Farm below white cliffs. Lee Co., VA.
February 1, 2014 Freedom through Non-Violence
Today is jointly designated National Freedom Day and Stop the Violence Day. Let's twin them. It seems hard to compare these two observances with what occurred on and around January 1, 1863 when the bloody Battle of Murfreesboro or Stone's River was waging. This was the very day when President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation took effect. The President had reached his constitutional limits when saying that all slaves were declared free in territories still in rebellion. For slaves, the prospect of liberation was unbelievable, and they only gradually realized that the struggle would not end with a President's pen stroke.
The long history of the march to freedom has often been accompanied by violence. We pray that the progress to greater freedom will cease being violent, for God makes us humans free in an act that is "very good" (Genesis 1:31). Our growth in freedom ought to be accompanied by profound gratitude to our Creator. We do this in the name of all creation which lacks the capability to freely render thanks. However, human freedom is fragile and can be weakened through wrongdoing, making us forgetful and addicted. Instead of giving thanks, we sometimes bring disharmony to the created order through our misdeeds.
We are free to do good or to do evil -- and that is part of the glory of being human. We do more than just what instinct or nature dictates. We can break out of the mold of rigid 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, in saying "yes" or "no" to the God who offers us a special covenant that includes our Earth herself.
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 all creatures on our fragile Earth. A false humility diminishes or belittles the special gifts that humans have and causes some to excuse themselves from struggles as servants of the Lord. Jesus tells his disciples not to scramble for places of honor as the worldly do. 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). Following Jesus, Christians are servants to plants and animals and all creatures. Mary shows the blessedness of her servant role: From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me... (Luke 2: 48-49a). We must not belittle our service but accept the assignment to heal and protect creatures and to champion an upcoming revolution.
Prayer: Lord, give us insight that freedom is to be achieved and maintained with effort and yet non-violently.
The miracle of light.
February 2, 2014 Presenting Christ Who Is Light
...because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel. (Luke 2:30-32)
Today, Jesus is presented in the Temple. On Candlemas Day we give special attention to a light given, present, and to come. We find encouragement in knowing that winter is half spent and that days are growing longer. We present Christ through candles that point our way to following him as light, imitating him in shining forth with brilliance, and showing that mysterious craving that came to us when fire was captured by our distant ancestors.
Christ is light as fulfilling insight. Simeon testifies to his own fulfillment in seeing the Lord as light of the world. In his wisdom Simeon has an insight of what the past has been and how it now arrives. He had prayed for this day all his life and when it comes, this very wise person shows that the child before him is the fulfillment of his dreams; he lives to see the Messiah. A fulfilled life gives comfort and is a precious moment for special gratitude. Light flooding the soul is an achievement and worthy of thanksgiving when centered in Christ.
Christ is light as our ongoing guide. Christ's presence in our midst in word and sacrament is guiding light reflecting through us to an awaiting world. He comes into a darkened world brought on by false allurements and distractions. He stands out as a lighthouse in a sea of disorder with guiding beacons showing the correct course and where rocks and shoals may wreck the voyage. Lighthouses must be lit at all times and thus require careful tending. Jesus is always with us, showing the way to good moral living, a guide of the first order, and we tend the lighthouse.
Christ is light as an enlivening ray. As photosynthetic light Christ gives the energy it needs to build up his Body, the Church. He is the prime agent of change or catalyst which energizes others to hasten the day of the Lord. He is a light of love, a transforming source changing the light of insight into the heat of action. The Lord has a burning heart of love for all, including the poor, the helpless, and those whose energy has been sapped. He exudes compassion or suffering with others. Simeon foretold that suffering would come before glory. A sword would pierce Mary's
heart as she enters with Jesus' redeeming mission.
Christ enlightens us to follow. A glorious sunset makes us anticipate a glorious new sunrise. The intervening darkness is preparation for what is to come: a foreshadowing of an eternal spring, when suffering will cease and there will be a glorious New Heaven and a New Earth.
Prayer: Lord, you are the promised one who has come; you are the present one who gives us meaning in our lives; you are the
future of our lives who will come again in glory.
Marigolds as natural pest-control agents.
February 3, 2014 Garden as Light to Others
As a continuation of Candlemas Day (February 2nd) we could decide to launch our new "garden year," but this depends on the zone and local weather conditions. One resolution is to grow a garden that demonstrates enlightened conditions as to resolute use, healthy produce, physical exercise, psychological wellbeing, and neighborliness through information and vegetable sharing. The many reasons for good gardening are emphasized once more, and these are worth noting to neighbors reluctant to use spade and hoe.
Gardens enlightening doers. A well-tended garden is a sign of love, effort, and care. We commit ourselves to staying balanced and healthy. Thus, our gardens become a commitment and word to ourselves and others of our intent to do something public. We testify that we love Earth, believe it will yield abundant harvest, and hope that this happens in this growing year. We are reinvigorated through gardening and the resulting produce. Through sharing produce and expertise we believe in the power of communion with land and with others, and we look more deeply into ourselves: we hear and answer the call to physical exercise; we learn to take our time and pace ourselves; we are consoled through joyful work.
Garden as lamp worth imitation. The garden can be like an illuminating instrument in among neighbors, many of whom have doubts about their own untried abilities. A gentle nudge may be all it takes: have them start slowly and invest in areas that are less prominent for view by the judgmental neighbors. It's best to start gardening with a little variety (to ensure against failure), but with emphasis on dependable produce: peas, potatoes, beans, peppers, radishes, onions, garlic, and corn (if sufficient land is available). Add tomatoes if not in regions of persistent blight. Success of the garden depends to some degree on the gardener's confidence, which is communicated somehow to the garden plants themselves. An unsure person will most likely have a bad garden -- and plants know it. Confidence grows through actual gardening.
Garden as light of the landscape. God's mystery unfolds in time through growing plants on a landscape being beautified. We humans enter into this mystery of God's creative act when we marvel at mystery in new life, whether a sprouting plant or a hatching chick, and add our hands to the process. Life, whether plant or animal, is a mystery that demands the wonder of a child. Here a growing garden helps us return to our deeper sense of God's mystery by reentering our childhood. At Eden, our ancient forebears loaded with guilt left the Garden of Paradise for a world of thorns and sweat. Through gardening we help return, enter more deeply in the mystery of life and re-create a new Eden.
Prayer: Lord, embolden us to seek mystery of plant growth as part of spiritual enhancement; make the garden a revelation unfolding before us, a space for listening, a chapel for healing, and a way to pray and share garden produce with others.
Delicious handful of freshly-picked persimmons.
February 4, 2014 Enjoy Native Persimmons in Many Ways
The persimmon (Diospyrus virginiana) is one of our native North American fruits (others are crabapple, pawpaw, and mulberry, along with wild plum and cherry plus many, many types of berries). The growing range of native persimmons is the Central and Southern Appalachians, the entire Southeastern United States, and across the Mississippi for several hundred miles into Texas and Oklahoma.
Persimmon trees often bear every other year and have either no harvest or a very abundant one with a moderate-sized tree yielding several bushels of what Appalachian people call "sugar plums." Those that fall on the ground after mid-summer and before frost can ripen to where they are tolerable. At this pre-harvest don't try picking and tasting the luscious-looking fruit directly from the tree -- or your mouth will shrivel. Yes, this very late fruit is edible in our parts from late October to and through January and into February. Suddenly in winter a hungry flock of birds decide to stop and strip the tree. An awesome sight!
Local young folks are reluctant to pick and eat persimmons since they are afraid of anything without a price tag and with a possible bitter taste. Neighboring kids told me their grandmother used to eat them (she passed on to the Lord), but they would not touch persimmons. Am I one of the remnant connoisseurs of native flavors? Nothing should be wasted and so each persimmon-bearing year I gather a few two-gallon batches for making a custard, used for baked goods and the surplus frozen for later use.
Persimmons are perfect for a variety of foods and even a punch drink. Persimmon pulp can be used as a custard and when making pie (even mixed pumpkin pie), pudding with brandy or bourbon sauce, bread, muffins, cheesecake, cookies, and cinnamon crumb and other cake creations. Recipes are found for spiced persimmon butter, persimmon apricot marmalade, arugula pear salad, and persimmon topping for ice cream. Freeing the pulp from the many seeds can be a chore. A slurry of the fruit can be pressed through a cloth filter that leaves the caps, skins, and plentiful seeds. Upon heating, the persimmon slurry turns into a thick, plum-colored sweet tasting custard. To make a pie I add several egg yokes, butter, vanilla, and cinnamon; this is baked at 400 degrees F. for a half hour in prepared pie shells.
Tasting is the gateway sense to enjoying our native fruits. We enhance our sensual experiences so we are more in tune with our Earth. A small attempt at culinary arts is an integral part of that spiritual striving to become one with our natural surroundings. We need to treasure God's creation, and one way to do so is to experience foods in various ways. Persimmons are the opposite of elderberries, which taste bland but are converted into wonderful pies and wines; persimmons are enjoyed best when eaten (after frost) off the tree, and baked goods are secondary.
Prayer: Lord, help us to make the best of our native fruits.
Stately silhouette of cedar. Taylor Co., KY.
February 5, 2014 Are We Frightened by a Possible Pandemic?
A cursory reading of the fourteenth century's Black Death through a series of pandemic episodes with heavy loss of life makes us wonder: could it happen again? Several times in the last decade a possible bird-flue epidemic has been considered highly likely. In this century in various nations millions of domestic fowl and other birds are being slaughtered; scattered farmers and especially children who have direct contact with their chickens become sick and a number have died. Elements of a pandemic are deemed present, alerts are given, and widespread disease prevented from spreading by emergency health measures. When such outbreaks occur we ask whether the disease will become a worldwide problem?
The Gamblers' Fallacy is 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 only do so much to mitigate it should it arise. We like to control things, especially our future healthy state. Have we become so institutionalized that we would like the big government to do something about this possible pandemic? Actually we can act:
* Be alert but don't panic. Prudent actions by individuals or small groups are considered by emergency planners to be a more sensible approach than to depend totally on anticipated government measures. Stay calm, and encourage others to do the same.
* Obey strict quarantines. Stay put, travel less and work at home. If a pandemic arises, regions may have to endure strict quarantines for the sake of all. It's never easy for the ones quarantined or other residents. Plane loads of tourists scramble to return home and this may add to panic and disease spread.
* Curb social and commercial interchanges. Keep youth at home and avoid added person-to-person contact. Here the social media can help and even include promoting home computer games over the networks. Curbing person-to-person contact could delay or halt the spread of an epidemic, and so laying in a stockpile of basic food items (mentioned elsewhere as part of emergency preparedness), minimizes the need to go shopping. Provide a buddy system for those neighbors who lack adequate mobility.
* Take direct preventative measures. 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 a specific mutated virus. Vaccines may lower bad effects of the flu without providing outright total protection. Routine protection of face masks and hand washing must be encouraged. Total isolation is not a perfect approach at such a time; stay close and concerned about immediate neighbors. Connect with worried loved ones via phone and social media.
Prayer: Lord, protect us both from a possible pandemic, and
help us encourage others when such an event occurs.
Sandstone-limestone contact zone. Carter Co., KY.
February 6, 2014 American Mobility Never Ceases
We Americans have always been a mobile people and our nation has welcomed the immigrant and stranger. We move about and some of this change of location is reflected in each decennial census. This rising American population alarms some, especially those who think the Hispanic and Asians will form a tidal wave of undocumented workers who will overwhelm the Anglo culture. Fearful people want regulations and border walls while the more balanced want stalled migration legislation to give proper status to the 11 million undocumented workers and families.
In the 1790s, the covered wagons and log rafts brought tens of thousands westward through the Cumberland Gap and down the Ohio River. That westward movement continued throughout the nineteenth century over the Oregon Trail, the Santa Fe route, and many other trails, rivers and railroads. Most of us can honestly say our own ancestors were part of the waves of people coming for a better life. Once the major portions of farmland were settled, interstate and intrastate mobility was directed to urban areas. However, the 1980 Census was the first census in 160 years to show a rural population growth rate that exceeded the urban one. The shift has somewhat leveled off in succeeding censuses but depends on factors: ups and downs of rural resource extractive employment, increased decentralized manufacturing, desire to work at home in scenic areas, merits of small-town living and back-to-land movements, retirement patterns in Florida, Arizona, the Ozarks and Southern Appalachians, and desire to avoid congested areas.
These dispersal factors are still changing in the twenty-first century: much small town industry has been hard hit by outsourcing to other lands; extractive employment has not fared well due to increased mechanization; and certain successful gentrification and metropolitan areas have expanded and incorporated some of the sprawled populations in suburbia and beyond. Americans continue to move to small towns for quality living (though gasoline prices and congestion may reduce longer distance commuter movement). Retirees will continue to return home or find enticing rural locations.
One-fifth of Americans move each year and the pattern continues unabated. We need to continue being a welcoming nation for refugees; we should assist people who seek better living situations; we should strive to save local industries and services from precipitous closures and resulting disruptions. The Hispanics and Asians call for fair Federal legislation. Curbing population movement could restrict our freedom. On the other hand, from a global standpoint, it is not right to attract professionals from developing nations and deplete their own limited pool of highly trained personnel -- Haiti has more of their medical doctors in North America than in their homeland. How can we both welcome some and encourage others to stay at home? That is a complex problem.
Prayer: Lord, help us continue to welcome the multitudes who
seek freedom in our land with a spirit of hospitality.
A quiet walk through the park. Laurel Co., KY.
February 7, 2014 Charles Dickens: Man of Letters and Compassion
On Charles Dickens' birthday (1812-1870), we recall that this famous English writer recognized the shameful conditions of his own country's rise through industrialization. Dickens knew these first hand for he worked at age twelve in a blacking factory in London while his father was in debtors' prison. Dickens learned to grow up with social compassion -- suffering with others who have experienced some of the same conditions that he knew. Dickens's concern expressed itself in his works 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). Through his characters he showed poverty's ravages and need for social reforms.
Month of eco-compassion If at times we seek to emphasize earthhealing characteristics, then February with its overly long winter season is a perfect time to introduce compassion. Certainly most of us suffer in some degree from cabin fever, a major malady of February. Let's expand our concern, for eco-compassion relates to a wounded Earth herself. We become more aware of the pain involved in our fragile Earth when the snow coverlet melts and Earth's wounds become more visible to us again -- and this calls for eco-compassion, a subset of social compassion.
Earthhealing must be sensitive to troubles around us and this compassion imitates the process of God's redeeming love coming to us. Jesus shows this love in his suffering and death on the cross. Some talk knowingly about compassion found in Buddhism or other religious traditions, from primitive religions of Oceania, Africa, and Latin America. All people who touch and feel the rhythms of Earth sense a compatible spirit that moves our natural world. A balanced spiritual life leads to a harmony with Earth that is worth celebrating. Our striving to join forces with others extends our compassion to all people and Earth herself.
The Good News is that we not only have what others lack, but we need some of the good things that others hold dear. We are willing to open ourselves to a communication involving sharing what God has given us in Christ. We ought to open our hearts to enhance our giving glory to God by baptizing the ecological harmony that primitive people possess and often remains unseen. Compassion is a virtue always in need of improvement, and primitive peoples who treat the land respectfully can help teach us.
We, as servants of the Lord, are to take the goodness found in all deeds of compassionate harmony and celebrate it in the public agenda of religious practice and Liturgy. Good News says "yes" to the God who creates all people with their own unique experiences. We offer their good actions in union with the suffering Christ; we take compassion to the altar amid many cultural flavors.
Prayer: Lord, help us learn from perceptive writers and other
cultures a growing sense of compassion so needed in Earthhealing.
Listen to ripples in the stream.
February 8, 2014 When Does Education Become a Racket?
In this century, students are saddled with trillions of dollars in debts owed for college and professional education. Individuals are paying tens of thousands of dollars in tuition and other collegiate expenses each year. Is it worth the expense, or are people led to believe that all that expenditure is preparing them for jobs and a good life ahead? The profit-making "universities" flourish on the craving by some for degrees and sufficient background materials. Could the prospective student handle programs through correspondence, Internet, or tutorial routes? Is the rush for a social status symbol of "college" worth it in the long run?
Formal basic education? Recall that taking notes in classes started in the Middle Ages when books were scarce and study materials hard to obtain. Certainly, formal classes, reports, testing, and grading render some degree of proficiency, especially in younger years. Laboratory work, language and math skills and training and various professional requirements are certainly needed -- but why all those lectures when literate and motivated folks could do so much with readily available materials on their own at far lower costs? Because motivation is a needed component, we realize that younger people need to be disciplined through schooling, though private studies are successful alternatives.
Formal higher education? Entire college structures in expensive higher educational subjects (with people living on campuses and engaged in athletic competition, extra curriculars, and joint fun) are luxuries many can ill afford. Teaching becomes an uncomfortable exercise when so many students hurt with high expenses. Consider leaving a liberal education until later in life. Why force formal education on those who see value in deferring it to later? Work/study programs are good for determining how much further one wants to go in education. Discernment requires some positive insight or the negative insight -- "this ain't for me." However, good counseling and discussion with experienced professionals could be better than formal program investment that is not useful. Don't panic like others.
Ongoing education? We need to keep learning but must we have expensive seminars and ongoing programs if the motivation is right to do things on our own? Much can be learned in the quiet of home with the TV turned off and good motivation turned on. For the intellectual life we need "ongoing" education but with information and teaching skills available over the Internet, why spend all the time and expenses of attending costly seminars? Professions may make demands but your ongoing education should suit your current goals and ambitions. If you know what you want, take informal measures to get it, and save money, time, and any stress.
Prayer: Lord, help our people to see how much of what is termed "education" is enticement to spend money in areas that can
be accessed without major outlays of money. It's a racket!
Travertine cliffs on limestone in the Bluegrass region, KY.
February 9, 2014 Being Present As Christ's Light
You are the Light of the world. (Matthew 5:13-16)
This is a deliberate replay of last Sunday where we had the feast of the Presentation in the Temple. We also called this Candlemas Day, for these show the light of Christ burning in our hearts. If Christ is light and we imitate him, then we are also light to past events, present companionship, and future glory. We are faithful witnesses to great events in our past as Simeon was at the first presentation; we are living symbols of Christ's sacramental presence in our lives today; our deeds are light in themselves that are part of the glory of the dawn of a new day.
Light as public guide. Jesus tells us that we are like a city set on a mountain (or like a lighthouse) for all to see. We are public witnesses, faithful instruments who do not fade but like us continue burning faithfully; thus, witnesses can count on the ongoing good deeds that they deserve to see publicly. As light from Light through our Baptism we must show others that the Light of the world who was promised has come to be. We become the new lamp that must be kept from dimming; others count on our lamp's guiding rays. They fear darkness and search for powerful pinpoints of light, the signs that God's enlightened promises have come.
Light as a furnace of love. Paul speaks (I Corinthians 2:1-5) of not convincing by words of wisdom but by the power of the spirit at work -- a demonstration of God's enthusiastic presence in our lives. Christ's light is a spiritual photosynthetic process resulting in growth of us as the Lord's instruments -- furnaces of love. We are to burn with the same Spirit that hovered over the first Pentecost. We are a full spectrum of spiritual sunlight through our loving deeds that can warm and melt the hearts of those to whom we witness.
Light as a new dawn of glory. Isaiah (58:7-10) tells us that we are to share our bread with the hungry and to shelter the oppressed, and therein our light will break forth like the dawn. We usher in the glory of the Lord through our deeds of concern for others -- thus, giving greater glory to God. Why let greed rule our world? If we are to hasten the day of the Lord, this means it comes through the patience of God along with the good deeds we perform for the needy through divine grace. The light of the glory is not occurring apart from human activity; God is bringing forth a New Heaven and New Earth, but not in a way in which we are mere bystanders. Through Baptism we are called to be participants in the coming of the Kingdom, and our deeds are light being transformed into energetic activity. As lights of Christ we testify to a glory of the new light dawning for all to see.
Prayer: Lord, help us to realize the strength of the light that we are given in Christ, and help us to extend the rays of this emerging glory to others around us, and turn it into meaningful action.
Melting ice along rock outcrop.
February 10, 2014 Physical Exercising for Health
Each of us should choose a type of physical exercise (PE) for our own health and wellbeing, according to our own tastes and abilities. PE may be walking, biking, swimming, rowing, skiing, running, or any of a number of other good practices. For youth, PE demands breaking away from TV or computer games long enough to get exercise, fresh air, and full spectrum sunlight. But exercise is meant for adults as well; everyone needs PE with some emphasis on doing this in the great outdoors. Let's not forget that this is February cabin fever season (when winter seems never to end). Tensions vanish in sunlight and fresh air. Yes, some folks lack mobility or find sharp weather a good excuse for putting PE off until spring. Certainly an indoor workout at home or at a gym using aerobatics and exercise machines is the next best thing. There are creative exercises for the wheelchair- or walker-bound.
For much of my life I preferred jogging --even before the word was commonly used in the 1950s. Ultimately, I abandoned this satisfying exercise when my back ached and I tried different shoes and elastic jogging belts. Traffic and air pollution are problems for many joggers but I was blessed most of my jogging days with low-volume roads, greenspace, unused parks, and footpaths. The scenery was a blessing that is still appreciated when jogging is reduced to walking when weather permits. A difficulty with jogging is that one is more prone to stumble and fall on slippery paths.
Walking or longer distance hiking really has much the same exhilaration as jogging, though a good sweat may be less likely; much depends on the pace, terrain, and length of time taken. Many like the early morning, my favorite time, or the late evening before darkness. Walkers can don snow or rain gear and endure a wider range of conditions when joggers may find speed too risky. Watching one's step demands a trade off away from watching the surrounding scenes. More vigorous PE allows one to sweat out salt and toxic substances, helps refresh lungs, lowers blood pressure, controls weight gain, and reduces anxiety and edginess brought on by everyday stress. And there are still more good reasons as well.
There is so much written about PE -- types of shoes, gear, and clothing, care for legs, how much time to spend in warm-ups, competitive events, what to eat before exercising, medications, etc. Many people refuse to exercise outdoors in areas that are downright dangerous through traffic and air pollutants. Many find it stressful to compete or join with others who like different speeds or routes. Fine, consider competing against yourself over a period of time, as long as the selected PE is not too boring. Consider keeping a log and striving to beat old personal records in length or time or distance. Some, however, may prefer PE that is so repetitious that one can meditate and pray without much extra attention. All in all, the spiritual and physical need balancing.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us with a motivation needed to fulfill demands for daily PE to help maintain our spiritual balance.
Hands-on discovery in outdoor classroom.
February 11, 2014 Celebrate Inventor's Day by Using Our Hands
On this birthday of inventor Thomas A. Edison it is a challenging time for us non-patent seekers to count how may times we use our hands today. Dexterity may be denied the handless, those with arthritis or other impairments. If gifted with workable hands let's consider how much being human and sharing with others depends on what we can do with our hands: cook, play, feed others, hoe, spade, rake leaves, shovel snow, hammer, operate a chain saw, shoot, sew, paint, mold, quilt, draw, type, sculpt, wood carve, pray, punch a keyboard, unlock a door, comb, scrub, play instruments, and on and on. See Appalachian Sensations: A Journey through the Seasons and the "Hands of Appalachia."
Some regard their hand-using specialty as something so unique that it deserves their fingerprint as a label. One wag says, "They'll invent a way to copyright an individual's tattoo skills." How about counting the number of different ways you solve a problem with the use of hands (e.g., unloosening a cap on a bottle, fishing out a pickle from the jar, shaking hands, tying shoelaces, or rearranging a table setting)? It might be multi-tasking, but not hopefully texting while driving. I rarely but still "stand on my hands" by putting my knees on my elbows in a crouched position. 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, hands were no longer used for locomotion except among very small infants. And think of one-year-olds' joy when walking upright -- and can handle everything around them.
Hands that can be used in service of others have that special human function of enhancing quality of life. Grabbing and beating gives way to delivering gifts to others, hugging, and patting the fevered brow. Learning and using sign language is beneficial service to and with the deaf, whereas giving an obscene sign has the opposite effect. Think about service: operating surgically, playing cards with others, nursing with compassion, emptying a bed pan, directing traffic, gesturing while talking if we do not know how to say it with emphasis, directing a symphony, or acting in a play. You get the picture; there are many traditional ways to be of service, and hands have their special place in caregiving.
Some non-traditional hand use exists. We can 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. Our hands could be the key to success. Few regard the work of our hands as godly work, but so it is. As Teresa of Avila says, we can become the Lord's hands in the work done for others. Furthermore, this is trinitarian work of head knowing, heart loving, and hands doing good. Earth certainly needs healing through use of our hands. We can become the hands-on inventors of a restored Earth.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be creative and thus imitate your creative hand in our universe.
Reflecting Pool, Lincoln Memorial.
(*Photo by Santi Diaz, Creative Commons)
February 12, 2014 Reflections at the Lincoln Memorial
On Lincoln's birthday it is always good to think of a Lincoln story, though most have been told and retold in literally thousands of books about this fascinating man. How about dwelling on him with his DC Memorial in the background? Better than that, consider a verse or so that becomes a living memorial that can move about the countryside as you journey through life?
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,
Living simply 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 make all humans free,
Antietam's guns, presidential decree.
When that Civil War was truly won,
Booth's bullet laid him; Thy will be done.
What we gain from Abe's disquieted life
Is to boldly face inevitable strife;
Don't disguise big questions, let them be.
Shouldn't all the indebted 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.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to work at expanding the freedom of all, to help save the wealthy by liberating them from their burdens in a non-violent fashion, and to redistribute the commons that belong to all. Let Lincoln and others who work for freedom be our guides.
Bouquet for a friend.
February 13, 2014 Take Notice of 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"
Recently I came out of a store with groceries and, as happens more with elders, I stumbled on a curbing block and had a spill. In going down slowly I let go of a gallon jar of pickles that rolled out across the parking lot -- fortunately uncracked. A good fellow retrieved it quickly from under a car, and a number of other shoppers stopped and helped me reassemble the spilled groceries with little actual damage except to my pride. One kind soul asked to inspect my hands to see if skin was broken and, though aches lasted a week, the kindnesses done were graciously received and have persisted. Thank heavens all ended well.
Really, each act of kindness adds up to what is called the "good life." All seek this state in some fashion and yet do not avert to the fact it takes acts upon acts to sustain it. Yes, the lives of saints include their doing service for others, often heroic service; they are able to live the good life without being conscious that they were doing anything extraordinary. Likewise, we who are not extraordinary need to do the same, ordinary acts that morph into extraordinary though unpublicized fidelity.
Wordsworth's unremembered and nameless acts of kindness are thus the best part of life -- not the accidental spills and the regrettable acts of meanness that we perpetrated in our long journey. We must give ourselves a little relief: we may not remember our small but good deeds, like holding the door for someone or showing hospitality to strangers who seem lost. These unremembered acts make us kinder, gentler, and pledged to civility. Should we record our little random acts? At first thought, let's leave the recording to God 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 can be said.
Let's expand the scope of acts of kindness to include other creatures and healing Earth herself. These include deliberate or random acts such as gardening, composting and mulching, recycling, insulating, and collecting litter. "Acts of kindness" means to refrain from being mean, accusing, embarrassing, or condescending -- even when so tempted. However, such acts must expand to petitioning redress of grievances and halting environmental damage. Accepting our human condition and its consequence of greed and wastefulness demands that kindness include public interest action and Earth healing. We care; we challenge the careless; few record or applaud such kindnesses -- but God does.
Prayer: Lord, allow our acts of kindness to broaden to greater awareness of society's needs; help us serve others in nameless ways and yet treasure randomness for the sake of a better world.
Valentine's Day visit to Kentucky greenhouse.
February 14, 2014 Saints Valentine, Cyril, and Methodius
Yes, it is Valentine's Day, but many in the secular world leave off "Saint" even though we continue Santa Claus (St. Nicholas) on December 6th and St. Patrick on March 17th. In fact, that Valentine feast was suppressed in the 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar by the Catholic Church while the other two are still celebrated religiously and secularly. And Valentine is not celebrated in Orthodox and Anglican churches as well. Although veneration of "Saint" Valentine goes back into the distant past, our knowledge is sketchy. Apparently he was martyred, most likely on the Flaminian Way just outside Rome during Decian's persecution about 250 A.D. This information is in some of the oldest Roman martyrologies (lists of martyrs). However, sending "valentines" has a misty past, but certainly continues in America.
Actually, we have a recognized saints' feast on February 14th of 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 were declared as the patrons of Europe by Pope 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.
The ministry of Cyril and Methodius was within the present nations of the Czech Republic and much of the Balkans. It was Cyril who invented the Slavonic alphabet (Cyrillic), and the two brothers translated the Bible and the Liturgy into Slavonic, which they advocated for use in the Divine Services of the Church. Use of Slavonic was initiated, and Cyril died a short while later while in Rome. Methodius was ordained and later made bishop, but he had to endure many troubles with German and Hungarian political and religious leaders, which struggles 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 Eastern Catholic and Orthodox. In his last years of life Methodius was able to complete the translation of the Bible into Slavonic.
We are not sure of the immediate success of Valentine, but no one doubts 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 left his mark. Maybe the love expressed by so many was a continuation of the love that he showed as a witness to the Lord and to his neighbor. In some ways he represents the tireless love of both special and forgotten people, who really are the glue that binds so many communities together. We really need both kinds of saints.
Prayer: Lord, we rejoice in the memory and intercession of the great holy people who we regard as true Earthhealers.
February scene of ice and snow.
February 15, 2014 Vibrational Pollution and Effects
Ground vibrations have been known since before human beings first walked a dancing Earth; these movements are now identified as the seismic tremors of earthquakes and their after-shocks -- reality, but hardly pollution that is human-caused. Yes, we people and frightened animals can be victims, due to being in the wrong place or not making adequate preparations for earthquakes. Today we know more about natural and human-caused vibrations, and still they can be costly to nerves, property, and lives.
Vibrational pollution includes the tremors caused by human operations, whether the rumble of traffic or shells exploding, or the thunder of road excavation or above or underground mining exploding blasting materials. They include the sonic booms of faster than sound planes overhead and the peal of overly large church bells. Vast quantities of blasting material are used each year to remove the overburden that is above minable coal seams. Often that might be called "soft" coal, but try picking at a seam with a hand tool. Blasting materials are liberally applied.
Blasting and vibrational activity do not come without a cost. Aquifers can be ruptured in such localized blasting, and thus community water sources can easily be contaminated. Foundations of buildings crack, and land settles, affecting the structures on unstable building sites. Property 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 can be hurt if within range, and examples have occurred of injury and death due to blasted materials acting like missiles.
Thirty-six years ago, one of ASPI's first projects was holding a national conference on the effects of using large quantities of blasting materials in surface mining operations. Residences and water wells in the vicinity of the Appalachian mining operations were affected in large numbers. Now in surface mining areas there is a requirement to perform pre-blast surveys on homes and water wells near the mining operations. On this requirement we spoke before Congressional committees on the Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act and encouraged local residents to keep accurate records of damage done during blasting and mining operations. Compensation is hard to quantify.
Vibration pollution occurs on crowded highways and near airports. The consistent shaking of buildings, even from undampened bells or in dance halls or at bridges from marching feet can result in structural damage that can lead to collapse. And then there is the often unconsidered tension and nerve damage done to people experiencing vibrational pollution. A little percussion from clanging cymbals and drums may add to the beat of our life rhythms, but too much can wear us down. Tone down, tone them down.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to hear our heartbeat and know that we
must keep it steady for the gift of life has its normal vibrations.
Sunflower with seeds, food for winter birds.
February 16, 2014 Fulfilling the Law Is Freedom to Serve
I have come not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:20)
Jesus elevates the meaning and thrust of the law and prophets. The times seem always to be urgent; he speaks of the need to serve those in need; we too have only one life and thus must do our best to serve to the maximum out of our love of God and in gratitude for what God has done for us. However, imperfections stand in our way, but God gives us sacramental life needed for our journey in life. Rules and regulations taken positively are our expressions of love in following Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life. Effectiveness in perfect service is rooted in Christ's fulfillment of the law. We are not only faithful to God's law but faithful to the way of expressing our love (not our deserved punishment); that's a more perfect fulfilling motivation. Then, through love a maturing faith moves us forward.
Freedom to choose life over death is Sirach's message. We can stretch out our hand to fire and water, one will burn and the other give refreshment. The choice of doing good is with us as part of the God-given freedom each of us finds before us. As responsible people we do not deny the need to act, excuse ourselves for what is before us, or seek to escape from the responsibility involved. Each of us is called to fulfill the lives we are living, and this is done by working through the Grace of God for what benefits all, not through selfish motivation. Thus our fulfillment involves opening ourselves to grace and looking beyond self for the good of all taken as one people -- social good.
Regulations become the road signs of life. St. Paul gives us the reason for our maturing motivation, that is, to be drawn to the mystery of God's goodness and love. As responsible people we need the openness wherein the Spirit works with us; we are liberated for freedom for good and not freedom from certain restrictions. Our freedom is to follow the road signs on life's journey telling us what to avoid, to avoid detours that can consume our time and energy, and turn us away from the goals up ahead. If we are bent on assisting others, we soon learn that some forms of service are imperfect and lead us astray, and thus the need to keep eyes alert and open to the vigilance wherein the Spirit directs us.
Christ's call to perfection is a voice heard in our journey of life. It goes beyond refraining from murder; it includes ridding ourselves of hostility to neighbor. We are to praise God and bless others and not be abusive to them in any way. The call to do this was made to the rich man who obeyed the commandments. Jesus tells him if he is to be perfect, he must give up all and follow him. That is the clear call coming to us as well in our troubled times.
Prayer: Lord, teach us that fulfilling the law and prophets comes through desiring and doing loving service for others, and to seek to improve that service through maturing.
Scenes from Abraham Lincoln's New Salem
(*Photo by Mark Spencer)
February 17, 2014 Remember Presidents' Day
On this Presidents' Day let's look beyond prominent individuals, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln with their February birthdays; let's include all American presidents. Back when young, our bank calendar had pictures of each president on his birthday, but I used to think some were hardly worth mentioning. Earlier stamp collectors remember the 1940s series of presidential stamps, from one cent for Washington through the sixteen-cent Lincoln stamp and each person according to the numerical order of the presidency up to FDR. There was even a half-cent for Ben Franklin, a booby prize for being a founder but not president. I recall 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, for there were fewer of them in that 947-year-period than there are presidents in our 226-year-period. Those three long-living queens (Elizabeth I, Victoria, and Elizabeth II, along with infamous George III) made the English task a little bit easier to remember. Most of those monarchs with their life terms died in office. Yes, the four-year terms of American presidents result in numerous shorter office 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 one resigned, and the number of presidents mount rapidly. Long-term office spans do not accompany the American presidency, with our constitution limiting each to two terms.
American history ought to be a popular subject, but few remember more than a handful of presidents and fewer still their sequence in office. We ought to know what brought them to the presidency, their individual personalities, conduct while in office, and how history judges their decisions and policies. In knowing our presidents we know the benefits and shortcomings found in our American history. We ought to pray for our present national leaders even when we may disagree with their political stands on certain issues. The presidency is influential; it sets a tone, a reason for citizens to curb their excesses, and grounds for growth in a solid patriotic spirit. The policies these individual leaders undertake -- even granting checks and balances of the legislative and judiciary branches -- affect all Americans and beyond.
With limited powers and under a watchful eye of democratic citizens, the American presidency has been unique. In 1788, democratically elected head-of-state of a new republic challenged a king of the world's most powerful nation; Washington fulfilled his second term and then retired. The American president is the commander-in-chief of military forces, now the world's largest. It always takes effort to check the temptation to imperial rule.
Prayer: Lord, give us respect for authority, a sense of respect, and also a willingness to exercise our civic oversight.
Glacier near Stuart, BC, against green mountains.
February 18, 2014 Contesting Faulty Consumer Products
Every consumer deserves high quality, long-lasting products; these commercial goods should perform according to the enticing advertisements and explanatory materials. We deserve what we paid for; quite often junk lasts a short time and is discarded, being costly to the consumer as well as wasting resources in the production and more in the disposal of discards. All lose except profiteers making the junk. One way to reduce such careless practices is to complain about faulty materials or services we have paid for.
Here are some simple steps given through the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs at the White House. Consider composing a letter after gathering basic information and finding (on the Internet) the specific person and address for the company that made the product.
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 documents).
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).
Include as many details as possible, giving the history of the problem, and asking for satisfactory action within a reasonable time. Use regular mail rather than e-mail. Keep copies of your letter of complaint along with related documents. Good luck!
Prayer: Lord, help us to be observant and proactive and yet not vindictive and overly emotional.
February snows in Kentucky knobs.
February 19, 2014 Consider Authentic Puzzles
Why get pleasure out of constructed puzzles for which the creators already know the solutions? You may enjoy these constructs, but think about another more enjoyable 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 an underground water supply to the exact migration routes of your local wildlife. Yes, some puzzles are unappealing or trivial. And some have scientific and social merit and are also 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 upon further investigation. In those pre-personal computer days, some of the work of calculating how much energy went into every consumer product, service, and practice of American modern life were estimated with difficulty. However, the trouble was whether service or artifact was performed or used by and for the individual possessor/consumer. Do you charge the caregiver or the one who receives care for fuel costs in a visit? Individualizing services was further complicated in dealing with military defense (either to the armed-service person or prorated to all Americans and others who benefit from the defense system).
Ethnic Atlas -- This book, available through Brassica Books (Ethnic Atlas of the United States) is the result of over three decades of off-and-on puzzle work. This subject became entertaining even while requiring immense effort. Just what is the ethnic picture of our nation and how has it changed over four decades? 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. The changes can be plotted on a decade-by-decade image comparison, as has been done for 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010.
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 a smoking stage, then the discovery of tobacco's polluting effects in the 1970s, and finally 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. Results are available through Tobacco Days (see publications listing on this website).
Attitudinal Changes -- My change of attitude over tobacco is now being traced in two projects that are on-going, related to the ownership and use of guns and in a similar way the changes in my understanding of environmental action. Both of these projects will be completed this year. Stay attuned for postings.
Prayer: Lord, give us the grace to comprehend real puzzles and to become concerned about their solutions.
Patterns in Kentucky creek.
February 20, 2014 Sharing and World Day of Social Justice
On this World Day of Social Justice we are moved to couple the concepts of sharing with essential needs of the world's people and all creatures. This thrust goes beyond individual self-interest, whether "enlightened" or otherwise; rather, this coupling is the foundation of a public interest that is for the common good. In Reclaiming the Commons we speak of a global sharing that needs to really start at home or on the local level and become a contagious attitude (a ripple effect) spilling out into wider concentric circles as it spreads across the globe. Sharing resources to address domestic and local problems is a key to success, but we must be willing to share effort to listen, time to spend, and energy to make materials and services available to others.
Common equipment -- Inside our homes we can learn to share items such as electronic devices, storage space, and rest areas. In our communities local and beyond we could learn to share a variety of privately-held large and small items, from summer homes and recreational vehicles to chainsaws and ladders. Obviously, sharing such items presents difficulties as to care, availability, access, and storage. However, a person who owns or is in charge of communal property is more inclined to seeing that the shared materials are properly maintained.
Common space. Certain seasonally used items such as garden tillers and leaf and brush choppers could be owned in common by a neighborhood community. However, common property demands higher levels of organization and may require common maintenance and storage space such as town halls, libraries, or fire departments. However, a survey may discover unused common space or private space, though owners may have disproportionate control. Far better is to rent space in the name of the community or to resort to private goods being used in the fashion of motels, equipment leasing firms, or car rentals. Sharing procedures may demand legal advice and community-determined regulations.
Common services. In this age of specialties, community projects can generally work better through the sharing of more than mere equipment and space: services such as bookkeeping, accounting, telephone answering, publicity, website design, interior decoration and art work, repair of buildings, interior and grounds management, and security services may also be shared. Volunteer services through retirees and others are highly desirable, but in hard times many must have a job, and so payment of services may be the best procedure to foster employment opportunities. Certainly, expertise by volunteer retirees is highly prized in such areas as financial management, tax preparation, literacy training, hospice, or project supervision, chaplaincy work, and auditing. Sharing is becoming a major determinate in a higher quality of life, and so this must be emphasized in our individualized and greedy world.
Prayer: Give us, Lord, sensitivity to see needs, patience to cooperate, and energy to share talents with others near and far.
Exploring the forest floor.
February 21, 2014 Tackling Our Present Troubles
I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.
Troubles are present to us and we face a host of beneficial ways to deal with them. Some of these include the following:
Through direct confrontation with the trouble -- A trouble can come in many forms, from personal health and safety to international battles and wars. Part of our own spiritual growth and maturation is to face troubles directly when they come, either as individuals or as a nation. We ought to avoid denying their existence, excusing ourselves from the fray, or seeking to escape through allurements; taking these three steps demands steadfastness in faith and a balance in our lives individually and collectively.
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 a last resort. It was the method for dealing with leprosy in Chapter 13 of the Book of Leviticus and continued through New Testament times and through incarceration and mental health treatments today. The outcast status was the result of the inability of people to control troubling issues, from orphans to delinquents. Potential epidemics may have to be tackled by isolation today -- but it is always traumatic for victims to be declared unclean and apart from others.
Through compassionate action -- Jesus knows leprosy is pitiful and has compassion for the leper; he approaches and cures him. The cleansed leper is expected to appear, according to the Mosaic Law, and be declared cured so that the social outcast status can be lifted. The cured leper is charged by Jesus not to tell anyone about his cure, but to carry out the prescriptions quietly. However, as might be humanly expected, the cured fellow bubbles over with excitement and so reveals his healing. Thus, in disobeying, the healed person hinders Jesus' preaching mission. Compassionate action comes at a price.
Through riding with the tide -- In this month of Lincoln we recall the troubles of our nation during the Civil War and specifically freeing the slaves -- both a human rights and a property issue. Lincoln had opposition from his own family, political party, and Congress, along with a personal struggle as he searched his soul for a solution. Through the Emancipation Proclamation he eventually frees all slaves in territories then in rebellion and leaves the remaining slaves for the amended constitution with all its drama. Lincoln's hands trembled so much on signing that Proclamation that he had to pause on that busy January 1st, 1863. But that document was long awaited.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to show compassion as best we can; help us confront troubles and welcome whatever you choose to give us in the remaining years of our lives.
Starling braves the winter chill.
(*Photo by Sally Ramsdell)
February 22, 2014 St. Peter, Model for Us All
Saint Peter appears very prominently in the four Gospels, in Acts of the Apostles, and in his own letters. Through these writings we can trace a 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 over time he is purified by the Lord slowly and patiently. Peter starts to follow Jesus with his whole heart and begins to see Jesus as the Christ, and then the unworthiness of his own calling. "Depart from me, Lord for I am a sinful man."
The initial call to follow Jesus comes after Peter's own established career of being a fisherman and a married man. Peter receives 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 Jesus three times. Peter is soon to witness Pentecost and is impelled by the Spirit to go out to all the world. On a post-Easter occasion when confronting Peter, Jesus says he will be led where he does not want to go, thus signifying the manner of Peter's death by martyrdom.
Peter is a person who at times is discouraged through overwork. "We have worked all night and caught nothing." Isn't this the story of our own lives, how we spin 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 initial success of the whole Church, with the emerging of the mission to the whole world that includes Gentiles. Peter stands out as a greater model than first anticipated. He is ordinary in comparison with others living in the Roman Empire of his day. Others are far better educated, closer to the center of power, more agile and political, or more creative. Why so specially chosen? Peter is tough; he is deeply devoted, but at first not totally loyal when frightened; he is honest; he is homespun, impulsive, gentle, humble, and with an openness to grow in faith. Peter appears ordinary and so we like him all the more. However, we do need extraordinary saints, and in Peter we find emerging greatness that comes with a struggle.
Like Peter we ought to be willing to grow in faith. We too 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 according to our personalities. We have our starts and stops, affirmations and denials, impulsive defenses and retreats. We recognize our sinfulness and our weaknesses; we may work all night and catch nothing; we are asked to leave everything and follow Jesus. God molds us, transforms us and makes us into instruments of divine grace. St. Peter blazes the Christian path.
Prayer: Lord, through Peter's intercession help us grow in faith and be witness to you in our journey of life, even going where we do not want to go.
Ice begins to melt in February sun.
February 23, 2014 Striving for Divine Perfection amid Imperfection
You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
Jesus gives us a tall order, something that is a goal and yet we know full well that we are not perfect. The goal is to acquire the level of divine perfection -- to become godly. Yes, goals are worth striving for, even when not fully attainable in this life and may await eternal life ahead. We hear what Jesus says as immediately applicable for attaining this divine perfection -- to love all including our enemies.
Love of God and love of neighbor are the two great commandments. God so loves all the divine handiwork in creation, and loves us so much that his son comes to us and gives up his human life in utter ignominy on the cross as the ultimate expression of love; he dies for us while we are imperfect and sinners. We are called to not only love the perfect, but the imperfect as well. God calls us to love those who freely choose to miss the mark and continue in wrongdoing.
God loves us all and so ought we to love all. However, here is where godly simplicity becomes humanly complex, for our imperfections really complicate the world around us. It seems so simple to state that we must love all -- but living this mandate is another matter. They step on my toes and that hurts, and so in my pain I do not wish them well -- and that becomes my deep imperfection. Yes, they are my enemy, but I still must love them. In my head I know it, but in my heart I hold the grievances that are so very difficult to purge. Some call it thick-skinned to take the dislikes of others and ignore them, but the paradox is that in seeking to imitate divine love, I discover islands of my selfishness when trying to be sensitive to the actions of others.
Dislikes that become the sticks and stones that break my bones are hurtful; so are unpleasant and belittling words of who I am and what I am trying to do. I am not stoic; I like to be loved because this helps me to love others in the vast sea of divine love. But I hold back because desert islands tempt me to beach myself and lick my wounds. I avoid the healing power of that ocean of divine love for the dry beach of self-ego and selfishness, the complex introspection and idolatry that inherently limits love.
We return to the words of Jesus to follow him even when it is hard to do so. We each have our separate path, for God created each of us with a certain unique character; however, we do not take this path alone, for God is with us. There are a number of beatitudes (peacemaking, pure of heart, etc.) that focus on individuals who have certain journeys to perfection dealing with their own talents; few other than Jesus are so multiply blessed.
Prayer: Lord, help us span the distances that separate us from you, and thus strive to be immersed in the sea of divine love.
Warming up to a greenhouse visit.
February 24, 2014 Help Establish Global Peace
Yesterday was Peace & World Understanding Day. It appears to be a tall order; global peace is almost beyond our own grasp in a world of multiple conflicts. We recall in the hundredth anniversary year of the "Great War" (the First World War) that was to end all wars; then it was followed in two decades by a Second World War that was worst than the First. With these failures in mind, we reaffirm the basic goal that global peace is possible. This takes faith that with the help of God the world can come and live together as brothers and sisters. But we must have faith!
Believe that peace can come. Beyond a trust that this peace is possible is understanding different ways of bringing about peace: use of diplomacy in Iran and Syria rather than means of war; reducing racial and other tensions through mutual understanding that peace is better for all parties; and through joint projects of reducing the inequality in the world.
Move the military and finances to peacetime uses. No one in the world objected to use of American military to assist victims such as during a tsunami, earthquake, or typhoon, as occurred in the Philippines last autumn. Outpouring of aid from numerous nations increases our understanding that instant communication and rapid transportation by planes, ships, and trucks can draw us closer to our global neighborhood; these are peacetime uses of military discipline and equipment. Through the flow of financial aid the victims are able to regain a normalcy, and here direct help can contribute to ultimate peace when looking beyond the tempest.
Support peace at all levels. We can become peacemakers by striving to engage in person-to-person conversation. Some of the more articulate contribute to radio shows or opportunities to speak, pray, or interact publicly with others of good will. More can find time to use the Internet or printed word to spread understanding among peoples who are distraught about different political or economic issues; the undocumented need the support of citizens for a more unified community. One creative approach is to plan and help operate an ethnic or multi-ethnic festival for the parish or community, and thus foster ethnic pride amid diversity.
Attack persistent problems openly but with charity. People can give gifts to those who are in need whether close or at a distance. Climate changes are emerging as a problem leading to grave insecurity, as island nations in the Indian and Pacific Oceans are threatened with inundation through rising seawater -- and amid all the talk, our world is on a irreversible course to reach this disaster within a few decades. We must work for a domestic and foreign policy that does not allow financial resources to flee to unregulated tax havens. Let's discourage racial slurs, ethnic jokes and other barriers to global friendship.
Prayer: The work ahead is massive; Lord, give us the fortitude to be willing to engage ourselves and to believe in the results.
Solar-powered rustic Kentucky cabin.
February 25, 2014 Champion Solar Applications
As late winter sunlit days lengthen and temperatures start to rise, we strive to greet the sun's warming rays. We realize that only a tiny fraction of the solar rays are being fully utilized, and that, if a greater effort could be made coupled with renewable energy mix of wind, geothermal, and hydropower, we could abandon the carbon economy that is proving so detrimental to curbing global climate change. Just making use of roof space could furnish enough electricity to furnish our world's needs -- and without use of new surface space. Many solar choices are available, as shown in the listing of solar subjects treated in our "Daily Reflections" over the years along with specific dates where found on this website:
Solar Cookers and Ovens (2/11/08)
Solar Powered Car (3/28/08)
Solar Clothes Drying (11/16/07)
Solar Hot Water Systems (7/23/10)
Solar Greenhouses and Cold Frames (9/8/08)
Solar Food Drying (7/18/08)
Solar Photovoltaic (7/7/10)
Other solar applications coming into use include:
Solar roof and wall shingles
Solar ventilation systems
Solar-powered traffic signals
Solar street, path, and trail lighting
Solar refrigerators and medicine storage units
Solar electronics and recording equipment
Solar irrigation pumps
Solar-electric fencing and barriers
Solar-powered water fountains and waterfalls
Solar-lit institutional and residential signs
Solar battery chargers
-- and on and on.
Solar's time is fast approaching and, if current governmental policy were as favorable to solar and wind as to fossil fuels, the solar age would be upon us. However, the recent push in America to obtain fracked natural gas and petroleum is slowing the process of conversion to a non-carbon economy, even while yearly solar application breaks older records, and photovoltaic (PV) cells now cost 1% of what they did at the time of the oil embargo in 1973 (four decades ago). Today the mix of renewable energy technologies account for 10% of energy consumption, 12% of domestic energy production, and 14% of net electrical generation. While solar is 3.2% of renewable energy production, it is rising rapidly, faster than even official estimates by the U.S. Energy Information Agency.
Prayer: Lord, help us be energized by the warming sun and give us the incentive to work for clean energy.
We invite you to read...
"Pope Francis' call to be eco-revolutionaries"
By Al Fritsch, SJ
Featured in the current issue of Ecojesuit: Ecology and Jesuits in Communication
Inspecting buds of the pawpaw, Asimina triloba.
February 26, 2014 Community Supported Agriculture
Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) are gardening operations where growers furnish a regular supply of fresh produce to a customer over a certain number of weeks each growing year. This service includes a partly prepaid service fee that helps tide the grower over through non-growing seasons. CSA's furnish good produce without a middle salesperson; and customers have interaction and social exchange with the grower. The local garden is close enough for consumers to actually visit the gardening area to become acquainted with gardening practices; growers have steady incomes; they can teach recipients how to expand their experience with new varieties of vegetables and herbs; and growers provide locally-grown foods not otherwise easily available. Money stays in the community and is not drained away to agribusinesses.
Drawbacks? We generally champion growing one's own produce. It is wise that others strive to grow some of what they eat. Granted some folks are too disabled, young, elderly, or too occupied by other business and duties; some have little growing space (but may consider containers for their own veggies and herbs). It is better to grow than to buy, but few are almost totally self-sufficient as when I was growing up on a farm. Some are simply not food producers, and so are legitimate consumers even while doing their best. In these cases, the CSA becomes a community support in contrast to a more ideal self-sufficient enterprise. Garden if you can; support local gardeners if you can't, for CSAs are good programs for the latter, but not for those who won't garden due to affluence, diffidence, or laziness.
Hard work. Successful CSA growers work hard, often for modest returns through their meaningful labor. CSA practice demands strict assessments: land available and used properly; fertilizing with proper materials; physical stamina on the part of the growers; awareness of local market needs and consumer preferences; and amount of existing competition. State and county agricultural offices can be helpful. CSA growers need to think ahead to ensure their success by introducing a healthy variety of crops.
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 small number, but to specialty crops for the wider community. It might include blueberries or apples, rhubarb or mustard greens; it could be flowers or herbs or honey. There are at least a thousand generic possibilities for CSA-related products. A specialty grower may prefer to frequent farmers' or growers' markets and not attempt to supply individual customers on an ongoing basis or spend time peddling produce. From a grower's standpoint, much depends on whether the crop fills a niche and is not plentiful zucchini.
Prayer: Lord, energize us to think local food production and help us to assist those who strive to do just that, either on their own or by patronizing local producers.
The Cranks Creek Survival Center, Harlan Co., KY.
February 27, 2014 Drugs, Painkillers, and Overdosing
Here in Central Appalachia we suffer from drug problems. I recently traveled with an undertaker in the hearse to a family cemetery for the final committal rites and he confided that this was the seventh funeral that week and the first that was not an overdose. I mulled over the fact that we have many middle-aged deaths in our Appalachian region, much overdosing, and much hesitancy and negligence in reporting (insurance payments are void when involving deliberate causes of deaths). We know that more Kentucky youths die from overdoses than from automobile accidents.
What can we do to avoid this onslaught of drug deaths?
In our region legal medicines are often abused and few more notably than Oxycontin (Oxycodone HCl) under its several brand names. This is a prescription drug is a narcotic pain reliever used over chronic periods supposedly under medical supervision. However, it is obtained by using others' prescriptions, from unscrupulous pain clinics, on the street, or by stealing. It is similar to morphine and is widely recognized as addictive. Furthermore, taking this powerful drug with alcohol and some other substances can be fatal -- and thus overdosing. All too often, a combination of lax regulations and easy access makes this a "legal" drug with dire consequences. People feeling hopeless or depressed will be more prone to attempt to deaden their sorrows with "painkillers" of a legal or illegal variety.
A cavalier custom of widespread use of prescription medicine prevails today; many regard drugs as the cure all. In past periods concerned parents would ask, "Does Johnnie really need this?" Now the question is "What drug can I get for Johnnie?" TV commercials have turned our nation into a drug-involved culture, with substance abusers of many commercial products. The ad campaigns by commercial drug companies fill the airwaves and who knows how to use the promoted products? Few if anyone realize the commercial impact of combination of medicines. Other civilized nations do not allow such ads to the general public, so why should the U.S.? Without professional advice, what are ads intended for except to hook an audience on prescription or over-the-counter medicines.
A word on pain. Experts have no way of weighing the amount of pain intensity suffered by one or other person. Here, objectivity and subjectivity clash. We can tell by facial expressions or unusual behavior and voice acclamations that someone suffers acutely, though it is possible that levels of endurance of chronic pain vary widely. Control of such pain can be accomplished, with improved comfort and mobility detected by an observant caregiver. Certain primitive and other people prefer never to express pain's presence in any way -- but on the other hand one is led to believe (though it cannot be proven) that some will express pain over minor issues to draw attention.
Prayer: Lord, give us the strength to control both legal and illegal drugs for far too many get into the wrong hands.
Lightning in the mountains.
(*photo by Andy Dopieralsky)
February 28, 2014 Lightning: Feared and/or Admired
Lightning is a matter of beauty if at a distance, but ugly enough to respect when close at hand. The beauty includes awareness of the electrical nature and zigzag pattern of the flashing streaks. Lightning is part of our world and, in America alone it causes each year 80 deaths and an estimated 300 injuries. Some of us grow up respecting lightning's dangers. When the first wave of my Jesuit colleagues came to Kentucky from France in the 1830s, the most noteworthy and frightening phenomenon they observed in America 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, Ben Franklin luckily 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 the flash by counting the seconds. So much for lightning facts.
Protection? Often the regional U.S. Weather Service interrupts local radio programming to announce that a severe storm is heading THIS WAY. Sure enough, the storm rolls in about a half hour, and I dutifully unplug this computer and take the current writings into another room just in case there is a strike and destruction of the work as well. I take an added precaution of depositing valuable disks at an associate's distant place for fear of a very heavy lightning bolt striking the whole structure. Our fears are shared by other people and even some animals, for dogs find thunder hard on their ears.
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 a safer place.
Lightning rods? Install rods if in a rural area. On our family farm our major tobacco barn was once most likely saved 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. They can do plenty of damage and strike again in the same place and so don't believe the saying that lightning never strikes twice.
Prayer: Lord, you are our protector and rock of salvation.