we did have good persimmons in Kentucky;
the tree nearest my residence was loaded from top to bottom with a
number of bushels of what mountain people call "sugar plums." I ate
those that fell early in September and October before frost (don't
try picking them then on the tree or your mouth will shrivel, and
then picked the remaining fruit off the tree in November through
January (20 a day during the middle of January). What an
incredibly long fruit season! I never saw so many persimmons on a
single tree. I simply could not persuade the local folks to gather
and eat this most delicious of fruits. Neighboring kids said their
grandmother used to eat them but they would not touch them. I
presume she has passed to the Lord and that I am a remnant
connoisseur of authentic Kentucky native flavors. Nothing should
be wasted and so I gathered two two-gallon batches for making pies.
I thought the ripe persimmons could be mushed into a slurry
and squeezed through a colander, but the holes soon clogged. I
added one-third water to the slurry to decrease the thick viscosity
(the chemist at work) and pressed the slurry through a knotted,
never used, wide-weaved, synthetic undershirt, and the material
came through easily leaving the caps, skins and plentiful seeds.
Upon heating the persimmon slurry, it turned into a thick, plum-
colored sweet tasting custard. To this I added ingredients that my
mom had used for making her famous plum puddings, namely, several
egg yokes, butter, vanilla, and cinnamon. These pies I baked at
400 degrees F. for a half hour in prepared pie shells. The result
was quite tasty, and so today I am baking the same dessert for our
family reunion using the persimmon custard that was deep frozen.
The results will be known when you read this.
Why with so many other pressing issues would one be distracted
into cooking? My answer is found in the authentic eco-spirituality
that I am trying to develop. Taste is one of the senses that we
use as gateways to explore the world around us. We must enhance
our experiences so we are more in tune with the Earth itself; a
little attempt at culinary arts is an integral part of that
spirituality. We need to treasure the gifts of God's creation and
the best way to do so is to know the foods and experience them in
various ways. Persimmons are the opposite of elderberries, which
taste bland but are converted into wonderful pies and wines.
Persimmons are enjoyed best off the tree, and pies are secondary.
But we capture and preserve for enjoyment as much as we can. Then
we will ensure that we are in tune with the rhythms of the Earth.
February 26, 2006 Fast for Others
In today's Gospel reading (Mark 2, 18-22) we hear that people
came to Jesus and asked why John's disciples and the Pharisees
would fast but his (Jesus) disciples did not. His reply was "How
can the guests at a wedding fast as long as the groom is still
among them?" Really he admits that there are times to feast and
times to fast, not that fasting is inferior or even unimportant
(See March 2, 2004 "Fasting and Feasting"). Much that could be
said was written in that previous essay, but there seemed to be one
thing lacking, the need to fast for others.
Granted, fasting is a way to discipline, is part of our
observance of Lent (to the degree that we are able by health, work
or age), and can be a good way to take off unneeded body fat. It
is even an opportunity to give the stomach a rest, which many
health advocates suggest. But all of these suggestions are related
to personal spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing. Fasting is
good for us individually. But can we take it a step farther?
For years near Thanksgiving, Oxfam has encouraged thousands to
observe a fast for the world's poor and to send the money saved to
Oxfam or other world hunger projects. This consciousness-raising
practice allows one to become aware of the amount and richness of
the food consumed, how much our food differs from that of people in
other ages and lands, and how little food more than a billion
people of the world live on at this time. Fasting then takes on a
different direction; we do it for more than ourselves and have it
resemble practices for causes such as walk-a-thons and concerts.
Fasting differs from giving money because it really takes more
effort -- unless we give from a sparse food budget. We feel it
when we fast and that feeling stays during the entire period. We
even question doing this and maybe we need to get advice on the
matter. Fasting becomes a coupling of the personal with the social
dimension as we reflect on whether to initiate or continue the
fasting. Is it worth it? I could do something else and enjoy it
A secondary social effect is hardly brought up, because people
expect in Lent to do things without telling others. Maybe at times
we could be inspired to talk about abstaining from meat or sweets
or why we are drawn to fast. We live in a nation where many have
never had to choose to say "no" to whatever they want. If they
have this experience in their own lives, a testimony to why one is
fasting has an added social dimension. To witness to being all the
better for fasting makes others think twice about what they are
doing with respect to material things. We can't hide our testimony
under the basket but are to enlighten those in the room. Maybe all
Americans ought to fast, and not leave it to the noble few.
Encouraging fasting by others while doing it is not a bad thing
given our current circumstances. So often fasting, whether for
individual or social purposes, goes counter to the prevailing
culture of spend, consume and grab for more. So speak up.
February 27, 2006 Mardi Gras Celebration?
There was a time in the early years of older folks' lives when
the Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday") had a significant meaning. That was
the day homemakers rid the food storage places of animal fats prior
to meatless Lent. And this was achieved with special dishes and
celebration that really brought to a close the holiday festivities
of the long Christmas season. When those periods of self-sacrifice
lessened in intensity, the celebratory aspects diminished. Even
the notion of Shrovetide or the period of confession and penance
seemed to shift into the very season of Lent from the preparatory
Having said this, is celebrating Mardi Gras really religious
or a type of secular (or some would say Pagan) event? Let's not
neglect the need for celebration, and so I do not want to take a
Puritan attitude about the pre-Lent days. I have tended to move in
the direction of less celebration and more preparation for a deeply
religious period of self-reflection and sacrifice that will start
tomorrow on Ash Wednesday. Then why all the fuss?
This becomes more telling this year because of the serious
condition of New Orleans in the wake of the Katrina Hurricane. The
French Quarter of New Orleans is the very center of Mardi Gras
celebrations. Due to elevation this part of the city was spared
some of the reconstruction and restoration necessitated by the
destruction last summer. How do you celebrate when over half of
New Orleans residents are unable to return, when homes are being
demolished and whole sections of a city are still without basic
services? The ones who want to celebrate want to emphasize a
return to normalcy but maybe the city and nation and world are a
little wiser. There is deep division between the Mardi Gras
organizers and some former residents who suffered in a somewhat
hidden poverty and still do though now in exile. Isn't the
condition of these former residents in the ninth ward and other
low-lying places still glossed over by beads and bands and parades?
And is this a racial issue?
Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 2006 tempts one to celebrate, but
the celebration has to be genuine. Merely making outside tourists
happy while people suffer from lack of attention and homes is not
a truly sincere celebration. One suggestion has been to allow only
the people who actually volunteered and helped the residents out in
2005 after the disaster to return to New Orleans. The hotel and
restaurant managers may not agree, since these are not a good
source of money. Perhaps for just one year those who have worked
for the people deserve to be the heart of the celebration -- not
those who did little and now want to go for entertainment in a
place still recovering from the devastation of the hurricane.
Somehow this year I side with those who say tone down this event.
There's time later to celebrate.
February 28, 2006 Seed Savers Exchange
Each month we strive to feature or highlight an organization
that is healing the Earth in its own unique manner. This month we
call special attention to the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE). Kent and
Diane Whealy founded SSE in 1975, after Diane's grandfather
entrusted them with garden seeds that his parents had brought from
Bavaria. The Whealy's began searching for other gardeners who were
keeping heirloom varieties and soon discovered a vast, little-known
genetic treasure. The project has grown to 8,000 members who work
to collect, maintain and distribute thousands of heirloom
vegetables and fruits. Each year SSE members offer twice as many
varieties as are available from the entire mail-order garden seed
industry in North America. Over three-quarters of a million
samples of heirloom seeds have been distributed many of which are
on the verge of extinction.
The headquarters of the SSE is six miles north of Decorah,
Iowa. This 860-acre farm is a living museum of historic
vegetables, flowers, herbs, cattle, and fruits. Thousands of
heirloom varieties are grown each summer in certified organic
gardens to keep the seed collection viable. More than 24,000 rare
vegetables, including 4,000 traditional varieties from Eastern
Europe and Russia, are being permanently maintained in the gardens
at Heritage Farm. Every summer about 500 tomatoes, 500 beans, and
125 peppers plus other heirloom vegetables are multiplied in 35
certified organic gardens.
The buildings on the farm are also a treasure. The Amish have
built a meeting center in the barn's cathedral-like loft. Also
greenhouses, seed storage, a root cellar, and offices are on the
grounds. The conference center showcases classic Amish oak post-
and-beam frame. Recently Amish carpenters completed the
construction of a Visitor's Center next to the gardens for
educational displays and a unique gift shop, offering a wide
selection of heirloom seeds and plants as well as other related
To receive a free color seed catalog including membership
information contact --
Seed Saver Exchange, 3070 North Winn Road, Decorah, Iowa 52101
phone: (563) 382-5990; Fax (563) 382-5872
Seed Saver Exchange website: <www.seedsavers.org>