March comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb. During this time of seasonal change, we are more deeply concerned about climate change as we approach the summer months. Prudence demands that we are mindful: smaller and less dense ice cover on the Arctic; more droughts and floods in unfortunate regions; rising oceans, and fading coral reefs. This is the month of March Madness, the time of St. Patrick Day parades, the beginnings of spring, the greening of the meadows, the coming of dandelions and daffodils, and the first haze of greenery on the hardwood trees. It is an active time: spading, planting, hiking, and housecleaning.
What truly an exquisite name, Phlox family member all the same, Blue rare beauty, an early claim; Folk medicine with sounding fame, A multitude of ills now tame, All mixed with whiskey; What a game?
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March 1, 2021 Finding Eight Reasons to Support Wind Energy
Wind is a most promising renewable energy alternative and ought to be supported more than overly-subsidized fossil fuels.
1. Wind is the fastest growing energy source. In the past year America added the equivalent of ten large nuclear power plants from wind-sourced electricity production. Wind now furnishes 9% of total global energy and is on course to be at 20% by 2030.
2. Wind emits no carbon dioxide. The global greenhouse gas index continues to rise, and is rapidly reaching the point when renewables will allay major damage from greenhouse effects.
3. Wind potential is highly dispersed. Most of the American states could have wind on- or offshore. The Great Plains from Minnesota to Texas have already been the focal areas for new wind farms, but the potential also exists in many parts of our country. Furthermore, advanced wind generators work well with lower wind speeds and expand wind energy's potential territory. An American map shows wind potential in the Northwest, the eastern Midwest, and the Great Lakes regions, as well as offshore along the East and West coasts with large nearby energy-hungry populations.
4. Wind is environmentally friendly. No energy source is perfect, for some have safety issues (solar), water and fish migration disturbances (hydropower), minor air pollutants (geothermal), and land diverted from food production (biofuels). Except for swishing sounds and stray birds (directed elsewhere through attached devices), wind has virtually no environmental impact; cattle graze nearby and residents breathe clean air.
5. Wind costs less. Wind costs are less than for an equivalent nuclear power plant and is without the hidden environmental cost of a spewing coal-fired plant; windpower takes less time from construction to start-up (one or two years instead of nearly a decade for a nuclear plant). Wind is now competitive with other energy sources, and will become cheaper along with solar. Taxpayers bear fossil fuel hidden environmental costs.
6. Wind is a source of renewable jobs. An immense potential for jobs creation exists (renewables have exceeded a quarter of a million American workers this year and growing rapidly).
7. Wind calls for a level playing field with other energy sources, and yet fossil lobbying continues to hinder this from happening through outdated tax incentives. Wind and solar can beat out fossil fuels through fair marketing practices alone.
8. Wind ensures security for our country at a time when we still import a portion of our fossil fuels (and growing exports).
Prayer: Lord, give us the chance to see that the mighty Pentecost gusts are the prelude of healing a wounded Earth.
The only change from the 99 Ways to a Simple Life, which my research team wrote a half century ago, is one dealing with pets. We advocated keeping tiny pets like goldfish and birds, for they take far less resources for upkeep. However, my altered view is that larger pets (dogs, cats, rabbits or mice) may give some folks many benefits -- though very large mammals (e.g. tigers, lions) ought not be in private hands, but rather in a secure reservation with sufficient space for proper wildlife conditions.
I do not own a pet and certainly would not give them a name if I had one. But a cat across the street has been shared and came over once a day for petting and to give me enjoyment. Yes, I will share a pet. Ralph, a late old timer down the street, had the unusual practice of sharing a crippled little dog with an elderly neighbor, Charlie. Ralph feed the animal and had it at night and Charlie, who was more mobile, walked the dog during the daytime. Each had twelve hours of dog who outlived Ralph but died soon afterwards.
I have witnessed others who have a dog or cat that moves about among select neighbors. They are fed or admired by neighbors, for these free-ranging creatures do not know property boundaries. Really having the joy of a neighbor's pet around may seem remote in areas where pets must be confined and left indoors. However, when the animals are not threatening, the story is different. True, free-ranging cats can attack birds except for feisty blue jays. A watchdog can be of special importance for it will alert neighbors to an intruder as well as the keeper's property. Thus protection goes beyond boundaries when the dog comes to regard home turf as an extended neighborhood.
There are resource savings from shared pets as well. If pet sharers get sufficient enjoyment and can tolerate barking or other pet annoyances, they can consider themselves as saving food resources in a world where the pet food could be used even for some human consumption, or as livestock feed ultimately destined for humanly-consumed animal products. Neighbors may not offer to pay the vet bills or the other expenses coming with the pet and thus get off "cheap" and without upkeep bills. Pets do require attention, and sharing a pet may make those of us who do not have primary care feel somewhat lucky.
Occasional sharing of expenses might be a good neighborly gesture. A shared pet means that we can hold things in common and these good animals help us break out of the shell of excessive individualism. These pets can become the occasion of conversations and help expand social relationships.
Prayer: Lord, help us appreciate our animal companions as true friends; they show us attention and give us enjoyment. Help us to treat pets with respect, so that we are better able to encourage our neighbors to care for all creation and become Earthhealers.
March 3, 2021 Overthrowing Nobility of Wealth Non-Violently
On National Anthem Day we hark back to our noble beginnings as a Republic that involved a liberation from the oppression of an absolute monarch -- and the accompanying nobility. At least that was what colonists thought in the heady days of our 1776 Declaration of Independence. Is America's curse of nobility dead? In reality, starting with early Hamiltonian merchants, and continuing with clipper-shippers, railroaders, industrial magnets, business managers, and on to bankers and fiscal manipulators of 21st century Wall Street, we have developed a new nobility. Concentrated wealth replaced nobility of blood. Now we suddenly awake and ask: Are these privileged billionaire "Job-makers," or more precisely, Democracy-breakers? Can they grab the presidency?
At the heart of our irritation is the fragile nature of democratic process, which demands our constant minuteman-like vigilance. The right to bear arms really means the right to defend our fragile democratic process through public word and ready deed. Those reading this in distant lands realize that guarding democracy is a global duty and privilege. Globalization of finances and hedge funds as well as threats to our environment by an unregulated "free market" can make democracy an endangered species. Bankers and financial investors dictate the rise and fall of governments, all for the security of their ever so fragile money system. Repression heightens as insecurity of the dysfunctional economic system grows. However, citizens must speak up for democracy.
Nobility can become established through our inaction, through our acquiescence to a system that never questions the right to control billions, and to retain vast amounts of wealth that is finite and belongs to all the people; private individuals do not have power by divine grace. What if we do not want to play the Monopoly game with a few owning all the hotels? What if we say the democratic spirit is to tax wealth and redistribute it through a more responsible governmental system so that essential services and improved infrastructure becomes available to all the people?
Nobility was never meant to be part of the American system of democracy, even with an imperfectly established Constitution. That compromised document allowed landowners and slaveholders privileges but denied votes to the landless, women, Afro-Americans and Native Americans. Gradually the slave was emancipated only after an expenditure of immense struggle, and their rights guaranteed by Constitutional amendments. More is necessary to control wealth from the hands of a money beset nobility. It's time to act.
Non-violence is our constant mantra. Ways must be found for liberation from this threatening nobility that has its clutches on the throat of our nation. Symbolic actions by citizens can only go so far. Let's return to the drawing board and develop means to change a dysfunctional system so that democracy can flourish again.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to act, but to do so non-violently.
Caterpillar of the monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus.
March 4, 2021Declaring Tax Havens "Concentration Camps of Wealth"
Why such a title? Is it because tax havens really exist and flaunt the common good? Monetary wealth puzzles us in many ways and so we ask questions. First, "wealth" is vague in its definition, and so we have to confront a moving target. Some primitive cultures would regard a collection of clam shells as their form of "monetary treasure," and the accumulation as being a sign of wealth. Northwestern American tribes regard the "wealthy" person as more capable of giving a party in which many things are given away. And then there is the material and uncontrolled "excessive" wealth of this modern age -- the realm of the multi-billionaires; if their "excess" a matter of justice for those who are needy? Difficulty in common definition does not make wealth immune from critique: we can't take wealth past the grave.
Those seeking tranquility may want to omit a discussion of wealth; those wanting more wealth may not want to appear too eager; those who like the perks of wealth know about the difficulty of camels passing through the eyes of a needle as Jesus said. I concede that if wealth sparks individual creativity then let the unfortunate person earn the amount but not retain it after the visit or the tax collector. It is retaining wealth by individuals or groups that makes wealth dangerous -- through excessive control over what should be a common good. Let's focus on the injustice of wealth tax havens since we crave financial resources to improve the national infrastructure and give service to the elderly and sick.
Tax havens are "concentration camps" of wealth because the money could be used to feed the poor, subsidize small farms, give health benefits to those who lack them, furnish clean water to millions, curb climate change through a Green New Deal, build and equip schools, and construct housing for a billion living in shanties and slums. Allowing the rich to maintain and retain these havens and legally use them in the world of commerce manifests the dysfunctionality of this system, which cries to heaven for reform.
Some might say don't be so harsh on the rich. Who is really harsh in a world of destitution? Without solidarity with those who are outraged by the disparity of wealth we are party to the misdeeds resulting in retaining wealth and disordered capitalism. We can so easily be discouraged that we bypass the ones who need our encouragement most. We fail the needy and we fail ourselves. How can we face our merciful and just God, if we neglect to require relinquishment of tax havens that should be shared with the destitute, hungry, ill, and illiterate? Let's speak in the light of day, for mortal darkness in a divided world is in the offing. In aging we discover an ever-shrinking time span to speak; thus, urgency to address issues grows as our own health, energy and resources diminish. Tax havens must not be merely controlled: THEY MUST BE ABOLISHED -- and it may take a police force to achieve it.
Prayer: Lord, give us the strength to speak out while we have time -- for things need to be said before we die.
Equality and Commons: Time Has Come to Act
The increasing social conflicts are in large part fed by inequality and injustice, but their underlying cause lies in the fraying of the bonds of belonging.
Pope Francis, Let Us Dream, p. 108.
The new Federal Administration must face the challenge of growing inequality in our world. Several thousand billionaires comprising far less than one percent of our people have accrued 60% of our national wealth, while tens of millions of Americans struggle to meet food and lodging bills. It's shameful that a privileged few have so much and many have so little. Things can and must change. During these four March weeks let's review this situation and call for redistribution, knowing media propaganda mills will operate at the behest of the wealthy to halt any change.
Note that, if tax policy were similar to that of the World War II period, we'd return to a just economic stance. Why not at least a 90% tax on superwealth? Without resources our very democracy is at stake. The wealthy will yell "socialistic," or worse. Certainly, the issue involves the Commons being gutted, but we could see a repeat of the McCarthy era, which I remember only too well. Instead, let's speak of being "Commoners," a name harking to simple folks and ordinary practices. That is what a socially-just sharing of wealth within a Commons is all about. We do not envy, for who wants to lose their soul by wanton wealth? We want a general sharing that results in an end to destitution and a rational process to economic renewal. Pope Francis says, The wealthy few enjoy what in justice belongs to all. To mend the web of "belonging" we must touch a host of social, political and economic issues, for how else can the redistribution occur except through fair taxes and other non-violent means? We can regain control of the Commons for all the people. From a position of justice, we affirm:
Inequality is destroying the democratic spirit and must be confronted. All people have a right to the resources of the commons.
Scripture (Acts of the Apostles) tells of all things being held by early
Christians in common. Read and heed what Commons, sharing,
need, and redistribution mean today.
A Godless Capitalism must be exposed for all its wanton damage to the world social order.
It is time to light the political fires and stand for an organization where Commoners feel at home.
We must not dampen this discussion for fear of being misinterpreted, but rather try to make it as clear and concise as possible, so as to gain broader support, especially among the young. Some will stand apart and spray toxic red paint on the ideas presented here; simultaneously, they will notify their wealthy benefactors that they support the current status quo. However, let's take each of the above four points in turn during this and the next three weeks.
Inequality threatens our democracy. Each person has a vote, but we view in horror that a billionaire can be considered having a billion votes; such a privileged person influences governmental administrators and legislators through directing wealth into campaigning (through Citizen's United or Corporate permitted political spending), lobbying and controlling political structures in our society. These people have ensured low and almost no taxes for some of their number; they have sponsored tax havens to place surplus wealth outside the reach of governmental control; they champion a "freedom" to influence legislation and call the results a legality for their enormous holdings and power to acquire more.
We have stated in other essays about the power of the economic super-rich to control our society and how it threatens the democratic process by undue influence over legislators and executive branches of our Government. Unfortunately, this extends to silencing many civic, academic and religious leaders and a media funded by the advertisements of corporations, which they favor. Free discussion under these circumstances is sparse and muted.
The Commons (belonging to and shared by many) actually exist today in a global sense: the air space, the oceans, polar regions especially Antarctica, and unclaimed islands. To three-quarters of the Earth's surface area in Commons can be added national, regional and local lands and property held in public trust. However, there is still more that is critical to everyday life: the private (individual or corporate) holdings. Our discussion here is about this private wealth that is mobile in financial terms (stocks, bonds, paper money and precious gold and silver), as well as large parcels of land and structures in individual or corporate hands.
In this arena of private wealth, controls are called for, especially when the current system allows for accumulation of resources that is ideally meant for universal distribution. Currently, those with multi-billions can make decisions with their property that can terminate jobs of thousands of employees and decide the fate of towns and regions; their privileged decisions affect millions who are at the mercy of an irresponsible few. Where is democracy? These current economic practices lack the Medieval noble responsibility; rather, they are autocratic and flaunt democratic process. Ordinary citizens are rendered voiceless while their workplaces are shifted to countries with near-slave labor and very few environmental safeguards. Democratic voices are muted and a cowed media says virtually nothing about the injustice being perpetrated.
We are both concerned about how wealth is acquired and how it is retained and utilized. Someone can acquire a billion and feel good but, through fair taxes, the wealth should be redistributed for community needs, as well as health and educational and other benefits. A growing horrific indebtedness is occurring at this time because acquired wealth is not being collected and used to remove education and health debts. More must be said.
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
By Mond (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
March 5, 2021 Fading Glory of Nuclear Energy
A decade ago this month Japan experienced an earthquake and accompanying nuclear disaster of major portions at Fukushima. In fact, areas around those damaged power plants are still closed to inhabitants due to elevated levels of radiation. The entire episode shook the world, but none more than the unfortunate Japanese who counted on nuclear power of the peacetime atom. The irony was that destructive atomic power was experienced by a quarter of a million dying and a million ill in that country's Hiroshima and Nagasaki metropolitan areas in 1945. Must the story never end as to nuclear power problems?
In the U.S. total nuclear electricity generation has plateaued and is now exceeded by all forms of renewables taken together. As of this writing there remain 97 U.S.-operating nuclear power plants but several will be closed in the next three years. Also, the capacity for potential nuclear power generation is now in a marked decline on a global basis. The number of nuclear power plants is about 450 with 58 in France, 45 in China, 37 in Japan and 36 in Russia. For current nuclear power data visit SUN DAY Campaign.
Several factors are causing the decline just reported:
a) Germany and other countries are deeply concerned about nuclear power generation safety and this is now a controversy within our American Nuclear Regulatory Agency. Other anthropogenic safety issues include terrorist physical or cyber-attack, or plant personnel operating failure;
b) Older power plants built in the heyday of nuclear development in the last half of the 20th century have been extended from twenty to forty-and-more-year license periods and the plants are showing signs of stress and wear after decades of use;
c) New powerplant sites or replacement components at existing power plants come with escalating multi-billion dollar estimates; this comes at times of historic cost overruns and startup delays that make electricity generating firms (and investors) quite nervous. The capacity of wind alternatives can be expanded with less money, fewer worries and in far quicker time from initial plant to operation (see March first reflection);
d) Decommissioning costs are taking a toll on existing electric generating corporations. The figures do not mean that the plants will vanish, for there is no clear final disposal site for plant materials that has been established in the U.S.; and
e) What does anyone do with long-term waste materials?
The material will not go away, but rather be around to haunt future generations for centuries with no plan in sight.
Prayer: Lord, give this world a sense of dangers from nuclear power, and help people to humbly see that certain procedures are too costly and complex for human application.
Flower of the 'Ichi Ki Kei Jiro' variety of non-astringent persimmon.
March 6, 2021 Reflecting on Time When "Springing Ahead"
Now in busy March we are about to lose an hour. Some of us dislike the time changes and advocate for one or other, and to just stay with a single time throughout the year This, however, will not be changed as rapidly as other aspects of the current economy, and we may need more relevant causes. Still the fullness of the year ahead raises a few questions:
Why are we such clock watchers? Perhaps the world of strict work, school, worship, and entertainment schedules demands that we are conscious of the precise time for starting or ending. Yes, we can get anxious about such matters and suspect that others who are speaking lose track of their time as well -- or forget that others deserve equal time for their own presentations. Watching a clock then deals with fairness and concern about the limits of others who may simply have to go to the rest room at the earliest opportunity. Perhaps clock watching can be a sign of sensitivity and awareness of others' needs.
Can we watch clocks too much? Have you observed folks who keep watching the clock or his or her watch? They may have another appointment or they may be extremely bored -- especially when they shake the watch to see whether it is working. Stress can develop when we come to depend on clocks and watches all the time. Maybe it is best to hide these devices on occasion and just live. I recall a funeral when the Protestant minister looked at his watch while preaching, and this greatly insulted the congregation. One attendee told me that had it not been for my presence, they would have ejected the preacher for clock-watching.
Can we judge time without clocks? Primitive societies did not have mechanical time pieces, and many could estimate the approximate hour with great accuracy through sunlight at a given season. Others were not time dependent and considered the span as not being of utmost importance any more than their birth years or birthdays. In our modern culture we live by clocks and years. We know that when events are enjoyable time flies and, when not so, time appears to stand still. When we look back after an ever-expanding span of previous experiences, time seems to have been so short. When as youth, birthdays or Christmases seem to never come. Our psychological experiences of time differ widely since events seem to come more quickly as we age.
Is timing things beneficial whether by clock or calendar? This raises questions about knowing events in our lives and in recalling special occasions of loved ones. We need to remember and forgive those who forget. Some declare independence from a clock -- to the benefit of all who know them; others are very sensitive about length of activities to the benefit of busy folks.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see time as your gift to us; we do not own or can even master the short span of life. Help us to live in your good grace and to appreciate the time you give us.
We have in our parish a "Ministry of the Mop" that involves members who come and vacuum the carpets and dust the pews -- but the question of cleansing has a more social aspect to it. Few people on this Earth have cleansed any public place of those who take from the commons. I admit that even though this is one of my favorite Scripture passages, I have been remiss as well. Among billions of professed Christians do any ever regard this as a duty?
If we extend the reflection title to "Temple of Moneychangers" we still ask about real moneychangers. A long while back our parish in Maysville, Kentucky had a ten-cent section for visitors at Sunday Mass collection time. My brother when returning home sat in this section for lack of family pew space. He handed Chris Brown, the Sunday collector, a quarter and dutifully got back a nickel and dime change. At that week's special second collection he put in the second dime, and was told to fork over the nickel, which Chris said he knew he had given him. Mid-20th century moneychangers!
Jesus' cleansing of the Temple is recorded in all four Gospels and was certainly a seminal event -- for afterwards in all four Gospels the offended parties started to plot to kill Jesus. To be Christian does not mean we have to pretend to act, teach, dress, talk, or grow facial hair like our spiritual leader of 2000 years ago. However, we must do similar things that would be in keeping with his words and deeds by the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Through the Resurrection, all things are renewed. The Holy Land extends to the entire planet redeemed in the blood of Christ, and so the respect shown the Temple is not just reserved to consecrated space in the Holy Land, or to certain churches or shrines; the whole planet Earth is redeemed "holy land."
Jesus said that this sacred space was meant for ALL the people; our planet is meant to be a place for ALL the people, not the 1% privileged alone. A few in business or landholdings do not have a right to control the entire space. Someone should speak up in public places even beyond these humble reflections. This speaking up involves a 21st century paradigmatic shift, one that has potential political and economic consequences and the reasons so many of the established types (business, academic, cultural) do not want to admit non-elite ALL who make legitimate commons claims.
One sub-set of public occupiers focuses on taking over foreclosed residences and allow those living there to continue their residing. Another and more daring one is to encourage homeless folks to move in as squatters to abandoned or foreclosed properties. Amid difficulties that such practices may bring, the message is heard that property rights are quite secondary, while accessible lodging is a primary right to all.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to cleanse the temple of sequestering common space -- a challenge in a propertied world.
We who enjoy flowers like to demonstrate how they have a healing effect on our wounded Earth. When sickness occurs, flowers are a special medicine through sight and smell; they attract pollinators -- and us as well. Talking about new flower varieties is popular, but for me it is more comfortable to promote traditional varieties and flower-related habits:
1. Expand a flower garden or mixed garden to include flowers of every season. I have kept flowers in my garden amid vegetables: irises, marigolds, begonias, lilies, and cosmos plants within the actual cultivated area -- and these give color from spring through autumn. Adding more types will expand the floral landscape, a growing and changing artistic scene worthy of admiration.
2. Refresh domestic interiors with flowering plants, whether from greenhouses or homegrown. People who are sick or homebound deserve as much floral color as we can arrange to give.
3. Increase indoor houseplants in the residence; they provide greenery (ivy or parsley), rare color (Christmas cactus red blooms in December), and deodorizing additional benefits. Share houseplants with others, especially potted plants needing division to thrive and that cry out to be shared with other growers.
4. Consider hanging plants that can decorate porches, entrances, trellises, and trees both outdoors and indoors.
5. Promote flowers in public places. Economics are foremost in these troubled times, but some small effort ought to be made with local governments to keep gardeners (salaried or volunteers) attentive to the upkeep of public parks, courthouse lawns, public roadsides, cemeteries, and traffic islands. Civic pride combines with the consideration of resident and visitor appreciation.
6. Exchange plants. My local herb club has special times in the year to trade, give, sell, or buy surplus plants. I get some annuals that way, and hope for more offerings this year. Also, our festivals and fairs are good opportunities for such exchanges.
7. Consider edible landscaping. We might think that flowers are not included, but some of the most beautiful blooms of the year come from fruit, nut or other blossoming trees (e.g., black locusts), berry bushes, and even blooming vegetables (garlic, potatoes, peas, etc.); these contribute to a colorful landscape. One may desire to grow edible flowers, and that is not to be denied. However, isn't their attracting pollinators and their color more beneficial than making a meal of them?
8. Decorate graves of forgotten heroes and heroines.
Prayer: Lord, make all citizens see value in beautifying the world around us, and regard this as part of our healing process.
March 9, 2021 Recalling Monitor, Merrimac and Aircraft Carriers
For those steeped in Civil War history, today is the date of the great naval battle of Federal's Monitor and South's Merrimac (Confederate designated Virginia). With that struggle a millennia of wooden battle ships became obsolete by the advent of ironclad vessels. Both of these premier ships were truly threatening. They fought each other to a five-hour standstill off the coast of Hampton Roads, Virginia. The Merrimac was scuttled later in the spring to prevent its capture, but its initial appearance helped changed the course of naval history. The heroics of earlier sailors and marines on ship were replaced by the heavily armed battleships and cruisers. The age of duels by sword-wielding, rope-swinging attackers, and defenders on bloody decks drew to a close; unreal romantic battles gave way to raw violence.
Yet even now this reality is not completely perceived. Battleships of a century ago are museum pieces; ships-engaging-ships (outside of some Somali pirating exploits) have not occurred for eight decades since Atlantic and Pacific Second World War naval engagements. Such scenarios will most likely not return.
Part of the romance-confronting-reality scenario is that the billions of dollars America spends each year to sustain the largest navy in the world is utterly wasteful of precious needed financial resources. The fueling stations for coal-burning steamships of the nineteenth century are obsolete; heavily armed vessels under the seas as nuclear-powered submarines are more a security risk by their very presence; and then there are the massive multi-billion-dollar aircraft carriers -- the floating bases on the high seas. WHY? WHY? To insist that we are numero uno of the oceans, proud offspring of Britannia that once ruled the oceans? Why fifteen US aircraft carriers, more than all the rest of the world put together and even somewhat removed from today's drone warfare? Is it the jobs related to the military/industrial complex that perpetuates the presence of these monstrosities?
I think back five decades when I served as an auxiliary chaplain at Great Lakes Naval Base during the Vietnam War. There was still a strain of patriotism and religious fervor recalling service to thousands of raw recruits in the 1960s. My heart still stirs when a rendition of the Navy Hymn is sung on national holiday weekends at Church. But is this residue of naval romanticism also somewhat out of place in today's world? Why aircraft carriers and even a large navy? Are we such slow learners from the futile battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac 159 years ago? Let's turn away, for the spilled blood and guts of ten thousand sea battles were never idyllic scenes. Hear the message: reduce the navy.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to use ships for fishing and transport and omit the expense of bygone dreams of glory with armed vessels.
Tufts of wild chives growing along an abandoned farm fence in rural Kentucky.
March 10, 2021 Welcoming Onions as a Spice of Life
I was once standing in line at a small store and noted the elderly man in front with only enough change money to buy a few potatoes, but having to abandon his onion. I nodded to the checker that I would pay, because I know how much a dish of potatoes with an onion means to a hungry person. Not a customary gift on my part, for I do not recall a repeat of the event. I just felt I know how much an onion makes a potato meal tastes good. Agree?
A decade ago, people in India were extremely disturbed over the rising price of onions. Onions and garlic are nearly universal spices with exceptions of Inuits and other Arctic dwellers -- and I'm sure there are acquired tastes there as well. While the extra nutrition of an onion can be disputed, its ability to add quality to cooking cannot be disputed.
Why onions in March? In part it is because this is the month I sow my spring onion bulbs; these will bear well into the season, remain dormant in the summer, and return in wet cooler weather, and the remaining ones even grace the following spring early crops. Note that onions should never be sowed near similar-shaped but highly poisonous daffodil bulbs that could be mistakenly eaten. I like onions and garlic for cooking at all times but prefer to pick them fresh when possible.
Too much onion taste. March is the month when the cows accidentally ingest the fresh wild garlic shoots and give a bad flavor to our milk to the point where it could be rejected; that is if we allow animals to range freely without continuing some indoor winter feeding. Perhaps the taste of onions in milk is regarded like onions on the breath, something worth avoiding.
Onions as food ingredients are enjoyed, but some find that they cannot be easily digested. Biting into a pure onion causes me invariably to sneeze; others including my father, said he liked raw onions but they did not like him. Polish and other workers are known to devour raw onion sandwiches at lunch time. Yes, raw onion sandwiches with some dressing can be delightful. In fact, when seeking to take off a few pounds I often choose onions for a meal, for this gives a feeling of a full stomach. Cooked onions can give flavor without such harsh effects.
Be onion sensitive. For salads, consider serving chopped onions as a side dish. Realize that many others approach this food like they do peppers. Some like them hot, some "sweet" or mild, and some like them but shun them because the feelings are not reciprocal. Let's champion what we respect and what gives quality (spice) to life. A world of pure essentials minus spice is not of highest quality. Will the New Heaven & New Earth include onions?
Prayer: Lord, allow us to enjoy quality spices of life, but not be so intolerable as to impose them on others.
Murky waters of Kentucky creek following heavy March rains.
March 11, 2021RecitingFlood Tide
About a century ago when Grandma wore huge hats and Grandpa waxed his mustache, loads of rich folks took the "waters." On the other end of that money spectrum, in the hills and hollers of these parts, waters implied -- flood tide.
Waters can be saving, healing, fire-fighting, or crop-sucking. Waters give surging life or a moment's drowning death. Trickling creeks soothe the bones, but rain drops on a tin roof make a child afraid, whose mommy died -- at flood tide.
I quake in rainy weather in this narrow soggy valley when the weatherman calls for two more inches. We stir ourselves and bring out garden truck and tools, because they can't outride -- flood tide.
And we feel the helpless stillness all around, but listen, that distant roar tells us the earth's gone wild, and when raging foam hits the road bank and sweeps across the blacktop at breathless speed, it can't be denied -- it's flood tide.
We feel a sense of blessing for being on high ground, and then awhile later we wonder about dwellers downstream, who may be sleeping through the radio or the siren. and never hear when neighbors cry -- flood tide.
It brings back other swollen river stories. Daddy saw coffins floating down the Ohio in '37, and waved goodbye to some noted deceased citizens on their last free ride -- during flood tide.
Flood waters shift streams' meandering courses, they break down mountains, mud up dales. They write in indelible strokes the words, "Po folks," as though a mark of pride -- in flood tide.
The channel's liquid yoyo is up and down, up and finally down, and now that promised faint overhead rainbow. Nothing's left but diapers in trees and empty milk jugs or "Kentucky ducks" and mucky riverside -- after flood tide.
Prayer: Lord give us the courage to expect flooding; help us to prepare those who are most vulnerable to escape the threats and damage that comes all too suddenly at flood tide.
Holding Things in Commons is Christian
The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed. (Acts 2:44-45)
None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from them, to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any members who might be in need.
These two passages are important to our discussion of the Commons and how basic principles need to be implemented today on a global level. The first quote establishes a commonality among members of the early Christian community through sales and thus, the resources to share among those in need. In the course of Christian history, a general brother- and sisterhood have made charity and shared goods especially available to the needy. Furthermore, religious communities have been established, which continued these practices of deliberate sharing from a common stock; thus, the original idea of local commonality was never really forsaken during the past two millennia. Some Christians, including both Evangelical and Progressive wings, may accept the idea as a special calling of a few, but not necessarily for the larger population. However, the concept of sharing with those in need is a Christian requirement and one in which all of us will ultimately be judged (Matthew 25).
The second passage in Acts reaffirms the local commonality and the sharing of relinquished resources; what is added is the process of redistribution by the agency of the apostles. We recall when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish that in some passages the crowds were ordered into groups so the distribution could be more efficiently executed. Gathering and distributing then become coordinated practices so that needs could be more easily met.
Localizing the Global. The basic elements, whether individually or locally mandated and organized, should be looked at closely and considered from a standard of effectiveness today; this is especially true when we become aware of globalizing local wants, together with available means for instant communication of need and transport-sharing of resources. The globalizing of local needs includes identifying literally millions who are hungry and without proper health facilities. A shocking awareness places demands on the larger Christian body to share what is acquired and retained by the super-rich and in degrees by middle- and low-income people.
Clerical and lay. The early Church found that distributing goods to the poor was a major undertaking; thus, the tasks were divided and the Apostles separated distributing charity as a deacons' work from the formal prayer and preaching of the priestly elders. Dividing labor for the benefit of all was an early experience and furnishes a clue for attacking global poverty today. Globalizing the ministries formerly held by individuals and local communities requires that governmental instruments be actualized for redistributing resources from those with plenty to those in need. Our collective and individual salvation is at stake.
Governments to meet needs. The family of nations and brother- and sisterhood of people requires that the hungry and suffering be addressed by the wider community, for random individuals do not have the ability to meet all needs. Here the argument of charity and demands in sharing takes on a broader role; the demand for governmental bodies to develop the redistribution mechanisms is imperative. Why not the billionaires doing it themselves? Note that individuals are limited and wealth excesses truly belong to the people; an organized citizenry should be in charge of distribution. The very security of the world economic system DEMANDS removal of excess and sharing these resources to the hungry and sick in a more orderly fashion, the nobility of a few charitable billionaires notwithstanding.
Now we return to Christians and what is required in their own practices today. When there are local poor and we have bounty, we must for the sake of our salvation (you did not feed me when I was hungry -- Matthew 25) share resources. Now that modern communication is instant and transport facilities global, the neighborhood has expanded; a broader distribution network is needed for the sake of our collective salvation. If this is not done, disorder will soon reign in a world with its food and health insecurity. We must look beyond our locality; the entire world being neighborhood becomes part of our social responsibility.
A secular materialism may ignore the facts of excess in one place and destitution in another. Some Christians, in name only, could be tempted by the Evil One to buy into this diabolic way of thinking; they seem, at least for a time, comfortable in the lap of luxury though deaf to the cry of the hungry. They may even be willing to say it is the "Christian duty" for those other rich to give some of their largesse to the poor. They do not call into question uncontrolled mega-holdings, only that the poor needs some unspecified essentials. They forget that even a tithe is an excuse for one who holds too much; yes, sharing is essential.
Moral integrity calls for removal and redistribution by the people through a properly elected and monitored government. Our growth in awareness broadens to include the need to apply governmental controls over excessive wealth, so that it can be fairly distributed to those in need -- a service that is quite difficult or impossible by those who consider their excessive resources as their own and manipulated as they see fit. They have so propagandized the public to believe that their giving some is a Christian thing to do, thereby removing redistribution from the hands of the citizenry. Certainly, redistribution is never perfectly executed, but proper government can make it better, if biases are acknowledged and overcome. During the next two weeks we will consider how this redistribution must be part of our future political agenda.
American chesnut, Castanea dentata, unblighted at this young age.
March 12, 2021 Selecting a Variety of Fruit and Nut Trees
Our readership is global; selecting specific fruit and nut varieties depends on climate and locations. A laundry list of what we like has limited application; however, championing variety still has the following characteristics worth recalling:
a) Variety is good; it is a taste of the fruit and nuts and not a commercial quantity that we are talking about. If you want to start an orchard, go to another information source. This reflection is on the value of having close-at-hand a number of fruit and nut types for quality enjoyment. Most of us have experienced a harvest oversupply; we hesitate to waste good food and so strive to give away or preserve excess produce.
b) Variety means careful selection. We pick up a tree catalog or go to a garden supply sales room and discover a host of varieties to select from. The multitude of selections and their beautiful photos entice us. Which one should we choose for they all look good in the photos? Maybe we ought to increase our purchase in confidence that some will be productive.
c) Variety may demand several of a kind. A fair number of tree varieties demand others in the vicinity in order to have successful cross pollination. Sometimes we make the mistake of placing one tree of a kind when several are needed, so we must attend to the written or oral advice and descriptions.
d) Variety adds beauty to the landscape. Granted, an orchard with many apples is an appealing sight. So are landscapes with fruit and nut trees of variety for they bloom, leaf, and produce at different times and thus appeal to our aesthetic senses.
e) Variety is a teaching tool. This may look beyond selecting and planting to a tree-bearing stage. The good part about variety is that, in sharing the produce, others through direct experience find it easier to decide what to plant.
f) Variety is ecologically sound. This is true for various reasons: monocultures attract and encourage certain pests in large numbers and these need pest control; produce of some types will occur on and off with seasons and tree type; variety opens us to finding and treasuring heirloom strains with their own unique qualities; variety limits the type of pest attack and encourages organically grown produce; and this planting seeks to counter damage to the current threatened global tree population.
g) Variety affords simple joys. The commercial world today dictates our tastes and preferences to mass-produced and singular types and tastes -- often laced with chemical pesticides. Home-grown fruit and nuts are special and add to our joy in eating.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see the richness in all of creation, and to assist others in coming to this appreciation of your works.
Silence is golden, but not always. I prefer the principle that I should be silent when personally attacked, whether justly or unjustly. At one time a major business association went to our diocese center and asked them to silence me -- from what I found out was due to my environmental stance against surface mining of coal. I could have spoken with speed, and publicity. However, I dismissed the charge and let it pass, but should I have done so?
Followers of Jesus should speak up when another is attacked, but ought we to follow him and remain silent when personal attacks are leveled at us? Down through the centuries many have been accused yet acted in different fashions as the Spirit moved them. St. Paul made a public defense; he appealed the attack on him to Caesar and thus was transported to Rome for trial. Distinctions may be required when dealing with personal attacks on one's integrity, writings, or actions.
However, our public work has a social dimension; the personal attack on one's community service could be (depending on circumstances) an attack on the entire community -- the poor, the locality, the larger whole Body of Christ. Thus the circumstances and nature of the attack must be considered. If the assault is intended to undermine a broader community of which one is a member, public defense is for the greater good. If the attacker is not directly attacking a larger body, then silence may truly be golden.
The leaders based the argument to crucify Jesus on the community's welfare, "it is better that one should die..." a supposedly shared good. It was obviously a false argument but is a type of reasoning made by many throughout history. We could say that falsehood has been made against individuals before and that here personal silence (as practiced by many in periods of persecutions) may still be that of public witnesses speaking by their presence more than by their words.
However, what if the argument was not against an individual but the group in which he or she is a member -- and that all of these will suffer equally or even worse than the one being accused? Private is transformed into public defense and this is a demand and not an option. We must speak up for others whether such is effective or not. In such a case, then the defense of the other takes precedent, even if it includes directing it at an individual target. This seems so obvious, but is it? Situations make a difference. Will others be hurt by my silence? Will unforeseen ramifications result from an uninformed media or the spread of rumors, of which we have only a limited ability to address? Silence truly is golden, but on occasion speech may be platinum. Let's weigh each case. Maybe I should speak up more often.
Prayer: Lord, give us the power of discernment, when we are to speak and when we are to remain silent in a hostile world.
Early March sighting of spring beauty, Claytonia virginica.
March 14, 2021 Lifting the Cross on Laetare Sunday
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)
In Lent, we are seeking to render our hearts and fundamentally change our way of acting, a Metanoia. We are asked to look upon the cross and find the suffering Jesus in a Calvary that includes us here today. Sometimes we wonder whether we would have the courage to stand with Mary and John at the foot of Calvary's cross. Should we actually lift our own cross with Jesus? Open affirmation means accepting our cross, our participation in the Calvary event. We are called to peel back darkness and become lighthearted, for Easter is just around the corner.
In the Gospel story today (John 3:14-21) Nicodemus (a learned person) comes to Jesus by night knowing that it is difficult to present himself in front of peers during daylight hours. He has courage, but only so much. Others, especially sinners and the ill, find a public forum to be of little consequence when they want to approach Jesus -- they are more open to their real condition. With time, Nicodemus grows in courage; at first he 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, Nicodemus defends Jesus, the accused Galilean, against his fellow Pharisees, for he is in process of becoming a believer. Recall that Nicodemus comes to Calvary (John 19:39) and takes the dead Jesus down from the cross for burial with Joseph of Arimathea.
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 and in the Nicodemus story the raising of Christ on the cross foreshadows our salvation, for whoever looks upon this instrument of ignominy with reverence and repentance is saved through the graces of the Lord. However, as a people on the road to our goal, we must do more than stand motionless before the cross. We have to take up OUR cross and follow him, and this takes effort. We share with Jesus being lifted up and made public according to our unpopular moral, social, and environmental issues. Derision targeted at Jesus is directed at us too; we join Jesus in a Calvary extended in space and time.
Laetare Sunday calls us to discover the hidden joy found in the call to suffer with the Lord. In obeying God's will and finding with Mary and others a sense of joy in being with God, we enter amid our troubles into an event that brings forth Resurrection. We know that victory is near, and yet we must be willing to undertake the joyful struggle to reach eternal life.
Prayer: Lord, give us courage to speak out when speaking is necessary at home, at work, or in the public forum. Help us, Lord, to face criticism and yet be patient, civil, and kind.
Thrashing machine, vintage. Near St. Ignace, MI.
March 15, 2021Reducing Climate Change Gases with Green Cement
Cement is the world's most popular processed building material: 4.1 billion metric tons (2019) and rising with the building booms of Asia and other developing areas at a rate of about 2.5% a year. Traditional ways to make cement result in heavy use of energy in processing and transportation along with immense quantities of carbon dioxide emitted in the calcination process (almost a ton for each ton of finished product).
The versatility of "cement" has been long recognized (Romans two millennia ago used volcanic ash and other ingredients to make an enduring concrete for binding materials in the Pantheon). Basic cement materials are readily available and the product in a wet condition and mixed with other ingredients can be molded in a variety of strong rock-like forms and binding materials. However, producing cement is very energy intensive and gives off about 5% of the global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. These emissions result from fossil fuel combustion in processing and from basic limestone emitting CO2 through the heating process at very high temperatures (2,600 degrees Fahrenheit).
Efforts are underway to make "green cement," that is, processes requiring less fossil fuel consumption in processing or which uses materials that reduce or even eliminate CO2 emissions. Some of these processes separate out the CO2, capture it, and keep it out of the atmosphere; they prove costly. Other approaches include replacing limestone with other readily available starting materials, though skeptics have long said it would be at the sacrifice of strength of the final concrete product. One alternative is to use what is called a "geopolymer" made from fly ash, sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide. The basic ingredient is not only available as a waste needing proper storage but a major worrisome byproduct from burning coal.
Another green approach is to mix Portland cement and a limestone substitute, namely, relatively cheap and available magnesium compounds. These materials need to be heated to about half the temperature of the traditional cement processes and can use less environmentally-impacting biomass fuel (e.g., wood) to reach processing levels. However, available magnesium carbonate originally chosen also releases quite sizeable quantities of CO2. Other readily available magnesium minerals (silicates) offer greater promise along with mixtures of magnesium carbonate itself that is made from other magnesium compounds and thus have CO2 negative impacts. Exact ingredients are trade secrets. Another green cement approach is to mix powerplant-emitted CO2 with sea water brine to produce a carbonate that could be a precursor of cement. Limestone is replaced in this process, though this is still in the R&D stage. Change is coming and "green cement" may be pure white and stronger than gray Portland cement.
Prayer: Lord, help us find less polluting building materials.
Farmer examines a clod of soil. Fayette Co., KY.
March 16, 2021 Turning the Garden Soil with a Spade
During Art Week we all must encourage those who paint, carve, write poetry or weave -- and rightly so. But one could extend arts to the manual types and consider the spade as much of an instrument of art as the paintbrush. This very humble spade has been used to make hasty trenches and foxholes in wartime, fill sandbags and reinforce embankments in flood events, and turn the sod for the grave of a loved one. Spades have had noble purposes and we ought to treat this instrument with respect -- and use it well.
Choose a sturdy tool. Far better if you are inclined to spade by hand make sure you invest in a stout instrument. Yard sales maybe a place to get a bargain or be willing to pay three times the cheaper prices at a higher-grade hardware store. Otherwise the spade will simply wrinkle and bend at the first dig.
Make spading a thorough exercise. Beware! It spading takes a good back and muscles. Be willing to adapt the proper posture, standing straight and letting legs and arm muscles do the work. A bad back may defer the actual spading operation and here direction to a novice eager for some employment may be most helpful.
Determine the cultivated space. Don't overdo the spatial amount to be tilled this year. My new garden addition this past year has been about 4 by 25 feet or 100 square feet of garden space. Believe me, with careful planning this can grow a fair amount of two to three interspersed crops this year. If you have energy to spare and good physique, then try more, but always be prudent for takes skill and requires effort.
Construct raised beds. I learned the secret of a "double dug" raised-bed garden the hard way: through experience. The method prescribed by some who want to till and sweat is to dig a layer and then a deeper layer through trenches and placing of upturned soil in proper order. Mine is a simpler method. Don't make the beds too far apart (say two foot for four-foot-wide beds). First dig and loosen the four-foot bed as far as you wish and then take a foot deep of soil from both sides of the bed and pile it into the interior of the new tilled bed. Thus, the path is lowered eight inches and the bed itself is raised to about a half of a foot of loose soil. Obviously, this is better done on slightly sloping terrain where soil is well-drained. Now if you desire, cover the path with discarded rugs, straw, sawdust, or other cover.
Time spading properly. Spadework is saved for a day when you yearn to exert energy, when in good health, and when the weather is calm. An ideal time is often limited, and so we may have to yield on one or other condition. Touch the Earth and be healed.
Prayer: Lord, make the spade an avenue to making a better world through the sweat of our brow and the use of our muscles; help us experience the nobility that comes in manual work and to an ample amount while we are physically able.
March 17, 2021Highlighting the Light-Hearted Irish
Find reason to laugh; it's characteristic of courage.
The late John Klug of West Virginia
Winter is coming to an end and many of us are happy, for the season takes courage and patience to endure. How can the Irish and others laugh amid troubles of every sort from weather to natural disaster, from financial ruin to Church troubles, from evaporating housing assets to domestic concerns? A litany for desolation could fill a book and yet some can skip over to merriment and humor, for we must not take ourselves too seriously. In many ways, the Irish are a people given to laugh when others of us are tempted to cry.
Lightheartedness is a quality that makes for enduring our troubles knowing that God is in charge. We trust that we are not to endure more than we can handle. We simply do God's works in the midst of a troubled world. In fact, our smallness before God taken with a sense of humor may be the very medicine that each of us needs to be bearable to all around us. The long-suffering, humorless person is pitied and considered by many to verge on or is sick. Such is not a whole person filled with gratitude; rather, it's complainers lacking natural grace and qualities needed to be true Earthhealers. Certainly, healing demands serious moments, but these must be balanced (human ecology) by lighter laughing time.
My home parish (St. Patrick's in Maysville, KY) was a speck of Irish green amid serious, no nonsense English and Germans. The Irish made one of their last Celtic stands. In our grade school play 80 years ago today, I had to appear on the stage wearing a tall green hat and speaking with an Irish brogue, and everyone knowing my Germanic background roared in laughter, -- an utter surprise to me. How could opening my mouth create such mirth? It remained a puzzle for a long time, since I only said one or more sentences. The exact words are forgotten, for memorizing and acting were never my forte. So much for St. Patrick's Days.
Many Irish attempt to avoid being pretentious, superior, or stuffy. None of us is perfect; none above others; none deserving of extra privileges. Today's Irish see their homeland as a land of ever greater promise and possible fulfillment. Happy thoughts for these are always worth celebrating. There’s always some time available for parties, laughter, jokes, and stories. The merriment of a St. Patrick's Day says something about an enduring culture: wear the green proudly; belittle bad times; prepare for the spring sunlight next week; and find joy in this Sunday's Scriptural readings. Take a break and enjoy the weekend. We are too tied down to the plows of life; we need to see that God smiles and takes pleasure in human beings. The Irish seem to know this better than others of us. Seriously!
Prayer: Lord, teach us who are too serious to follow the Irish and be lighthearted. Teach us to lighten up and do so with a smile -- even when we are remiss to show our missing teeth.
In the middle of Lent and a day before St. Joseph's Day, we can ask how we can make the Church more presentable to the unchurched and outsiders. In becoming more presentable, how can we extend democratic principles to Church life? This is not merely attempting to apply secular political practice to church settings -- for the national political process is far from perfect and needs improvement. An ideal goal is to make democracy work so that the Church can become a beacon for change in a dysfunctional economic and political world.
Local attitudinal change: "We are church" is an attitude that is only gradually taking hold today. As laypeople have to rise to the occasion and be themselves as well as help fill depleted clerical ranks, many are seeing that responsibility goes beyond being examples of moral living; it includes the way we present the Good News to a scattered world. Democratic process demands participation at all levels of action, and subsidiarity in the Church works well at a local level.
Spiritual democracy: We often see ourselves gazing at saints from a distance and striving to imitate their noble lives. What does imitation mean except to immerse ourselves in issues around us and pray for the guidance to act properly? The eternal horizon is presently before us, not only beyond us in time and space.
Clerical attitudinal change: This is deliberately not the singular item of change, because all groups and individuals must change from grassroots to the "higher levels." Change comes slowly through recent public exposures of imperfections for better or worse. The clergy sees itself today in a far more realistic manner than even the last century. Aristocratic ways and paternalism give way to democratic listening and cooperative teamwork.
Power structure changes: Democracy issues often crop up in such issues as women in the Church (see Special Issue on Priests for Equality on this website), married clergy (bring on the Anglican Ordinariate), and perhaps an expanded deaconate for the entire Church and not just a heavily American practice. Perhaps down the road will be the return to the early Church practice of electing bishops by popular consent. Perhaps we must avoid practical politics and elect through representative democracy.
Nobility of all gifts: The work of the Church as one is through seeing all gifts of individuals as of great worth. A priest's role is not more noble, only perhaps more essential with regards to liturgical functions. Health care and teaching are also essential in different ways and need strong lay participation. ALL are called to be involved in the Church: praying, administrating, healing, teaching, constructing, and manual working.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to treat our evangelical teamwork as a
joint calling in being bearers of Good News to a troubled world.
Confronting Anti-Commons Systems
Once capital becomes an idol that presides over a socio-economic system, it enslaves us, sets us at odds with each other, excludes the poor, and endangers the planet we all share.
Pope Francis, Let Us Dream, p.110.
This month we are looking at four aspects of the Commons: growing inequality that must be addressed; a Christian approach to sharing in the Commons; current systems that resist the Commons, and alternative political systems to enhance the Commons. In some ways this third sub-issue today is the most difficult because "Capitalism" is championed by a wide range of Americans, political parties, academic institutions and religious leaders. I prefer to say "Godless Capitalism," even though it contains a little "g," or the god of materialism. Was the devil at work in 20th century atheistic collectivism in order to turn those with religious commitment to associate with a more Godless system of individual greed and selfish possession of wealth? The Evil One is smart!
Why a system of billionaires with unlimited wealth and acquisition/retention, and a billion people who are destitute? The world's wealth and resources do not belong to the select few; they also belong to the poor. Pope Benedict XVI (9/9/07). Why aren't resources shared? The answer is the unproven thesis that those who acquire have the "right" to retain and use as they themselves see fit. How can people defend a system that encourages basic inequality and does so under some form of an artificial legality? Is it colonialism at its worst? Is the system promoted by the same mentality that defended slavery by so-called Christians less than two centuries ago? Is not a question to be raised as to "possession" or ownership by a privileged few? My greatest regret is that I did not start fighting this Godless system early in life. However, to have done so would have meant loss of funding sources and intense unpopularity by a propagandized citizenry. However, we can make up for lost time by confronting Godlessness today in a more forthright manner.
Some would say the current system should be tolerated and adjusted to make it more equitable. Not so! Is global Capitalism capable of being modified, or is there an inherent flaw in its broad expanse and lack of international controls? A deep doubt surges from global Capitalism and the accruing of wealth in enormous amounts by individuals with no or few limits and controls. The system sponsors the very legislators who ensure it continuation through corporate funds (Citizens United). Change is difficult because the media and influential citizens stand behind the status quo, as though that idolized system is truly divine.
Capitalists hold that those with money have a right to determine its retention and use. The flaw is not as much in the acquisition of wealth under current legalistic conditions, but wealth's retention, especially when acquirers have nearly complete control of its destiny. The assumption is that possessors are sole determining agents of how what truly belongs to the commons is retained or spent. How could Amazon or other supers justify using the citizens' Internet without sharing a major profit with the people? The brain-washed say: Why can't the rich keep what they earned? Not so fast, for did they really earn it? These Capitalist defenders forget about the social nature of the System in which the privileged few thrive. The system has been paid for by a million soldiers who died for their country, tens of millions of slaves who gave their working hours to others, and the lowly taxpayers who paid for security and infrastructure that keeps the nation functioning. We all collectively own the System and have right to its benefits as a people, not as entitled individuals.
The power of privilege is enhanced by a globalization that permits transfer of wealth to the advantage of the ones who have basic control -- a control that has left the hands of the people and even governments. This is true also in Europe and even in China. Unfortunately, we observe a fallback to Medieval nobility, but lacking in that age's ethical underpinnings and responsibility to care for the needy. The few, who volunteer portions of their wealth to those they choose to give in "charity," do not justify the system, for they decide who lives and who is omitted.
In fairness, a very localized Capitalism with all parties knowing the chiefs could possibly involve a greater degree of sharing and some mild form of collectivism. However, this is not the case where the leaders are distant and unknown, and receive salaries far in excess of ordinary workers (sometimes CEOs with 400 times the salary of their employees). Unfair! Mega-systems with CEOs far removed can decide the fate of a workplace and settlements without local folks having any voice as to decisions affecting their own lives. Such Capitalistic systems are ultimately flawed and are fundamentally undemocratic and becoming ever more so if changes are not forthcoming soon.
Capitalism is no solution in the long run. We must make a workable system that demands changes in an emerging renewable energy economy, for residual power in the hands of Big Energy is no solution; such continued control gives immense influence to these privileged individuals who extend profits as long as possible at the expense of the environment and its inhabitants. Yes, such decisions are anti-democratic and must be halted, because the window of time to control climate change is narrowing.
Essential needs hold priority over luxurious holdings of the wealthy. Basic food and potable water are essential; so is a place for youth to go to school, along with recreational facilities for a good quality of life. That "quality" goes beyond the essentials of basic food, potable water and adequate lodging. No doubt, with expanding demands for better quality, "needs" will consume larger shares of surplus resources. The poor can't remain silent; they deserve to be at the table -- and a preferential option for them is forthcoming. Take for the Commons what rightfully belongs to all.
March 19, 2021 Quilting Day: Social, Art, Utility, and Creativity
National Quilting Day (celebrated tomorrow) is an opportunity to celebrate in Appalachia and elsewhere the "Patchquilt," a bed cover of artistic design. This beautiful piece of craft work uses worn clothing for patches in specific traditional or local patterns. Thus, within this definition are several of the enduring characteristics of Appalachia that are worth emphasizing: neighborliness, art, utility, and creativity.
Cooperative quilting has been a social function within the region, for many times the womenfolks gather as at a party (or "bee") and engage in a cooperative project while socializing as neighbors. Much as other forms of work are opportunities for busy people to multitask, and so is quilting; this has proved to encourage a party atmosphere in the evolving of this art form.
Artistic quilts are made with enormous care by individuals working together for a common or locally specific design or arrangement of the patches and outlines of the quilt. The patterns are what give a sense of native art as well as the colors of the patches saved and utilized for the anticipated product. These hand-stitched masterpieces take much time and are often so valuable that they are used for tapestries or wall hangings by purchasers. The quality of the stitching can be highly prized.
Utilized quilts are still found in many places, for the original intent was to keep sleepers warm on winter nights. Quilting material is also used for clothing, especially by those enduring cold climates. Quilt insulating value is enhanced by proper fillers (wool, cotton, or various synthetic materials).
Creative quilts are where utility meets art in the skills of the artisans. Some common patterns of quilt design have been known for decades, still the creative juices of artisans flow in many ways, such as matching and contrasting colors of the patches. Artistic recycling and reuse share a deep Appalachian tradition that is often combined with story-telling and involve Ballad Quilting (stories in pictures framed within the quilt with scraps of cloth, braid, and lightly colored embroidery).
Window insulating quilts are rolled coverings attached to interior of window frames that have quilted material with colorful patterns. These can be elevated or lowered in winter to allow in sunlight or to preserve the heat within the room space.
Barns painted in colorful and artistic patterns have appeared on at least two thousand structures in the past decade, starting in Appalachian Ohio, but now in at least two dozen American states. These combine celebration of quilting design and color with that of the highlighted heritage and unique barn architecture present.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to see opportunities to be useful and creative, and to do this in an artistic and neighborly manner.
March 20, 2021 Celebrating Spring Equinox: Fine Time to Shine
Adherents of natural and traditional religions can join hands today in a joint celebration of outliving the winter and preparing for the blessings of the upcoming season. With lengthening days and strengthening sunlight we stir in this and various ways:
Beat the Heat
Bless all the Rest
Cheer with those Near
Chill with the Bill
Croon the Tone
Dance at the Chance
Dare to Scare
Dine with Wine
Dress like the Rest
Eat the Treat
Fight for the Right
Fly ever so High
Glance for the Chance
Go with the Flow
Greet the Feat
Hear with each Ear
Hop with the Mop
Love things Above
Make the Break
Place in the Race
Pray for the Day
Read the Deed
Ride the Tide
Rock the Clock
Roll with the Soul
Row with the Tow
Run for Fun
Shake with the Quake
Shop till you -- Stop!
Sing in the Spring
Sow the Row
Spice the Rice
Surf for the Mirth
Quell the Spell
Take the Cake
Tame the Game
Try to stay Dry
Turn the Stern
Unite the Polite
Walk the Talk
Write down the Site
Zone the Phone
... and more in store
Prayer: Lord give me good things to do in free time.
March 21, 2021 Dying to Self in Order to Rise Again
If a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it produces much fruit. (John 12:20-33)
In our life journeys we discover many people who are self-sacrificing and give their lives working for others. Saint Theresa of Lisieux, the "Little Flower," prayed to God that if she was not able in her short mortal life to be as active as she would have liked, could she at least be so in heaven. Her prayers were answered in wonders and miracles, and this little virtually unknown nun was declared a great saint and a doctor of the Church. She, who was hardly known within her community due to being bed-ridden, has become one of the most popular modern women saints. Her autobiography is the most popular in the world and printed in 30 languages. She sacrificed willingly with the Lord in Baptism, religious life in a convent, and in her sickness that incapacitated her by all worldly standards of mobility.
Dying to self is a scary thing when we first learn about the
calling. We humans share in self-preservation, something instinctive for all living and sensate creatures. We discover that martyrs are able to overcome that survival instinct through willingness to serve God in special ways -- and that often applies to soldiers as well. As a French commander in the Grande Armie said on the road to Moscow in 1812 when told to charge in the middle of a withering cannonade, "Let us all go to our death." That is dying to self in a patriotic way; there's a greater one.
Jesus approaches hostile forces in Jerusalem along with his impending suffering and death with determination; he tells his disciples that each follower must be open to sacrifice by giving our lives for a greater cause, namely following him. His disciples resolved to do so for the Lord, by being a grain's dying to become a fruitful harvest. The blood of martyrs is called the seed of the Church; that seed results from a heart-felt sacrifice of selfless Christians. The prophet Jeremiah says that God will write the law on our hearts (31:31-34). The law of self-sacrifice is written onto the hearts of those who love God, allowing them to die to self; with this comes a solemn assurance of eternal life. We await God's covenant promise by a willingness to die to self.
Our call is to sacrifice with Jesus on a Calvary event that is extended in space and time. Jesus dies for and with us and we, in turn, as baptized, are to die to sin and be with him. In Lent we are asked to give up worldly attachments that tempt us to forego self-sacrifice in order to be nearer Jesus. We go down with him in death so we can rise with him in eternal life. Thus, the Calvary of our own life comes before the resurrection to eternal life. We are approaching the great feast of Easter when we celebrate the event of Jesus' rising and promise of ours as well.
Prayer: Lord, make us self-sacrificing, a smile on our face and joy in our heart, as we prepare for this and an eternal Easter.
A Polish heirloom chair, a Grandmother's treasure.
March 22, 2021 Treating Heirlooms, Legacy Materials, and Junk
As we age, we ponder who to bequeath heirlooms and other things we hold most dear. It is not easy to think of our passing, our final personal Calvary event, and yet it is inevitable and worthy of rare but occasional reflection. We simply won't live forever. A few folks in a creative burst decide the wording of a tombstone, something that is a legacy but still is at the mercy of acid rain and moss coverings.
Heirlooms? Material things pass and pass on to others; they are not immortally grasped. In a world that values material possessions, the great handicap is always how to maintain items in a state of preservation by dependable guardians -- perpetual caretakers who do not exist. I recall my maiden Aunt Toots (yes, on her tombstone) who took great pains in seeing that her priceless heirloom dishes, silverware, and other valuables went to one or other favorite relative who would value keepsakes and remember the donor. I have tried to pass on family items and gifts to various nieces and nephews thinking that their remembrance of sources will extend long past even my and their short life span. Heirlooms feature mortality's clever twists and turns; we are not masters of our future or our possessions. Nevertheless, spiritual treasures are eternal, for love alone is an eternal heirloom.
Goods or Junk? Each of us can chuckle when we hear that experts puzzle whether a piece of art is authentic or fake. What does it matter that one piece is worth a million dollars and its virtual look-alike is worthless? Where is the origin of that evaluation, except among a peer group who sets values on the possessing as much as the possession? After Thomas Aquinas was granted a peek into the heavenly scene, he wanted to burn his writings as though they were straw. Thank heavens, for the sake of posterity that did not occur. Great artists destroyed works and famous people burned personal letters. The shovel and trash heap became the repository of many great relics of the past, though some for the sake of history survived.
Legacy may have something to do with passing on. As Billy Graham says in Nearing Home: Life, Faith and Finishing Well, we must prepare for our passing and help others to do the same. In my pastoral experience, I discover some who pass away with flying colors of gratitude and kindness, and some who appear to stumble in the act of letting go of possessions. I recall one person on her deathbed constantly gazing at her jewelry. Every time I discard personal letters and notes I feel somewhat relieved that another person does not have the duty of pitching them after I am departed. Ideally, anything of worth should be routed to responsible preservers or legitimate archives, but amount is limited and we have to help set the limits. I resolved recently to toss a little each week so not to burden those clearing up after me.
Prayer: Lord, teach us what is of value in this passing world. Give us a sense of value of love as the only true legacy.
March 23, 2021Making Quality of Life through Spices and Herbs
An herb is the friend of physicians and the praise of cooks.
Champion quality. Do our spices extend beyond salt and pepper shakers? Quality in food is highly dependent on the cook's spices used in right amounts at proper times. Spice adds flavor to a dull life and that has been known since prehistoric times with seed and leaf traces unearthed to prove that primitive peoples used herbs in their cooking. The spice in my limited social life is attending the local "Garden Thyme Herb club." This permits a vista into the multitude of herbal possibilities of which we feature one each month. Variety is its own spice of life, and quality of life is a sure ingredient to proper healing -- and thus the friend of physicians and caregivers and Earthhealers.
Know trade history. Amazingly, we tend to forget that Columbus was seeking a shorter route to precious and profitable spices of the East (e.g., pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.). In fact, some of these spices were regarded as money in Medieval times, because of the value wealthy people placed on distant spices with exotic tastes. The closing of the traditional Middle East routes by the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, led Portuguese to discover an alternative route around Africa within a few decades. Spanish competition for an alternative spice route by going due west across the Atlantic motivated Columbus and subsequent conquistadors at the end of that 15th century as well. Commerce in spices influenced the drive to globalization.
Be creative. Spices have so many uses: culinary, medicinal, food preservatives, pest repellents, deodorants, and cosmetics -- and uses still undiscovered. Spices pack a wallop of benefits. They are natural products and generally cultivated organically; they do deteriorate in potency and need to be replaced (but that shelf life differs with type), and they often can be mixed with others and add unique additional flavors. For those of us who do not usually adhere to recipes, the field is wide open for new creations; often we cannot really reproduce these unless we take detailed notes, and that isn't fun! People talk about combinations of herbs and spices for meats, fish, and various vegetables and thus creative cooks are open to a host of possibilities.
Experiment patiently. Herb use does not come in a day. The glory of our herb club is that no one is so elite to think she or he knows it all. Expertise is fairly evenly shared and all have a gift of listening to the story of others. With herbs and spices, there is so much to learn that we all feel like novices either in growing, preserving, or using them. People who like herbs learn to have a growing area close by the kitchen (even pots within the house), so that the fresh herbs can be quickly harvested for immediate use in cooking.
Prayer: Lord, give us the wisdom to see that spices are part of our life, and they prepare us for life to come.
March 24, 2021 Leaving Job Creation to the Rich Is Wrong
A standard misunderstanding is that the wealthy in our country are the job creators -- and in some cases that is true. However, they do NOT accelerate job creation through paying less than fair taxes. The rich often ensure supporting legislators' job but not everyone else's. National Public Radio investigators sought out examples of those in small business who "needed" lower tax rates to create jobs, and they could unearth no such people. In most cases the myth that tax rates should favor wealthy job-creators is fabricated for the benefit of the wealthy, who will only amass their fortune. There's no trickle down to others.
All people ought to work for a livelihood and special attention ought to be given to job-seekers rather than job-creators, though entrepreneurs can fill both categories. In a world of small farmers, crafters, and shopkeepers, workers attempt to create their own jobs and livelihood through ingenuity and hard work. With the industrial revolution, multitudes abandoned farms and shops and moved to find steady work in urban areas -- thus sacrificing their self-employment for higher security as employees. Thus, the class of employer with power and employees at their mercy became all the more established. Not all unemployed are forthright enough to seek honest work, but the majority of people are anxious to work for a livelihood. Those seeking honest work and not able to find it become disgruntled and discouraged.
Governments are major employers for services ranging from maintaining public roads to running schools. As preservers of the right to all for a livelihood, the government is the employer of last resort. With so much infrastructure needing upkeep and so much care needed for elderly and ill, meaningful job possibilities are plentiful; however, actual resources for the carrying out of these forms of employment are limited due to lack of revenues. Governments have the duty to raise revenues and ought to when unemployment cannot be corrected in the private sector. However, if the privileged have distorted the democratic process and have undue influence on legislators, then potential revenues are left undemanded and uncollected. The situation becomes ever more perverse and untenable when disparity of wealth results in control of financial resources and legislators by the wealthy.
Wealth left in private hands in hopes of creating jobs could be a very bad omen if they decide to shuttle taxable resources to unreachable tax havens. They become purveyors of a cult of permanent privilege, where they decide who are employees and can gain a livelihood, and who stands in the charity line. Certainly some prefer handouts to honest work, but most want a meaningful life including being needed through work. Active government in justice needs to provide needed work for the unemployed, work requirements for workers, and revenue through fair taxes.
Prayer: Lord, help us fulfill all the many work opportunities through proper caring for all workers and those served.
Jewel-like dew-drops formed in mass of spider webs.
March 25, 2021 Reflecting on Annunciation Day and Dewfall
Send victory like a dew you heavens, and let the clouds rain it down. Let the earth open for salvation to spring up. Let deliverance, too, bud forth which I, YHWH, shall create. (Isaiah 45:8)
Canon Two of the Catholic Liturgy wording pleads that God "send down your spirit upon them [gifts] like the dewfall" -- an event so mysterious, so gentle, and so precious.
Dewtime is when drops don't freeze to frost or remain in clouds that obscure visibility. Dew is the moisture that keeps the plants and animals refreshed during the growing season. Dew is condensation and yet the moisture is all around; it is a divine gift most cherished by so many creatures for nourishment and growth. Dewtime is the time of salvation, the eternal NOW.
Dewfall is gently dramatic. The song goes, "Morning has broken...like the first dewfall on the first grass." Dewfall is announced with no blowing trumpet or rushing rain, but with the gentleness of an alighting dove. It's quiet; its drama is in its effect. The Annunciation is the world's most dramatic event, and yet it occurs in the quiet of Mary's dwelling with no other human being knowing of its occurrence. God's greatest manifestations are dewfalls, not hurricanes. Dewfalling is like sunrises. Science says it is condensation and not a "fall," but we discover beyond explanations a spiritual meaning expressed in poetic terms.
Dewdrops are precious for they come in an instant and express their beauty, and then quietly evaporate. Our salvation is that precious moment in world history when the jewel is seen in its full beauty. During a meditative moment right after sunrise decades ago I looked down and saw a transparent emerald; no, a bright sapphire; no, a blazing ruby; no, a fleeting topaz; no, a dewdrop jewel soon to evaporate but appreciated for a moment at different angles. Ever so precious is the moment of Christ's coming. The Annunciation event was cosmic dewfall when Mary gave her simple "yes" to God.
Dew is both heavenly and earthly. The Messiah is God-man, and on this Annunciation Day Earth and Heaven kiss. Through God's grace salvation has come and then become a participative endeavor involving first Mary and then, in God's good time, all of us as well. We are here at the Annunciation not by what we deserve but by what God gives to us. Jesus comes as Messiah and becomes God's immediate presence to and for us and for all creation -- people, plants and animals and the universe itself. However, we act as the voice of God bringing Good News and the hands of God in helping renew our troubled world. God is author; we are scribes writing good deeds. We become "sprung hope" for others, hastening the coming of the New Heaven and New Earth in word and deed.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see the full impact of the Annunciation event in our lives as healers of our Earth, and let us see it symbolized by a dewfall.
Political Action to Enhance the Commons Primacy
We must redesign the economy so that it can offer every person access to a dignified existence while protecting and regenerating the natural world. Pope Francis, Let Us Dream, p. 44.
For the past three weeks we have discussed the anti-democratic tendencies: of our current economic system that favors the super-wealthy; the Christian imperative to share resources with those in need; and recognition that modification of the current Capitalistic system is no solution in the long run. Controlling economic power is necessary, even while the clear outlines of a detailed approach is not yet in sight. Change is in the air and it must be pursued at a time when a renewable energy system is imperative and inequality addressed.
The political vacuum is not mine to fill, because I have so little time left; furthermore, it takes more than scattered individuals to bring this about. However, we need a prophetic call for social justice as a foundation for a political stance (whether through modified system or new political party). Young people, and especially Christians, arise! Champion the Commons and regard this as a noble act -- and don't be frightened by red-baiting. Be willing to be called "Commoners." Recall that the name has a proud history; "The Great Commoner" is a title applied to some of the grand American statesmen, namely, Henry Clay and William Jennings Bryan, along with noble Englishman William Pitt and others. This name was a tribute to those who were concerned about improvement of ordinary folk; it was not a derogatory term. The challenge today is to extend this term beyond individuals to a more organized group of people who seek to enhance the Commons.
Fair taxes are an ideal goal, for they are grossly lacking today due to the power of the super-rich. However, these controls over the current government need not continue through an aroused citizenry. One considers one billion people in destitution and an equal number of those with a need for more adequate housing and food security. Furthermore, those needs grow immensely when considering additional educational and recreational services for all people. No doubt, sharing existing resources with the world's population would result in a drastic reduction in super-wealth -- but realize that change will be preceded by fierce opposition.
We stress that global climate cannot be controlled using the current political power system, with the privileged Big Energy exerting undue influence; all progressive economists acknowledge this. It would take an immense expenditure of resources to expect basic change within either of the current two traditional American parties. Don't fool yourself, for there is little likelihood for either party to depart from their Capitalistic way of thinking. They are both firmly set in their ways.
A new political party? Some see a new and viable political party as an unsurmountable hurdle -- but is it? We in America have not seen a new and viable party since the demise of the Whig Party and the rise of the Republican Party 165 years ago. This new beginning goes counter to any form of modifying the existing parties, but will take fewer human resources than changes from within parties. However, a sense of change is in the air among an aroused younger generation, and they are capable and willing to make their power felt politically. In this pandemic era, we must be willing to address the growing inequality through taxes. So long, Godless Capitalism! Let's establish rational controls on wealth.
Commoners are not Capitalists. Expanding the Commons means expanding social benefits: free college education, one-stop health benefits, expanded social security, proper income for those caring for home-bound ill and elderly, expanded infrastructure growth and improvement. Universal Basic Income (UBI) deserves upcoming reflection. Broadened "needs" may include reasonable recreational travel, modified comfortable homes, individual work vehicles, and specialized educational programs -- and so it be! Most people are able to exclude wanton luxuries: sizeable landholdings, mega-mansions and individual yachts and airplanes.
Advantages of Commons primacy. The primacy of the Commons means all people have a right to Earth's resources. Secondly, the fundamental weakness of Godless Capitalism is retention and private use of excessive amounts of wealth, which should be taxed and shared in the Commons; this involves a broader perspective on human needs, provided they are not extravagant. Closely related is a third advantage, an educational potential of Commons primacy through sharing within the human family, not individualistic greed; this involves proper distribution of limited resources. Fourth, with expanded social benefits an argument for expanded incomes can be muted. Lastly, enhanced global security through combatting destitution allows for reductions in the two-trillion-dollar annual armament race, yielding vast savings for human benefits.
A final question is why should a cleric (me) bring up this new political stance? Certainly, lay folk are most welcome. Granted, many seem hesitant to speak openly about a commoner political stance. The current choice is stark: Capitalism or Commons. Those advocating radical sharing of resources need to overcome the fear of popularist bad-mouthing and threats from funding sources. Yes, the process calls for countercultural discussion and the willingness to live simply and avoid large-scale maintenance efforts. Successful results are challenging; we must acknowledge our limits while voicing an urgency to curb climate change through proven renewable energy sources. Misinformation must be addressed.
Youth give us hope; these do not feel haunted by a past atheistic collectivism; we don't bring out Carl Marx and the extinct USSR. A closer interpretation of Acts calls for the fundamental sharing of all global resources. Now the time has come to act in a forthright political manner. A Christian who is not a revolutionary today is not a Christian - Pope Francis.
March 26, 2021 Housecleaning in Spring Covers Many Areas
Spring breezes and elevated temperatures make us want to air out winter clothes and fetch summer ones, store away snow shovels and deicing materials, and remove vestiges of snowstorms. All too often, we overly focus on one or other messy situation close at hand and forget that housecleaning involves many aspects.
Domestic scene: We begin spring cleaning at home; our residences need it, and starting here opens the way for airing the house on warm March days. However, domestic housecleaning takes time, cleaning agents, and elbow "grease."
Personal effects: Airing out home extends to clothing and then the personal accumulation of goods gathered over time; the personal litter beckoning us to cleanup all aspects of life. Reserve some time; fetch recycling containers; sort out the unwanted correspondence and papers; gather the unneeded bottles and boxes; sort through the unworn clothing for the nearby basement sale or charity drive. Let's liberate ourselves from unwanted items.
Business site: While in the cleanup mode extend this to reorganizing office space so that more needed articles are near at hand, quotes well posted, papers in order, and books properly arranged. A day of office rearrangement is well-spent in early springtime.
Landscape debris: Winter snows have a way of covering the messy stages of winter and all the previous year. This is the time to prune fruit trees, cut away escaping vines, turn the compost pile, and bring order to a budding edible landscape.
Spiritual garden: Lent is a time to put our spiritual house in order, to review and confess our faults, and to prepare for Easter's glory with a cleansed and purified heart. Some say they already have heart; true, but does it need housecleaning?
Acquired attitudes: Too often winter weather makes us irritable and hardened in attitudes about migrants, health care, taxes, drug problems, and on and on. Some issues irritate us and cold weather allows them to fester. A good walk outdoors and some positive reflection may rid us of such irritants.
Political space: Officeholders ought to be held accountable, but many of us would rather leave the political scene to experts who have more insight, savvy, or perseverance. Monitoring and connecting with candidates may be a part of our political housecleaning that is well worth our springtime review.
Prayer: Lord, give us the energy to engage in all aspects of housecleaning as we prepare for the Holy Week starting this weekend. Give us a spirit of openness and the energy to act accordingly in all matters as we prepare for Easter.
March 27, 2021Limiting TV Time: Instead Read, Pray, and Reflect
Television can be good or bad depending on what is watched and for how long (not having TV I rarely watch it (at a doctor's waiting room an hour a year -- and that is too much). The average American leaves the TV on about five hours a day, or longer than all surveyed (I do not say civilized) nations. Perhaps even though the set is on, it may not be watched attentively during that time.
TV's beneficial side includes some public interest programs that allow people to view expressions and reactions of candidates for office, or to take part in current or past events in ways that mere imagination does not allow. Certainly one can know people better by seeing them on TV responding to questions and commenting on certain issues. Also, at times of historic moment (death of a famous person, etc.) or in special factual programming, an audience can feel being present in a virtual manner. Furthermore, some entertainment is healthy and wholesome -- but only some and in a limited amount, lest valuable time for reading is wasted.
TV's detrimental side should not be overlooked. People cease speaking to others in their family when all eyes turn to the TV. The center of attention in a home becomes a screen presenting personalities from a distance, not the person at one's side. When the habit is to watch TV day after day, viewers find this easier than to take the effort to read materials. TV viewers can become part of a generation of functionally illiterate; they learned how to read, but do not do so as they sit passively allowing others to fill their minds with canned comments, sound bites and critiques.
Limit TV time. This time-saving Lenten resolve applies to us and to those under one's charge; consider extending it throughout the year. No one needs the severe limits I impose on myself, but I would not read a book a week or more frequently, if there were enticing TV shows every evening or during free time. In place of these, one ought to find other worthwhile occupations such as periods of meditation and prayer, times for reading either on the electronic media or through paper editions, or simply spend time conversing with loved ones and neighbors. In many ways, phone talkers can be annoyances to co-residents unless shunted to a special place, but phone talking is more social than TV watching.
One final remark. I can invariably pick out excessive TV watchers by talking on virtually any subject for a few minutes. The TV generally gives a shallow overview of current events. After a half-hour conversing with this person, I can estimate the amount of time the person watches TV -- though TV-watching is like smoking habits and does not tell how deep the intake is; some doze during TV viewing or multi-task with other practices such as cooking, cleaning, eating, or quilting.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be respectful of our time, to see it as a gift that can include an opening to distant media; help us show preference for the social and religious dimensions of life.
Jefferson salamander, Ambystoma jeffersonianum, which can live to an age of 30 years.
March 28, 2021 Seeing Palm Sunday: Foolishness of a Fickle Crowd
We begin the holiest week of the year, one with its emotional ups and downs and ups again -- a roller coaster of spiritual emotion. Furthermore, we begin with palms, the symbol of victory over sin and death. Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey and with a passing popularity from the general public. Having raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus in now regarded as a miracle worker who is unsurpassed; many in the multitude identify miracle-working with unique leadership and are coming to believe in him as Messiah-- but not with deep conviction. Jesus knows how fickle human beings can be, and yet accepts the multitude's acclamation to a point. However, this glory is only short-lived and he knows it.
Victory must be long-lasting. The celebration will fade for such acclaim is fleeting, but we are not fooled even when we process around our church grounds with palm branches. We await the sense of ultimate joy on Palm Sunday and expect it to come, and so we know that victory is in the offing, but not yet in early Holy Week. This is a victory different from what the world gives, and so we are not fooled by limited symbols. The lordship of Christ includes Good Friday and that adds a touch of realism that is harder to fathom. The spiritual triumph of Jesus as messiah is fundamentally different, and this comes when death is conquered by Easter's Resurrection.
Passion is part of the Christian life. We believers place ourselves in humble service and show our openness again by allowing the words of Scripture's Passion narrative to penetrate into our hearts. We relive the suffering, death and the awaited Resurrection of the Lord. We are called to bear witness to these events and thus be open: to the rise of emotion on Palm Sunday; the suspension of emotion on Holy Thursday; the plummet to the depths of sorrow on Good Friday; and the rise again to new life on Holy Saturday eve and Easter Sunday. The story told in its entirety is an awaking of the infinite love of God shown in the suffering, death and rise of Jesus from the dead.
Replace worldly approval with spiritual reality. On Palm Sunday we confront our own fickleness, when we say "hosanna" and yet realize that standing with Jesus is more than a crowd shouting approval. We must stand with Jesus during the entire week, year and life; we join him in confronting an establishment during mid-week and the hostility that begins to swell up against him. To jump from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday with no emotion in-between is equivalent to hoping that life starts at birth and then after years of troubles suddenly passes on to eternal life. Reflecting on the words of St. Paul's hymn in the Philippians Letter, we are willing to be humbled with Jesus in mission, suffering and dying. Then we are prepared to rise with him at Easter.
Prayer: Lord, give us the stamina to enter into this Holy Week with hearts open to seeing ourselves and reaffirming our fidelity to what you ask of us.
The Gift of Appalachian Trees
By Al Fritsch, SJ (Author), Warren E. Brunner (Photographer)
The Appalachian region is blessed with trees that clothe our hills and hollers, and they prod us to celebrate these givers of many blessings. This photo-reflection series celebrates plant life, and specifically trees in all their many expressions of seasonal mood changes and variations. This is shown here by 72 tree-related activities in alphabetical order of human interactions along with a selection of choice photos. Click here to read more and access book.
Coming soon! March presents the spring beauty, Claytonia virginica.
March 29, 2021 Changing Global Climate: A Moral Dilemma
Is the failure of national and international agencies to fully address the complex issue of climate change a paralysis resulting from moral weakness by many of us? Does this go deep in a culture that denies individual faults, and blames all misdeeds if any on others? Does this moral dilemma extend to larger aggregates of people in various sized communities?
Two issues converged when treating this topic: one has been the lack of unified action at the annual climate change conferences in part due to the U.S. opposition during the Trump administration; the second is the book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, Merchants of Doubt (Bloomsbury Press). Opposition within and among nations has a way of postponing meaningful action on a broader level. While many efforts are made by progressive smaller agencies throughout the world, still the failure of more powerful ones can be a major hindrance to needed collaborative efforts. The book tells of powerful groups such as the tobacco corporations within the U.S. who postponed meaningful remedial actions for decades all for the continued profit of Big Tobacco. The same practice is now being employed by Big Energy -- but with far more dire consequences in the offing if allowed to succeed.
Current scientific evidence points directly to anthropogenic climate change. This is a human technological power to misuse resources without regard to consequences; greedy free market forces can avoid negative externalities when not required by governmental agencies. The "negative" involves pollution effects from emissions and waste materials; the "externality" is outside the pricing range of the production and sales of consumer goods. The manufacturers do not pay all external costs, and extra profits result from their irresponsible, unregulated and permitted practices.
The issue of climate change involves scientific evidence coupled with prudential insight to adjust consumption policies at various levels, and to address inevitable predicted results. The time window to escape drastic climate change is narrowing rapidly. The rapid melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets is far faster than expected and could raise sea levels meters in a matter of decades displacing tens of millions of people currently living at coastline. Contrary to the deniers' powerful efforts, the proof is convincing, and responsible world leaders' call for action.
Delay is a crime against humanity, one that once the melting is triggered accelerates the process. Open ocean means absorption of sunlight, and the rise in sea temperature along with permafrost melting and release of highly effective greenhouse gases. A feedback occurs. A consumer culture and resulting deliberate "free market" paralysis is experienced in floods, droughts, submerging island nations, endangered species, and disappearing glaciers.
Prayer: Lord, encourage us to confront the paralysis facing
our world, and inspire us to act ASAP.
March 30, 2021 Contrasting Agribusiness and Small Farmers
In most countries it is the unjust distribution of land which is at the root of poverty of small farmers. G.D. Guillot & F.F. Such
A report at the term of the century by the International Fund for Agricultural Development claimed that three-fourths of people living in hunger live in rural areas, and most are small farmers. While in the following two decades there has been a mass migration in Africa and other places to urban areas -- and refugee camps. Still we must focus on the remaining small farmers as a key to confronting world hunger problems. Improvement of rural roads, access to farming equipment and fertilizer, establishing dependable markets and fair trade practices, and removing unfair advantages of richer nations would help stabilize small farm production problems.
Large amounts of arable land are held by the wealthy in many lands: in Guatemala 2.36% of landowners control 65.1% of land and 88% of farmers have only 16% of cultivable land. Unfortunately, this pattern exists in many Latin American, Asian, and African countries as well. Making matters worse is that food security pressures are pushing land-short emerging countries (such as Middle East countries with large sovereign funds) to buy up farmland in poorer lands where small farmers have subsisted for millennia. Cooperating and paid-off home governments push out small farmers to consolidate large tracts for commercial crops (grain, sugar, soybeans. etc.) to be shipped to distant lands. Recall that in the 1840s, while local Irish starved, the grain growing around them was being shipped from large foreign-owned estates to England. Often small farmers lack influence to control their surrounding lands.
The green revolution with many touted good effects has only exacerbated the problems for smaller farmers who lack the resources to compete with large landholders. Concentrated wealth can flow easily through the mechanisms of globalization, and this accelerates the production of commercial export crops and agri-business farming practices. GNP statistics when summarized can hide the plight of small farmers and their lack of influence, a modern form of colonization through corporate agriculture.
What can be done? Are attempts to curb transgenic seed sales by Monsanto and other major corporations coming too late? How can the plight of small farmers at the mercy of global agri-business be publicized and addressed? Solidarity through rural organizing to defend small farmers is one answer that has a chance; fair trade programs to bring items to another country by eliminating middle people may be another; loans and grants and rural road-building through governmental assistance is another; systematic redistribution of farm land may be the most important and yet many governments do not want to alienate influential landholders.
Prayer: Lord, give us an understanding of what must be done to save the world's small farmers, and search for ways to assist them.
A tributary to the Chaplin River, Washington Co., KY.
March 31, 2021 Respecting the Rights of Migrants
You must not molest or oppress the stranger, for you were once foreigners yourselves in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:20)
On César Chávez Day, a welcome ought to be on our lips for migrants willing to do back-breaking labor at modest wages -- and with few resident Americans wanting to do the work. Throughout the agricultural areas of this country few can be find to perform difficult farm work such as picking and harvesting fruit and vegetables. Many even long-time unemployed consider much farm work too strenuous, and thus quit soon after entering the fields. If anti-migrant laws and requirements were found to be upheld by the courts, some major food shortages will develop. Honestly, migrants are the backbone of our food production system; they are willing to work, pay taxes, and abide by the law; they deserve welcome, protection and respect.
Depending on how far back we go, we are all immigrants in this fair land -- some freely coming and some arriving on slave ships. No matter how long after arrival, we have no absolute ownership of this land for it belongs to God, not to us passing mortals on our earthly journey. Still after saying this, we do not have to support a totally open-door policy. In this post-election year we discover varying opinions on illegal migrants (some eleven million illegals are estimated to be in our land); we need a position somewhere in between blanket amnesty and mass deportation; the first is too lenient and entices others to come; the second is too ruthless and uproots law-abiding and tax-paying people who are part of the local communities and have children and grandchildren who are American citizens. Can solutions treat all fairly?
When migrants hold legitimate and necessary occupations that others find too difficult, these ought to have priority green cards leading to citizenship, for their honest work has awarded them a "welcome guest" position. If, on the other hand, someone comes who is part of a drug network, that person is not welcome in our land. We truly honor hard work by law-abiding migrants.
Far too often the migrant question has become partisan and is mixed with concerns about drug entry to our country. All need to be treated with respect and not preyed upon; they are often lured to this country with little or no promise of a social support system. Most often undocumented workers are at the mercy of employers and a hostile community. Much of our American affordable food prices result thanks to working migrants -- uninsured, hidden, ill-housed, but deeply wanting a better life for their loved ones. National and international policies are critically needed both to control migration and to be fair and just to all parties who are presently in our land. Those here honorably deserve to have their work considered as credit and their presence welcomed.
Prayer: Give us, Lord, a sense of hospitality. Keep us away from vindictive treatment of working migrant guests, legal or not.