Is It Time for a Jubilee?
You shall declare this fiftieth year sacred and proclaim the liberation of all the inhabitants of the land. This is to be a jubilee for you. (Leviticus 25:10)
America is overwhelmed by national and individual indebtedness, and this comes at a price that diverts funds from infrastructure and growth in quality of life to interest payments and with increasing burden of despair or violence. Some candidates for presidential office regard portions of that debt as a "crisis," with focus on student debt that hangs on for decades. I have never addressed this indebtedness as such but do recall that our Judeo-Christian tradition does speak of a liberation from debts in a year of Jubilee. Political realism demands that we address these financial conditions even while solutions are quite difficult.
Michael Hunson asks "Could/Should Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?" <https://michael-hudson.com>. He raises some vital questions about benefits and risks involved. I am aware that an immoral worsening condition exists where inequality abounds with wealthy accumulating at the hands of creditors at an ever accelerating rate and the indebted sinking into ever deeper financial bondage. The type of debt makes it necessary to focus on certain classes of debtors, but mere forgiveness may not be the best in certain circumstances that may cause the credit debt to actually be enhanced. On the other hand, for those with health related debts and student loans needing repayment this could be a true liberation from enslavement.
Personal debt is the current focus with national debt to be considered later. As in 2018 that indebtedness (mortgages, auto, credit, student and other) reached the highest ever at 14 trillion or higher than immediately before the Great Recession. Senator Elizabeth Warren regards the student portion of that total (1.46 Trillion) to be a matter of crisis and many others are starting to agree. The "other" portion includes health bills that mount for unfortunate victims and these poorer folks do not have attorney fees capable of legally declaring bankruptcy. Needed radical changes, which in the past occurred through revolution, war, pandemic or national collapse may be called for through non-violent means. Is this needed to address portions of personal debt loads?
Frequently, in the long financial history of the world, the burden of personal debts was removed though circumstances that have changed over time. In fact, jubilees were regular practices in the ancient Near East when most indebtedness was to the leaders of the national government; new rulers upon ascending the throne would proclaim edicts that would eliminate existing debts, thus reintroducing economic stability to the land; bond servants would be returned to their homes and liberated citizens would furnish labor and military service for the new monarch.
The Mosaic Law presented the ideal of a liberation or Sabbath of Sabbaths (49) every fiftieth year when agrarian debts would be relieved and land returned to original debtors (see Leviticus 25). The Sacred Scriptures clearly called for social justice, whereby the indebted could have a fresh start in an atmosphere of economic freedom. Today, indebtedness includes immense national debts and the creditors are a mixed lot with intermediary agencies holding and distributed the debt to corporate bodies and investors even in foreign lands. Was this idea of liberation an actual event or only open to creditors as a way of proper behavior before God? We are unsure, but are alert to debted social injustice and enslavement.
Jubilees are rarer in recent history. Actually, one recent successful one was the 1948 Allied Currency Reform in Germany that liberated the average citizen (not businesses) from debts generally directed to the defeated Nazi regime. American history had instances of national modified debt relief (1841 and again in the 1930s) and the Biblical jubilee quotation is found on our liberty bell "Proclaim liberty throughout the land." Can something be again done since our nation has the highest indebtedness in history and, as occurs often in economic history, the wealthy 1% are reaping in half of the advance in income each year as inequality mounts and the lower income classes stagnate? These virtually stagnant incomes do not match growth in productivity of employers. Change is in the air and will it be non-violent?
Forgiving some debts is a moral issue. Imperfect human beings need a time to start over, for many experience false starts and burdensome detours in life. God's mercy brings forgiveness; so ought our human mercy. However, what about a bad credit debt where consumers did not manage limited income properly and follow the allurement to spend "future" money on unnecessary items and services with no heed as to how or when it will be repaid. To forgive those who were thoughtless and with resources belonging to the commons is not really a proper moral practice. Furthermore, who is the moral judge who must decide whether an individual should be debt forgiven or not? It is unfair that the frugal have to bear some of the costs of this jubilee event. Not all debts need to be forgiven when the indebted can pay over time.
What about unfortunate and unexpected debts? The current system of bankruptcy exists for those unable to pay back over a reasonable time period, or a legal system made operative that allows for a paced payback according to reasonable means. Actually, access to legal advice needs to be provided to those unable to secure a lawyer due to inadequate funding at this moment. Laws need to exist that payment will come from assets or other means over a time period rather than being up front. However, once said for those with enormous medical bills, still most individuals do not want the blemish of bankruptcy hanging over their overall credit history. They would prefer to pay their bills and be known for doing so. Still personal choices due to substance abuse or false choices in higher education places some blame on debtors. The situation needs continued refinement. See next week.
The Cumberland River.
June 1, 2019 Who Should Clean Up Our Rivers?
If we missed National River Cleanup Day two weeks ago, this is a good time to focus once more on the beauty and charm of our many rivers, the ugliness of those that have been polluted, and the need for returning these waterways to pristine condition. Most of us would not quibble with basic river facts: natural beauty, human-induced river mismanagement, and ongoing cleanup requirements. The one point that has bothered me is who should do the cleanup?
In the past when running a nature center, I considered that a task of cleanup could be a way of giving some experience of Appalachia to volunteers from outside the state. However, the more I reflected on this, the more it became apparent that it was not right to bring willing folks from other parts of America to clean up after local people or visitors had messed up the many rivers. Why should a volunteer be brought in to clean up someone else's irresponsibility? The wiser outsiders might say in short order -- this is an enforcement problem, and our work is simply postponing the need to address the issue of proper management. The insiders may feel inclined to continue in sloppy practices since others will clean up after them.
My current solution is a three-phase approach: catching litterers in the act and forcing them to pay the $500 fine per act through use of cameras or personal presence, especially at popular locations; designating public service work using jailed inmates and others already fined for some offense such as driving under the influence; and creating jobs for the unemployed for the cleaning up of larger items needing semi-professional skills. This is simply not something that willing volunteers who did not create the damage should be expected to clean up.
River cleanup is more urgent than some want to admit. Our rivers should remain in or be brought back to pristine condition for the sake of all parties -- residents, visitors, Earth herself. This requires an investment and not a haphazard approach. A trashed river is a cancer to a community and leads to a malaise that disrupts family and community life and depresses many individuals in subtle ways. We should stop littering and dumping at their sources and fine the culprits; we should regard cleanup as a penalty in which those requiring community service must be engaged; and, when the remedial work needs professionals, our state environmental agency must manage the operation.
If we live near a river (as this writer does to the Kentucky River) we have an added responsibility to occasionally pick up the discarded trash found on the riverbanks within easy reach. Let's not expect outside volunteers to do our dirty work.
Prayer: Lord, inspire citizens to keep our rivers clean, for they are a wonderful gift to us and deserve our deepest respect. Help us to see that there is a proper time for everything under heaven -- even cleaning up rivers.
Stonecrop, Sedum ternatum.
June 2, 2019 How Do We Celebrate Christ's Ascension?
Why are you standing there looking at the sky? (Acts 1)
At the time of his ascending into heaven the risen Lord invites us to become his hands and his feet in the world around us. Our participation is one part of the mystery we reflect on today, all parts of which are interconnected:
a) The Lord ascends in glory;
b) We become participants in the glorifying process;
c) The age of the Spirit begins through inspiring us to act.
Jesus Christ has moved among us, suffered, died and risen. With the completion of this phase he departs as would a loved one and friend. He ascends into the glory of heaven in his resurrected form. Sadness overcomes those who are in his company, and yet it resembles all departures of friends, a bittersweet event. Christ ascends so as to reign in heaven -- for it is fitting that he goes ahead of us in glory. Jesus hands back to his father the redemptive accomplishments he has wrought, a definitive act in the salvation of the world and one that shows his emerging glory.
Christ's departure is part of our maturation. His physical absence now allows us to take on the important work that he has called us to do, and that the disciples are to put into motion through establishing the Church and ministering the sacraments. We are not left alone, and so we launch into our work as part of the Family of God. The Ascension opens the way for our own accepting the command to perform work needed here and now.
The Holy Spirit comes among us in this new age. We are inspired through the act of divine Love to go out and assist others in some fashion. We become messengers of God's Word through a maturation process. The Kingdom now founded must be given full root and flourish; here and now the Spirit directs and encourages us to do what we are called to do. In this age, the Spirit shows the glory of God manifested in each individual who obeys God's will and contributes to that divine mission.
Just as the disciples vainly expected a military messianic event even at the moment of Jesus' Ascension, still the Pentecost event ten days later opened for them a new and spiritual understanding. So with time and the graces of our Baptism/Confirmation we are open to growing and maturing in the mission still ahead of us. Spiritual privileges are bestowed on us; we are to announce justice to the world. We accept local tasks, but must move on to help bring justice to the world. It is our duty to help establish a renewed Earth.
Prayer: Lord, help us to accept the invitation given to carry on Christ's work. You operate through us and not in distant manner. Make us realize our unique roles as participants and inspire us to carry on the work Jesus initiated in his public ministry.
Weekend stroll through Farmer's Market. Berea, KY.
(photo by Laura Heller, Creative Commons)
June 3, 2019 Are You Taking Time Off in Summer Months?
A big June question is about proper time off in our lives. In fact, I do plan to take time off though plans are incomplete. Our resolutions all too often focus on how to be better in the busy work we do. But just as silence and sounds ought to coexist in harmony, so ought rest and work be found in balance. As one who grew up milking cows, I know that some work must be done on a daily basis, but subs and good planning can still allow for days off -- and that holds for all our ordinary activities.
There is no question but that we all need rest -- during the day at proper short periods, day-by-day with proper sleeping space, and week-by-week with days off. What about a longer period, namely a year-by-year rest period called "vacation," where a change in pace is required and the investment adds freshness to spirit and outlooks on life? The ones of us who find more meaning in life through work will find extra rest a challenge. An annual week of retreat is long awaited and enjoyed. However, to travel to a distant place during a "rest" period becomes less inviting through the years, but can rest be done in local and non-exerting ways?
Yes, once we affirm the need to rest, the added question is "How do we go about it?" Some say that we must get away, but the getaway can be burdensome and become an unwelcome chore for some of us. Like others, I enjoy seeing new sights; however, with aging and less ability to travel, this can become a harder goal to prepare for. Frankly, travel involves longer-term preparations, scheduling, tickets, and assistance by others who are companions. Or must we travel afar to be filling a rest span of time? Over my career I have driven over one million miles (most for the service of others), but the annual averages have steadily decreased with older age. In earlier times, travel was enjoyable; now I am content on seeing pictures of places and reading travel accounts of others. Enjoying a video of exotic places seems far easier to enjoy than the worry of getting to and from the sight. And there's less carbon footprint as well. However, it is nice to go and renew acquaintances and have face-to-face conversations.
With proper and long-term planning we can establish those times of rest within the hour, the day, the week and the year. With proper planning the ordinary work can be changed, substituted, shortened, delayed or dismissed all together. We can be drawn into thinking that work is all important and forget that the rest is of equal status even when of shorter periods of time. My suspicion is that most readers do these things better than this author, even though one in his 86th year ought to know better how much rest is part of life. In fact, I am beginning to think I need more of it -- and it will soon enough be eternal.
Prayer: Oh Creator, you rested on the Sabbath; so ought we. Give us the courage to take time off and just sit down and do nothing but reflect and pray for awhile.
A view at water's edge. Hematite Lake (Land
Between the Lakes).
June 4, 2019 How Many Sounds of Water Can You Distinguish?
Many of these water sounds were listed in my book, Water Sounds, the life of Pere Marquette, which is available from Marquette University Press. Among notable water sounds are these:
Bubbling -- Boiling water moves from liquid to gas.
Cascading -- Rapids of a large river.
Cracking -- Thin ice sheet when someone is so rash as to walk or skate on it.
Crashing -- Glaciers calving and giving birth to icebergs.
Crunching -- Footsteps on a snowy path.
Dripping -- A leaking faucet or melting icicle.
Grinding -- Ice sheets meeting other pack ice in a northern bay in late winter.
Gurgling -- Brook currents that move among rocks and obstacles that seem ever so inviting.
Gushing -- A creek after a freshlet in the late springtime.
Hissing -- Escaping vapors from a steam engine or a leaky steam pipe.
Pelting -- Rainfall on a tent.
Plunking -- First heavy drops of a thunderstorm on a dusty path.
Pounding -- The wind blown waves of the ocean shore as the tide rises.
Rattling -- The frightening din of hail beating on a galvanized roof when one knows the crops are being ruined.
Rippling -- Sound of a slow moving river.
Roaring -- The thunder of waterfalls and rapids.
Rumbling -- The shaking of the ground when approaching the roaring waterfalls.
Rushing -- Flood waters at high tide.
Sizzling -- Moisture meeting hot oil.
Sloshing -- The regular lapping on the lakeshore at dawn or tramping through half melted snow.
Smashing -- Heavy waves on a ship side or at a seawall.
Snapping -- The breaking of an icicle.
Splashing -- A water-bound youngster after a flying leap or just sitting in a tub and playing with the water.
Splattering -- Driving rain hitting the windshield of a speeding vehicle.
Spurting -- Old Faithful at the moment it begins to let off steam.
Swishing -- The water hose outlet in the fresh grass or used to wash a vehicle.
Tinkling -- Wind-blown snow and sleet on the window pane in winter's depth, or urinating in the leaf clutter of the woods.
Trickling -- Rainwater from a shower in a downspout.
Whispering -- Underground or undercover small water streams.
Whistling -- Steam escaping from a teakettle.
Prayer: Thank you Lord, for the gift of hearing and being able to distinguish the music of living water.
Vegan "burgers" over hot coals.
June 5, 2019 Why Is Reducing Meat Consumption Environmental?
On World Environment Day we seek ways to have a smaller impact on our planet. While many arguments are made for vegetarianism (respect for animals, need for our sacrifice and/or well-being, keeping possible grazing land in native forests, etc.), equally strong arguments can be made to reduce meat consumption, and to eat meat only at culturally-established festivities. Some reasons are:
* Meat is expensive; lower consumption would free up food budget money for fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains;
* Meat production, including associated feed crops, require over half the arable land now in agriculture;
* Twenty billion head of livestock are three times the human population, and require feed cropland and grazing space;
* Pound-for-pound, efficiency calls for direct human consumption of grain. It takes almost five pounds of grain for one pound of grain-fed beef, but half of that for a pound of chicken;
* Nutritionist Jean Mayer says that reducing meat production 10 percent in the U.S. would free enough grain to feed 60 million people. If ALL wealthier nations would reduce meat consumption by 20%, then one billion hungry people could have enough food;
* Meat reduction is an indirect way of answering our ultimate question, "Lord, when did I feed you when you were hungry?" One normal-sized steak is equivalent to a bowl of rice for 45 people;
* Excessive fatty meat consumption is unhealthy -- leading to heart disease, gout and high blood pressure;
* Meat products are sometimes unsafe, contain harmful bacteria or require refrigeration and careful cooking techniques;
* Much American meat comes from factory farms with excessive animal wastes, poor animal care, and concentrated solid and liquid emissions that pollute the land, air and waterways;
* Reduction in meat use is a major message from the concerned to the unconcerned about resource consumption -- and some say that American meat consumption is near an all time high;
* Animals emit vast quantities of methane that contribute to climate change. Pound-for pound, methane has a greenhouse effect equivalent of twenty-three times that amount of carbon dioxide; and
* It takes more cooking fuel to prepare most meat than it does vegetables or grain. A single hamburger patty takes the fuel required to drive twenty miles.
Prayer: Lord, that we would learn to reduce meat consumption.
An evening drive by africultural fields, Ft.
June 6, 2019 Should We Make Fuel Ethanol from Corn?
As grade schoolers with a chemistry set, we observed that the alcohol burner produced a mild heat in comparison with our kerosene lamp (actually about 30% less than gasoline). Let our nation remember this elementary lesson and leave the biofuel ethanol made from corn or sugar cane. Further observations cast doubt on using a food-source-turned-fuel, when impending world food shortages drive up the price of food for the poor. Furthermore, ever since tractors replaced horses, modern American corn production has involved a heavy -- but hidden -- petroleum investment, which is overlooked when discussing ethanol use in fossil fuel substitutes.
Greater and greater proportions of U.S. corn production has gone to producing ethanol (now about 40% of total corn production) that is used as a low-grade blend for most land vehicle fuel; an additional portion is used for high grade E85 flex fuel, which is available for some vehicles. Government subsidies have been used to bring about the use of ethanol and at one point this amounted to over four dollar for each gallon of this inherently lower effective fuel. On top of this, the use of corn for ethanol drives up the price of livestock feed and ultimately animal food products such as milk and eggs. When droughts occur (as in 2012) world food prices climb all the more.
A decade ago Thomas Hertel of Purdue University concluded in Bioscience that the practice of using corn ethanol for biofuel causes enough carbon emissions from land use to cancel immediate tailpipe benefits. However, the Renewable Fuels Association fired back that the new study "ignores the market-mediated impacts of other fuels, choosing to make unfair comparisons between ethanol and petroleum-based fuels on a different set of standards." The battle rages on. Nevertheless, facts are emerging that ethanol from corn is costly to taxpayers, is harmful to the world food market basket, and is actually detrimental (to at least some degree) to the total environment, for it is not a renewable resource. Soil fertility is not factored in the discussion.
Is this not enough to sink this practice? By no means! Corn-derived fuel is a myth of a few "corn state" congresspersons who are beholden to their wealthy agri-corporate clientele. Few fellow members of Congress want to challenge this apparently "good" practice of saving family farms, except that this is not a good use of anything -- money, land and soil, energy to run machinery, or global climate. We all need to make an important distinction: not every biofuel marked by government funding is good for the environment. Recall, a decade ago some in Congress wanted to develop a pipeline to send ethanol to the East Coast. Just how corny can one get?
Prayer: Lord, shake us to the core. Help us see that a plentiful supply of food is needed by a hungry world. Help us clean our plates and use our surpluses properly for essential needs and not for wasteful driving.
Debt Forgiveness for Student Loans
Will the American economic power elite ever allow a general jubilee as suggested last week? Would this be regarded as an unpredictable risk to the total economy? Perhaps in a moment of recklessness we are tempted to declare all debts eliminated. What will this do for the savings of millions that includes loans to others and pension funds? The difference of a national and a personal debt is so great that we will defer the national one to later and concentrate on specific individual forms of debt.
Student indebtedness appears the most unfair of these debt problem areas, since tuition costs for both private and public institutions have escalated sharply in recent years. Gone are days when my small personal tobacco crop paid the $500 college tuition bill. Those of us beyond formal education for either ourselves or our dependents are generally unconcerned about $60,000 tuition bills that confront some private college enrollees. Even the public school bills tend to mount out of reach of low-income people. Too many graduates without fully secure jobs ahead launch their careers with shadows of immense debt and interest payments. Financial strain on many is a heavy starting burden.
Enslavement is another name for indebtedness that cannot be paid off in a reasonable time. The cumulative student problem just described has mounted to over a trillion dollars and must be addressed on two fronts: the rising tuition costs of current students and the recent history of mounting student loans requiring repayment; these foresee long periods of interest payments, lowering graduates' ability to purchase residences and start families. Perhaps such conditions ought to infringe on our sense of social justice: should not some or all of this massive debt be forgiven in order to give the victims a fresh start, so they can focus attention on family and life's work? The current American low- birth rate is cited as being caused partly by student indebtedness.
Forgiveness is liberation. Rigidity in demanding repayments casts the present heartless system into a stance that only increases indebtedness for unforeseen periods. Freedom once demanded for those enslaved during the Civil War was an event of jubilee and thus was truly an American event; the 13th Amendment was a struggle and became part of our heritage and rightly so, for it had been postponed too long. Unfair and prolonged interest payments enter the arena of economic liberation; we must not be bound to an unforgiving economic system. Senator Elizabeth Warren proposes student debt forgiveness along with a basic two or four year public college tuitionless system that will follow the pattern now operative in advanced economic nations.
Finding fault with the actions of the debtor is standard fare in the thinking of those who affirm the privileged economic status quo. No doubt many students without good consulting advice have taken an unwise course of studies with limited career options given their own skills and talents; the end result is a costly venture that can haunt the individual. An "academic" bankruptcy is just, but for some it comes too late. Good advice has not been forthcoming or has gone unheeded; occupational opportunities change rapidly. In such cases debt forgiveness is a socially just option.
Who pays? This question emerges with all governmental programs. The taxpayer pays, of course, granted that all contribute their just share and this does not require further federal indebtedness. In fact, the $650 billion paybacks to the richest portion of the American population in 2018 "tax reform" benefits to the superrich is the first place to start looking for new tax revenues. In order to answer the student loan problem one must explore changes in an entire national economy, with its ever widening inequality and excessive tax breaks for those who need them least. The same answer applies to forgiveness of other burdens resulting from medical expenses (see next reflection).
Opposition is expected. The nation is in a similar critical situation as during the Second World War when FDR with surprisingly little opposition obtained a 94% tax on the super rich. His reasoning was: why should some benefit while others die for their country? Today we can ask why some gain wealth when others do not have essentials -- and college education is emerging as an essential for the more sophisticated job market today. Some paint the picture of debt forgiveness as a "far left" proposal and the specter of "socialism;" they mistakenly confuse the term with social justice. But does the current system deserve to continue with inequality rising and indebtedness going up likewise?
Debts differ in their treatment. Student indebtedness is just one of the debtor categories, but one that demands immediate attention. Since so much depends on the first few career years, it is a great burden to expect the indebted to act with the boldness of someone with experience or having rich parents and a debt-free education. These student debts stand in contrast to high hopes of a productive livelihood and can be extremely depressing; they saddle the lower-income in their efforts to rise on the economic ladder. If full forgiveness is not offered, at least low-interest debts through federal agencies should be forthcoming.
A jubilee is an opportunity to repair a faulty economic system in a socially just manner. That event is biblical in nature as to opening doors to a form of economic liberation. Each of the millions who could be free will soon have opportunities open for finding new and better economic foundations for their lives. This can be a major contribution to our country's future, a sincere sense of compassion, and a movement that becomes a spiritual exercise worthy of consideration by all believers in the future. The past is now behind and the future is ahead. Let us think seriously about beginning debt-forgiveness at the student/graduate level and then move on to other forms of unfair indebtedness.
Bracken fern near trail, St. Ignace, MI.
June 7, 2019 What Are the Three Legs of a Sound Energy Policy?
The critical condition of global warming makes us constantly review our traditional energy policy to each senator suggesting that there are three major components of any sane national energy policy:
Cap on Emissions: The United States should establish a mandatory cap on allowable greenhouse gas emissions as well as both a near-term and a longer-term schedule for reducing overall emissions at levels consistent with the best science now available (i.e., 50% or more by 2030). The on-target one-sixth of 2005 reduction levels by 2020 is almost certainly being met, but needs to be strengthened by 2030 where possible.
Energy Efficiency: Wake up Administration! The cornerstone of near-term U.S. climate policy should be quickly reducing energy waste and fossil fuel consumption. The experience of other industrialized nations coupled with dozens of governmental, business, academic, and private analyses over the past three decades consistently document that the potential exists for continuing to reduce U.S. energy use while simultaneously creating jobs, protecting the environment and low-income consumers, and sustaining a good quality of life. Rapidly curbing energy consumption still further is well within reach. Consequently, a policy should greatly strengthen energy efficiency goals including the creation of mandatory national standards for residential and commercial buildings, greatly-expanded use of co-generation and combined heat and power in the utility sector, and much more aggressive efficiency standards for lighting, appliances, industrial equipment, and motor vehicles.
Renewable Energy: A goal of 30% renewable energy by 2030 -- or even a stronger one -- should be formally incorporated in a formal national energy policy. Renewables (especially wind on land and solar energy) are commercially viable with petroleum and natural gas and are already more economically preferred over coal and nuclear energy. The Trump Administration has acted as a barrier to bring about transition to renewables (climate change is fake news), but the market itself is working along with environmentally concerned citizens to change the picture. Renewables will come.
By focusing on this three-pronged strategy (i.e., carbon cap + efficiency + renewables), it may prove unnecessary -- for the moment at least -- to tackle either of the two most controversial options for addressing climate change -- creating a "trading system" for emissions credits or imposing carbon taxes. A program to get institutional investments to shift away from fossil fuels is certainly having effects as well and is being aggressively pushed.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to develop a sane energy policy so that all will benefit, especially the poor in this country and throughout the world.
Full moon, faintly visible behind clouds.
June 8, 2019 Must We Go from Short- to Long-Term Environmentalism?
Short-term environmentalism has been the bane of the green movement since its start in the mid-20th century. No one wanted to say it would take ongoing vigilance and considerable effort to establish a more permanent safe environment. Immediate goals and results had greater media appeal. From the start, many of us thought that cleaning up pollution was a short-lived task. Each of us had the perfect gimmick for what people could do to improve a blighted environment. It was so simple: expose abuses; list remedies; publicize results; and pressure the government to do the rest. Only with time did we see that the multiplication of short-term actions only solved relatively narrow problems; while in the short-term a particular river has improved quality. However, the global picture seemed to deteriorate to those who have a clear vision of how the climate is changing.
Longer-term environmentalism was not bantered about on that first Earth Day in 1970. Such a concept of taking much time and effort was (and is still) disliked, because few wanted to promote a green future beyond one's own life span; the media appeal was less than for short-term solutions performed by enthusiastic volunteers who wanted to see results right then and there. What audience will enthusiastically applaud what seems utterly beyond their expertise and their realizable goals? Besides longer-term solutions are somewhat threatening.
For the "trickle down" economist, wealth, comfort and progress are just around the corner. And today over a billion new middle class Asians and Latin Americans strive for the same material comforts of Europeans and Americans, and at a massive additional price of resource expenditure and resulting pollution. Tweaking the system with regulations and conservation measures are proving insufficient. Environmental response is more varied today than at Earth Day, 1970. Some rush on to acquire middle class comforts: cars, processed food, electronic devices and deny any problems -- "Live for the day." Others admit problems, but stay in the short-term solution ruts. Others say "Leave it to experts." However, reality makes astute observers voice a new environmental message:
WE MUST CHANGE THE WORLD ECONOMIC SYSTEM, IF WE ARE TO SAVE OUR PLANET. WE CANNOT HAVE AN ENDURING WORLD OF HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS.
Not being expected to live to see long-term results is similar to planting trees and realizing that benefits (shade, fruit, nuts, etc.) will occur after we are gone. The longer-term message is an environmentally prophetic one and this cries out for a hearing. Short-term solutions prove we can act, and solve some immediate problems. Yes, longer-term solutions are called for and are humanly possible. But we must act now and trust results can be achieved. We must act responsibly for the benefit of all.
Prayer: Lord, give me the courage to speak in the longer-term and to invite short-term green advocates to do the same. Help us see that our efforts must be geared for a just and balanced future.
Violet wood-sorrel, Oxalis violacea.
June 9, 2019 Pentecost: Do We Spread the Good News?
The spread of multimedia communications and its rich 'menu of options' might make us think it is sufficient simply to be present on the Web; [We are] challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources. Benedict XVI
World Communications Day, January 23, 2010
At Pentecost, more than at any other time of the year, we are reminded to go out and spread the Good News. This spreading means "communication," and today it is coupled closely with the modern Internet. Through modern communications what was distant and foreign are now present in our living rooms and offices. What was once, a year away by sailing ship, is now an instant removed through the Internet. We connect with others, at a closeness never before perceived in human history. We are privileged and we show our sense of responsibility through gracious interchange.
Spreading Good News has gone through many stages in the two thousand years since that first Pentecost event. In the infant Church, people spread Good News through use of the excellent Roman road system, and so small communities of faith sprang up throughout the empire in a relatively short period of time. Through the centuries and after many ups and downs, Good News has spread to outlying foreign lands --Celtic, Slavic, Scandinavian, Dutch, and then on in the East to India and even now to Africa and China. Through heightened travel and navigation, at one time or other much of the Eurasian land mass received Good News to some degree. Then the Western Hemisphere, Sub-Saharan Africa, and finally far-flung Oceania isles were receptors through missionary efforts.
Today, the extent of territory has been covered to some degree, but qualitative penetration is still occurring. The Good News continues to go forth and touch every valley and hamlet, but it must also be able to penetrate the hearts of the hearers, or at least become an opportunity for them to hear. The complete spreading of Good News is as yet an incomplete task. On that first Pentecost we are told that large crowds received the basic message in their own languages. Amazingly, the content of Good News has not changed: Christ lived, died and rose for us. All who can ought to spread the Good News as best they can; all need opportunities to hear the message. The language of the Good News must be simple so that it is translated accurately and with full meaning; the message should be straightforward and express urgency; the thought ought to be able to be comprehended.
However, mere hearing is the beginning. We in Europe and North America face the reality that many who were Christians are opting out. They leave religious practice and are hostile to communal and public worship. Good News is needed more than ever before, for the world is becoming ever more secular.
Prayer: Lord, give us grace to spread the Good News, to see opportunities through the Internet, and to stay enthusiastic.
Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis).
June 10, 2019 Can you List the Ten Commandments of Capitalism?
Michael Moore's movie, Capitalism: A Love Affair opened a subject that has been often hidden -- our current economic system. Where is our voice when it comes to our current economic system? Over the years with the emerging vast inequality between the billionaires and the poorer half of America some regard the current economic system as vulnerable to collapse; some say it is rotten and needs replacement. Is capitalism like a state religion? If that is our problem, we need to ask the basic question of believers -- do we follow the Commandments of this system that takes the place of supernatural faith?
Ten Commandments of Capitalism
1. I am the lord thy god, and money is my name. You shall not allow anyone else to question this economic system and shall have no personal or strange distractions before me.
2. You shall not question or speak ill of my priestly bankers who conduct services in the temple of Wall Street. Always treat the use of private money with the deepest respect.
3. Remember to work hard for money and thus keep holy the day of financial comfort.
4. Honor your fatherland that is totally committed to the money economy and fight and even die for it.
5. You shall not kill the spirit of greed or confront those who have privileges, for some day you may (after the lotto win) be one of them.
6. You shall not rape the coffers of the rich by any form of taxation that will destroy their noble privilege. Keep taxes for everyone, for all taxpayers must exercise their civic duty and support the system of growing inequality.
7. You should regard the taking of private wealth for the common good as a form of stealing from those who have recognized wealth through established legal means.
8. Do not bear false witness against the capitalistic system, nor against the sacred person of corporation executives.
9. You shall not covet the possessions of the greedy and the bankers; only covet their good life. If you are good and lucky, wealth will trickle down to you.
10. You shall not covet the luxuries of the rich; you may someday have the privileges as well.
Prayer: Lord, relieve us from all our foolishness; help us to change the economic system so that it will eliminate vast inequalities and redistribute the wealth to all the people.
Native Kentucky rose, Rosa satigera.
June 11, 2019 Is Increased Global Atmospheric Methane a Problem?
Methane (CH4), the major component of plentiful natural gas through fracking, is the product of natural decomposition and, when emitted into the atmosphere, can be a greenhouse "pollutant" with 23 times the potency of better-known carbon dioxide. Capturing and using this gas as a fuel is highly desirable due to its combustibility, ease of extraction, and total released energy per unit measurement. Widespread use of methane today makes for its handling in a relatively safe manner. However, we do hear of occasional explosions or unvented mine methane buildup, and resulting loss of life. Apart from the rapidly increasing availability of natural gas on a worldwide level, methane is worrisome when it enters the atmosphere and cannot be collected feasibly for combustion. It is emitted from landfills, but in many instances this methane can be utilized as a commercial fuel.
Agriculture, especially 1.5 billion cattle and even more other livestock, generate 14% of the world's greenhouse gases, and a major component of that is methane. In theory where livestock is concentrated in feedlots some of these emissions could be collected as fuel. Because livestock can become a global source of one-quarter of the generated atmospheric methane, environmental experts call for fewer livestock, not more congregated feedlots. Each head of cattle produces between 100 and 500 liters of methane.
Another potential atmospheric methane source is regarded as a "time bomb," namely melting permafrost in Arctic regions due to global warming. Arctic emissions of methane have jumped about 30% in this century, that is, millions of tons of methane going into the atmosphere. The long Russian Arctic coast emits 7.7 million tons per year and total global methane emissions amount to 500 teragrams a year. Atmospheric methane concentrations over this Arctic area are three times the global average of 0.6-0.7 parts per million. Some climate scientists think that past catastrophic effects leading to sudden warming were caused by cascading emissions of more and more methane. Arctic Ocean methane store could be greater than all carbon locked in global coal reserves.
As noted, methane is part of the natural cycles of our world. However, at certain places and in concentrated amounts methane is a big problem. We do not fully know how much methane is lost through the total fracking process -- and this seriously question whether natural gas as "clean." Unfortunately, a scientific consensus is emerging that human practices result in excessive amounts of methane as well as carbon dioxide through fossil fuel use. There is no available gimmick or easy technological fix beyond burning excess methane as a fuel. Controlled, methane is a benefit; uncontrolled atmospheric methane is a disaster.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to respect all chemicals, to use them carefully, and to realize how delicate this planet's web of life is. Help us focus on methane generation and escape.
Yellow salsify, Tragopogon dubius.
June 12, 2019 Are Reduced Spatial Requirements Greener?
The process of urbanization continues at a steadily increasing rate. The theme is interspersed with stories of poor urban folks whose old homes are being torn down to build high rises to handle the increased numbers such as in China where several hundred million have moved from rural to urban areas in this century. Rural folks who remain see their grainlands co-opted to make way for roads, commercial establishments and specialty crops.
The process has a familiar ring to Americans and others who have seen traditional land uses come under pressure from unscrupulous developers, and eventually succumb to the more powerful government-supported innovations. Green space is often erased in the demand for more interior space; that covers everything from worship to educational space, from commercial to residential space. Americans have come to expect double the amount of space per person as their forbearers of a century before.
The average American household dropped steadily from 3.67 persons in 1940 to 2.64 in 1997. During that time, the average house size increased from 1,100 square feet to 2,150 square feet -- from 290 feet per person to over 800 square feet today. In 1967, 48% of homes had a garage for two or more cars and this increased to 79% in the new century. In 1975, 20% of homes had two or more bathrooms. Now over 50% do. Now the Chinese and Indians are calling for domestic expansion -- and not only in their residences but also in highways and parking for an upwardly mobile middle class. Together both countries have 8 times our U.S. population.
Privatizing space for specific luxury demands is unsettling:
* Escalating expectations on the part of the upwardly mobile lead to enormous demands on limited space in many lands. In such places the poor are the ones who suffer most through loss of space;
* Maintaining buildings with added space takes time and can be burdensome -- but the physical exercise is a tradeoff;
* Working in well-designed smaller spaces allows for more creativity and eliminates distractions that result from spatial sprawl. Everything is within an arm's reach;
* Pretending about available resources overlooks actual needs. Such interior spaces not only took precious materials to build, but also they place a heavy demand on the resources of the world for heating and cooling and for maintaining additional space; and
* Driving out the little fellow is an expanded spatial cost, namely, folks who want to grow food and keep a dwelling. Instead of allowing injustice we should promote taxation of properties with unnecessary space and encourage retaining housing for the poor.
Prayers: Lord, help us to downsize our material expectations and ensure that all have fair living space.
Tender young buds of Ruellia strepens.
June 13, 2019 Should We Perform Public Acts of Piety?
The archbishop of Westminister urged his congregation to renew a variety of acts of piety that were performed in the past -- and are no longer popular in our ever-more-secular society. An act of reverence indicates that believers acknowledge the need of doing something extra to show dependence on God, the Creator and Ruler of all things. This is a particular religious practice, the expression of which depends on the cultural traditions or habits of the people. It may be a simple body movement or attire -- bow, genuflection, wearing a cross; it includes special devotions or ways of praying over a period of time such as Moslems' daily prayers or Catholics saying the rosary or making the Stations of the Cross, or Protestants' period of prayer before meals with head bowed. Some general acts of piety include:
* Defend public acts of piety as spiritually healthy, for these teach people of all ages respect and reverence.
* Salute the flag if in uniform or simply stop and sing along with the Star Spangled Banner.
* Remain quiet and respectful during times of public tribute to fallen heroes.
* Extend respect to all creation -- plants, animals, historic sites, and common resources.
Piety is needed by healers lest the caregiving suffer. A good healer is a pious person, but that piety may express itself in individual and often hidden ways. Interestingly enough, types of piety vary much with individual caregivers. Some address others with reverence, give them special attention, or show concern through hugs and special acts of kindness. Sick people come to prize these acts of respect. The sick room becomes a sacred space and giving special attention to spiritual conversation makes the healer aware of his or her own limitations and need for divine assistance in the work ahead. We cannot do things alone; we need help; we need God's help, especially Earthhealing work.
Once a companion asked someone who signed himself with the cross and prayed in a public place why he did that: "Couldn't you have prayed without making an act of piety out of it?" The reply was that food was such a gift from God that some thanks needed to be shown. "Yes, but why public?" the friend continued. "Because in being public I want you to know that we all need to give thanks -- including you in your own way." Granted, this answer may not have been perfect but it came from the heart and addressed a need for tolerance in manifesting public acts of piety. One should not be quizzed for doing something, or for failing to do something public, but tolerance demands that we allow public acts of piety.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to manifest public acts of piety even when others may ridicule them or find them strange.
Additional Personal Debt Forgiveness
A good argument can be made for the removal of student and graduate indebtedness, for the educational assets gained are not always tangible like auto loans or housing mortgages. Student education may or may not be reimbursed in a reasonable period of time; sometimes services rendered at low salaries (educating the young or assistance to elderly) are a major benefit and certainly worthy of debt forgiveness in themselves. However, grouping all debts as one and seeking blanket forgiveness borders on the temptation to anarchy. The entire economic system could possibly crumble if all debts were immediately abolished.
Many debts are quite burdensome. A sizeable portion of individual indebtedness accrues from medical and hospital bills far too large for average citizens to pay rapidly or ever, especially for those living closely from hand to mouth. Recall that half of the American people have no wealth at all and Senator Sanders points out that 4 out of 10 are unable to afford a $400 emergency expense. All the while, many of these have credit debt with rip-off payments due to high bank interest rates (now over 21%) while the banks, which hold currently $113 billion of that credit, get federal money at 2.5% interest. Yes, profits! Furthermore, if your credit card is from a major department store the rates can be as high as 27%. Those payday lenders have outrageous interest charges that in a year can reach several times the original loan.
Credit cards seem so enticing. I recall asking the director of a budding public interest organization how he expected to finance his new operations; "I have a credit card" was the response -- as though it will automatically furnish cash and repay itself. To grant debt forgiveness for many thoughtless credit card holders signals a clear invitation for them to continue indulging in an immature or luxury-ridden habit; this could be to the detriment of all parties. Blanket forgiveness has its limitations! Credit card debt comes at a horrible cost to the borrower, but it is also an opportunity for learning some valuable lessons when repayment is required in due time.
All major religions have condemned usury in its many ugly forms. We ask what about thoughtless credit debt for items that are luxury or totally unaffordable for the normal frugal person. The credit card companies and their unrealistic enticements are highly to blame; reckless individual consumers and credit card holders should not be excused too quickly -- and thus the responsibility for paying many credit debts is quite valid. However, rates of interest must be reasonable to avoid usury. Some 88% of Americans support a cap on credit card interest rates. The legislation now before the U.S. Congress (Loan Shark Prevention Act) would cap credit card interest rates at 15% and still allow states to make stricter laws if they choose (20 states currently have prohibitions on higher rates and Alabama's maximum interest rate is 8%). U.S. credit unions can charge no more than 15%.
Forgiveness is a partial answer. Our nation has an unforgiving streak; e.g., capital punishment, long prison terms for non-violent offenders, easily accessible criminal records, social media false accusations that cannot be easily erased, and thoughtless emails that will not disappear. Now add to these examples the vast indebted class with health care costs and exorbitant debts piling up from cost of living expenses. Interestingly, the movement to forgive lower-income indebted foreign nations is more likely than to forgive our own citizens, even those in the military serving their country.
Health debt forgiveness is a possibility. Why should some unfortunately be so burdened when not their own fault. There is another question about those who through addiction or bad habits have piled up health bills and have the responsibility to pay back a portion or all of the health costs. However, the cause of health problems can be determined with a certain degree of certainty. Bankruptcy, as explained previously, is one solution for those who are caught in indebtedness; however, those desiring a future sound credit rating are reluctant to take that route. A reasonable national health system could stop this form of indebtedness.
Banking access is a needed opportunity. Many of the poor do not have alternative access to avoiding payday sharks when it comes to immediate credit. In the recent past the USPS offered access to banking. A return to this would allow the poor to have access to 30,000 post offices for banking purposes at reasonable rates.
Fairer taxes are a mainstay of forgiveness legislation. We have mentioned fairness in our ongoing treatment of this subject because the $650 billion returned to the wealthy in the last two years has not been for the benefit of our nation but for the privileged few. Far better is to couple a stiff income tax (some of the wealthy do not pay any income tax) with a fair wealth tax on the superrich. Don't worry, the wealthy will not exit their realm of privilege. Again, the 94% income taxes imposed on the wealthy during the Second World War was considered by FDR to be fair given so many citizens were sacrificing for their country. Those similar rates could be imposed today because circumstances are just as severe with the threats to global climate change. The challenge is for ongoing monitoring to assure that taxes received would be properly spent by our government.
Continued growing indebtedness is a curse in the long run. History shows that without regulations succeeding events include a movement to "enslave" the indebted classes; historically this has been the origin of serfdom. If the unfortunate indebted population reaches a degree of unpayable debts, they are at the mercy of cruel bill collectors. With a legal strong arm behind them the debtors can exert power such that the indebted lose their complete economic independence. Nevertheless, also in history creditors have at times been overthrown or forced to liberate slaves and serfs. The time for liberation and jubilee is today; let's make it so.
"Flag in a fiery sky"by rogersmj is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.
June 14, 2019 Do We Treat Old Glory with Respect?
The final ceremony at veterans' funerals just before committing the body to the grave involves the honor guard, the taps, the rifle reports, the folding of the flag covering the coffin, and the military salute to survivors. The care with which the flag is folded into that triangle shape to be placed in a prominent place by the spouse is always a moment of the deepest respect for the deceased.
Flags have been used since time immemorial to symbolize the devotion, courage and commitment of those who have given public service and were willing to sacrifice themselves for others. The flag stands for those noble efforts. People marched together behind a flag; some took great pains in the midst of war to raise a flag, as at Iwo Jima; some risked their lives to make sure the flag did not fall to the ground. Respect for fellow citizens and those who sacrificed their lives is all in a flag as symbol.
We ought to teach respect for the flag, especially to a more informal generation who may be inclined to take symbols lightly. As we age we may become more rigid in what is proper respect: undivided attention, silence, salutes, hand-to-breast, standing at the National Anthem. We fly flags at half-mast when an important person dies. We recall, in the words of the Star Spangled Banner, the immense uplift in spirits when they noticed over Fort McHenry near Baltimore that the flag had survived the British bombardment in the War of 1812. Our national consciousness is expressed through the symbol of our flag even while the emblems of states and communities do not elicit such pent-up emotion.
On Flag Day we even appreciate that some fly their flags at their places of business or at home. Today, our flags fly day and night, though the flag is supposed to be in a lighted place and is not supposed to be flown in darkness. Respect requires certain practices as to how to handle, fold and even destroy damaged flags. Disrespect of any sort bothers us most of the time -- for proper respect is a delicate boundary that can be easily crossed. We may wince when goofy folks drape themselves in our flag in improper ways; however, we applaud when American Olympic winners do just that on receiving their well-deserved medals.
We have been living seven decades with a flag of fifty states and hardly recall except in reading history books that the American flag changed in number of stars many times during the history of the expanding republic. However many stars, the American flag still elicits strong emotion on the part of many service personnel. The pledge of allegiance, given daily by students, indicates that we have a common heritage worth respecting on this and every annual Flag Day.
Prayer: Lord help us extend this act of respect to our national symbol, the flag, so that we are better bonded as a national community.
Rainbow over Anderson Co., KY.
June 15, 2019 Do We Honor Fatherly Self-Sacrifice?
Father's Day will come tomorrow and yet the Sunday liturgical readings do not always coincide enough to allow for including this rather secular feast into its religious setting. One solution is to think about the upcoming event the day before. Tomorrow is the Feast of the Holy Trinity and we realize that the Messiah is the Divine Father's Son -- and his suffering and death was a true sacrifice of God's love for us all. We are invited to become self-sacrificing people and come once more to realize that our earthly fathers all too often give up comfort for the welfare and success of their offspring. Raising a family well takes true sacrifice and countless parents have done this to make us who we are.
Responsible parents have not had to seek out sufferings; they are there for the taking and include accepting life's challenges and the opportunity to grow in such an acceptance; e.g., fatherhood. A conscientious father, this weekend's focus, accepts his crosses connected to providing, caring for, supporting and creating a viable family in a world where self-centeredness is an accepted norm. The cross of fatherhood includes accepting responsibility for children, lost sleep and privacy, uncertainty about future livelihood, and concerns about health of offspring as well as of spouse, parents and close relatives. Sacrifice is part of a responsible life, provided they are not denied, excused or escaped for more comfortable pursuits.
Over time, fathers learn to be truly paternal and caring while avoiding being paternalistic and domineering. A challenge! Some fathers do this better than others. Failure comes when caring breaks down through self-allurements, substance abuse or infidelity. Success comes through hard work and constant vigilance over one's household. Sacrifice means denying oneself and avoiding the temptations that would otherwise make us selfish and inwardly focused. Paternal challenges include helping launch youngsters on the right road to life, but also giving them the freedom to accept responsibility and judge correctly. It includes treating each offspring according to his or her personality and needs.
Self-sacrifice involves understanding one's powerlessness found in carrying a cross. However in accepting a cross we discover a hidden power -- a spirituality rooted in self-surrender and also self-discovery -- a process that Soren Kierkegaard addresses in The Sickness unto Death. Fathers who give themselves up for others, and are willing to do so, actually find themselves as companions with the Lord. Quality time spent with family becomes a spiritual investment in which a peace and satisfaction endures -- and helps improve performance. The person willing to become a suffering servant for others becomes a companion and friend even though this may involve "tough love" directed to the betterment of children.
Prayer: Lord, help us to be companions and friends to those under our charge, much as you are father to us all.
Fresh flowers from the tobacco plant. Pin
Oak Farm. Woodford Co., KY.
June 16, 2019 How Do We Live the Trinitarian Mystery?
The major challenge on the Feast of the Holy Trinity is how to take this deep mystery of faith and translate it in ways that allow all to see that our faith motivates and inspires our living deeds. Believers are called to make each truth in which we believe more than words; they must become deeds -- but this the deepest of mysteries presents a challenge to each of us. In the Trinity the love of persons is a Divine Harmony that is within and yet manifested fully in an outward way throughout all of creation, a work manifesting that harmony. See our book available on Amazon Books entitled Resonance: Promoting Harmony When Confronting Climate Change. All aspects of creation seeks at its own level a sense of harmony and balance with other entities whether at physical, chemical, biological, social, artistic, musical, interpersonal, compassionate and global cooperative levels.
This last level, which must be collaborative in itself, shows to believers how the marks of godliness running through all of creation. As Christians who seek to do God's work, we look to the historical Jesus; we see through reflection on the Scriptures that he is the embodiment of the Trinity's creativity, proclamation and extending love. In Jesus' life, death, and resurrection we find the human face of the Trinity; we seek to imitate him as faithful followers. We embody the Trinity mystery in our actions when in conformity with the Lord. We became other christs and, as intensity of our loving service grows, we increasingly show the truths in which we believe.
The Trinitarian nature of our Christian actions is shown in our actions in the world around us -- and when working for a universal harmony that embraces all the people of God. In these critical times, we have creative ways to address climate change that needs the support of all people; we resolve and put these words into action as service with and for others -- and we do this in the infinite sea of God's love. A procession of moments in our Christian action occurs: we are grateful for our gifts given by the Creator; we discern how to go about our actions; we take on collaborative service out of love of neighbor.
At this deepest level of collaboration we must do more than just be present to those immediately around us. As a people we must come together to save our threatened world from the lower selves that we are. We participate in the Lord's work of salvation when our actions are done to promote harmony in a dysfunctional world. We manifest the oneness of our Triune God reaching out to save our world. Our cooperative service brings us deeper into the reality of God's working in us; we perceive the action of the Trinity who permeates our lives. The greater the degree of love we put into each act, the greater is our witness to the God who is Love.
Prayer: O God of love, teach us to enter fully into salvation history and become a revelation of your love through our actions.
A grandma, working in her garden at age 90
June 17, 2019 Is There a Universal Right to Health Access?
For decades a citizen's right to health access has become a national debate issue, but the topic here is a UNIVERSAL right that embraces all human beings on this planet. Costs of extending this access even within our nation is a matter of major concern, especially by those seeking social justice for all. For some though a fading number, health access is meant for those who can afford it and that applies first to our country and all the more to the rest of the world. Why should some feel they are more privileged than others? The medical research that brings about improvements occurred highly through taxpayer funds. Private insurance companies have been very profitable, and reining them in with all their political clout has become a contentious issue. Yes, we have national issues due to expensive health, but a universal goal embracing all people is also needed.
Public funds have been used for scientific research and training of personnel as well as for the safety, prevention, and maintenance agencies that have promoted health advances. Unfortunately, a substantial portion of public funds has been used to subsidize the private pharmaceutical industry that advertises their wares in the public media -- and this leads to what some call fifteen years ago a fifty billion dollar overcharge (John Abramson, Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine ). This nation, even with an expanded right to health, is still caught up in a drug-related problem that results in overdosing and excessive drug use, even when legal -- a major portion of the over 70,000 drug overdoses in the U.S. this past year.
So much attention has been given to health care within our nation that we often fail to see that we have global commitments to our brothers and sisters in other countries. Perhaps two billion of the world's people just hope for the barest medical essentials such as access to clinics, medicines and vaccines. In one-third of the world's lands, health systems are lacking or exist in the most rudimentary manner, while a majority of the nations' health care workers (even more in poor Haiti) migrate to richer lands. The shortage of health care personnel is a chronic global problem.
A global health protection program includes sharing current medical information, proper medicines, general public health services, and access to basic immunization programs and protective equipment such as bed netting in malaria-prone areas of the world. Medical care based on economics allows the richer parts of the world to receive the most care and the poorer ones the least. If health care is to be rationed, what must be the selection basis? If according to need -- but whose need? On what basis should medical research funds be apportioned? On the most dangerous threats to more people? On tropical diseases afflicting the poor?
Prayer: God of the poor, help us to see and hear the ones who are calling for help -- for we are all one family. Would that we were as concerned about everyone's health as of our own.
Odd insect (Family Reduviidae - Assassin Bug) on thin-leaved
coneflower, Rudbeckia triloba
June 18, 2019 Will Our Nation Create a Proper Energy Mix?
In this period of growing global energy demand we become aware that greenhouse gases mainly from fossil fuel consumption demands that we look very closely at our fuel sources and the mix that allows the economy to move smoothly. Our country's current Administration does not regard climate change as a major problem and call it fake news. Some states have taken it on themselves to utilize the available renewables sources (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and others). The renewables are not only ready but in replacing fossil fuels they do so with a commercial advantage -- provides a level playing field, which is not currently the case. We could go renewable even at this time with some shorter term assistance with plentiful natural gas.
Energy efficiency techniques and education should be directed especially in those parts of our land that are still behind in implementing renewable resources. Such states like Kentucky, where coal has been king, need more energy conservation as well as promotion of renewable energy. In fact, if such conservation programs were promoted, savings would equal increased energy demand for the foreseeable future. More insulation and efficient light bulbs await installation in many parts of our country.
Grid integration will allow the flow of electricity, wind-generated on the High Plains or in many coastal areas, to be shared with people in outlying and less wind-rich regions. Most areas could benefit with currently marketed wind and solar devices.
Hydropower is clean and can be obtained to some degree from water currents and tides without the need for more disturbing dams in waterways. Existing lock-and-dam facilities need utilizing.
Geothermal energy is most available for centralized electricity generation in many states. Today, geothermal heat from heat pumps is widely available; this uses ground and atmospheric temperature differentials for heating and cooling and has produced reductions in domestic heating and cooling bills of up to 70%. Equipment does need replacement about every fifteen years.
Biofuels are of great variety and include waste materials used as fuels. However, not all biofuels are equal. We ought never to use food grains for fuel (see June 6th) when such use must be federally subsidized and results in higher-priced foods.
Non-renewable sources are currently in our energy mix: natural gas has a bright future; coal ought to be phased out, for so-called clean coal technologies are expensive and unproven at a commercial level; new nuclear power plants should be avoided due to high costs, safety issues and unproven disposal of waste materials.
Prayer: Lord, give us the strength to choose wisely from the many energy gifts given -- and to be most discerning in our fuel choices.
Sunet at the end of a hot summer's day
June 19, 2019 Why Must We Conserve Resources?
When we were younger drivers we engaged in a game -- how close can we come to the end of the auto gas tank before going for more fuel? I don't think such risk-taking appeals to older folks who would have to tote a fuel can several miles to the nearest gas station, but we engage in equivalent sorts of games. When this topic was conceived a decade ago, the emphasis was on preserving diminishing petroleum resources which had been predicted to run out in a few decades. New American fracking techniques have so greatly increased commercial reserves both in this country and abroad along with rapidly increasing incorporation of renewable resources that the end of petroleum is no longer a major problem. However, this does not mean that conservation is no longer an issue.
Consumption is still rising. Resource conservation refers to limiting wasteful and unnecessary use of all forms of essential and luxury materials from food to fuel and from building materials to water. To consume in ever growing amounts, especially now in developing nations (a half billion Chinese are arriving at the higher consuming middle class), means that what is essential to some will be beyond their economic reach due to greater demand by the affluent. China is the number one car buyer; Indians in equal numbers are making demands for cars and expanded space for lodging.
Excess consumption breeds selfishness. Many in the developed nations have insisted at least mentally that they deserve the materials and services needed for preparing resource-rich foods or more home appliances and air conditioning. This demand for more is based on individual comfort and not on some principle of sharing with the rest of the world. Selfishness soon prevails over a culture, "If I can buy it, I should have it." On the other hand conservation constantly harkens to resources as gifts that need to be used wisely for the benefit of all.
Conservation practices save the environment. We constantly advocate the use of less energy through conservation and we promote those sources that are less harmful to the environment. We are reminded that we ought to save the limited non-renewable petroleum resources to meet future needs -- even when potential supplies of natural gas grow. Less fossil fuels mean less greenhouse gases.
Conservation leads to care for creation. A person whether young child or elder who wastes food, and never sees the need for care for what one has, will be prone to overuse resources even without thinking about it. A person needs not be a vegetarian and still conserve the amount of animal products consumed in a year, and to do so in a healthy manner. Such awareness opens the citizen to respect for the essential needs of fellow human beings throughout the world. Conservation is handmaiden of solidarity.
Prayer: Teach us, Lord, to think beyond ourselves and to be realistic and fair-minded in use of resources.
Photo by Warren Brunner.
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June 20, 2019 How about Some Verses: Steadfastness?
We strive to stand firm,
not moved by shifting winds,
or rushing tides, or darkened skies.
We affirm the Faithful One
Who gives us steadfast love
with gifts that eternalize.
That divine faithful love
takes root in Earth herself
where sufferers personalize.
We too give another our word,
steadfast promise unwritten
through voices that legalize.
Let us the restless ones
speak in a mountain way,
on our word we solemnize.
In changing times we are more aware that the individual must stand up to the storm and show a fearless behavior, always aware of the current situation. Being alert people, we must constantly glance out to the horizon wherein our hope lies. The current situation allows us to care for the ones near us, our family and local community; a steady gaze shows that we are not completely taken up with the present moment, but we direct our journey to the distant goal that is beyond our immediate vicinity.
We are thus committed to learn from our surroundings and to gather the courage it takes to continue moving, even when feet and body ache. Furthermore, we are committed to forming larger and expanding communities that reach beyond our immediate purview; we look out to those neighbors beyond the locality. However, this steadfast search beyond involves a trust based on a covenant promise that God is with us. Fidelity includes giving care to the needy, and ensuring that those who come after us follow in our footsteps as caring service people to their peers as well. In this age of short-term agreements some presume their marriages will not last and make financial arrangements in case of eventual breakup. The lack of long-term goals extends to home purchases, jobs, religious practice, even friendships. Mobility has a place, but so do stability and steadfastness.
Photos of mountain scenes that reflect the world of land forms that can teach us steadfastness are found in our Mountain Moments -- (obtained from publisher Acclaim Press or from Amazon Books). The mountains are our companions, for here we see the steadfastness of the divine creative hand at work in our world. While they won't last forever they still will stand for centuries to come.
Prayer: Lord in your steadfast love for us teach us to be steadfast in what we do and the way we treat others.
The National Debt
For those of us fiscal conservatives the notion of a national debt is quite disquieting. To think that in the past few economically healthy years our national indebtedness has grown annually by over one trillion dollars; this puts fear in the hearts of every fiscal conservative. Yes, our nation's debt grows annually by $4,000 per person even while we are "prosperous." I do not want that debt burden, but why should other sane people? How do we so overspend our taxable income by such an amount when we should be paying down that debt? How can it be eliminated when a renewable economy is being born and the need to focus on infrastructure rebuilding is so urgent? Are we digging an ever deepening hole due to unnecessary military expenses that only enhance the voracious industrial-military complex?
How big is this debt? It is rising for this decade at a rate of almost a trillion dollars a year and will reach $22.7 trillion at the end of 2019. That comes to $65,963 (and counting) for every man, woman and child in this fair land or in more practical terms $177,702 for every American taxpayer -- and some billionaires are outside this categories for they take no income.
Who owns this debt? It can be divided four ways: U.S. Investors 32.5%; foreign investors 29.3%; Federal Reserve 11.2%; and U.S. Government 27%. Some of this remains a mystery for those of us with less economic experience. The one category that would be hurt by an anarchical decision to abolish the debt would be American investors, and the hurt ones who would scream at the U.S. economy would be foreign investors. The other two categories would be to balance or zero out the governmental mystical categories.
What causes the increased debt? That answer is quite simple and does not relate to the state governments that cannot incur longstanding debts like the federal government can; as a nation we simply spend more than we take in for revenue. The wealthy call for "no new taxes" -- and of course the poorer taxpayers agree; they do not realize that privileges to the rich are already cutting heavily into possible positive payments of our national bills.
Can we reduce the debt? Amazingly, few seem that interested in curbing and eliminating that debt. It would seem that this should be a Republican issue, since they are often considered the conservative portion of the political spectrum, but are they? Without a base pressure group we can expect the debt to continue to rise, for few want to disturb the gravy train. Actually, two simple ways could be presented, but would a militaristic legislator and administration agree? The first is a drastic reduction in military spending -- not curbs in social security or other programs affecting poor and low-income folks. We do not have to build and maintain these super expensive aircraft carriers -- the global sitting ducks -- nor the hundred million dollar aircraft with no comparable competitors anywhere in the world. The second is to institute fair taxes that quickly target billionaires and wealthy corporations.
Should the debt be upped? There is no good reason for increasing the indebtedness of our nation. We are the wealthiest nation in the world and it is within our means to raise the money it takes to keep us in good standing within the world economy.
However, there is no reason we must be the policemen of the world and hold a military budget far greater than other nations along with the payment of past military indebtedness. Let's be sensible and correct this budget and curb hundreds of billions each year, thus bringing expenditures in line with income. Secondly, let's increase income through removing extravagant reductions and tax benefits and add those of a wealth tax on the superrich who do not "have" incomes but flourish through property value accrual. Both proper curbing and fair taxes would stop a need for such debt.
Can fiscal bipartisanship be possible? What has happened in recent years is that pet liberal and conservative programs and projects have been continued as part of the art of kicking the can down the road. Neither party wants to undertake the somewhat difficult task of saying "no" to certain extravagances in their districts, especially military ones; they are tempted to cut social benefits to the objections of liberals or military expenses to the objections of many conservatives. A new set of rules will be necessary if we are to begin a fair project of paying federally for higher education and to forgive both student loans and personal indebtedness resulting from health care costs as discussed earlier. Our nation demands that both parties work jointly for a compromise.
Will the new renewable energy economy be hampered by debt?
Negative curbing and restrictions on wasteful practices are only half the struggle; the other half is more positive steps at promoting a decentralized independent citizen-benefiting renewable energy economy. This is in contrast to current Big Energy role in the economy. Surprisingly large current subsidies for fossil fuel could be transferred to expanding renewable energy sources. This could become a green light for more rapid renewable expansion, which is not expanding fast enough to offset increasing global energy demands. Tax incentives will help expand solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and tidal along with the beginnings of a hydrogen fueling system (with less preparatory and no final emissions).
For all intents and purposes we must become more fiscally conservative because indebtedness breeds disrespect for a sound fiscal system. Furthermore, more funds are needed for expanded educational and health benefits, as well as long-delayed infrastructure maintenance and expansion. Pursuing a more conservative stance we could still find the funds through fair taxation of the wealthy and the curbing of military expenses to take on a less global role. We must learn to bite the bullet even when this takes spiritual willpower which is currently in short supply. But it can be done.
Glorious rainbow over Basilica of San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission (Carmel Mission).
(*photo by Frank Fritsch)
June 21, 2019 Must We Make Hay While the Sun Shines?
Today is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year as far as sunlight is concerned. This is prime hay-making time in the American Midwest when the weather permits. Certainly that weather has an important role to play, for suitable time is at a premium for curing and baling hay without loss of its higher nutritional value. Too much moisture in the hay results in moldy product, and too much drying is detrimental as well. The opportune moment must be seized and made good whenever it arrives whether today or any day. We need to know when and be prepared to act accordingly.
Farmers and others having outdoor occupations watch the weather closely. The sunshine and ideal periods of our lives are also of limited duration. Unlike the winter solstice, when we know each day will be longer for the next six months, we will soon sense the shortening of daylight. Thus doing the best with a limited span is more relevant to us now on the longest day -- at least that is the way those with farming in their blood see it. Others may not take this rather realistic view on June 21, when each of the next six months is a little more dying; is this because not all of us are "day people" who value sunlight more than growing darkness?
I was never a great "haymaker;" hay-making is sweaty, difficult and dirty, even though the benefits are great for the wintered livestock. Perhaps the practice today with more mechanized equipment may be seen by modern haymakers as less onerous, for our haying consisted of putting the crop into a barn that was itself a sweat box in summer. However, even amid the summer work, there was a bright horizon; hay-making looked ahead to a comfortable winter hayloft and hungry cattle straining to be fed. Hay-making was then and is now a longer-term investment and, what we sacrifice in harvesting, yields a payoff later. Thus farmers take this investment and accept the sacrifices involved -- and on the open market high quality hay proves to be a money-maker.
Looking beyond hay as a commodity we see that investing in our future involves making some effort now. Our investment in assisting others allows us to make up for what is wanting in our imperfect past performances, and likewise helps in the salvation of our wounded Earth. Hay-making morphs into Earth-healing. What we need to do for such healing is accept another adage -- "strike when the iron is hot" and heal when the creature is down and out. We cannot afford to put things off to later. "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in its petty pace from day to day" (Macbeth Act 5, scene 5). Our work is not petty; it must be launched now. We are aware of the limited time span that gives urgency to the mission before us. And we do so at the summer solstice.
Prayer: Lord, help us understand the significance of the longest day, not to procrastinate, but to know how short life is, and that this day's span is a gift to use wisely -- for it will soon be gone.
Kentucky native Opuntia humifusa, prickly pear cactus.
June 22, 2019 Why Should We Celebrate Public Service Day?
Each year the UN Public Service Day is on June 23rd. How are we to observe it? In some primitive cultures there is little private service beyond personal and family needs. All the rest is public: road-building, caring for the old and infirm, gathering food for the community, defense, and common utilities. For these cultures the private arena is the minor service. Is that the case in the free market economy where we find ourselves today? Private service for self is primary; service to the public is often underrated and secondary. The fact is that public services involves a far greater portion of our world than admitted at first, provided services done for others is truly undertaken with benefiting others in mind. Nonetheless, we need a healthy balance in our time, effort and attention among the various services we choose to render to others. Let's remind ourselves of the various public services:
* Governmental public service at offices at various levels and assisting in electing personnel and managing these services;
* Military service in the various branches to the longer range security of our threatened world;
* Health services as doctors or caregivers in a wide variety of occupations and outlets;
* Educational services in institutions or informally, e.g., teacher assistants and literacy training programs;
* Religious services in the presentation or assisting of public acts of worship and maintenance of worship space;
* Emergency, rescue and security services such as performed by fire, police or ambulance and 911 departments;
* Communications services through the media for the informational benefit of large numbers of people;
* Transportation services through operating or maintaining vehicles on land, sea or air for carrying people and freight;
* Heritage and cultural preservation services; and
* Space exploration and maintenance services.
Some may want to extend this to commercial and financial services, but these are all too often privatized, as are some of the elements in the above listing. For those of us who affirm the "reclaiming of the commons," still other areas such as forest management, wildlife and ecological preservation, and various types of research are ecological and recreational opportunities that could be in the public service portion of the economy. Goods production, processing and commercialization may be regarded as private, but again the common good is a vital component. Preserving and distributing from the commons can be regarded as service though it could entail activities that are often privatized. The public service is as broad as a people desire to make it, and some of us want to restrict the private arena.
Prayer: Lord, make us aware of what our neighbors need; give us opportunities to be of service to them; let our service to others be our primary consideration as we discern what to do.
Another June-blooming stonecrop, Pink stonecrop, Sedum pulchellum.
June 23, 2019 How Do We Testify to Christ's Presence Today?
Today is the feast of Corpus Christi. We come together at this time and place when and where Christ is re-presented to the people, that is, when Calvary is extended in space and time. Through words of consecration we witness to a sacred act of Christ coming among us in a personal way. We become Christ to others. If we believe that Christ is really present, then we are to present Christ to a world that is hungering for God's presence. Christians seek to profess words through deeds. Recall that St. Theresa of Avila speaks of our being hands and feet of the Lord.
The real presence in the Eucharist is a matter of adoration, for many of us believe through the eyes of faith that Christ is present. Our liturgical Eucharistic Consecration changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord. For those without faith this action seems almost laughable. However, we must reaffirm that this is not only liturgically- and biblically-based from the time of Christ's earthly ministry, but that this faith act continues unbroken through apostolic succession and priestly commission. The Lord is with us, a reality that grows with each Mass; the Calvary event continues in space and time. Through faith, this Presence gives reality to our present moment, a coalescing of past and future into the sacred NOW.
The past includes the Calvary event of two thousand years ago. This historic event transcends time and thus is made ever present by our liturgical participation. We accept the sufferings of the past and the yearning of ancient Israel for the Promised One. The past is thus fulfilled with each passing day and our Liturgy extends that fulfillment with our participation in the sacred HERE.
The future hoped-for coming of the Lord is included as well, an anticipation of the definitive coming of the kingdom of God when Word is presented in a formal manner. The Word was born and became one of us in the Incarnation; the fulfilled Word will come again at the end of time to gather us all together. The one who came and lived, suffered, and died is the one who rose and went before us in space and time. It is the Christ who was and will be Lord of the Universe, who is among us and is made present by our faith- and hope-filled deeds performed in as loving act of divine love being present. We are the ones who believe and hope, and thus are the ones who learn from past history how to prepare for the future that will be filled with love.
God is Love with or without us, and yet we know in faith that Divine Love empowers us to love in turn. To profess faith with no love is meaningless and the same applies with hope as well. Living our faith and hope can only is perfected through loving deeds, when Word is realized through what we are and do. The deeds performed manifest the God who creates, redeems and inspires us. Our own oneness in faith, hope and love testifies to God's oneness.
Prayer: Lord, make your presence through our loving deeds.
The Rockcastle River.
June 24, 2019 Do We Truly Believe in Transformed Bread and Wine?
Those Christians who believe in the Body of Christ, the feast we celebrated yesterday, profess the real presence, not only as end point of transformation, but in the mystery of the process itself. The Lord becomes present and that is before our eyes, the eyes of faith, while nothing seems to happen in the eyes of the unbeliever around us. The bread and wine that have been made by human hands in growing, picking, crushing, milling, baking, fermenting and transporting all this material reflect a human effort in preparing for the transformation event. Then a solemn liturgical moment arrives; the presider and those present in the faithful community witness to a Mystery unfolding in the Consecration.
What has a humble human content becomes the body and blood of the Lord. A sacramental reality occurs, and this unites us more closely in the Mystical Body of Christ -- the Church in the process of being constructed with cooperating hands. Furthermore, this building up goes beyond church walls and organization; this is the building of a new world of peace and justice. To believe in Christ coming into our midst is to believe that the work we do has a divine/human aspect that will lead in due time to the New Heaven and New Earth. It is not enough to simply believe Jesus is present; we must believe that his becoming present is the beginning of our efforts to bring about his complete presence at his coming soon. We enter into the transformation mystery in a special way.
The bread and wine of Melchizedek was part of an Old Testament transformational process: a coming of a world to faith. This story tells the history of Abraham's particular journey of Faith and the foreshadowing of what was to come in the New Covenant. Our lives foreshadow what will happen in the great gathering, of which we are only starting to have a faint awareness; the New Heaven and New Earth are coming into being. We gather and eat together, but we cannot go and do so perfectly when some people have overabundance and others lack the basics of life. Thus steps toward sharing must be taken and they must occur now.
In the multiplication of the loaves (Luke 9:11b-17) we discover common elements with other accounts of the miracle(s): basic trust in Jesus; distrust by the disciples as to whether there is enough food; a miracle of either physical multiplication of the food or the opening of the stored food by the many for others who are nearby (a miracle of charity); the example of a youth willing to share his bare essentials; the example of a gracious God giving us well above what is needed to feed the hungry, and a care not to have any waste remain. The totality of the event opens us to a deeper respect of God present to us.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gifts you give as exemplified by the multiplication of the loaves; help us transform that gratitude to active service for others, at which time we show them our belief in your presence to us; help us allow our deeds to be a foreshadowing of what is to come.
Fungi in catnip garden.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
June 25, 2010 What about a Marshall Plan for Emerging Nations?
Some progressive American groups have been promoting a twenty-first century approach to assisting poorer nations; this is similar to the highly successful Marshall Plan that helped war-torn Europe after the Second World War. Since Western Europe was the recipient of American largess, so the European Union -- a successful product of the Marshall Plan -- ought to join America in funding (not just by loans) projects that would allow nations to overcome the hurdles of high unemployment and engage in genuine development. This goes far beyond military objectives. A decade ago Madeleine Bunting commented that what worries critics of the Afghanistan nation-building is "that the "militarization of aid is a dangerous slippery slope whereby development aid is distorted or subordinated to achieve military objectives," a comment even more true today.
Funding resources could be found, considering the massive amounts used today for military campaigns and base maintenance. In Reclaiming the Commons we suggested a worldwide development fund with the same intention and direction as the Marshall Plan. We have suggested that this could be funded through a trust that security could accrue if military budgets were tithed for the purpose. Also nations that fall under the umbrella of foreign military security ought to help pay the bills of this massive undertaking in a global collaboration.
Needs and willing workers can be identified. Poor nations need to get ahead just as a bombed-out Europe needed assistance to start to rebuild and grow once again. Among the areas of current attention ought to be: infrastructure construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, seaports, airports and railroads; basic schools for the people; clinics and hospitals in all areas; assistance to small farmers for fertilizer, pest control, irrigation and seeds; storage facilities for holding crops grown in the various countries; environmental protection projects; renewable energy projects (especially solar and wind); and proper housing projects. Certainly our own country has similar needs, which could be met with fairer taxation on billionaires and corporate giants.
Benefits will most certainly accrue from such a Marshall Plan, provided the funding is directed properly and monitored successfully. In fact, with modern means of distribution, monitoring and communication, misuse of funding could be rather clearly exposed, and thus funding skewed to nations where the track record is good, with hopes that other nations will follow suit. Such well-spent funding could have multiple ramifications. Money coming to communities for construction projects would be directed locally and have a manifold multiplier effect for local goods and services. Such projects would require large numbers of workers -- hopefully drawn from the ranks of the local unemployed.
Prayer: Lord, help us to rid our minds of excessive militarism and to use the resources associated with such current policies to assist developing nations with essential needs.
Kitch-iti-kipi (Big cold water in Chippewa language), Michigan's
largest freshwater spring.
Upper Peninsula, near Thompson.
June 26, 2019 Should Jerusalem be Internationalized?
One of the most delicate subjects is that of the status of Jerusalem. The Trump Administration yielded to external pressure and unilaterally decided to move our embassy to Jerusalem. That city has been and should remain international even beyond the notion that cities can be more than one thing. New York is both the financial center of America and the headquarters of the United Nations. Serving one purpose does not mean a large city cannot do something else as well, unless making Jerusalem the capital of Israel blocks off a two-state solution to the Holy Land (it could be capital to both states). However, would it not be better for the peace of the world that Jerusalem be declared "international"?
Being controlled solely by one state (namely Israel) is totally unacceptable to both Muslim and Christian residents and to those of other faiths wishing to come and worship in Jerusalem. This uniquely sacred place is a "commons" belonging to all the world's people, and especially to those of three great religions comprising a majority of the human race. We find areas of the commons on this planet that deserve sharing and talk about them elsewhere. However, in past instances Danzig and at other times Tangiers were regarded as "internationalized" to some limited degree. Here is another city, not based on trade or commerce or failure of nations to agree, with a history of belonging in a broader cultural and religious base -- to Jews, Muslims and Christians of a variety of denominations.
The internationalized territory may perhaps be limited to areas of major dispute, especially to the "old city," which contains some of the holiest shrines among those religions of the book that comprise a majority of the world's peoples. Examples of “international" auspices are currently in effect in the entire though unpopulated continent of Antarctica. They have worked well enough through treaties or agreements wherein certain zones of control exist. Perhaps the same could be the case in the entire area of Jerusalem. Though this procedure when applied to Jerusalem seems more difficult to actualize, still it is a matter of lasting peace that is at stake.
A peace dividend could result. An international status would help create an atmosphere of trust among all parties. The world is too small to be overly exclusive; the sharing does not diminish one's respect for a site; in fact mutual respect will enhance its importance and allow the removal of some of the current military presence that hinders worship by peaceful pilgrims. The increased numbers of pilgrims would be the massive peace dividend. How about encouraging all believers in the "Religions of the Book" to come to Jerusalem once in their lifetimes -- hundreds of thousands per month? Think of the commerce in lodging, restaurants and other services to the benefit of all parties.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to internationalize holy places and make this historic place a global commons.
Pods of the redbud (Cercis canadensis).
June 27, 2019 Why a Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy?
"We the People" do not control our own government. In our modern globalized world, corporations have been "free" to move their capital (money) and business from one nation to another at their own discretion with disastrous effects on some of these countries (even by the admission of the International Monetary Fund). The power of unregulated financial corporations makes the world beholden to their private operations and to the decisions of executives who take law into their own hands or create favorable laws through massive lobby efforts.
Since the mid 1990s the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD) has shown in its own words "that corporations were not merely exercising power, but virtually ruling us." POCLAD seeks to end corporate rule through learning, training and lobbying; POCLAD has exposed this ongoing erosion of democracy at a precise time when our democratic systems ought to be strengthened after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ongoing search for a more just world. POCLAD has been just as grieved by the Middle East conflicts and horrified by the Wall Street bankers who plunged this country into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and then received the reward of massive amounts of taxpayer money. The group is also offended by a health care reform that took a "single payer" approach off the table due to the influence of the insurance and pharmaceutical companies.
POCLAD says in quoting the late Howard Zinn that "the designation of corporations as 'Persons' is just proof of how our legal system, the Constitution, and the courts have always been tools of the wealthy classes." The heart of the issue is to return democracy to the people. POCLAD focuses its efforts on promoting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to make it clear that only living persons have inalienable human rights protected by this country's foundational document.
POCLAD knows full well that to make this amendment possible it must get the people behind it -- and has been going to the media in this effort through commentary, editorials and interviews. The organization realizes that demands must be made clearly in order to pressure existing institutions to respond. POCLAD is convinced that the first step is to get this amendment through the long and arduous process -- and that is an opportunity to educate our people in hard-pressed grassroots democracy. In the past two years the need to control massive tech companies has become an urgent effort on the part of EU and North American governments. These giant corporations (Facebook, Google, Apple, etc.) are at the forefront of an uncontrolled globalization and seek to subvert worldwide democratic process.
Prayer: Lord, give us strength to continue the battle of noble people who see the weaknesses of our economic system, and who strive to change the current system into a more just one.
Nine Ways One Can Fight Climate Change
Climate change problems are on our mind during hot summer days and with threatening extreme weather events possible. Individuals can curb pollution and make a difference -- and this could mount up if enough people participated. Individually, we are becoming more aware of a need for a "carbon-free" economy with its reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Likewise, through our simple lifestyle actions we can make ourselves motivated to enlist others for the task, for this must become a global community project. Here are 9 ways to do so:
Pray. Secularists may begin by taking some sort of political action or energy-saving technique. Believers realize the need for will power, and this entails divine assistance that our founding American revolutionaries realized; they could not succeed without God's help. We know that all humans (provided they work together) could join in a heroic collective effort to lessen climate change damage; this is predicted to become drastic if it exceeds the +1.5 degree Celsius global temperature rise over pre-industrial levels. The undertaking is challenging and is compounded by a surge of energy consumption by large portions of the world's populations. Tackling excess emissions calls for inspiration and guidance.
Perform civic duties. Call and urgently press U.S. senators to vote for the pending U.S. Congressional House Bill related to supporting the Paris Climate Change Accord. Emphasize that our neglect as a nation is a crime against humanity, for other nations depend on our motivation as a people who have contributed the most industrial pollution. We have a moral responsibility to take a leadership role in addressing the situation and to confront climate change deniers within our government (including our President). Congratulate governmental environmental advocates and encourage the silent legislators to speak up and do their part.
Promote renewable energy. Most are familiar with renewable energy sources and can promote, encourage and utilize solar and wind applications at home, work, or worship; we must do all we can to see that others do their part as well.
Travel with economy in mind. Many of us do not have ready access to local public land transport. While use of public transport is generally an energy-saving choice, using private vehicles certainly makes a heavy carbon footprint when their vehicles use fossil fuels. Auto drivers should seek to reduce car use to minimum trips (on-line purchases of items still must be brought to our door); we may carpool and use cautious driving habits that waste less fuel. Conservation also occurs in how well the vehicle is maintained (tires, oil change, etc.). Furthermore, we ought to consider limiting those resource-expensive air flights to only rare and necessary times. For vacations we could stay closer to home on most occasions (trips to distant places are needed but hopefully rare); social media can save trips, but face-to-face visits can be valuable.
Keep healthy living space. Refrain from air conditioning as much as possible. When needed, cool a limited space (one or two rooms) at moderate temperatures (70 degree Fahrenheit). Overheated houses in winter (above 60 degrees Fahrenheit)and below 70 degrees in summer creates heavy demands on home heating and air-conditioning (AC) -- and it's unhealthy. It is a good practice to replace wasteful home electric appliances with newer energy-saving devices; it's quite true for refrigerators and hot water systems.
Moderate eating habits. Foods vary in energy inputs, but this does not follow some sort of nutritional scale; we can have highly nutritious meals without making a heavy resource impact on our environment. Prepared foods and animal products take far more resources than unprocessed vegetables, herbs, fruit, nuts and grain; all in all, these last categories can prove to be highly nutritious and healthy. Meat is a major focus since cattle and other livestock require vast grazing areas that could be forestlands; they consume corn and other feeds grown on land that could be used for direct plant protein substitutes for human consumption. Even if not a vegan or vegetarian we can moderate meat consumption for our health and that of the planet. Ideally we could maintain a garden or buy locally-grown produce; we should consume foods that are in season. Furthermore, let's reduce prepared snacks laced with salt, fats or sugar.
Avoid an electronic device addiction. Most of us have a growing habit or addiction to use electronic devices excessively. The Internet and even Bitcoins demand energy to function as do computers, home and office appliances and rechargeable computer hand-held devices. We often leave electronic devices on when not needed and we overuse electric devices in home and office. The energy required for maintaining these grows by leaps and bounds.
Do not overconsume. Much of the resources of the world is being used for individualized consumer products. Glass and paper are no longer profitably recycled. One ought to consider whether we can refrain from the most fashionable new item. So often we forget to take permanent containers to market that replace one-trip plastic or paper bags. Subscribe and communicate digitally and save paper and transportation costs. Reduce paper towel use through cloth napkins or wiping cloths. Even moderation in water use cuts purification and transporting energy costs.
Spread the word. All citizens must show just how concerned this climate change issue is both for themselves and their immediate and longer-term descendents. There is little time to lose, so a sense of responsible urgency must be present without resorting to alarm or panic; the emerging conditions can make citizens resort to denial in the mode of the current U.S. federal Administration, excuse because the issue is too complex for them, or escape to alternative issues because their psychic balance is disturbed. Our areas of networking should be family, neighbors, colleagues, fellow worshippers, as well as civic and political leaders. Facebook is an ideal venue. Let's spread the word.
Taking a break.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
June 28, 2019 What Are the June Blessings?
Blessings come in every season, but when times get warmer or colder we often focus too much on our discomforts and forget the good things all around us. In June we are truly thankful:
* For native and exotic flowers -- day lilies, bee balm, black-eyed Susans and the colorful flowers of June, as well as the more delicate types such as the Queen Anne's lace;
* For the coming of outdoor water sports and the shrill delight of those who enjoy them;
* For all birds and especially mockingbirds that flutter to high places and give us pure joy in their rendition of the bird community;
* For roads on which to travel that they remain safe, and our vehicles we use to move from place to place during vacation season;
* For clean and well-guarded public rest stops, and for cheerful and well mannered service people who make the purchase of meals more enjoyable and who allow us to spend quality time when making purchase and at entertainment events;
* For the start of the berry season and all the tastes that go with variety of lush fruit of the vine;
* For the picnic and celebratory events and the joy of eating out with others those good tasting delights of the season;
* For the smell of new-mown hay and new summer vegetation;
* For the freshness of a summer rain and colorful rainbow that follows for a brief period;
* For the grand oaks and elms and other trees of the woods in all their summer glory;
* For the pronounced sounds that can penetrate the acoustic dampening of leaves on the trees (bells, bird calls, whistles and playful youth) -- and the gift to hear and to distinguish them;
* For bounding colts and heifers and the exuberance of all new and young life in the wild and in the fields;
* For buzzing bees of all sizes that help pollinate the many food plants we have; and
* For the pilgrimages, processions and rallies that manifest a sense of public display of religious and spiritual life even in a materialistic and secular age.
Prayer: Lord, help us to be ever more thankful for the growing season and for the bountiful daylight of this month.
Water's power and beauty.
Carp River, near St. Ignace, MI.
June 29, 2019 Have You Resolved to Live within Your Means?
Americans whether at the individual level or as a nation with mounting indebtedness and increased supposed essentials live beyond their means -- and live in a pretended world that someone will solve our problems. We are collectively acting irresponsibly and seldom recall that this once was a conservative issue. It is not right to expect the grandchildren take care of our debts.
Know and accept the current situation. Some simply deny the situation as it is whether it is personal health or national financial health. Many excuse themselves and leave the problems to offspring or others in the future after our departure; tomorrow is beyond their purview. Still others remove this financial problem through physical or mental escapes, which allows them to forget their debts.
Live within a budget. It sounds so simple, but some do and many more do not. A budget demands cuts in the obvious and savings in unexpected places. Merely crying not to cut this or that is not sufficient to stave off bankruptcy, whether as an individual or a nation. We must resolve to bind the sources to pay debts.
Live simply. Telling this to many falls on deaf ears, even when they are going broke. We could live with less meat and prepared foods, downsize our living space, pass over the latest electronic device, lower the temperature of the home in winter and take cooling steps that reduce air conditioner use, drive less and carpool more, and refrain from expensive pair relief medicines. A more conservationist approach helps discover places to reduce expenses and allow for a healthier and even more enjoyable life.
Re-examine the right to bear arms. If we all kept a musket above the fireplace or in the local arsenal (as the Constitution writers intended), there would be few problems. Modern security becomes an obsession for individuals who do not realize that any crazie armed with automatic weapons is the height of insecurity. Our military budget that is over half the entire governmental expenditure (57%) and includes military hardware, two current wars, veterans' expenses, and service of the military part of the national debt) is what is breaking us. The withdrawal of Roman legions from Britain actually extended the life of the Roman Empire a little longer; our closing overseas bases could do the same.
Don't tolerate extravagance. Why all these billionaires? They should make as much as they can get -- but not be allowed to retain what should belong to all the people, especially those in need of essential services. We are going broke through a permissiveness in allowing concentration of untaxed wealth and mounting expenses for unfunded essential services.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to realize where we are, what we can do, and how much we need to understand about living beyond our means. Make us share what are material luxuries with the needy.
Eastern box turtle makes a trail through the grass.
June 30, 2019 Can Diplomacy Replace Military Might?
Lord, would you not have us call down fire from heaven to destroy them? (Luke 9:54)
In St. Luke's Gospel today we find the disciples James and John asking this question to Jesus as they pass through the inhospitable areas of Samaria. In turn, Jesus rebukes them for such a suggestion. Perhaps we can learn a lesson from this that has immediate application today as a reminder in reflection on the theme of resoluteness in the face of upcoming dangers.
In the current Middle Eastern wars all too often the fire from heaven is called in to wipe out the Taliban and ISIS. The drones and command of the skies above allow our forces to call down fire at will on a caravan or convoy, and in some cases on innocent civilians attempting to flee. Are not Christian people called to rebuke the manner of conduct of this armed struggle? All too often progress is based on military operations, although virtually everyone in and out of government admits that there are other ways that must be applied in order to gain success in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
The non-military options can be just as resolute, though the practical types of policy-makers may object. Among the many causes discussed for the "fall of the Roman Empire" in the fifth century A.D. is the preaching of pacifism by the predominant Christian culture. The over-arching assessment was that the Empire was good, and Christians were to blame because they worked for peace. A totally different interpretation was that the Empire was rotten and needed change, and Christians helped usher in that change in part (not totally) through peaceful means. Today, a strong and growing contingent of people (Christians and others) sees futility and negative effects in calling down fire from heaven.
Certainly we want closure to the bitter Middle East struggles and desire a free and just society to emerge. However, our means of reaching this demand diplomacy, not raw military force. The tolerance of inequality allows some to be super rich and others to lack essential food, housing, education and health. This very failure to share has a contagious effect on world health, leading to suicide bombers and terrorism on the part of despairing people. Thus, what is needed is a creative fire that generates economic and political change -- not more and more bombs from the sky. Some efforts are being taken to stabilize the countryside in the Middle East, and these efforts should be continued. However, we need to let these nations develop in their own way and not stifle their efforts through military excess. This is easier said than done.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, inspire us to work for peace and to do so resolutely and without flinching. Help us convert our role from that of making war to making peace in affected areas through collaborative diplomacy.