ON DATE BELOW TO READ
Copyright © 2006 by Al Fritsch
Spring and Spring Beauty,
early March sightings in Kentucky
Photo: Janet Powell
We are always reminded in our northern
temperate zone and in mid-America that March comes in like a lion
and goes out like a lamb. For those who are not familiar with the
quirks of our spring weather this is a rather accurate saying,
because we have some stiff and cool breezes in early and windy March
as winter gives off its last breath. Then we will be blessed with
gentle weather as April's showers and buds will come forth.
With global warming and the warmest years in
our lifetimes happening almost annually, we are finding the winters
becoming springlike. We have had mourning doves in January and
forsythia blooming in February. Now March promises daffodils and
jonquils. March does give us Ash Wednesday and Lent with all the
solemnity and pensive character in preparation for Easter next
month. We know that in basketball country it is the season of March
madness; we know spring will come on the 21st and that the days are
getting longer. What we never know are the unique things that this
month will bring. That is what gives spice to life, and March does
that. Let's wait and see how it unfolds.
1, 2006 Remember We are Dust
Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent. Do we
really have to be reminded? Yes, being reminded is part of our
life, coming back to the stark realities of each day and season.
A higher quality of life includes being reminded and remembering
our past and anticipating our future.
To me, remembering that we are dust are the most foreboding
words of the liturgical year. Other phrases don't seem to capture
the same spirit as these words do. They remind us of what we are,
where we came from, and the destiny of this mortal body in a few
years -- and that gives us pause. However, there is more. These
words actually show the nobility of dust, used for fashioning us by
the all powerful God who breathes life into each of us, so we can
rise up and live. This is a reminder of one of the two major
aspects of stewardship, namely, our time is limited, and we have
got to make the best of it. Then we are gone -- as the Psalms says,
"like flowers that bloom and then fade."
This body is destined to return to dust, and so we see it both
as who we are and as the vessel for our journey -- coming and
going. I am my body, but the spirit will live on. Yes, this
mortal body will rise again, but that is the focus of the next
season of Easter. For now, the message is more focused on the
body's need for care, abnegation, and self-control during the
relatively short time we are on this portion of our total journey -
- for death is not the end of it all, but a new beginning.
The destiny of the dust is important as well. Maybe it is
regarded as truly lowly, for it appears lifeless as such. If we go
to the moon, we really kick up lifeless dust. The dry earthly soil
still has that wealth of life in the top inch of this planet's
surface. But the hidden life in dust is a foreshadowing of the
evolutionary process that brought us to where we are. The great
gift of God is that we have a life in the divine image, a life that
gives us immense promise and that brings the dust itself to a
further glory. The gift from God is both to us and to the Earth
itself. And for this we are humbled, so that we are all the more
thankful for what we have received.
Lastly, the words are for us to remember, for that is the
heart of our worship life. We remember Who made us, Who came to
save us, what we are made from, where we are to go, the love that
is part of the gift, and our condition, and the condition of the
world. Every time I place dust on someone's forehead I remember
that a century from now neither they nor I will be here; this day
becomes a golden moment doing which to use life properly, for it
is a golden moment even in its dustiness. We remember our
ancestors, our suffering in life, our chosen time, of which the
full span is hidden, and our future destiny, which is veiled in
mystery. All contained in this brief period in which ash is on the
forehead. No wonder so many people find this to be one of the most
meaningful events of the church year.
2, 2006 American Camping Week
Camping is a popular form of recreation, but generally not
regarded as often practiced at this time of year, except for those
taking late winter trips to the southlands. Actually, camping is
meant for all seasons and most places. It is something that people
need to start doing when young, in order to become more familiar
with it and enjoy it as a family, group or individual exercise.
Different initial approaches have advantages. Tips for Camping
(June 1, 2005)
need not be repeated for they pertain to camping
equipment, sites, food, and entertainment choices, respecting
neighboring campers, and preparation for insects. Beyond these
suggestions one could consider the broader preparation for a
Choice of right place. More important than the immediate site
is the geographic areas where one wants to camp. Certain parts of
the nation are more suitable due to shorter travel distance, less
congestion, less pollution, and more scenic views. A little time
is well spent looking over the literature that can be easily
obtained through the Internet or from state tourist offices.
Looking ahead allows one also to select the right equipment and
clothing for the trip. The ethics of camping strongly recommend
using prepared public or private sites, since camping in the
wilderness may damage fragile territory. If campers are not
clearing ground, burning at sites or littering, and are using
special care, even wilderness camping may be allowed, however.
Choose the right time. A few of the "polar bears" of the
camping world like winter camping. You surely won't have to worry
about congestion in winter -- provided you can find a camping
ground open. Camping during regular vacation time can still be
quite enjoyable, if some effort is made to find the right location.
Matching time and place may be more of a challenge then seeking one
without the other. Just off season (before or after the heavy
vacation period) may prove the best, and with extended school years
many vacation periods are quite narrow. Think of camping in April
to June or late August through October.
Choice of right people. Though I like to camp with others, I
have learned to thoroughly enjoy retreats and times of vacation
when camping alone as well. We need not try to make friends or
family go camping, but if they are willing to go, we may need to
agree to a softer camping experience (prepared camping site or even
use of camper vehicles). It is best to make the adventure with
those who are so inclined -- for all should be a "happy campers."
Take enough time. I need this advice; don't hurry in and out
and then regret it later. Take extra hours to enjoy the place.
Write up the experience. Some camping is fun and worth
remembering. We are in the process of learning, and a good camping
experience is worth repeating and sharing with others who seek this
outdoor "green" form of recreation. Put it down on paper or email.
3, 2006 Natural Disasters and the Environment
The United Nations has just released a report saying the world
can expect more severe effects from natural disasters due to
urbanization and certain environmental practices. The first of
these is easier to demonstrate, since the concentration of people
from rural areas in major urban locations on most of the continents
has opened the way to catastrophes in some of these hastily and
poorly built urban residential areas. Consider the shanties on
hillsides in Brazil or the mud huts in mega-cities in Africa that
have sprung up in recent decades. The United Nations says that
better constructed dwellings could cut the fatalities immensely.
It is good reason to divert military expenses to simple habitats.
The environmental degradation problems that will exacerbate
the natural disasters are somewhat harder to pinpoint by the United
Nations experts or by anyone else yet. The scientific evidence
that global warming is causing more severe hurricanes and that
warming of the oceans will lead to more numerous storms as was
witnessed in 2005 is not conclusive as of now. Somewhat more
evident is the fact that the destruction of the wetlands on ocean
shores removes the cushion that could reduce the severity of
incoming hurricanes. Add to this the buildup of these wetlands
into residential areas (Ward Nine in New Orleans and nearby
parishes) and greater disasters may be in the offing, no matter how
well levees are rebuilt. The same cushion effect has been known
for some time in forested areas of the Appalachian and other
highlands; forests will absorb water in times of heavy rain and
allow a slower runoff than will denuded mountain sides, and thus
flood damage can be greatly reduced.
We cannot stop certain things such as the tidal waves
following earthquakes, the hurricanes, and other natural disasters
of the past year or so from happening. We can be prepared to alert
people, as has been pointed out (see
2004). We can
evacuate people in the path of a disaster that can be better
monitored today than even fifty years ago. The severity of some of
these disasters can be lessened through proper alert systems and
evacuation plans, both of which would have been welcomed very
recently in Indonesia and New Orleans. But the urbanization and
environmental degradation issues are quite a bit more complex.
Some of the so-called wastelands that have been wetlands in
the past must be restored to their previous condition. That can be
done, but it means relocating some residents and businesses.
Nature must have its way. The theory that the severity of storms
is due to global warming may prove true; certainly there is
reasonable evidence to suggest that this may be an added reason --
as though there are not enough other reasons -- to halt the growth
in emissions of greenhouse gases. The emission reductions can
occur, if we begin to take matters seriously. Natural disasters
will continue to occur, but prudence dictates that we use every
means to alert, evacuate, and protect people and to reduce the
possibility of severe damage from their occurrence.
4, 2006 Container Gardening
I would prefer to talk about a wide expanse of garden that
allows gardeners to grow to their hearts content. But on compiling
a listing of what has been said in two dozen garden entries, I find
that I have given little attention to the person who simply does
not have much space to garden. Since I tend some winterized plants
in containers, the art is not foreign. How about a garden on the
deck, patio, south-facing stairs (like that of some friends I know
in Illinois), or entrance to the residence? More power to you! Do
it where you can and do it bravely so others will observe and
imitate you. Here are some added hints:
Size of containers. Use larger planters such as sawed off
half barrels or tubs or large cans. Select a size according to the
variety that is to be grown: a larger planter will be needed for
tomato or pepper plants than for greens.
Soil selection. You should provide a drain hole or outlet so
excess water can escape. Use the best soil you can obtain, usually
interspersing your own compost with some basic soil obtained from
a field or a garden supply place. Keep it loose and low in clay
Plant selection. Choosing varieties is even more important
when space is very limited. Grow what you like best and forget
about growing sunflowers and corn. Leave these to the open field
gardeners. For salad lovers, the various greens (mustard, spinach,
kale, lettuce, endive, etc.) along with many herbs (select a half
dozen liked best) grow well in containers; these can even be
started indoors before the outside weather permits. Except for
radishes and members of the onion family, most root crops could be
better raised where there is plentiful space.
Siting. Place most plants in the best sun you can. A few do
not like full sun, and they can be given the less choice locations.
If possible, have the vine types such as cucumbers run up a trellis
on the northern or eastern end of the container location and stair
step them down in the southern and western direction with the
smaller plants to the front.
Care. One needs to know how much to water and not to forget
the containers when on a trip. Usually container plants will
require more watering in hot dry periods than will plants in
regular gardens. The good thing with containers is that one does
not have to contend with weeds in between plants and rows.
Rearrangements. Another advantage is that the planters may be
bunched together when the plants are young and then separated
gradually as plants need more room to grow, thus maximizing the use
of space. They can be arranged so as to place flowering or fruit-
bearing plants in the most aesthetically pleasing design.
Containers can be moved indoors in the late summer before frost,
but that is sometime in the distant future. Let's start now.
5, 2006 Temptations
Immediately afterwards, the Spirit drove him out into the
wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by
Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after
him. (Mark 1:12-13).
Temptations are part of the human condition. From Matthew
4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 we read about Jesus' temptations -- to
wealth, fame and power by turning stone into bread, flying off the
parapet of the Temple, and falling down and adoring the Evil One.
Jesus successfully overcomes the temptations to success in this
world by a simple life, the ignominy of the cross, and obedience to
the Divine Will. Mark's less detailed Gospel (quoted above)
focuses more on temptations to omission not to evil deeds of
commission, but Jesus responds by appearing in Galilee proclaiming
the good news immediately after John the Baptist's arrest. Jesus
does not run from, but risks, going publicly into Galilee. He is
later tempted not to go up to Jerusalem and ultimately to Calvary.
Within the past year I have discovered the temptation of
surfing the Net and now know just how tempting this is. I don't
give the time or make the time; but the temptation is real and I
sympathize with those who have the time to spare. What a loss such
an exercise must be -- and what a temptation!
We rest knowing that we are never tempted beyond our powers
and thus we turn in prayer to God for the help to overcome the many
temptations before us, those we perceive, and those we fail to see.
Some temptations deal with the ready enticements which surround us
in our present world: pride in our own accomplishments; coveting
wealth and resources belonging to others and even future
generations; lust for power and the satisfaction of bodily
passions, anger over others or our own limitations, gluttony in a
world of accessible foods of all sorts, envy over the success of
others, and a sloth which makes us reluctant to do what has to be
done. Of perhaps greater importance than the sins of weakness are
those of omission or removing ourselves from the duty to act in
this threatened and endangered world. We are tempted to:
* deny the present condition and fail to see our current time
as a creative opportunity to do better;
* excuse ourselves from accepting the responsibility to follow
Christ in building his Kingdom; and
* escape through a variety of addictions from the consequences
of our present living style, for it demands a radical sharing of
what we have -- even our time and energy.
Temptation to blame others. "They" are always to blame --
whether institutions or individuals at some distance. We think
that blame is out "there" beyond us, and the lost past or future
opportunities are the "then." Rather, "we" are all called in
unique ways to be agents of change; the place is right "here" where
we are; the time is the present moment, the "now."
6, 2006 Population Movement
People in America move about. Some come and some go. Our
nation has always welcomed the movement into our land from other
places. Some of this is only normal as the United States now
approaches the 300 million mark late this year or early next. This
alarms some, especially those who think the Hispanic tidal wave of
undocumented workers will overwhelm the Anglo culture. Thus the
proposal for building a 700-mile wall along the Mexican border is
taken quite seriously -- to stem the movement of people.
In the 1790s the covered wagons and log rafts brought tens of
thousands westward through the Cumberland Gap and down the Ohio
River. That westward movement continued throughout the nineteenth
century, over the Oregon, the Santa Fe and many other trails,
rivers and railroads. Our own ancestors were part of those waves
of people. But movements have taken different turns, especially
since most of the farmland has been settled. The 1980 Census, for
instance, was the first census in 160 years to show a rural
population growth rate that exceeded the urban one. The shift was
due to a number of factors: stable numbers in rural extractive
employment, increased decentralized manufacturing, the merits of
small town living and back-to-land movements, retirement patterns
in Florida, Arizona, the Ozarks, southern Appalachians and sections
around the Great Lakes, and sprawl into non-metropolitan areas.
These dispersal factors have changed in the quarter century
since 1980: much small town industry has been hard hit by
outsourcing to other lands; extractive employment has not fared
well due to increased mechanization; and metropolitan areas have
expanded and incorporated some of the sprawled populations in
suburbia and beyond. Americans continue to move to small towns for
quality living (though gasoline prices may reduce longer distance
movement). Retirees will continue to return home or find enticing
rural locations. Central cities will continue to decline even with
Population movements continue every time we move about-- and
one-fifth of Americans move each year. Proper governmental
policies could reduce the severity and impacts of massive
movements. We need to continue being a welcoming nation for
refugees; we should assist people who seek better living
situations; we should strive to save local industries and services
from precipitous closures and escapes to other lands. The Hispanic
movement will continue and we need fair immigration and worker
policies that do not make it an offense for hard-working people to
go for jobs to areas short of workers. Some curbing of population
movement could be socially unjust. On the other hand, from a
global standpoint, it is not right to attract professionals from
developing nations thereby depleting their limited pool of medical
personnel -- Haiti has more of their doctors in North America than
in their homeland. How can we properly welcome and encourage some
groups and limit and discourage others? As we reach 300 million
this becomes a challenge.
7, 2006 Big Breakfasts
A New York Dominican priest, who was the chaplain at one of
the sister communities where we performed environmental resource
assessments in the Hudson Valley, attributed his very long life to
living like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch. and a pauper in
the evening. I have always thought there was something to the
generous breakfast, but unfortunately often stretch the kingly
portion to later in the day as well. Many laborers and outdoors
people of different callings swear to the hearty breakfast -- and
this remains the most reasonable meal at restaurants in this
Personal habit. At this time, I start my day very early and
my first meal is often about 3:00 am in the morning unless I sleep
in to about 4:00 or 5:00. I like the meal to send me off with a
special charge, and so I generally make it a generous one. This
follows a tradition of having hearty breakfasts when we milked the
cows in early hours and then started in with other forms of farm
work. The Milford seminary that I attended was known for very
large meals at breakfast time as well. One Midwestern Jesuit
tradition was cornbread and stew (usually a heavy beef variety with
gravy); this plateful was smothered with butter and syrup. Heavy
Favorite. Since I find it tiresome eating oatmeal (to control
cholesterol rates) as the main ingredient even with a wide variety
of fruits, berries and nuts, I try to introduce it as one, but not
the main, constituent of breakfast. My favorite breakfast has
become the following: one carrot diced into a skillet where water
is being brought to a boil (I now refrain from using cooking oil),
to which are added one apple, one eighth of a head of cabbage or a
stalk of broccoli and a quarter of an onion -- all raw ingredients.
I steam these and add a half cup of oatmeal (old fashioned rolled
variety) and I stir the product (together with an egg on two days
a week) with basil and hot sauce. This mixture is allowed to cool
slightly and doctored with soy sauce, Worcester sauce, catsup, or
a salad dressing and other spices and imitation bacon bits. No two
days will have the same seasoning or vegetable ingredients else
this meal could get tiresome as well. During the growing season I
vary the vegetables and herbs according to what is in season.
Application. My hunch is that many growing youth should have
more than Twinkies and pop to start the day. The lack of a good
breakfast most likely affects the performance of many of these
youngsters and even of the teachers in schools. It would pay our
nation that puts much into educational resources to offer free of
charge a very hearty (not junk food) breakfast of fruit, vegetables
and whole grains for the entire growing population. A number of
these school children and teachers would most likely improve their
performance and that would be for the good of the nation; they
would be expected to combine big breakfasts with physical exercise
sometime during the day. Just a hunch since formal education and
administration are not my field of endeavor.
8, 2006 The Earth Healer: Irene Dickinson
Dedicated to Irene Dickinson, the foundress of National
Intervenors, perhaps the first of the American anti-
nuclear activist organizations.
Earth-loving heart, you didn't strive to gush
Nor blush in the headlong rapid rush,
Seeking a polluting firm's free lunch.
Nor did you steal, nor cheat, nor punch
Your way to the top executive suite,
Or seek to crush. Reward, a sullen hush.
No, no fame did greet, no glory treat,
No funded crutch, no Midas touch.
Or you could've simply ignored
Notice by being mean. Instead, by prayers implored,
You conquered these tests, taking milder ways
And forewent comfort rests in public gaze.
Constantly you aided all who fought
To expose desecrated water, air.
Law suits, reports, petitions you brought,
All that time-short strength could bear.
And still you chose the open firing line,
They bunched you with New Age, gushy hearts;
Condemned you for wasting prime time
For slowing progress, for unearthing grime.
Your cross -- being despised, being badly signed.
Poor Earth, poor people, you led the blind
Again to fresh air, full-spectrum sunshine,
Speeding New Heaven, New Earth intertwine.
9, 2006 National Nutritional Month
This is National Nutrition Month and although our country is
a major, if not the largest producer of food in the world, our land
is stalked by persistent malnutrition. We could well afford to
take this week seriously. We do not suffer from the extended
bellies and turning hair color, as in lands experiencing severe
famine; but malnourishment is present in the form of diabetes,
obesity, heart conditions. We need better nutrition programs.
Individual choices. The difficulty with many of us is that we
are standing wide-eyed before a massive smorgasbord; many will make
good choices and stick with them; some will eat a mix and maybe
too much of everything; and some especially young and less
disciplined folks will eat the wrong items. I once watched a
middle-aged man at such a restaurant have nothing but a plate full
of fried bacon. Such greed increases food prices in restaurants,
and it's poor nutrition as well. We have talked about championing
food quality (July
13, 2004) and food choices (November
26, 2005) and
wonder whether our country is inherently cursed with wrong choices
while blessed with a rich variety of food.
Educational programs. Grade, high school, and college
cafeterias seem loaded with overwhelming choices of what to eat.
Here again, choices may be made for better or worse. Fast foods
have the disadvantages of being the choice for convenience and
habit -- and that may mean too much salt and grease. But here the
omission of trans- and saturated fat products could go a long way
to improving the diet of those being educated. Good nutritional
training in the schools as well as nutritious cafeteria selections
would help. We need to: teach all levels of students about fruit,
vegetables and whole grains; demonstrate how too much meat, fats,
sweets, and salt are not good for us; and enlist folks who have
changed their nutritional habits to come and talk to classes; it
will be a good Lenten program with no traditional fasting required.
Food stamps with restrictions. The use of food stamps for
soft drinks could simply be excluded; and this alone would divert
a sizeable portion of the program to better materials. A division
of the total food stamp allocation for use of certain types of food
may be complex but would turn the program around in favor of good
nutrition. Perhaps staples at half price (government paying the
store full, however) could augment buying power for some and allow
them to afford nutritious foods.
Gardening for all. Nothing would improve national nutrition
more than expanded gardening programs, which could include
furnishing garden space, subsidizing seeds and basic tools, giving
gardening instructions for beginners, and celebrating the harvest
with festivals. The victory gardens of the Second World War would
be a template in our battle over malnutrition. Furnishing land may
seem a small step, but it is a most important one and well worth
furthering at county and statewide level. Unused urban space
abounds and making this space available requires creative programs.
10, 2006 Acid Rain
Keeping up with my efforts to talk about a different subject
with each essay, one asks after 820 essays why no focus on the
persistent air pollution problem, "acid rain." The reason is that
it is so obvious that I thought it had been treated previously --
but it was only indirectly treated in relation to cistern water
quality (acid rain can deteriorate some catchment surfaces) and
managing the forests at higher elevations (acid rain has caused the
dying of a number of tree species in the Blue Ridge Mountains and
in some of the ancient forests of Europe). Medical research shows
that acid rain in the form of mist and fog can also have
detrimental health effects on people suffering from respiratory
ailments. Furthermore, the monuments of industrialized nations,
from medieval cathedrals to the Lincoln Monument are harmed by the
assault of acid rain.
Using our native fossil fuels as an intermediate energy source
before coming to a renewable energy economy comes at a cost to the
coal field surface areas and to miner safety. But we cannot forget
that added cost of acid rain, the lowering of the pH in air due to
acidic sulfur and other oxides in the emission products of coal-
burning powerplants. This phenomenon of acid rain was first
detected in a noticeable way in Scandinavia in the 1950s and then
throughout industrialized and northern Europe, and finally in North
America. The Clean Air Act amendments of 1977 required new coal-
fired plants to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 70 to 90%. Even
where goals were met and industry used scrubbers, lower-sulfur coal
and new technologies, such as fluidized-bed combustion and
limestone injection multistage burners, we still have some acid
rain. The unsatisfactory results are more than anticipated by the
writers of the Clean Air Act due to delays in regulatory
enforcement and additional fossil fuel combustion products.
Acid rain is particularly acute in territories such as the
Northeast and eastern Canada, which lie in the path of the
emissions from larger coal-fired facilities in the Midwest and the
Ohio Valley. Regional differences have become more acute over air
pollution regulations. Not only are trees damaged in the higher
elevations, but also lakes have deteriorated in quality and fish
habitat has been endangered where acid rain falls. A while back
some 48,000 lakes in Ontario province alone were regarded as
threatened in Ontario province alone -- and they still are. In nine
rivers in Nova Scotia there is no aquatic life to speak of.
Coal-using utilities have insisted that they cannot afford
improved acid rain control measures, and that their costs would be
in the billions of dollars. But utility operations and sales are
sizeable, so why not require proper controls as part of utility
generation? The scare techniques have worked in utility friendly
administrations and so acid rain continues to be generated and in
need of further controls. This worrisome pollution condition is a
good argument for moving to a renewable energy economy using solar
and wind energy sources. The time cannot come too soon.
11, 2006 Planting Fruit Trees
Though this is Johnny Appleseed Day, we may have said enough
about apples as one type of fruit --Apples and Apples (Sept.
2005) and 99 Ways to Prepare Apples (Jan.
5, 2006). The selection of
several types of trees makes for a more environmentally wholesome
place, than would focusing on a single type of fruit no matter how
advantageous that variety is. You do not have to think in terms of
an orchard; intersperse the trees where space permits. This makes
the tree planting a challenge and an opportunity to use the
overlooked little spaces on the grounds. Some talk about north-
facing slopes for later blooming, but that may not be possible and
has limited applicability considering the entire range of fruit
Variety allows a longer fruit season. In Kentucky, cherries
along with strawberries start the parade of fruit in late May and
early June; plums together with wild raspberries begin in late June
(though with proper choice the plum season can go a longer time);
July is blackberry and early apple season; then the peaches,
apricots and mulberries into August; the later apples and grapes in
September; the various late apples and pears in the autumn; and,
last of all, the persimmons that can go well into winter.
Variety allows fruit to be available when one type gets
damaged or destroyed by a frost. The blooming at different times
both gives the pleasant appearance of blooming trees for more of
the springtime and allows the possibility of some fruit when
certain varieties fail to bear.
Variety can be coupled with the dedication of particular trees
chosen by a donor in memory of a relative or friend -- and the
connection of the person remembered to the particular fruit has its
own special meaning. Choosing a variety whether of a fruit or
vegetable, herb, berry or nut is very enjoyable. The catalogs are
filled with mouth-watering pictures. Though your own growing
situation may be different, choice is one of the joys of growing
Variety permits people to have the great pleasure of picking
fruit when they visit at some period in the summer, and obtaining
the satisfaction of eating what they pick. When there is a grand
harvest of one variety, the pleasure soon gives way to work, for it
takes effort to pick entire trees.
As for commercial sources of fruit trees, I could suggest my
favorites, but that might hurt readers who have their own as well.
Rather, consider patronizing local growers and sales places; should
the tree die, you will most likely get a replacement from the local
folks -- though some national groups do very well on guaranteeing
a tree within a year. Select disease-resistant varieties where
possible to minimize any temptation to spray pesticides. Often
having two of a certain type of fruit tree or two close relatives
is suggested in order to make effective cross-pollination possible.
12, 2006 Mount Tabor and the Golden Moment
This is my chosen son; listen to him. (Luke 9:34)
This unknown soul came up and thanked me for a little something
I had said and done, and it came at just the right moment in my
life. My work that day was transfigured; it was all full of light.
The Setting. Mount Tabor is a beautiful mountain overlooking
the Lake of Galilee and the fruitful rolling hills. Though the
flowers are not yet in full bloom, it can be visualized as a place
most ideal for the Transfiguration to occur. Where else? One
answer is that "transfiguration" occurs every place where and
whenever we are comforted for doing a godly deed. We need the
divine consoling touch at key times in our lives -- and, if we
pause at the right time and place, it does occur. We are not
spiritual marines who can act tough always; we need a good word,
a pat on the back, a smile. All these are the seasonings that make
our everyday life flavorful and able to be lived. And we are
confident that our merciful God gives these moments.
The Transfiguration is a complex event that is really
celebrated twice in the liturgical year, once in the high summer in
early August, when the glory of the Lord is shining with full
foliage, and once in Lent when Jesus and the disciples need
consolation to carry through the upcoming Calvary experience. The
Transfiguration is recorded in all three synoptic gospels as well
as in St. Peter's second letter.
Episode: Jesus takes the three disciples up the mountain;
this harks back to Moses going up Mount Sinai and receiving the
Law. While standing in center stage, Jesus talks with Moses and
Elijah; thus he stands out as the greatest of the lawgivers and the
prophets. The Father affirms him in being the beloved son. Jesus'
face is radiant and shines like the sun. Peter's reaction is to
say -- "It is good for us to be here"; in our everyday language he
could have said -- "Let's take a picture"; and he offers to erect
a stone memorial. The three tents refer to the giving of the law
in the Feast of Tabernacles. God the Father confirms the solemn
nature of the event through sanctioning of events to follow, while
the disciples are paralyzed in fright or just by being there.
Consolation -- The Transfiguration is filled with consolation.
Jesus needs to be prepared for the mission that he is soon to
undergo -- and so do the disciples who are called to look ahead to
future glory. Beyond the terror of the Passion is the promise of
future glory. To be transfigured (transformed so as to be
glorified) is to anticipate what is approaching and reach out
beyond it. Transfiguration is the vision of a better world, which
we see on the hilltop, a vista point. We too need our moments of
consolation -- and God provides them. Look at the beautifying
landscape, the isolated moments. God gives us these moments and,
when they come, we should glory in them -- free gifts of the
13, 2006 Lenten Suggestions for Good Samaritan Day
The Good Samaritan is one of Jesus' parables about someone who
does a good deed for a stranger who is in need but has been ignored
by some who should have stopped. This is the answer to the
question "who is my neighbor?" This day comes in early Lent when
we may still be seeking to find the perfect additional action or
restraint that we should initiate during this holy season.
Lenten suggestion. I wrote about the Good Samaritan (July
2004) on the Sunday the parable arose as the Gospel reading in St.
Luke's year. At that time the focus was upon helping our suffering
human neighbors when in need, in whatever part of the world. The
emphasis was placed on those who are easily overlooked and
forgotten. Let this be my suggestion for 2006's Lent: do
something concrete to help our neighbors the plants and animals
that are being threatened on this planet -- and are so easily
overlooked and forgotten. These certainly are also our neighbors,
aren't they? We know that environmental actions seem a little
hackneyed, because even very young children seek to do something
"green" -- and now where is the drama for us older folks? We
should consider such actions at Lent precisely because they seem
trite. Here are some suggestions:
* Specific actions for animals: Feed the birds and put up
bird boxes for certain species; take part in bird counts or
initiate wildlife monitoring programs; create your own or a
community wildlife sanctuary; support animal shelters and animal
protection groups; put bells on your cat and neuter the pets; start
a compost bin and be good to the earthworms; help someone else do
the same; post no trespassing signs to keep out the hunters; report
off-road vehicles using private or public lands.
* Specific actions for plants: Plant trees, especially on or
around Arbor Day, and enlist others to do the same; assist in
removing exotic invasive species from wooded areas on private and
public land; insist that wilderness areas be left pristine; join
with others to maintain nature trails; protect the wild flowers.
* Domestic and wider environmental actions: Clean up a
section of road or waterway covered with litter; expand recycling
efforts; report litterers so that they will be fined and made to
clean up the mess they helped cause; convert private or public lawn
into wildscape or gardens; write to members of Congress about
strengthening the Endangered Species Act; promote the renewable
energy economy; join and get others to join groups, especially
local and regional ones, which find it harder to attract members;
read a book on environmental needs in our world; give some time to
teaching environmental issues at a nature center; encourage youth
to take on additional actions; support hard-pressed African nature
reserves; speak up for the global commons, which are now under
attack by greedy corporations such as factory whaling operations;
and oppose clearcutting on state and national forestlands.
14, 2006 Must We Import Oil?
For the average American, the question sounds ridiculous. Of
course, we have to import oil. The United States has not had
petroleum self-sufficiency since the first half of the 20th
century. We still pump oil and much oil (7.61 million barrels a
day in 2005). However, we import over half of the oil and
petroleum products that we consume -- and that percentage does not
seem to be going down any time soon. All the while, China, the
third largest importer of oil (after the U.S. and Japan), is
expanding its consumption and imports quite rapidly and is looking
everywhere for more oil.
Energy independence? How can one entertain the notion that we
can again be what Jimmy Carter's administration hoped for, namely,
energy independent? But is the question so ridiculous, if we have
alternatives that could be implemented in a short time? We would
continue to use coal and hydropower to meet traditional electricity
needs, and we have the 7.61 barrels per day to meet essential
transportation and petrochemical requirements.
Possibility? What we proposed in Critical Hour (found on this
website) was nuclear-free energy self-sufficiency, which none of
the 30,000 readers to date have contested. We did not tackle
energy independence as such but opened the door for such a
discussion. Much depends on how serious we are about energy
conservation (e.g., the compact fluorescent route) and about a wind
and solar energy economy. The truth is that both conservation and
renewable energy systems are within the range of possibility during
the lifetimes of the majority of Americans. Much depends on
America's willpower to change to energy independence (something
analogous to the crash programs to replace rubber and other
essential materials that were cut off in the Second World War).
Will power and more? In reality, American will power has to
be coupled with industrial incentives. With Exxon/Mobil in 2005
having the highest corporate profits ever recorded (about ten
billion dollars), we cannot forget that the capital for such energy
changes is out there; what is needed now is a crash program to
implement proven technologies at a major scale. Solar panels could
be installed on the roof of every American home, thus cutting the
electric needs enormously and permitting petroleum products to be
diverted to transportation. Wind potential is sufficient to meet
industrial and other institutional needs. A massive wind and solar
building program along with conservation measures would turn our
domestic petroleum to transportation. Even here local travel (over
half of the nation's total) could be met by the solar electric
automobile and much of the rest by the hybrid varieties now being
manufactured and sold.
More research? The fallacy is that more research needs to be
done. The current solar, wind, and conservation technologies are
functioning and working well; the programs need governmental
incentives and industry profits converted to energy alternatives.
15, 2006 Anxiety
This is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and
what you are to eat, nor your body and how you are to clothe it.
Surely life means more than food and the body more than clothing!
(Matthew 6: 25)
Many topics are chosen because of a
daily theme or event that
occurs. I do not see much connection with the Ides of March but
ask Julius Caesar. Need we have anxieties? Jesus tells us to take
the birds and flowers as models in this regard; God will provide
for us. Nonetheless, most of us at some time or other have
anxieties about a coming event, the time to get to a place, how
someone will react when we say something, etc. There are as many
anxieties as there are days and people -- but should there be?
Jesus tells us not to worry. There is something very consoling
about people threatened by health or economic adversities and yet
holding up wonderfully and telling us about their worry-free
philosophy of life. We are blessed meeting such rare folks. Could
we be like them by managing our worries better?
A series of helpful, caring publications is published by Abbey
Press, St. Meinrad, IN 47577; and one is entitled Overcoming
Everyday Anxiety. Attention is given to ordinary worries, pounding
heart, and overkill, which the flyer says, can be managed like all
health problems. Constant and excessive worry can be a mental
condition that decreases the quality of our lives and makes things
miserable for us and others. The authors tell us to combat worry
by learning to relax -- relieve tension through certain exercises,
meditation, and positive self-talk. Don't let it control your
life; don't play the "what if.." game called catastrophizing.
I have found that when my imagination runs off with some
possible disaster, I need to think that a meteor is coming right
here to hit me, and I can't do a thing about it. This makes me
feel better immediately. "I do the best I can" is my motto and
thus how can I worry about the rest? Larger than normal anxieties
may result from the exposures of vulnerable areas; caregivers tell
us that better preparation will take care of some of this anxiety,
and that seems so true. When I helped run conferences, my anxiety
level escalated as the event approaches, and all the preparation
did not overcome my anxiety completely. But good planning helped
much, and at the event I would say, "I do the best I can."
When talking about this we expect the reader to have ordinary
worries. Some folks have more difficulties: panic attacks with
dizziness, faintness and sweating; irrational phobias against
snakes, flying, driving, etc.; obsessive-compulsive disorders such
as checking to see whether the stove is turned on or constantly
washing one's hands; and post-traumatic stress disorder as suffered
by thousands of the military today in the aftermath of the Gulf War
campaigns. These mental problems can be addressed:
Anxiety Disorders Association of
America, 6000 Executive Blvd., Rockville,
MD, 20852, (301) 231-9359;
TERRAP Programs, 932 Evelyn St., Menlo
Park, CA 94025, (415) 327-1312.
National Association of Mental Health: Anxiety Disorders, Information
and resource locator.
16, 2006 Freedom of Information Day
Give us more and more information! We have such speed in
information dissemination today that we forget how very recent this
phenomenon is. Just 200 years ago the time required to send
information from Europe to America was months and depended on the
speed of the sailing craft crossing the Atlantic. During the Civil
War reports (to the degree the government allowed) only took
minutes and the speed of a telegraph teletype operator. Even then
the news of the battle of Cold Harbor was delayed for days because
the Generals did not want the public to know of the terrible death
toll. The facts were known to officials quite quickly.
When I was a youth during the Second World War we knew about
Pearl Harbor that day and would follow the war on a daily basis to
the degree the censors permitted. But we as a country did not know
about concentration camps and the extent of the death toll of Jews,
Gypsies, and other unfortunate groups, until the end of the War.
The information was not available, and it made us realize that the
speed of the means of communication is only one factor; another is
the willingness of data gathering organizations to disseminate
information stemming from their premises.
Question for free people. On Freedom of information Day we
should ask some serious questions. Did our country know that Iraq
had no weapons of mass destruction and deliberately keep this from
even the Congress? Are similar pieces of information being held
back from decision-makers? And is it true that ours is a land of
complete openness to information or is much being withheld? We
are working on getting information on the number of drug-related
deaths in Appalachia and know how hard it is to get reliable data.
Ethics and information. The Internet is certainly a valuable
tool for disseminating information. This website is meant to be an
information generating outlet so we have posted ethnic and
religious statistics along with material on a variety of
environmental issues, which may be quite controversial. The
Internet can be a source of just such information, but there is
another side; if the information is not checked out, it may be
slanted and even destructive to certain people. Not everything
appearing on the Internet is valid even though it is out there for
people to see.
Being informed versus being wise. There is a lot of
information out there. One could be a trivia brain and know all
that Google can present and yet be unwise. In fact, maybe a mass
of information may hinder good reflection and processing. We know
that sometimes people have such a mass of reports that they become
overwhelmed in trying to sort through and assemble them. The
weight of the information may cause paralysis of the brain and,
instead of making a wise decision, the person may be unable to act.
Thus the degree and amount is always a factor in weighing materials
meant to enter into a final decision; the sheer volume of
information can hurt as much as help decision-making.
17, 2006 The Luck of the Irish
My first and virtually only stage appearance was in the third
grade and I pretended to be Irish with a brogue. The audience
roared and I simply couldn't figure out what was so funny. They
knew I didn't have a drop of Hibernian or Celtic blood in my veins
-- but I was not yet so enlightened. So much for an introduction
to being different at St. Patrick's School. With the years, that
difference became more evident. I think it developed a love/hate
relationship; some things the Irish culture offers are great and
some are not, but let's say that, with time and dilution of ethnic
neighborhoods and communities, cultural differences have waned.
On acting, I am from the same school that the Clooneys attended
when in Maysville, and Rosemary, Betty and their nephew George and
his dad Nick were quite proud of their origins and their Irishness.
For some years the Irish have been the third largest ethnic
group in the United States, though the Hispanics are coming up fast.
Included among the Irish are many Scotch-Irish people, for the
names and culture are so similar and the hyphenated grouping of
those coming to America from Ulster is often overlooked even by the
descendants. Irishness is a broader term and perhaps today
includes most people with some degree of Celtic blood except for
some French Canadians (Britons) and Scottish and Welsh people who
are still extremely proud of their ancestry. Once in America, the
Irish congregated for a period in the Atlantic Coast cities but
many moved inland quite rapidly and worked on railroads, farms and
eventually settled in towns. An Irish optimistic demeanor and
knowledge of English, plus an ability to get along with others, led
to entry into politics, industrial management and the service
sector, law, teaching, healing and the religious life.
Being Irish is still regarded as a point of pride. A large
number return to the ole' sod to visit the graves of ancestors.
Many enjoy the distinction, the ability to celebrate St. Patrick's
Day, the wearing of the green, and Irish songs and dancing. The
St. Patrick's parades grace a large number of cities and small
towns in our country even though the weather in mid-March has much
to be desired. I enjoyed going to such parades when studying in
New York. There was a certain friendliness that was
uncharacteristic of the Big Apple except on St. Patrick's Day.
The Irish enjoy things: a good joke, a hearty meal, a little
imbibing, and a nice Holy Day. The Irish and other immigrants
could not celebrate Christmas in Puritan New England until after
the middle of the 19th century. Cultural differences led to
disagreements and struggles; churches were burned; Know Nothings
targeted the Irish; they were refused jobs; times were truly rough
up to the Civil War, and even then some accused Irish-Americans of
not wanting to fight for the Union (their generals and men served
on both sides of the conflict). Through upward mobility in the
20th century, the Irish- American became much a part of America's
changing ethnic scene. John Kennedy helped cement acceptance, but
a lot of happy and welcoming folks also contributed along the way.
18, 2006 March Madness
During much of this month in Kentucky and other basketball
crazy parts of America the land goes mad; teams vie for tournament
honors and the students (both high school and college) turn out in
force to cheer the victors and commiserate in defeat. Host cities
are turned into massive migration centers for both young and old
fans coming to support their teams. Television and radio coverage
is non-stop; banners abound; carloads of shouting youth move about;
the sports fieldhouses and arenas turn into beehives, and at times
saner people pray for the life of a referee after a particularly
Spectator sports. Specialists suggest that elders with weak
hearts forego such forms of entertainment. I have heard of heart
attacks occurring when elderly fans watch a favorite team on
television. The actual site is far worse for stress and pressure,
and, after seeing a close University of Kentucky game a few years
back, I decided that my heart could never attend another game, and
I haven't gone. The adrenaline rush is far too great. That makes
me question the pressure and attitude of audiences that watch such
events. They are not necessarily the ones who love to play the
sport; they are convinced that if they holler loudly something
special will happen to change the course of events. They may be
right, but the accompanying madness bothers me; it doesn't seem
civil and there is generally little sport involved.
Should I make some wise suggestions for me to keep and you to
consider? Sorry, I have no suggestion other than to refrain from
spectator sports. I guess the ball leagues won't accept this.
Doesn't that challenge an entire sports industry, the high paid
salaries, the mega stadiums built to accommodate the rich in the
suites, the scholarships of many athletes -- some of whom could
also do other things well? Yes. Little reminds us more of the
late Roman Empire practice of bread and circuses than food stamps
(a good thing) and sport events (certainly better than gladiators
slaying each other or lions killing poor martyrs). The so called
loyalty factor, which I have for certain schools such as the
University of Kentucky, is very real for many fans. However,
"fanhood" itself is highly suspect. Isn't it better for the rolly-
polly spectator erupting over minute referee motions to do
something good for the body? The spectator hysteria is not good on
the nervous system and does not lead to charity in any fashion.
I am somewhat aghast at seeing chaplains sitting on the bench
just as intent on the game as the cheerleaders and the fans. This
marriage of church and current culture goes against something
within me. Madness under any form is never something to be
condoned. It needs to be treated, and the best treatment for March
madness is to exercise; do your own thing at a handball, squash,
or tennis court, at the track, or in your exercise room. Or go
play cards with others. Spectator sports could be limited to
watching seals snooze with a bet on which will be the first to
wake. At least you will get some fresh air.
19, 2006 Moneychangers in the Temple
The Gospel (John 2:13-25) is one of my favorite passages of
Scripture. A textual commentary I have read says, "Precisely why
the business of the temple offended Jesus is not clear" -- truly a
puzzlement for the non-activist, at least through the eyes of us
activists. The commentator proposes that Jesus opposes the
carnival-like atmosphere, cheating against the poor, and commercial
activity in a sacred place. But the reason had a long history.
Money-changing was important for practicing Jews of that
period to rid themselves of coins with Caesar's image (rendering to
Caesar and God). But why drive out the animals used for sacrifice?
Zeal for the Father's house moves him -- for Jesus is an activist.
All four gospels tell of this episode: John 2: 13-22 adds Zeal for
your house will devour me from Psalm 69:9. Jesus quotes Scripture
in saying it is to be a house of prayer and yet this sacred
"commons" has been turned into a marketplace: my house will be a
house of prayer...(Luke 19: 45-46), for all the peoples (Isaiah
56:7) (Mark 11:15-18). Mark adds that Jesus says "but you have
turned it into a robbers' den"-- a phrase taken from Jeremiah 7:11
(also found in Matthew 21: 12-13). The episode occurs in all three
synoptic gospels in the time immediately before the passion and
death of Jesus, and is followed by the plot to kill him by his
enemies. In John's Gospel, the episode comes very early, but his
entire Gospel shows the struggle of light and darkness. The
episode in all the gospels is quite pivotal, even though non-
activists may see it as somewhat embarrassing.
Importance. Driving out the moneychangers is Jesus' supreme
career test -- and his enemies plot to put him away from that time
on. Jesus acts alone (without disciples); he is driven by the
Spirit in the prophetic tradition; he acts with authority; he makes
a public manifestation on the side of and in favor of the poor and
little people; and he risks his own career of service.
Righteous Anger. Spirituality is not suppressing anger, but
directing it properly. Our goal is justice for all, especially our
neighbors. To be silent may condemn us through the sin of
omission. We are led by the Spirit to speak out boldly at whatever
the cost, much like Stephen, the first martyr, when he was stoned.
It is bad to allow anger to fester within us; it can turn us into
hate-filled people and burn us up inside. The challenge is to
imitate Christ and control our anger -- all the while loving others
through mercy. Jesus exercises perfect balance -- the perfect
ecologist. He announced the year of favor of the Lord -- a
liberation of captives, and then he proceeds to act.
Application: Total liberation is only achieved by and for us
in a spirit of freedom, not compulsion. Freely we are given
freedom, and in freedom we help free others. We are led by the
Spirit to speak out boldly at whatever the cost. The challenge is
to imitate Christ and control our anger, all the while loving all
mercifully and not allowing our righteous anger to devour us.
20, 2006 Protect Non-Smoker Rights
Evidence is now accumulating that people near to smokers can
also develop smoke-related illnesses such as emphysema, heart
disease, and lung and other forms of cancer -- only not to the same
degree of severity or frequency as the smokers themselves.
However, a disease is severe in whatever form and the non-smokers
have a right to the pure air commons.
When I originally wrote a rough copy of this piece a quarter
of a century ago, I was just leaving the arena of smoking and
suddenly had begun to realize that I had infringed on the rights of
a number of non-smokers, including my own non-smoking mother when
I visited home. Today, non-smokers are better protected because
the number of non-smoking areas is multiplying by the day, and
smokers are subject to fines for not observing these expanding
regulations. It is not enough just to "deodorize" or scent a
smoking space with an aerosol spray; these simply mask the
carcinogenic smoke and the non-smoker is still subject to an
assault. Opening the windows and airing out a place is better but
hardly ever gets rid of the residual odor and some smoke train
substances. Non-smoking space is inherently different and needs to
be preserved and protected.
What about the non-smoking fetus in the womb of a smoker or in
the house where a smoker dwells? Certainly the state could even
have a right to remove the innocent party from such danger, but
ultimately it is the mother of the fetus who must decide not to
smoke. The task is to convince that person of the dangers involved
but certainly not to incarcerate her in a smoke-free compartment
during the pregnancy. Her rights need to be protected while our
responsibility is to impress upon her the need for the infant in
the womb to have a clean environment in which to come into the
world. Amazingly, this is a problem that approximates that in
which pro-life and pro-choice forces battle. It becomes our
responsibility to explain to others the limits to non-smoking and
to smoking areas, and see that these are enforced. I note that
hospitals are now extending the outdoor areas where smoking is
allowed to move them further and further from the front entrance.
Such measures are meant to ensure clean air for the innocent.
An added remark as to smoker and non-smoker rights is in
order. The "right" or license to smoke is the right to engage in
a form of entertainment. Like other forms of recreation a certain
risk is involved. Still this is the free choice of an agent who
just might make it to 90 without a cough -- though we doubt it.
Pure air is a right to all; when a smoker steams up in the great
outdoors, the dilution is so thorough that there is little effect;
when that same smoker lights up in a closed space, there is a
deliberate infringement on the limited air available, and that
person has no right to damage the environment of the neighbors who
do not want to smoke nor to breathe the exhaled air of nearby
smokers. Right to pure air exceeds the "right" to foul air, and
proponents undoubtedly will escalate the ongoing tobacco wars.
21, 2006 Alcohol Problems
Alcohol is something on which it is quite difficult to take
definitive stands if one wishes to tolerate moderate drinking at
celebrations. Some handle smaller amounts at celebrations quite
well; others do not. But we cannot translate being tolerant into
being cavalier about drinking strong alcoholic beverages. And how
can I say this without offending people in Bourbon Country, who
have spiced their candy, mock mince meat pies, fruit cakes, even
ice cream to a small degree, and other cooking delicacies with
bourbon, as well as using it for medicine when getting a cold? At
home, our bourbon was for cooking and medical purposes. Add to
this, I have lived 28 years in dry counties (no liquor sales
permitted) and so have some experience with the issue. Many do not
realize that the majority of Kentucky counties (not majority of
population) are now as dry as they were during Prohibition. And
that includes much of Kentucky's Appalachian portion. On the other
hand, moonshine, as supposedly distilled in this region, can only
be purchased with great difficulty, since other drugs are far more
lucrative than bootlegged alcoholic beverages.
One may concede the cooking flavor and personal enjoyment of
strong drinks such as bourbon but advertisers omit disadvantages:
* Expense. A person taking a single drink each evening
(shot) and a small extra for holidays could spend hundreds of
dollars plus possibly experience loss of economic productivity;
* Health. Liquor can become addictive and can lead to ruined
health over a time period. An alcoholic's life span is estimated
to be shortened by ten to twelve years. The kidney, heart, brain,
liver, and other organs cannot withstand the assault. Related in
an added way are the alcohol-related statistics of death: half of
all car accident fatalities, half of the homicides, and a quarter
of the suicides.
* Reduced productivity. Alcoholic imbibing has a deadening
effect on human creativity -- though some argue otherwise. Work
hours lost through heavy drinking are enormous; enthusiasm wanes;
management skills erode; worries over financial problems develop;
and the individual's ability to contribute to society gradually
ebbs away with the victim hardly knowing it.
* Social problems. Problem drinkers are seven times more
likely to be separated or divorced. Child and spouse abuse is
higher among alcoholic drinkers as are domestic quarrels and
Prohibition battles need not be repeated. Questions arise
over each substance abuse area, especially since some users can
tolerate alcohol better than others. In moderate amounts, wine or
beer could have no bad effects and even be beneficial. But often
these moderate practices can (as with soft drugs) serve as gateways
to using stronger materials. Regulations help, especially with
reference to drinking while driving and to underage drinking. We
must all support remediation programs for problem drinkers.
22, 2006 Drug Problems
We treat the major categories of substances separately for the
sake of handling the various abused substances properly. In one
sense this is necessary; in another, this separation fails to come
to terms with drug problems in our society. Substance abuse in one
or other form is widespread; hard drug use has become a chronic
problem in much of America and especially here in rural Appalachia.
From our limited information we estimate that at least ten percent
of the deaths in our mountains are due to drug overdosing. That is
an astounding statistic but I am assisting with a research program
at this moment to help in the reporting. Don't kid yourself; the
results will not halt the problem, but it might draw more attention
and allow the discussion to continue in greater depth.
Strict control of hard drugs (heroin, methamphetamine or
"meth" and even such prescribed and abused drugs as oxycontin)
would go some way to bringing about proper management. But only
"some way," because our nation is already heavily overdosed with
medicines of all sorts and this is at the core of the problem.
Yes, methamphetamine can be home-produced from easily obtainable
over-the-counter chemicals and medicines; states are waking up
and starting to require purchase records of these substances in
large quantities. But legal drugs are already out of control.
The horrors of overdosing and subsequent unexpected deaths are
impacting families at all ranges of our society. People are simply
scared of where this is leading, and they have every reason to
regard drug use as a major problem. Unscrupulous doctors who
prescribe some of these strong and addictive medicines are partly
to blame; but one must spread blame fairly on this drug problem.
People who use drugs in abundance and then in addictive ways are
simply following other family members and neighbors who overuse all
forms of medicines and think little of it. Overdosing goes beyond
chemicals, though as a chemist I have a deep respect for the
ravages that certain toxic materials or a quantity of milder
chemicals wreak on the human body. That respect does not extend to
the entire society in which we live, and that is the problem.
Some would place the blame on the individuals who take the
drugs in inordinate amounts and then suddenly die. Yes, part of
the blame is to be distributed there as well, but once addicted,
the individual will behave irrationally and do some very unexpected
things from stealing to lying to obtain drugs. We have to see the
drug problem as more than control of certain substances or "hard
drugs." The gateway substances may be far more than originally
suspected. Is marijuana really as much a culprit as are medicines
used to kill pain or put people to sleep or do a thousand other so-
called benefits. Face it, we are a drugged culture, and the deaths
are simply the tragic tip of the iceberg. America must awake to
the entire picture and it is not pretty; but we must awake or else
we will lose our soul. Substance abuse is endemic within our
society and we prefer to finger point at drug addicts alone. How
about the other addictions?
23, 2006 Substance Abuse
We discussed all forms of substance abuse and America's
Inconsistent Drug Policy last year (March
22, 2005). Nothing much
has changed except that the severity of the drug problems is
becoming more noticeable. I reside in a state famous for its
burley tobacco, bourbon whiskey and, more recently, for growing
marijuana (considered to be the second highest producer among the
states). All three of these substances can have serious behavioral
consequences if misused. The general rule among the more tolerant
Kentuckians is: recognize that overuse can hurt in all three cases
and leave it up to the adult person to use with moderation. If
not, you are only hurting yourself. But is this rule outmoded?
The substances differ in their effects and addictive behavior.
That means that to some extent each (tobacco, light and strong
alcohol, and soft and hard drugs) must be regulated in a different
manner while realizing that all three classes can be addictive. The
sizeable tax revenue taken in on tobacco and alcohol must be
diverted to remediation and elimination of the related problems:
* Tobacco -- Tobacco has proven, major health consequences for
the great majority who become addicted. Few people still dispute
these medical facts. Emerging principles are: don't start, and
keep the material away from youth, who would start addictive
behavior early; if started, use with moderation; do not use in the
presence of non-smokers; and seek ways to reduce and quit the
habit. Regulations against promotion to youth must be continued,
along with cessation programs paid by tobacco companies, and taxes.
* Alcohol -- Control sales, restrict access by minors, and
strictly enforce laws related to driving while drinking (blood
alcohol content). Continue taxation of products sold, and
encourage cessation programs through taxes raised. Every effort
should be made to stop problem drinking and to get those addicted
to start Alcohol Anonymous programs and to encourage other drinkers
to undertake them as well.
* Drugs -- This is a major problem because "soft" drugs
include both prescription and over-the-counter drugs that are
freely taken by the general population. Here a national cavalier
attitude contributes to the total drug problem of our culture. We
take some chemicals with little regard to effect and forget that
moderation applies across the board. Strong drugs must be
regulated; so should "weaker" drugs, including the halting of
advertisements for medicines -- there is simply no reason for it.
Drug control must be improved through a consistent national policy.
In our consumer culture all types of substances (from food and
clothes to household items and lawn care products) are used without
regard to amount. The abuse covers many materials, and devastation
brought on by hard drugs is to be expected. We must return to a
deep respect for all God's creation and creatures -- and use only
things to the degree they help our own proper destiny.
24, 2006 Equipment to Address Noise Problems
We ought to value silent space and time, and combat noise in
whatever way we can, for noise creates extra tension among
residents and leads to loss of hearing. We have treated noise
under various aspects: a general need for harmony, Sound and
8, 2004); Establish Quiet Zones (March
15, 2004); Keep a
Quieter Home (Dec.
27, 2004); and Noise Pollution (Feb.
Here we seek to get to the source of the noise, identify it, and
take the first remedial measures.
Noise meters. A number of good meters are available on the
market for relatively low prices. The noise meter is essential to
proper monitoring, when the volume of the noise, the recorder's
distance from the source, and the time when the noise originates
are to be part of the total record. Sound is measured in
logarithmic units called decibels (dBA), which go from zero where
humans start to hear to over 140 where noise causes pain (certain
rock and roll concerts). Permanent hearing loss could occur when
continuous exposure occurs over a number of years at approximately
NOISES AROUND THE HOUSE
Sound level for operator in dBA
38 - 70
47 - 78
54 - 85
59 - 80
62 - 85
64 - 74
67 - 93
Electric Lawn Edger
Home Shop Tools
Gasoline Power Mower
87 - 92
Gasoline Riding Mower
90 - 95
up to 120
60 - 90
New York Subway
up to 101
Protective gear. Finding sources
of noise pollution allows us
to notify people who are affected in order that they may take steps
to avoid the damage to their hearing. Cotton plugs are virtually
useless. When well fitted, the ear muffs worn by workers at
airports are the most effective gear. If inserts are chosen,
remember that ear canals are rarely the same size and the ear
inserts must be separately fitted for each ear. Protective muffs
should be adjustable to provide a good seal around the ear and
proper tension of the cups against the head. These are available
in sport and drug stores.
25, 2006 To Incarnate
We Christians believe that this feast of the Annunciation,
coming exactly nine months before Christmas, is the time when the
Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to be the mother of
the Messiah. We genuflect on this day at the words in the Creed,
"By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and
became man." We hold this to be a sacred moment, prepared for and
anticipated for millennia through the forming and protecting of the
Chosen People in a Promised Land. The prophets called Israel back
again and again to that mission of preparing for the Messiah. Now,
after centuries of hope he arrives, and this event becomes a
critical point in human history.
To "incarnate" means to be a living example, to personify, to
put on flesh, to be an embodiment of. We hold most solemnly the
fundamental truth and mystery that God becomes one of us in time --
and this is the celebrated moment, the Incarnation. We "incarnate"
Christ when we make his ways part of our own life and the lives of
others who observe or take part in our actions. We take the divine
mandate to love others, to share with the poor, and to bring these
mandates about in our own human actions. We take what is godly and
divine and make this ours in a way that all can see. We become
another Christ, and even participate in some way in his own mystery
Incarnate hope. Christ the liberator comes among us; he
presents liberation to us, giving us a chance to participate in
healing the wounds of sin all around us, including the
environmental degradation to the Earth itself. Even when people
are behind bars or on a hospice bed -- a joining of prayerful and
hopeful hearts, whether through active work or passive suffering,
is a joining in the action of Christ in our midst. They each share
this enterprise of liberation in and through Christ, and so his
coming is the long-awaited hope realized in space and time.
Incarnate action. By analogy, we "incarnate" Christ (are the
type or embodiment of the Incarnate Mystery) in our own lives. We
make Christ present through our actions; we offer the opportunity
for Heaven and Earth to meet in visible form through our prayers
now concretized in our working world. The month of March is
perfect for this reflection on the wedding of Heaven and Earth as
described by the Church Fathers. As the growing season begins, we
take our heady ideas and make them alive in our garden.
On a wider scale the conversion of our military structure into
peacemaking operations, when done in a godly manner, allows an
entire world to participate more fully in the incarnate mystery of
Jesus Christ. Only then does this sacred mystery come very close
to us; distance has been greatly reduced when we accept the
mystery as alive in visible form. We attempt to make each portion
of our Creed alive in our everyday life, Professing Our Faith
through Deed (Dec.
24, 2005). Through our godly deeds Heaven and
Earth kiss and Incarnation brings hope to those in need.
26, 2006 Nicodemus Comes by Night
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
that all who believe
may have eternal life in him. (John 3: 14)
Renewing our lives is a Lenten and spring theme, and a worthy
goal for the time leading up to Easter. In fact, our self-denial
and good works should prepare us for the celebration of that
upcoming event. The transformation occurring in our landscape is
a sign of the change of heart sought in Lent. We are seeking a
rending of the heart, a fundamental change, a Metanoia.
Nicodemus, a leading Jewish Pharisee (John 3:1ff.) comes to
Jesus by night knowing it to be too hard to come by daylight, for
he might be seen by his peers. He is determined to break with his
culture but only gradually. Nicodemus wants to talk theology and
have a meeting of minds, but Jesus insists on a meeting of hearts,
something far deeper. Later, in John 7: 50-51, he defends Jesus,
the accused Galilean, against his fellow Pharisees and we can infer
that he is a believer. Again he appears in John 19:39 involved in
the taking of the dead Jesus down from the cross with Joseph of
Arimathea for the burial.
The cross. We glory in the cross of the Lord Jesus. As Lent
starts to reach its climax, we again consider this sign of our
redemption. In the Old Testament (Numbers 21: 4-9), Moses is
instructed by God to have a bronze serpent raised before the
afflicted people. Whoever looks upon it is saved. Here in the
Nicodemus story the raising of Christ on the cross foreshadows
salvation, for whoever looks upon this instrument of ignominy with
reverence and repentance is saved through the graces of the Lord.
Seeking renewal. Most people in tune with the great outdoors
are looking forward to the fullness of spring with open hearts.
Renewal begins in our hearts through a rending process or an
opening of the heart to the Lord. But it is we who must open
ourselves so that the Spirit may enter and renew us from within.
We have to allow the doors to open, and part of this is through an
awareness of the needs of those around us. Rending the heart is to
remove the protective layers in which we enclose ourselves. If we
open and receive one of these, the little ones, we also receive the
Spirit. God's gift of love is the Son; our acknowledgement of that
gift is to receive the Son fully into our lives. We can't forget
this gift any more than the Israelites could forget what Cyrus did
for them through God's grace, that is, allowed to return to
Application: We sometimes regard our own actions as
insignificant, but each action leads to a total part of the coming
of the Kingdom. Jesus wishes to speak to each of us on a personal
level, just as he does with Nicodemus. In turn, we need to listen
especially during this Lenten season.
27, 2006 Carbon Dioxide: Friend or Foe
On Steward's Day it is wise to see exactly how much we are
stewards of the Earth -- and a balanced level of carbon dioxide is
one of these gifts without which we could not have organic life.
Too much of any substance can be foe as well as friend, similar to
24, 2004) where small concentrations are needed to
protect the upper atmosphere and large ones make it a pollutant at
ground level. Likewise, carbon dioxide can contribute to the
Greenhouse Effect (September
3, 2005), with a relatively rapid rise
in temperature and other anthropogenic effects on the environment.
Doctor Jim Hansen, a highly respected scientist and director
of the NASA Goddard Laboratories, has recently made some thoughtful
remarks about the need for our government to take global warming
seriously. Some immediately attacked him for leaving his
scientific expertise and venturing into governmental policy. He
says that global warming can be predicted much more accurately than
is generally realized. Thank heaven someone has the nerve to speak
up when the scientist's realm of expertise has a direct bearing on
national policy. Given the power of the United States, our
sluggishness on carbon dioxide regulations could contribute much to
the threats to this very planet on which we live.
All the while, a few scientists with the encouragement of the
administration, misquoted Hansen by saying he was so conservative
on changes that they agree with his laissez faire approach to
letting industry regulate its own carbon dioxide emissions. Hansen
had said in the misquoted article that "given these constraints on
climate forcing trends, we predict additional warming in the next
50 years of 3/4 +or- 1/4 degree C, a warming rate of 0.15 +or- 0.05
degree C per decade." The relatively small change would be due, in
Hansen's cautious manner of speaking, to "constraints," which are
precisely the controls on carbon dioxide, methane and black carbon
emissions that the critic (Michael) insists are unnecessary.
Why all the fuss? Because our country, the leading emitter of
carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, does not take the
arguments of the vast majority of scientists seriously. Instead of
what prudence dictates concerning environmental regulations, the
present administration naively or perversely considers any form of
regulation as a burden on industry. This burden is small change
compared to the burden on delicately balanced natural systems that
could be thrown completely off by the heating up of the planet.
The year 2005 has been the hottest on record and most of the other
hottest years have been in the last decade or so. Most people with
a little common sense know what is happening.
If we continue ignoring the carbon dioxide balance we could
see such effects as: rapidly rising temperatures, melting of the
Antarctic ice sheet, inundation of low-lying nations such as
Bangladesh, shifting of growing seasons and water conditions,
plants and animals unable to cope with changes, and the spread of
tropical diseases into temperate zones. Let's get serious.
28, 2006 What Would Jesus Do?
When I begin this essay, I frankly do not know how it will
end. I must confess I hate to even state the essay title, for I
have qualms about the question. So often it pertains to individual
acts in my lifestyle when the entire lifestyle should be open for
questioning. By particularizing we may omit the bigger question.
Credits: The question is serious and involves an attempt to
examine some part of our lives that really needs addressing. The
question places one in a Christian context of seeking to evaluate
moral decisions in relation to one's faith commitment. So far so
good. It elevates this practice to one beyond mere secular
considerations concerning price, convenience and maintenance costs;
it says that others may regard answers in a way that I have not yet
considered; and it indicates that some moral questions deserve an
answer as to what decent people would do under such circumstances.
Debits: The question actually places a distance between me
and Christ and says I should fathom his return and his entering my
shoes before I make a particular decision. It implies a particular
right answer on all types of matters, not just basic issues. It
seems that the only thing to do is pray and the enlightenment will
come. It turns life into a scramble for minutia. Why I hesitate is
because it evades my responsibility in being another Christ to the
world. Shouldn't the reframed question actually be "what must I do
now as another christ?" Why is this different? It is mainly
because my cultural "now" is 21st century; my "here" is in
Kentucky; and the "we" with whom I will effect the desired change
are not the same as those who were Jesus' companions in the Holy
Land. My answer is related to this time, place and community.
Other questions: I believe a better question is "What would
I do if I were in Jesus shoes?" Would I heal on the Sabbath?
Would I call the dictator Herod a "fox?" Would I address scribes
and pharisees in the manner that Jesus did? Would I cleanse the
Temple with whips or gentle persuasion? Would I irritate my
relatives and friends in Nazareth? Would I go to the passion and
death as a lamb to the slaughter? The answer is "I don't know what
I would have done." To pretend that we will get answers to what to
eat or which shoe to put on first is to try God and make ourselves
miserable. It may also beg the question: "Is there a single answer
given my particular circumstances?"
Not relativism: We certainly need to make moral decisions
based on solid Christian ethical standards. But practical matters
have a certain leeway for different answers. To buy a new car may
be okay if the job or ministry requires it; to buy it to be
fashionable is another matter. And sometimes the motives get
confused. We need to see clearly how we, as other christs, may do
this in a godly manner and to address the basic question: what
must I do here and now? Ongoing discernment is not a matter of
specific questions, but a way of acting in our everyday lives.
A good question is "What must I do to be saved?"
29, 2006 Refrigerate Conservatively
Old refrigerators, like old soldiers, never die; they are
moved to the back porch or garage for use as cold storage. Instead
of gaining advantages through the new lower energy appliance, the
household has increased refrigeration expenditures by the purchase.
If you want to do better, then take refrigeration seriously;
generally this energy-consuming area follows lighting and
resistance heating as the third largest household energy consumer.
The refrigerator/freezer cannot help but operate all day, and so
energy consumption mounts up.
Purchasing. Select the smallest refrigerator/freezer that
will meet your needs. Larger ones are energy wasters, for
conservation calls for using all cooled space. Avoid the frost-
free variety for they take one-third more energy to operate. If
extra freezers are considered to store surplus food, remember that
chest-type freezers are more economical than upright models because
less cold air can escape when they are opened. What about solar
refrigerators? These are certainly available and in use for
hospital supplies in areas of the world where electricity is
unavailable. They are generally more expensive but the price is
coming down with time and sales volume.
Use. Keep the unit reasonably well filled to reduce the
escape of cold air when opened; if portions of the year have less
freezer use, stock with crushed ice as a capacity filler. Open-
close routines can become bad habits, for frequency of opening has
much to do with energy expenditure; use less frequently and know
what you want to insert or withdraw before opening the door.
Placement. Provide adequate air circulation behind, above,
and around the sides of the appliance. Locate the refrigeration
unit in the cooler part of the room away from direct sunlight and
stoves or other heating devices.
Maintenance. Keep the refrigerator temperature at 32-40
degrees F and the freezer between zero and minus 5 degrees. Let
hot foods cool before storing in the refrigerator; in winter the
back porch is ideal to cool and reduce the item to refrigerator
temperature. Cover dishes and containers to keep moisture from
escaping. Check refrigerator doors for a tight fit to control cool
air leakage; test by closing the door on a piece of paper; if the
paper pulls out easily, you need to adjust the latch or replace the
seal or gasket. Condenser coils on the back or bottom of the unit
may collect dust and should be vacuumed regularly.
When away. Clean out the perishable items, pull the plug and
leave the door open until you return from the extended absence. If
the trip is of shorter duration, you still may want to give the
refrigerator a rest and the freezer compartment a defrosting.
Leave enough pans and containers to catch the thawing condensate.
By taking good care of the refrigerator we can have well preserved
food at low energy costs.
30, 2006 Repair It Yourself
Before you suggest a "Repair It Yourself Day," look and see if
it already exists. There is hardly an idea that doesn't have its
own special day. Whether this exists or not, it is a good day to
consider. We live in an age when people think everything must be
done by an expert. It is a far cry from farming days when we were
the experts. Too many of us look at the comics and see Dogwood
Bumstead do a miserable job on a simple picture hanging or chair
repair. Actually, he reflects the culture more than we think.
Today, I finally found a very good place in the yard to
position a "bluebird box" before the spring migration; this was
given last year by Professor Emeritus Wayne Davis (University of
Kentucky, Biology Department), one of about 2,000 he has made and
distributed throughout our Commonwealth (click
here to see Dr. Davis's
plans for building your own box). Yesterday I found places
in the yard for two Carolina wren boxes he donated as well. I take
a special pride in being a wee bit handy.
A good rule is "do it yourself" unless you are too weak, too
busy, or the job is just too big. If it needs more than two hands,
get the neighbor to help. Size up the task, know what has to be
done, and obtain the proper materials and tools. Allow enough time
for the job. Handy work does take time if we expect a good job; it
will probably take more than fifteen minutes or the length of a tv
commercial. Don't get discouraged by past mistakes; small things
just might go wrong, so bring a dose of humor to the task.
If assembling something that has come compressed for shipping such
as a bookcase, read the instructions. They may not be perfectly
understandable but that is the challenge; they do give clues to
doing a fair job. If in doubt, don't hesitate to confer with
another handy person -- something hard for men to do.
Prioritize the items needing repair and allot a period during
the week or month for just such work. Don't feel bad about doing
easy ones first; it is a wise way to proceed for the sense of
accomplishment tides us over to harder tasks. Don't hesitate to
check out the Internet for some handyperson's and do-it-yourself
pamphlets, manuals and books. They can teach us much about little
Reflection: Think about it; there may be a deeper reason to
pursue the calling to be a handyperson. Earthhealing is something
that all can do to some extent and it embraces a host of small
tasks. When we feel we can do the small things ourselves, we are
more confident of taking up bigger and bigger ones. To heal the
Earth is big and yet it involves the contributions of a large
number of ordinary folks. When we see that we can contribute, we
will abandon the institutional mentality of leaving things to the
experts. If they are not pressured and paid, they just might not
move on the issue and then might do it no better than we could do.
We are the ones called to repair the Earth; if we begin at home,
we will most likely also move out to the broader sweep of the
neighborhood and greater environment. Healers are handypersons.
31, 2006 Public Citizen
Some groups we take for granted. We think they will always do
their duty and look after the public interest in ways we can hardly
imagine. Public Citizen is our featured group of the month. Today
I am sending the annual dues so we can continue to receive their
periodical and to support one of the noblest and most visible
causes in Washington, DC. Public Citizen MUST be there to
investigate, expose and stop the growing corruption of our
democracy. I know of no public interest group in the nation that
has a finer record for legal actions, inquiries, and congressional
testimony on so many pertinent subjects. Go to a library and read
past issues of its periodical and see for yourself what the
organization has done for three decades.
This organization does not mince words. Quoting from its
recent fund-raising letter ...
What did Bush know about the national security offense and any
cover-up that may have involved his vice president and chief
political advisor? When did he know it? And why has he done
nothing about it -- in spite of his promise early in the
investigation to fire anyone involved in the undercover CIA agent's
We founded Public Citizen during the Nixon Administration and
we've been down this road before. Thanks to unflagging support
from people like you, we fought and won the release of the Nixon
tapes and helped to bring Americans the real story of Richard
Nixon. Today, it's time for Bush Administration officials to be
held personally responsible for their shameful deceptions.
The Public Citizen folks regard citizen alertness as a key
ingredient in preserving a vital democracy. Their language is
direct and pertinent. They are currently calling for an
independent citizens' commission to investigate the government's
"miserable response to Hurricane Katrina and corruption and graft
in no-bid contracts for clean up and recovery." They add "The
cronies' goal: to coax Congress to give more tax breaks,
subsidies, regulatory cutbacks, loan guarantees, contracts and more
to their industries."
I can vouch for how dedicated and consistent both the
president, Joan Claybrook, and the founder, Ralph Nader, have been
throughout the past three decades. Public Citizen simply must not
be taken for granted; it does too much good for the entire nation
and world to go without our complete support.
Visit the Public Citizen website and find out for yourself
<www.citizen.org>, or send in a
donation by letter to 1600 20th
Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20009.