Text-only version of this page
Table of Contents: Daily Reflections
ON DATE BELOW TO READ TODAY'S REFLECTION:
How could anyone of us dislike the month of May in the northern temperate zone? It is the month of floral colors and fragrances from the peonies to lilacs, from bridal wreath to lily of the valley, from ox-eyed daisies to red clover, from black locust blooms to apple blossoms. We hear May sounds -- buzzing busy bumble bees, chirping hungry robins in the nest, gurgling streams, and frogs though a little diminished in number. There's a host of things to celebrate in May -- the month of Mary and Mother's Day, of the Kentucky Derby and other races, of graduations and weddings, of school year completions and vacations, of strawberries and rhubarb, of green onions and spinach, of corn planting and haying, of Memorial Day and cemetery visitations, of camping and boating, of first sunburn and lengthening days, of cool spring showers and first summer heat, of mockingbirds and whippoorwills, of fresh green forests and pasturelands, and of the joy of just being alive. May is the year's best, an essential month we simply can't do without. Let's live it fully.
May 1, 2005
Love: The Unfinished Story
Deuteronomy 6:5 You shall love Yahweh your God with all your
heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.
What does it mean to love God? Millions of words are spoken,
written, or sung about love, and yet love is better expressed in
deeds -- to sacrifice for another. We yearn to break out of the
prison of self-love, and to go beyond to a sometimes distant
calling. We want to fly, hang glide, rappel, experience the
freedom of a skipping child, or ride the scooter in the leaping
turn. And to love is to be free as well in a more profound manner,
to abandon selfishness and move towards the mystery of God. In
John 14 we see God's love, the love of us through the suffering and
death of Christ, and the love we return by performing deeds for
The Second Commandment: Love of Neighbor. Leviticus says
"You must love your neighbor as yourself." The Shema or prayer of
hearing follows immediately after the Ten Commandments. The second
passage that Jesus relates to Love of God is taken from the
"Holiness code" in Leviticus -- the collection of the principles on
how to be holy. The two commands are coupled because love of God
is not genuine unless shown in love of neighbor, while love of
neighbor is not truly founded unless we recognize the source as
love of God. The infinite ocean of love now takes concrete form.
Certainly the motivation to love one's neighbor springs from love
of God, and the test of authenticity of love of God is found in
love of neighbor. In loving our neighbor our love of God grows.
We abandon our biases and dislikes for certain cultures or races.
We are to love all -- radical Moslems, communists, skinheads, those
on death row. Jesus says "Love as I love you."
The Good Samaritan parable in St. Luke's Gospel tells us about
our neighbor, our love of everyone even when we have special
friends. Today the Internet, television and radio bring neighbors
from the other side of the globe into our own living rooms -- a
truly global phenomenon. This raises our consciousness to the
cries of needy folks. We learn from Mother Teresa, who saw urgent
need and responded immediately -- thus seeing what catholic means.
Love is inclusive. The early Christian community faced its
biggest challenge to be inclusive of Gentiles in the community.
The laws that already applied to gentiles were included in the
discussion, but certain regulations that applied only to the Jewish
community were omitted. There are other global actions that
require attention and patience so they may be accepted by a global
community of believers. We can't be inclusive with overabundance
in a starving world. We are called to share world resources and
encourage others to do the same. And we are to go out to the needy
with Easter joy, thus giving back some of the immense love shown to
us through divine mercy. John's Farewell Address challenges us to
love as Jesus has loved us -- and that is an unfinished journey
involving an ever closer relationship with God.
May 2, 2005 Herb and Wildflower Week
We discussed herbs (Oct. 2, 2004) and wildscape (July 28,
2004), but have never focused on wildflowers in general. Since May
is the month of flowers, we could give these beauties our special
attention. In our moderate Kentucky climate zone, tree foliage
blossoms forth fully this week -- thus the window will close on
annual spring forest wildflowers. They bloom briefly in all their
glory in unhindered sunlight, and then they're gone. People in
arid Arizona earlier this year told of carpets of multicolored
flowers due to ample 2005 winter rain that only comes in rare
years. When the sunshine blazes hotter in late April, the Texas
blue bonnets and Indian paintbrushes wither. Fortunately, in the
more temperate and rainy East we have spring wildflowers virtually
every year and for slightly longer lengths of springtime.
In hiking please take along a wildflower book and learn the
native species in forests and pastures. It is amazing how many
native species there are. Needless to say, don't pick the observed
wildflowers. Exceptions do exist: yes, you may pick exotic
varieties -- wild chicory, ox-eyed daisies, dandelions, sunflowers,
Queen Anne's lace and others that thrive along roadways. Pick all
you want of these, but leave the natives in place.
Consider a wildflower patch in your own yard. We tried one
using both native and exotic wildflowers at our nature center; for
the first year it was a spring and summer explosion of color and
then the crabgrass smothered out many of the plants in the second
and more so in the third year. We learned that wildflower patches
require tending. Wildflowers do not necessarily come back with the
same intensity, if soil conditions are not right. There is a gray
area between wild and cultivated flowers and so hard and fast
guidelines are difficult. For instance, cosmos is a favorite in
"wildflower" patches on the Interstate and state highway right-of-
ways; it is also popular in domestic gardens as well. However,
wildflower patches distract Interstate drivers who can't help but
goggle at the profusion of color amid the green monotony of
highways road sides and medium strips. Quite often the variety of
cosmos is what is the most attractive aspect of such plots.
Gardeners tell about carefully designed wildflower patches
composed of various wildflower species of different colors that
will bloom successively throughout the growing season. The
different blooming periods are keys to successive color production;
from the early yellow daffodil to the late autumn purple asters,
one could observe a changing palette of vegetative artistic
delight. Additional tips include autumn harvesting of the seed at
frost time; this could amount to a substantial savings in the
upcoming growing year. Spend this week promoting wildflowers,
especially in areas where people do not have enough time for
tending regular flower gardens. They will be happy to know that a
well tilled early wildflower plot will need little care during the
rest of the growing year. An added benefit is that the wildflower
beauty may equal or surpass the cultivated domestic flower garden.
May 3, 2005 Be Kind to Animals Week
We should not be surprised to find a single week commemorating
several closely related issues. That is true in this first week of
May. And why a special week for animal kindness? It should be a
year-long or life-long stance.
Some of us have not been nice to animals; we remember as
youngsters mistreating one or other animal that we did not like.
If a bull was fenced in, we might tease it, or scare a dozing cat,
or target practice over the head of our pet dog. I've done all of
these and yet have lived to regret such actions. Most of us learn
kindness with time and strive to teach others so they don't repeat
our mistakes. Kindness both comes naturally to some and is
acquired through experience and the growing desire to be a nice
person. Here are some ways to be kind to animals this week:
* Give your pet an extra treat;
* Add bird seed to the bird feeder or prepare a bird bath;
* Speak gently to the chained or fenced-in dog down the
* Support legislation to expand wildlife refuges and
* Take children on a nature walk to observe wildlife, or to a
petting zoo, or read to them about animals while talking with them
about the need for kindness to all creatures;
* Reexamine attitudes about personal hunting practices (only
doing so if you or others will eat the killed game and in order to
control proliferating populations of wildlife);
* Encourage neighboring pet owners to be kinder to their pets;
* Stop patronizing restaurants that get meat from corporate
beef, pork or chicken farms;
* Subscribe to a wildlife conservation periodical;
* Have stray animals collected and placed in an animal shelter
-- and support that shelter with your donations;
* Participate in programs to control the numbers of game or
other proliferating species such as geese, turkeys, deer and bear;
* Support wildlife reintroduction programs in your area;
* Report those who abuse animals in any manner;
* And regard all animals as friends even though some will have
to be left alone for their own welfare.
May 4, 2005 Wisdom of Heart
Teach us to count how few days we have and so gain wisdom
of heart. (Psalm 90:12)
Wisdom frightens us. We hesitate to call ourselves or others
"wise" for that word seems a little out of reach for ordinary
folks. However, we can become wise by following the example of
others who are truly wise through years of experience -- if we only
open our eyes. Wise people crop up in unexpected places; they may
lack prestigious degrees or world renown for expertise in an exotic
field; they may be overlooked though they have life experiences
that make them truly wise. As I near 72 years I am beginning to
aspire to wisdom through recognition of shortness of life.
Reflection on Psalm 90 tells us several things:
* Older age is an advantage because we will not need to
endure what we do not like too much longer. The time ahead is
shorter than the time behind and so we must make the best of what
we have -- improving the quality of each moment rather than
expecting to be better in a long indefinite future.
* Older age brings less fear. Certainly there are the normal
fears about living and dying, but we do not have to fear achieving
unrealistic dreams, or failing to impress others. We begin to get
a confidence in the Lord's mercy and that makes us less fearful.
* Older age accepts limitations on who we are and how much we
can still do. We are better able to understand that some things
will not be answered in this shortening life. On the other hand,
we have an eternity in which to fulfill that understanding. Nor
can we do everything, and so we accept that we can do only so much
-- but do it with a generous heart.
* Experience teaches us to pace ourselves, to fill our time
well, and yet to regard periods of rest as meaningful in the ever
shortening earthly sojourn. We know we have limited time and yet
we know that we must pace ourselves, for resting is part of the
rhythm of everyday life.
* "Always be prepared." We heard that when we were scouts
and it still applies years later. The wise of heart can find
opportunities which seem to arise so unexpectedly, and these prove
to be moments of joy when we are ever more aware of fleeting time.
Hope burns in our hearts through the prompting of the Spirit.
We are encouraged to take time to quiet down, to recognize and
confront our distracting addictive behavior, to acknowledge
mistakes in the past, but to see through forgiveness a bright
future ahead. Then life will be restored, and our wisdom will
grow, increase and shine forth for others to follow. Our one
aspiration for growth today should be to be the best example for
the youth who are the true hope of the future. If we succeed in
this, we are truly wise.
May 5, 2005 National Day of Prayer
We thank You, our God, for the gift of the Church, the
gathered community of believers, who are fashioned into Your
visible body called to worship You. Assist the community of
believers in establishing peace and justice throughout the world.
We thank You for the freedom of religion that allows us worshippers
to assemble without fear, to express ourselves in prayer and
adoration without harassment, and freely to give assistance to
those most in need.
We praise You for the guidance You have given us down through
the centuries, which has allowed us to show forth Your marvelous
deeds to all the nations.
We beg Your pardon for our offenses both as individuals within
the Church and for church communities. We ask pardon in a public
* for failing to live up to our individual and collective
* for being silent about the many injustices in our world and
about the waging of unjust conflicts;
* for not speaking up about the need to radically share our
plentiful resources with the world's hungry and homeless;
* and for condoning the excessive militarism of our country
and the entire world.
We beg You with thankful, praising and contrite hearts --
* to give all in the Church, especially leaders, the grace to
spend some time with You each day in private prayer;
* to mold Your church into a glorious unity so as to be a
more fitting instrument in a very troubled world;
* to help heal wounds that divide our communities of faith;
* to give us the grace to convert church properties into
environmental models for others to imitate;
* to keep us from being court chaplains to the powerful;
* and to help us give special attention to the poor and the
voiceless of our country and world -- the unborn, the young, the
elderly, the endangered plants and animals.
We beg You to purge us of any self-righteousness and
conceit, to humble us as a united people, and to make us ever more
sensitive to the needs of all who yearn for the basic essentials of
life. We pray, especially, for our Church leaders: give them the
backbone to speak out about internal difficulties and about social
problems in our vicinities, country and world. Make them fearless
and courageous people in these last of times.
Teach us, Lord, as Church, to open our minds to Your presence
and to soften our hearts with Your love. Mold us as your people
into a fitting instrument to do Your work, so that Your Church will
speak out to all the world about the Good News of Your loving and
saving power. Amen
May 6, 2005 Derby Day and Race Horses
I don't recall ever treating this subject in any form in the
past -- but I am somewhat forgetful these days. I've never seen a
Kentucky Derby first hand, and generally only listen to the singing
of "My Old Kentucky Home" before going on my merry way. Some may
interpret this as a lack of state patriotism but horses used for
racing are outside of my purview. When asked once about horses by
a very wealthy person who learned I was from Kentucky, I had to
admit that my family had four at one time -- all work horses.
Why celebrate Derby Day? I suspect that for most people it is
an opportunity to celebrate, with all the parties. They throw
their money in for one or other quaintly named horse, most of which
will recede into distant memory in a short while. Fun, mint
juleps, cheers and hopes the winner will move on to a Triple Crown.
Racing of this sort has a way of taking our minds momentarily off
other pressing problems at home or abroad. Good. I don't offer any
insight into changes of habits and wish all well who can spend a
Saturday afternoon once a year focused on a favorite racing horse.
Granted, some few take it quite seriously and make a living buying,
selling, training and grooming horses for these once-in-a-while
four-minute events. The tradition goes back to pioneer days; they
raced the thoroughbreds down muddy roads in the village of
Lexington or other such emerging communities.
What has amazed many of us is the immense prices paid
throughout American history for good racing horses -- in the
thousands of dollars in the 1850s. The white-fenced horse farms
that ring Lexington today disappear one by one as rapidly spreading
suburbs replace the bluegrass turf. I guess I should be more upset
about this "destruction" of valuable farmland, except that the very
fertile land was never used for a useful purpose except to pasture
mares, colts, studs, and even geldings. On second thought, it is
greenspace. It was the recreation industry for better or worse.
And tourists, please don't linger too close to those white fences;
you are expected to go to the Kentucky Horse Park and learn about
race horses there.
All things considered, Derby Day is that part of our culture
to which we are to give lip service and a few cheers once a year
and then sink back into the more realistic demands of our everyday
affairs. But all of us should consider that a case can be made
that recreation is worthy of our use of natural or financial
resources. To celebrate is part of human life. Cultural
celebrations can be good for the spirit and make us proud that
Kentucky has something peculiarly its own, like Newport's yachting,
Indianapolis' auto racing, and the Rose Bowl's football. Isn't it
important for a people to be proud even if it's for a brief period?
For those choosing to celebrate, do so with gusto. It is a respite
before taking on bigger issues. Who knows? More of us might get
involved tomorrow in Derby Day. If we talk ourselves into it,
let's keep it subdued, for the day is often the occasion of heavy
drinking. Let's at least make it good clean and sober fun.
May 7, 2005 Gambling
On this Derby Day I recall that I only went to an active race
track once -- and that near Chicago. In entering, I saw a rather
haggard woman clinging to the wire fence looking out at the racing
field. That haunting memory has stuck with me through the years.
Here was a person who was most likely desperately awaiting a needed
win in order to satisfy her addiction. Did her financial future
rest on the particular horse rounding the turn? I'll never know.
If racing or playing cards were all for fun and involved very
small stakes, then I would find little objection. But that is not
always the case. Many enjoy the lottery or the casino or the
Internet games and gradually spend more and more time and money.
They can get into hot water, and find it nearly impossible to go
cold turkey. They become addicted while hardly knowing it -- and
that is my greatest fear about all forms of gambling. I've only
gambled once -- a nickel in a one-armed bandit when nickels were
still used at Las Vegas. I lost. We stopped in a non-descript
white Nevada warehouse-like structure which advertised steak
breakfasts for $1.29 -- and we got that bargain, but the adjacent
casino got my only gambled nickel.
Some religious groups are adamant about forbidding or
restricting gambling through limiting the outlets. They note in
our state that millions of Kentucky dollars end up in riverboat
casinos run from the neighboring state's shores. Seeing the
siphoning off of much needed tax revenue makes proponents of
gambling livid. Pro-gambling arguments seem convincing for the
health of our cash-strapped state, but so are the opposite
arguments about how gambling brings ruin and discord to many
individuals and families. No doubt some have fun and lose only
moderate amounts, a very few have experienced wins (which are often
lost later in the day), but a sizeable number have been hurt by
their addictive gambling behavior.
Besides its addictive nature, gambling has an added bad
effect. Many people think they can win big like someone they heard
about, and thus dream of all they would do with the easy money they
could receive. If they prayed hard they might win. I think of
gamblers when I'm playing the game Monopoly rather empty handed;
the hope is that we could luckily hop from the good squares and
continue playing the game. Gambling is highly enticing for those
who can't quite make it in life, and thus they are drawn to commit
a relatively small sum in order to overcome financial difficulties.
They would be far more productive if they fought for a living wage
and social justice for all.
In following the operative principle "Moderation in all
things," do so with caution in games of chance and the lottery.
The practice may start as a buck and go to two, to five, ten, and
on and on. Regard this as a rare form of recreation that can be
enjoyed with small amounts of money. And strongly urge gambling
friends and neighbors to see the dangers involved.
May 8, 2005 ASCENSION: Why look to the Sky?
Why are you standing there looking at the Sky? (Acts 1)
We celebrate the glorious mystery of the Ascension of the Lord
in the full glory of springtime, when weather cooperates to make
this a special event in our lives. Glory makes us pause but for
how long? How do we glory in the Ascension through deed and not
mere words? We continue to wonder as I did as a youth, "Why did
he leave us?" He could have been walking the Earth now as a 2000-
year-old. On the other hand, this would not have involved faith on
our part but fear of someone who is quite quaint. God sees things
differently. Part of our probing the divine mystery is to act and
think in the manner of the Lord. Christ comes among us; he
teaches, and he suffers, dies, and rises for us; he blesses us and
ascends beyond our sight. And he ascends so that the Spirit might
come at Pentecost. We are startled by the mystery of his
departure, and what it means to be like Jesus; but we have a far
greater assignment than to be mere observers. We're called to act.
The Lord goes ahead of us in time, and we are invited to
follow. This involves entering into the Divine family, and that
means being enlivened by the Spirit to help prepare for his second
coming. I remember a California Adobe-maker who said with tears in
his eyes that I was the first to ask him such detailed questions
about his craft. I did not have time to get back to Oceanside and
videotape him, nor did others. In some way his painstaking skill
was lost with his death. We should do more to muster resources in
preparing the world for the Coming of the Lord. The Ascension
mystery involves our work of preparation, for we are not to be idle
while he is gone. We await "A New Heaven and a New Earth."
We are not left alone for we are enlivened by the Spirit; we
have the presence of God in our lives -- when we pray, in the
creative act of the world around us, and in the Sacramental
Presence. But we are torn as a believing community. Jesus has
left us and the departure is always bittersweet; we hate to see
him go, and yet he must so that the Spirit might come and be here.
Now we are empowered to move towards the glory of Jesus and even to
be part of that glory. We raise our voices of praise with the
Apostles preparing for Pentecost. Now the Spirit has come to
empower us, to make us work towards the fulfillment of that which
is imperfect and unfinished. Even on the Mount of the Ascension
the Apostles found it hard to grasp this empowerment, and they
asked whether the Messiah would still come as a political leader.
Pentecost would teach them that looking up to heaven was not
enough; they must be on with the tasks ahead.
"Go out to the Whole World and baptize them in the Name." We
spread Good News in our own inspired way. Simple folks became
saints by being themselves, patiently expecting the coming of the
Lord, accepting their place in the community of believers, and
preparing for the Lord's reign through humble service. Thus the
Ascension is a launching pad for our own service to others.
May 9, 2005 Historic Preservation
We like to preserve the great things of our past, some of
which we are proud of, but some simply tell an imperfect history.
I grew up near Washington, Kentucky, the third oldest incorporated
town in our Commonwealth. It is now part of historic Maysville
which has its own history. Washington takes pride in its history
and its record of preservation. The local community has renovated
many of the early log cabins and brick buildings, nearby grounds,
and an herb garden. Washington was the site of the state's first
municipal water system, the first Post Office serving the Northwest
Territory (1789), the first bank "West of the Alleghenies," the
birthplace (1810) of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston of
Shiloh fame, the Marshall Key House (1807) where Harriet Beecher
Stowe observed the sale of a slave and wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin,"
and "Federal Hill" built by Thomas Marshall, brother of Chief
Justice John Marshall. My dad's carving of pioneer Simon Kenton is
in the shrine bearing Kenton's name.
And Washington has its imperfect history. The town did
contain prominent citizens who went over the Ohio River in a posse
to recover slaves who escaped from Kentucky and others caught in
the raids across the river. Washingtonians were armed with weapons
and federal laws that permitted their ventures. Captured Afro-
Americans were then taken back across the river to Washington and
jailed; these acts were featured in Ann Hagedorn's book "Beyond the
River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad."
The entire book came as a shock to me for I had always been proud
of my home town and generally passed over its relationship to the
"peculiar institution" as slavery was called. The jail has been
long gone, but one local resident said she possessed the lock and
key, which will undoubtedly be placed in one of the town's several
museums. But the history is tainted.
Gradually more and more former residents come back to see
their past. So do an increasing number of tourists from Kentucky,
neighboring Ohio, and points beyond. Visitors enjoy taking a
walking tour; they can see the many buildings and gardens, the old
waterwells, and the "Medfort's Fort" cabin (1787) built with planks
from the flatboat that brought some of the earliest pioneers down
the Ohio River. Each year, growing numbers attend the five events
of the town. Woodcarver's Day takes place in "Old Washington," so
named distinguish this older village from expanding nearby
developments. Likewise there are a Chocolate Festival, Simon
Kenton Festival, Civil War Days, and Frontier Christmas.
The town is preserved thanks to the ingenuity and hard work of
local folks; their work in part inspired our book Ecotourism in
Appalachia. Washington had no Rockefeller sugar daddy as did
Williamsburg, Virginia, or federal grants. The preservation work
was performed by local people at their expense. It was truly a
pioneer venture. Even though its history was imperfect, Old
Washington stands out as a model of what can be launched by others.
It's worth recalling in Historic Preservation Week.
May 10, 2005 Pax Americana
We read in history about the Roman Legions who were so well
trained and equipped and who had the solemn duty to hold the empire
together. The Pax Romana (Peace of Rome) extended over hundreds of
years and included much of the known world of that period. What is
amazing is the similarity of our own extension of military might
since the Second World War in the islands of Oceania, in Germany,
in Japan, in Korea, in the Caribbean (Cuba, Virgin Islands, Panama,
etc.), in bases in the Middle East, and on and on. The dots of
military bases ring the planet even though Russia and China are
excluded. No other nation except perhaps the United Kingdom,
France, Portugal, and Spain have ever attempted to come close; in
all the other cases, military might waxed and waned. And colonial
European states had far less power than that exercised by the
United States today. Americans did not colonize most of the
influenced lands with the same degree of intensity that the British
exerted in India or the French in West Africa. But the United
States was truly influential in such lands as Kuwait, Liberia, and
The Pax Americana has had its drawbacks, not the least of
which is the cost of the military expenditures. The same could be
said of the effects of the standing Roman army. Military
expenditures peaked in the fifth century A.D. immediately before
the collapse of that Roman Empire. See Arther Ferrill's The Fall
of the Roman Empire. Is this telling us a message? Maybe we could
see other indicators of decline and fall of empire, namely,
increased non-natives in military service, demise of family
farming, erosion of civility and patriotism, restlessness of
migrating peoples at the borders, decline in artistic expression,
and expenditure of local resources and dependence on imports.
I am most highly intrigued by this period of time when the
Roman Empire tumbled down. Whatever goes up will undoubtedly come
down. What about Pax Americana? It is most likely no exception,
only a matter of when. Could a keen historian determine the exact
period of decline with some degree of accuracy? Perhaps the desire
to maintain peace through military might is quite outdated and
should be replaced as soon as possible. It may be greater
patriotism to see that our influence could be extended in non-
military ways -- and it would be for the betterment of all
inhabitants of this planet -- plants, animals and human beings.
Maybe we still have time to change what peacemaking is all
about. And maybe the genius of America includes a possible
dismantling of a singular American worldwide military network.
Couldn't it be replaced in part by a United Nations force in which
many nations cooperate? It was not part of American tradition in
its first half of national life (1787-1898) to be international in
military presence. Why such military expenditures after the demise
of the Communist threat of 1991? It is time to abandon Pax
Americana with its Roman military fashion. Let's arrive at this
before we follow the inevitable fall of Empire.
May 11, 2005 Those Confusing Measurements
I recently read about a "brace" of wildlife (hunted as game).
Then in February our family sought to obtain cleaned hog casings
(intestines) for making homemade sausage and found them sold by the
"hank," which is an old English measurement for yarn. Strange
words and yet our language and culture have many strange types of
measurements, some retired after centuries and some still in use by
more traditional Americans. We prefer to be monolinguists but
should that extend to our measuring system? We differ from most
other countries in that currently we have a dual system, one that
we would like to abandon (the English measuring systems), and the
other, the metric system, used by most of the world's people and
the entire international scientific community.
Americans grew up using pints, quarts, and gallons for liquid
volume; ounces, pounds, and tons for weight; and feet, yards, and
miles for linear distance. This is not the same as the liters,
grams, and meters of other lands -- but the units are convertible.
In fact, there was some common sense to the English system even
though it was quite complex and involves perhaps up to 150
different sub-systems such as "jewels" for gems and "pecks" and
"bushels" for grain. Even for certain nuts there was a special
system of measurement, and the extended story is interesting.
It is hard for Americans to change. One critic wondered why
our public interest center did not spend more time stressing the
conversion to the metric system. That has some merit, but was
hardly our reason for existence. Originally, the pound of water
was about a pint, two pounds a quart, and eight pounds a gallon.
These may have been some common sense basis for how the English
system developed and why it lasted so long. The ounce would be one
1/12 of a pound troy (5,760 grains) or 1/16 of a pound avoirdupois
(7,000 grains). Confusing? But a "grain" is only 0.0648 grams.
Troy weight was used from medieval times as a measure of gold,
silver and precious stones. What becomes evident is that in
medieval times measurements were often based on the substance, not
some standardized system for all substances.
Personally, I felt comfortable staying with the American
system because I had a sense of the pound, the length of the miles
and the area (from a small field on our farm) of an acre (the
metric folks use hectare). On the other hand, through scientific
measurements I could estimate the amount of a gram or the volume of
a liter. Americans are slowly changing to the entire metric system
for our volumes are measured in liters today. We still use an
"eight penny" nail. Distances are still in miles on the Interstate
even though an occasional sign will help us convert to kilometers
between locations. Should we convert? Of course, with time and
energy. We will have to change our thinking to kilometers instead
of miles and kilograms instead of pounds of coffee. We'll get
there, but it will take Americans a little more time. We are so
set in our past ways. But there is hope; we don't like dual
systems and the metric one is in our future.
May 12, 2005 Lawn Mowers
The grass is growing with these spring showers and warming
sun, and that brings out the familiar sound of droning lawn mowers.
The old fashioned hand or human-power mower is almost a museum
piece; it was one device I really hated to utilize for keeping our
family lawn mowed. Today, most people prefer to follow or sit upon
a gasoline-powered mower and move about their lawn with grace and
a desire to soak up sunshine rays and suck in fresh air. All good
and well as far as it goes. But an earlier essay (May 27, 2004)
lists reasons for reducing those ever-present lawns. The last of
eight reasons related to this clipping culprit, the roaring and
polluting lawn mower. If these lawns were wildscape or converted
herbal and vegetable areas, we would not have any need for this
suburban icon called power mower. And we could have just as much
greenspace beauty without the monotony of manicured lawn grass.
We could discover some benefits. Gasoline-powered lawn mowers
can mow and do so more easily than the hand-pushed varieties. The
smell of new-mown lawns is a pleasant experience for a period after
the weekly or biweekly ritual. Youth find mowing a way of making
money from senior, busy, or disabled neighbors.
New USEPA regulations, which have taken effect in the past
decade, have increased overall efficiency and reduced hydrocarbon
emissions by one-third through mower replacements. California with
its strict garden tool regulations has an even better record with
at least a fifty percent improvement.
From an environmental standpoint major disadvantages still
exist. Noise is disturbing in a world of ever more numerous
racket-makers and public discordance. Some communities have set up
regulations to limit use to specific days and times during the
grass-growing season that now reaches back into April and extends
into late October. One hundred million mowers take precious
petroleum fuel, which becomes ever more scarce. Mowers pollute the
air through their operation and, together with other lawn devices
(leaf blowers and weed eaters), contribute about one twentieth of
the pollution of an average urban area. Mowers are costly,
requiring added time for maintenance (tune ups) and involving
spilled gasoline from refueling and smelly storage areas.
The often touted alternative to gasoline-powered mowers is
the electric devices that come in cordless and rechargeable
varieties, and require low maintenance and no smelly fuel. However
even efficient electric mowers often take non-renewable fuel to
generate and transport the electricity; pollution occurs though at
a distance from the lawn. While the preference is the reduced or
eliminated lawn, one knows it's often a wishful dream. A realistic
option is the new human powered lawn mower, which is easier to
maneuver and stays sharper. And still better than either
suggestion is the low-growing native ground cover (which differs in
species in various parts of our country); this ornamental lawn
does not require constant clipping.
May 13, 2005 National River Cleanup Week
Spring cleaning is very seasonal, and that should apply to the
outdoors as well as the home. Mid-May is a good time to consider
helping with this operation, if the spirit is moved and the body
willing. Granted, cleaning up rivers can be a strenuous exercise
as those testify who have done the operation on the Rockcastle
River. For a long time in our part of America and unfortunately
elsewhere, the river became a sort of sewer system with "dilution
being the solution to pollution." Send it out of sight and out of
mind. That applied both for liquid and solid wastes and it didn't
take long to see what kind of toll that can exact from mother
Earth. Litter is a problem and it both does visual harm and
furnishes breeding places for mosquitoes. It renders landscape
unsightly and thus reduces tourist and ultimately employment
potential. Thus the cost of litter goes beyond the price it takes
to collect and haul away the accumulated materials.
As efforts are being made to clean up roadway litter and
illegal dumps, the condition of our rivers is worth focusing on in
spring, for their beauty becomes enhanced by plentiful water and
shoreside vegetation. Rivers and other waterways need tender
loving care just like hills and forests. That is a lesson learned
by a host of volunteer cleaning crews. The junk cars and
appliances are too hard to pull out without heavy equipment, but
the tires and beer cans, the garbage bags and diapers can be
retrieved -- though it is tough work. Cleaning a river is no joy
feast, for it makes us somewhat angry that others were so
thoughtless as to dump here in these naturally beautiful places.
Granted some of this accumulated trash is washed down in floods and
high tides. But the thoughtless practices also extend to
tributaries and flooded land.
Cleanup crews experience the damage done, and this learning
is just as important as the resulting clean river. Hopefully,
future damage will be less as total garbage pickup or
accountability becomes mandatory in many upstream counties. Each
acquired experience comes with a sense of responsibility to no
longer tolerate the conditions that bring on such destruction. It
is not all personal wrongdoing either. Corporate disposal
practices, poverty, and lack of community concern must be addressed
at political and social levels. If cleanup crews feel incensed, it
may stimulate them to look for more long term solutions.
Those who read this essay are most likely not the ones who
need to be reminded to keep the rivers clean. But readers are the
potential prophets, to whom tomorrow's essay is directed. The one
who throws the litter needs to be responsible. The one cleaning up
is to be incensed enough to require responsibility on the part of
all citizens. Spreading the word about the need to heal the Earth
requires a prophetic witness, and cleaning a river may make one
sense this calling in a very emphatic manner.
14, 2005 The Cry of the Poor and Prophetic Responses
Some regard hearing voices as mentally imbalanced. Maybe
that is true, but not in every case. Hearing the often faint
discordant sounds of the planet may be spiritually healthy,
especially when the unsustainable practices of our own people
trigger anguish from the disturbed creatures all around us. These
crying voices of the Earth include both suffering human beings and
the endangered and threatened species of this planet. People who
close off these urgent pleas include the overly affluent, those who
are plagued by substance abuse and denial, and the self-centered
who wander aimlessly through life.
Those blessed through Pentecost's graces to hear should
perceive the prophetic calling through its many facets:
* We may differ in gifts from one another, but share in a
community of prophetic witnessing, including first hearing the
cries of the poor. Prophetic witness is not an elite vocation as
in the days of the Old Testament, but is something we all share
through our Baptism/Confirmation.
* Failure to hear the call of the poor will weaken the fabric
of our society; thus our prophetic witness is closely connected to
the renewing of the Earth itself, our nation and our local
community. To miss the opportunity to do so is to threaten and
endanger our Earth, our nation, and our local community.
* We must distinguish the calls of the authentic sufferers
from those of commercial and entertaining interests that may be
clearly audible in our noise-filled world;
* We must give priority to genuine needs because our own
energy and time are limited. Giving priority means we must
struggle to come to know what is the right thing to do and when to
do it. We learn to discern through our ongoing religious life.
* We admit we do not know what the future will bring, but we
have a certitude that, if the present continues in its current
condition, certain things could happen -- the mark of a true
prophet. Part of our mandate is to make the future, not to predict
it. This is a call to change what would inevitably follow if
actions is not taken.
* We know that we need continued support because hearing the
call of the poor is quite unnerving and demands an ever deeper
* We rest in the hands of God. We will do our very best,
and that is all that can be expected; we know that something must
be done, and we know God calls us in our imperfect condition to be
agents of change in this threatened world. Will we live up to the
noble call of our vocation and truly be a prophetic people?
May 15, 2005 Pentecost: The Restless Wind
It is the Pentecost season -- the long period of a half year
required to reflect on the gift of the Spirit in our lives. Today
is the birthday of the Church. It is almost 2000 years old, a
divinely guided institution. It is the living Body of Christ of
which we are privileged to be members. We are Church, and so we
pray for the power of the Spirit to help enliven others.
This Pentecost event contains a number of points worth
reflecting upon, for through them we learn about our freedom in the
The Spirit first unlocks the
closed doors of our hearts and
penetrates within our fearful beings.
The great wind tells of the power,
the suddenness and the
profound change wrought by the Spirit in our lives. It is a
restless wind which is beyond our prediction, and leads us where
the Spirit wills.
The tongues of fire descend on
each of the people present, and
that shows the uniqueness of the gifts each person is given in the
Spirit. We are touched individually and expected to be ourselves.
The public noise is heard by others who are confused. Those
who received the Spirit are impelled to go out and communicate with
the crowd so each hears in his or her native language.
The gift of communication to the
larger public, rather than
gifts to the individual witness or speaker, is primary. Pentecost
reverses the Tower of Babel where human beings through self-
interest divided and then spoke different tongues.
The mighty acts of God are shown here as the image of a living
being, the Church. The Church is coming into being through a power
of God. Pentecost is like the slap on the back, which begins the
breathing process for each new-born who is emerging from the womb.
We begin to inhale -- take in the Spirit
as in Church; we then
exhale by going out to others and bearing witness to the Spirit.
But this is not a one-time affair. Periodically, we need to come
together as a small inner community and inhale; we need to find
new ways of expressing ourselves and exhale; this involves giving
witness to the Spirit outside of our community liturgies.
I once saw a tornado from a distance near St. Charles,
Illinois; I did not recognize its power, its suddenness, its
ability to do $20 million damage in a few minutes. The Spirit at
Pentecost is far more powerful, and She empowers us to perform
uniquely forceful deeds. However, this expression of the Spirit is
conditioned by the community in which we serve and move. We
shouldn't act alone when others are available to help but rather in
a believing community, the Church. Each truth professed in word is
also to be expressed in deed. We show our loyalty, our confidence
and our enthusiasm (our God within) that sustains us through the
long Pentecost season. We act as individuals and as communities in
our profession of faith in deeds performed through discerning the
Spirit and in the Church of whom we are loyal members.
May 16, 2005 Lead Paint
Lead has long been recognized as an environmental pollutant.
History tells us that lead contamination helped bring about the
demise of an ancient upper Roman class who drank from leaded cups.
In 1970, lead was one of the first toxic materials I focused upon
at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. At that time the
most worrisome source of toxic lead was the tetraethyl lead
inserted as an additive to raise octane levels in gasoline. Even
after this practice was halted within that decade, additional toxic
sources of lead remained from contaminated soil, road dust, paint
chips, old leaded water pipes, older pottery and crystal glassware,
and an assortment of antique leaded objects around the home. Even
old printed matter had lead-contaminating inks. Unfortunately, the
utilization of lead had been quite popular and the contamination
was truly widespread.
Today, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
estimate that about one out of twenty-two American children have
high levels of lead in their blood either due to their own present
environment or through the passing of lead from a contaminated
pregnant mother. These higher lead levels can lead to decreased
growth, learning disabilities, hyperactivity, impaired hearing, and
possible brain damage. Through simple blood testing the young (or
older) person who was possibly exposed to lead poisoning can be
checked and the testing results easily interpreted.
The best prevention is to avoid leaded objects or to keep
infants and younger children away from lead contaminated soil or
peeling paint. As the use of leaded fuel becomes a more distant
phenomenon, the soil, except near busy highways, will be less
contaminated. But because so much toxic lead lingers in the
environment, it is best to be safe: provide clean dust-free places
where infants can play; keep toys, pacifiers and bottles clean;
and ensure that children wash hands before taking food or drink.
If your home was built before 1960, the chances are high that older
paint coatings contain lead. Keep peeling chips away from infants.
Most of these preventive measures seem reasonable enough.
Beyond getting rid of leaded objects, should homemakers attempt to
remove the old paint as a do-it-yourself project? Perish the
thought. Dust that is kicked up through this paint stripping
operation could poison not only the person doing the project but
others in the family as well. Through a free state or county test
one can find out whether leaded paint is present. Through a
decontaminating specialist the lead paint problem can be corrected
with occupants vacating the property during the operation. If you
suspect that your drinking water is contaminated by old lead
plumbing, get help from the local utility or county health office.
The USEPA suggests a further lead preventive measure. A
child who gets enough iron (eggs, lean red meat and beans) and
calcium (dairy products) will absorb less lead. Good nutrition is
protection. For further information see <www.epa.gov/lead>.
17, 2005 Direct Service versus Working for Justice
What are the causes of injustice? How do we bring about
solutions that have lasting effects? These questions often surface
when we consider caring for the world's hungry or sick. We are
torn by the impulse either to give the hungry food directly or to
change unjust systems that cause the hunger. Couldn't we be saints
in either set of actions, whether by handing out food or by
challenging legislators to act for the poor, by exposing unjust
institutions that thrive on the unjust conditions of poorer lands
and people, and by marshalling people to demonstrate or confront
vested interests? Which is the more spiritual manner of acting?
How do we solve persistent injustices? For some we go to our
storage room and secure food and give direct relief. Most thank us
and the neighborhood smiles approvingly that charity has been
dispensed. For others the impulse is to ask searching questions
and seek to change the system that brought about the hunger.
Some start to frown at such procedures with comments such as to
remain a direct caregiver and leave politics to others.
What about effects? A belly needs to be filled today and yet
we know the same hungry person will be back tomorrow, for such
direct solutions to the injustice of being hungry in a world of
plenty are temporary. On the other hand, if the system is changed
so that the food supply will be more justly established, then the
removal of hunger will be a rather long-term project. For many,
especially in undemocratic situations, direct charity is virtually
the only way to function. Under these circumstances a social
analysis will be hard to implement. All, even primitive tribes in
emergencies, share with all present even when the food is the last
reserve they hold. Generally we perceive situations as individual
accidents and give accordingly. But situations are not always
caused by individual accidents only, but by unjust and repressive
How is the action perceived in the community? Direct aid such
as giving out a food basket is regarded as commendable by most
people; seeking to question and change the system is seen as
threatening to the powers to be and those they influence by the
control of the media. However a review of Scripture shows both
kinds of action present and operative, though the second set of
actions caused the prophets of old persecution and derision.
Archbishop Helder Camara's words haunt us: "If I feed the poor they
call me a saint; when I ask why they are poor they call me a
To be other "Christs" demands favoring the harder position.
Jesus sought to feed the hungry and cure the sick when in direct
need. Jesus also drove money changers from the temple, confronted
the power establishment for their attitudes, called his earthly
ruler a fox, prepared his disciples to operate for the betterment
of all under threats, and accepted suffering and death for a
systematic change that continues to this day. What do we do?
May 18, 2005 Sustainability--A Disputed Term
One of those choice words among environmentalists is
"sustainability" or the ability of a system to continue in
existence through its own mechanisms. A non-sustainable system
would be one that could use more resources than it can furnish; it
becomes indebted to other systems for its existence. Fair enough,
for someone who charges credit for all purchases may do so for a
little while, and then the house of cards caves in. Such practices
must change in order to be sustainable. A similar case can be made
for replenishing water aquifers or restoring degraded forests.
To sustain is to keep something going. Here the term can be so
often misused because what is kept going may not be a perfect
practice as far as the environment is concerned. A corporation
make be making hefty profits by not paying for the resources
extracted or not contributing clean-up costs for pollution
rendered. Part of its self-sustaining practice is profiting at the
expense of the environment, an expense that is not compensated for
by the industry that is withdrawing resources or polluting the air
or water. But the so-called "sustainability" defined by the
specific polluting industry does not refer to long-term
sustainability, only to a short-term economic advantage lasting as
long as the conditions exist to continue polluting practices
through lax regulatory structures.
Our nation may wish to sustain its quality of life, a quality
that could be detrimental to the planet as a whole. It can do this
through its idols which it defines as a sustainable practice. An
SUV rotates on the dais of the auto showroom. People come to see
it, to observe its class and appearance, and to seek security in
its interior. But in driving this gas guzzler the purchaser is
consuming a limited and vanishing petroleum reserve meant for the
generations. And many of these Americans buyers live for the
moment, for tomorrow they will be gone. Future generations are far
beyond their reckoning.
Some paint a religious veneer over these fast fading resources
and in the tradition of a former Secretary of Interior attempt to
see value in using them up, for the world will soon end; then there
will be no future need of them. It is as though the idol is adored
through consuming it -- and to think it is part of a religious
justification by some.
Unsustainability is encouraged by thoughtless individuals who
live beyond their means; it is enhanced by a philosophy of license
in use of resources as opposed to proper responsibility; it is not
limited to individuals but includes the corporate "persons" so
defined by the American courts in the 19th century and their
polluting practices, their generation of consumer need, and their
inability to practice moderation. American practices are becoming
more and more unsustainable; our conduct demands we know what
sustainability means and put the concept to proper practice.
May 19, 2005 Green Energy
Some subjects are cut and dry, black and white, clear and
concise. Yes for motherhood and apple pie. What about green
energy programs? Is it one of this select category? Green energy
is defined as energy produced from renewable energy sources (wind,
sun, biomass, and some indefinite others). In at least a dozen
states, legislation mandates these alternative sources to be a
certain percentage of the total energy source mix or "generating
portfolio." So far so good, since few utilities get all their
energy from one type of source.
The utility program offers renewable energy programs (often at
about 10% higher prices) to the consumer on a voluntary basis in
the form of 100 kilowatt blocks or in some similar manner. The
first impulse is to exercise one's environmental clout and feel
good about the clean electricity use. Sign up? A moment of
reality is needed. The signer will certainly not get selective
energy produced as "green," for it would be impossible to track the
electrons in the grid system. What the program does is to ensure
that renewables replace an equal amount of non-renewable energy.
Does this happen in each case? Much depends on the honesty of the
utility. What about a utility that is right now receiving a
quarter of its energy from a hydroelectric plant which could be
defined as "green" energy? Would it be willing to contribute that
share of energy to green energy customers and still charge higher
prices for relatively cheap energy? Some may.
Who defines the greenness of energy? Much depends on the
utility and the detail of the legislation or voluntary program.
For some, nuclear power is regarded as non-polluting and even
renewable energy source. Little attention is given to waste
problems associated with waste disposal or the hidden use of non-
renewable coal-turned electric energy required to enrich the
nuclear fuel for the powerplant. What about utilizing coal slag
for many would say the waste coal product is being reused? This is
certainly true, for it gives some greener color to a non-renewable
What about methane gas "naturally" produced from landfills
which are hardly natural in themselves? The argument that the
methane gas would have been emitted into the atmosphere and lost as
a greenhouse product or that it would be wasted through flaring is
quite convincing. Fine, though the gas is hardly of high quality
and must be processed at higher cost and thus raises the cost of
green energy costs from this source. But what if the customers
grow in number and soon outstrip the methane from the landfill?
Well, then the utility would fall back on its hydropower reserves
which fit the category of a renewable source though one already in
use. This is deceptive, for there is little additional benefit to
the total environment. If you want green energy and want to know
for sure that it is green, then try generating your own solar
energy and feed the extra into the utility grid through net
20, 2005 Farewell to Rainforests
A forested green belt stretches around the world from South
and Central America over to Africa and on to Asia and Indonesia and
New Guinea. This is a forest that has been millions of years in
the making, is nurtured by large amounts of rain and warm weather,
and is home for a majority of the world's plants and animals.
Often environmentally-minded people stress the many pharmaceutical
drugs and other useful products such as rubber, chicle, bananas,
and coffee that originated or continue to be produced in the
rainforests. However, the natural climatic effects from these
forests help absorb water by a sponge effect and then release it as
clear and steadily flowing stream. The burning of the forests has
led to more global warming. The absence of these forests could
change rainfall patterns in many parts of the world. But most of
all, these forests are treasures which are sufficiently worthwhile
in themselves without any direct or remote human benefit. They are
simply good being on the planet.
The threats to these very valuable forested regions of many and
varied species of plants and animals are from several sources.
Some of the damage is due to heavier harvesting of fuel wood by
native populations that are expanding in many of these lands. But
before we absolve ourselves as distant observers, let's remember
that two very serious threats are due to influences by our American
consumer culture. First, wood from the rainforests is highly
prized for its use in furnishings and flooring in the West, and
this drives timbering outfits to move in and devastate the
rainforests at a shocking rate. Much of this damage could be
repaired, but not without a long healing period. The second threat
is also consumer driven, and that is the cheaper beef from the
cattle raised on lands that were formerly rainforests. Increased
beef exports from Central American countries and elsewhere go to
make the cheap burgers we are so quick to buy in fast food outlets.
Often these lands have inhabitants who are protein deficient.
A quarter of a century ago Norman Myers wrote The Primary
Source: Tropical Forests and Our Future with a forward by Prince
Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The book was an urgent plea for people
to see the immense and often unknown value of tropical forests, and
to help begin a crusade to save them from utter destruction. Myers
estimated that this ultimate destruction could occur within one
hundred years at present rates of impact.
We can do things on several fronts. We could confront the
sales of rainforest items in this country, from exotic wood to ex-
rainforest beef. We could pressure our government to support
rainforest saving practices in the more heavily impacted lands and
also support individuals who heroically risk their lives seeking to
stop the destruction of these parts of the world. We could
publicize the need to save the forest among other groups and
individuals. I refrain from supporting the purchase of rainforest
products, because our culture is too unsophisticated to make
prudent consumer choices.
May 21, 2005 Will the American Superpower Fall Like Rome?
This question has always intrigued me and caused me to read
everything I can find about that important 5th century after
Christ. Maybe the answer to the question is both a resounding "no"
and "yes," the first because history never completely repeats
itself, and the second because there are most likely surprising
similarities. The matter is not merely academic. We have seen the
fall of many empires in our lifetimes (British, French, Portuguese,
Dutch, Belgian, Japanese, and Russian). Other former colonies have
joined the ranks of the United Nations including the Philippine
The historic event of the fall of Rome intrigues many of us.
The mighty military power, the empire of straight well-engineered
roads and aqueducts, the mightiest army the world had ever known,
the universal language and legal system, and the cultural influence
of art and literature and academia. All seemed so invincible and
yet fell so definitively in the fifth century A.D. (some say in 476
when there was no new Emperor replacing Romulus Augustulus). After
a thousand years Rome crumbled. The influences and causes are
many, but most scholars agree with Edward Gibbon's 18th century
classic, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,
that the Barbarians had much to do with it -- and that this 476
event was definitive.
The key fact is that Rome fell. Is America's situation
somewhat similar and at what stage along the thousand year history
of ancient Rome's day in the sun do we stand. We may disturb Latin
Americans if we compare the movement of peoples north to that of
tribes crossing the Rhine in 406-410. Besides the similarity of
the Rhine and Rio Grande, others would say that military discipline
changes could prove similar or that our guarding of secure resource
bases throughout the world is similar to the guarding of the Roman
borders. Among the many causes some have been refuted, such as
depopulation (statistics, which are very inexact, did not show
major changes in the course of the last two hundred years) and
decline in morality (it actually is regarded as rising in the last
two hundred years). Military discipline did deteriorate with the
barbarization of the legions and the decline in military experience
and ability to engage in close-order combat without proper
drilling. Cf. Arthur Ferrill's The Fall of the Roman Empire,
Thames and Hudson, 1986.
Rome was attractive to the Germanic tribes across the Rhine,
and so is America to millions in the so-called Third World. Romans
lost the sense of their own destiny and became bogged down in their
ways and affluence. Their classical religion lost its power and
the temples were filled with cobwebs -- though Christianity
survived and flourished. Small agricultural landholdings gave way
to larger corporate ones as we in America witness today. The
ability to obtain necessities close at hand became more difficult
with time and so it does in America today. And similarities and
differences could go on and on. All we know is that power passes.
May 22, 2005 The Trinity
We radiate wholeness in a harmony of hands, head and heart
which reflect the harmony of the three persons in the Trinity. Our
hands gather in and mold the clay of our surroundings. We think
about ways of using them better, and in doing so we speak in words.
The product of our hands and head is not meant for us alone, so we
move through a loving heart to share our artifacts with others.
Action, reflection, and application are like the procession of the
persons of the Trinity. The more our inner lives are in harmony,
the better we are able to radiate the God, Who is within.
Earthhealing is part of the grand Trinitarian mystery that we
profess as part of our Act of Faith. It is a work of our hands in
recreating a damaged Earth; it is the work of our mind in
fashioning the rationale for halting deterioration of our
environment and initiating restoration; it is the work of our
heart when we are moved to apply known and proven results for the
betterment of other creatures and especially suffering humankind.
All Good and Holy One, You establish balance and harmony on
this Earth and invite us to protect and enhance it. Teach us to
become caretakers of your creation. Allow us to spread the good
news, to work without losing heart, and to be good homemakers for
a healthier Earth. In springtime, teach us to care for all things
-- the trees, the wildlife and the garden seedlings. Give us the
rain needed for this growing season and guide us to participate in
the cycles of nature and of life. Inspire us to participate
enthusiastically in the Earth's regenerative process by turning
waste into resources for new life. Finally, help us experience
your creative Presence in the spring now bursting forth.
May 23, 2005 Strawberry Moon
The full moons have many different names depending upon the
cultural and regional designations -- Harvest Moon, Wolf Moon,
Hunter's moon, Pascal moon, etc. I think the best named of them
all is Strawberry Moon, for it tells much about this verdant season
of the year. Strawberries are blooming and ripening. They are the
luscious harbingers of a coming fresh produce season. This
particular fruit is early, delicious, and eagerly welcomed, for how
many people are able to resist a wild strawberry or a cultivated
one either? Besides being fresh fruit eaten off the vine or with
cream or cereal, strawberries have a multitude of culinary outlets
from pies, jellies and jams to ice cream and flavored drinks.
While its taste is so long relished and enjoyed, the humble
strawberry triggers both good and bad memories. I must confess
that every time I think of "strawberry picking" my back aches. I
found this a very unpleasant type of work when I was young, and my
mother had a strawberry patch for obtaining "pin" money during the
Depression years. The sampling of the red berries was great and
welcome in the hours before the next meal. However, if the
pickings were plentiful and the rows ever so long, my weak back
began to tell another message. Besides, Daddy disliked Mama's
taking us from the fields to the strawberry patch at one of the
busiest seasons of the farm year (haying and tobacco-setting). So
strawberries actually were at the center of some seasonal family
When I see farm migrants in the berry fields, the thought of
strawberry harvesting comes back vividly. The migrants have to do
their job well in order not to bruise the delicate berries, and
they have to pick rapidly in order to make some financial returns
at the wages received. The corporate agricultural sector has some
demanding back-killing work. For the small farmer, it is an
infrequent and somewhat unpleasant chore as our berry picking
season was for us. For the migrant farmers such work, if they are
lucky to get any, goes for weeks on end. And strawberries perish
easily so pickers must work long hours under pressure.
Strawberries, unlike apples, have a very short window of harvest
time. Remember the plight of the pickers when eating commercial
This brings up a final aspect about strawberries and the
reason I purchase so few unless I know the organic source. Of all
the produce on the general market, the strawberry has been
considered by the Center for Science in the Public Interest to be
the most often and most heavily contaminated with pesticides. And,
believe me, it is hard to wash off many of these contaminants by a
mere rinsing with tap water. Berry sources are not monitored and
often the more expensive berries are flown in by airplane from very
distant and contaminated places. Consider how big and tempting the
berries appear in the store. Please purchase them with caution.
Strawberries may be deep red, but there's a gray side to the modern
corporately cultivated varieties.
24, 2005 How to Become more Resource Conscious
I frankly do not think we have done enough when we talk about
conserving certain items. I find that many practices are quite
insignificant and may consume time while bigger ones are neglected.
We spoke last year (June 17, 2004) about the "Ten Commandments of
Resource Use" and at various times about particular substances,
e.g., Conservation techniques on June 28, 2004 and 12 ways to save
water (May 21, 2004). However, we run into dangers here. The
carping about little items can make life quite oppressive and
allows us to forget that Judas was the one who did not think
precious perfume should be wasted on the feet of Jesus. On the
other hand, we might become so involved with detail that we
overlook larger issues, some of which we simply do not want to
confront at this time.
Please email me at <alfritsch at earthhealing.info> and offer
your remarks about improving our resource consciousness, and we
will compile and bring them to the attention of readers.
Space savings -- Excessively large amounts of space are a
major resource expenditure in materials, heating and cooling and
ultimate maintenance. How do we convince others that this is as
important as using energy-saving techniques no matter what the size
of the building? Are we willing and able to help older couples
whose young ones have flown the coop to down size -- and what stops
us from doing so ourselves?
Oil savings -- We can speak of driving less, more carefully
and engaging in carpooling and other sharing techniques. Do these
work well in a time of multiple activities and distance demands?
Do they apply to everyone or are some exempted?
Reusable items -- Often the time and effort to take partly
worn items and reuse them is not worthwhile. Are there criteria on
what to take and what to avoid? Some people like to acquire junk
and more unnecessary items. Is frequenting yard sales detrimental
to a true resource consciousness?
Paper savings -- We may reuse blank sides of paper and share
newspapers, books, and periodicals. But will we stop buying
newspapers, especially Sunday editions, because of paper waste?
This issue is difficult and worthy of discussion.
Air savings -- We hear how we can help keep the air clean by
having fewer open fires or burning less plastic materials. How do
we get the concept of commons to people steeped in personal
Water savings -- Over time we have listed numerous resource
saving techniques which are quite effective, e.g., during drought.
Should people who apparently have plenty of water still conserve
water as part of their own personal ethic?
May 25, 2005 Fidelity versus Success
Was it Mother Teresa who said it is better to be faithful than
successful? If she did, she attained both fidelity and success (in
forming the Missionaries of Charity). This priority of fidelity
sums up our stance before our Creator, but it is quite demanding
and filled with risks. Fidelity means keeping focused on our
original calling and commitments at all cost. The static and noise
of daily living can make us easily forget. Thus we need to be
called back time and again to see the road ahead of us. And that
takes an ever-deepening spirituality. Fiction seems more
appetizing than the strain of the real hard road ahead. Reality is
so difficult because it demands a faithfulness to original
commitments and goals even at the risk of being unsuccessful,
belittled, and regarded as irrelevant.
Success-driven ventures multiply in the secular world around
us but, even though tempting, we must be faithful to our calling
without fully seeing the ultimate outcome of our efforts. We learn
ever so slowly to discount the costs of the consequences; however,
this does not mean that success is incidental. We would like to
see the efforts succeed but they may be so long-term that we will
not live long enough to achieve that success. With generous hearts
we seek to see the work achieved, but it begins to emerge that
others may get credit in the imperfect world in which we live. We
may be mere sowers, catalysts, or initiators; we may not be the
reaping type and yet we must be faithful to our calling -- for
sowers are quite important.
False success tempts us to become sensational? How about
being another Chicken Little? Should we announce that a nuclear
powerplant will go critical tomorrow or that the New Madrid
earthquake will be repeated in a year? Won't this be sensational
for a moment, but it will undermine the teller's credibility, if
and when the event does not occur. We cannot pretend to have
powers beyond us, not even in the real world of secular success.
Considering a future event as within our powers stretches the
hunger for success. A true prophetic stance does not foretell what
will happen but rather what could surely happen if we continue our
current course. Prophecy is more seeing the present for what is
actually is rather, than the future for what it is determined to
become. If we change our ways, the future will be better.
To begin something is not necessarily to have the ability to
carry it through to completion. This may be due to lack of
fidelity, but it may also mean the task is too big for me alone or
in my lifetime. Still there's a satisfaction at doing just what we
can do and no more. "I'll do my best" is far better than "I dare
not try." There's a certain humbling realization that I cannot do
it all; there's only so much and nothing more that can be done.
Faithfulness to the mission carries an internal reward that means
more to the person than most anticipated successes.
May 26, 2005 Petroleum Shortages and Gas Prices
We have arrived and passed two-dollar-a-gallon gasoline and
the price continues to remain high as the summer driving season
approaches. Will it reach European prices of a dollar or so a
liter or quart? The fifty-dollar-a-barrel fuel (remember when it
was less than ten dollars) is expected to reach seventy-five
dollars and up. The fact is the demands by emerging consuming
nations such as China and India, as well as our own U.S. appetite
(which does not seem to diminish), is making it more difficult for
the world's oil pumps to meet demand. The conjunction of the
cresting supply and expanding demand curve as predicted for decades
is occurring; we are emerging into the era of demand outstripping
Scarcity (and price manipulation) is raising costs; oil-poor
so-called "developing" nations are starting to bear the brunt of
this 21st century condition. These lands simply can no longer
afford the gasoline which in places has cost less than bottled
water. We Americans engage in unsustainable use of cheap fuel
partly through subsidies to the oil companies and hidden benefits
for all non-renewable fuel sources. Thus the unsustainable habits
of SUV driving, ATV joy-riding, speedboat racing, and power lawn
mowing will continue while we are wealthier than those poorer
global neighbors. Don't forget, Ireland, in the midst of the
potato famine, exported grain to England. Scarcity hurts some.
Paul Roberts' "The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New
World" is one of those recently published books that are meant to
bring us back to reality. How long can we continue in our
unsustainable ways? Must we have a repeat of the 1970s oil crises?
Will we continue to divert our resources to securing the Middle
East and other oil-producing lands in dreams of maintaining our
unsustainable petroleum addiction? True, even moving to a proven
wind and solar economy will take some added petroleum resources
under existing conditions (to produce components for wind turbines,
etc)? How long will it take us to see that energy conservation is
needed to reduce global warming and resource depletion? Are we
addicts who do not see what is coming? And how do we get people to
change rationally -- or is this possible?
We can ask haunting questions; yet we doubt that the required
solution can be realized. People who are used to the easy life
will not wake up and act in a rational fashion, if their patterns
of behavior have been consistently irrational. And our manner of
treating oil supply and demand follows the patterns of addictive
behavior. I do not despair, but I no longer see the rational
approach as fruitful as I did in the more optimistic 1970s. Except
in rare cases, we will not embrace the simple life -- not if there
is a way to avoid the consequences. Our selfishness will do us in,
and that will take a variety of forms. An effective energy tax
that would reduce American demand has as much chance as a snowball
in hell. But let's keep plugging and praying for solar and wind
May 27, 2005 Rachel Carson
Today is the birthday of Rachel Louise Carson (1908-1964),
that very special American naturalist and science writer; she
observed the deteriorating environment around her and penned her
observations in The Silent Spring in the 1960s. This book and her
other writings were a prophetic call for the beginning of a
movement to save our land, air and water. Her message was shocking
and we can only endure a certain number of these shocks of this
magnitude in a lifetime (more in tomorrow's essay). But she
flavored shock with compassion.
Her mention of the silence of spring refers to the demise of
birds brought about by the overuse of pesticides which impact these
and other wildlife in very significant ways. The shells of raptor
eggs were so weakened by DDT that they would break and drastically
reduce the numbers of offspring. With each reduction the joy of
spring felt for millennia through bird song is reduced. Sometimes
silence is golden, but not when the birds are supposed to be
singing in springtime.
Rachel Carson recalls us to the nature that is alive and
joyful and shows us how human activity in thoughtless ways can harm
that world which has taken so long to evolve into its present form.
The Carson compassion extends to the delicate Earth which can be
damaged in such a very short period of time. Her eloquent writing
aroused a generation of serious readers, who had not given thought
to what had been considered part of the brave new technological
world of the post Second World War era.
Perhaps the fullness in Rachel Carson's life could be found in
a book published after her death called "The Sense of Wonder"
(Harper & Row, 1970), where she leads a little child out to the
great outdoors; there the child discovers butterflies and seashores
and wooded lanes with Rachel as guide. What is so telling in this
book of photographs is that our own love of Earth needs to be
transmitted for it to be fruitful. So much can be done through the
written word of which The Silent Spring is one of the major success
stories. But equally, much has to be done in the wonder we
transmit to other individual persons so that what we experience
deep within ourselves can have expression and continuation.
This second book of photographs is a record of carrying on a
tradition of love and thus of healing the Earth and in a most
modest but equally telling manner. Not all of us are writers of
the caliber of Rachel Carson, but many can take a person out to see
the world around us and to appreciate the treasure found there.
This is a necessity, if earthhealing is to flourish on our troubled
May 28, 2005 Shock or Negative Environmentalism
After considering Rachel Carson's birthday we may note that
the one who bears bad news is in some way conveying something
negative. Some fault me for not focusing more time on negative
aspects of our environment -- air and water pollution, death of
forests, threatened and endangered species, acid rain, global
warming, human population expansion, a coming plague, exotic
species, and on and on. In fact, we do mention certain issues each
From a psychological standpoint it seems that a better
approach to enlisting action is to find positive reasons for
healing the Earth rather than focusing only on shocking narrative
of how the planet is going to pot. Negative approaches can turn
off people and cause them to be disheartened when they crave to be
encouraged. A steady diet of negativism can lead to paralysis or
denial of the issue. Negative reasons often prove not to be the
total story, or are subject to exaggeration in order to gain
attention. Negative reasons never see the world as gray; things
are going bad and worse. Positive aspects are often ignored or
discounted. It is always better to balance the two aspects in
dealing with environmental issues.
I vacillate between wanting to shock people and to encourage
them. There's a power trip involved in shocking for you show that
you are one step ahead and in partial control of the situation,
even though in reality you are as shocked as others are. While
negative approaches are quite common in some ecological circles,
still it became evident that positive approaches are far more
difficult to deliver. Defending environmental alternatives is not
perfect and that soon becomes evident when working with nature
centers or dry composting toilets or various solar energy
applications. The positive alternatives give hope to the world
which already realizes that some wrongdoing is occurring, and that
we must restore what is damaged.
Interestingly enough, an apocalyptic treatment can be
positive if delivered in the proper manner. One can make a rather
realistic case for the survival of our planet, and do so using both
negative accounts and positive remedies. However, the argument may
be falsely based if we conceive of the Book of Revelations or The
Apocalypse as essentially negative. In fact, theologians point out
that one interpretation is that of continued fidelity and ability
to survive whatever calamity should arise. What is needed now is
that something positive can come from knowing ourselves, our
limits, and our ability to respond no matter what befalls our
planet through our own efforts. If we hope to come out of an
environmental crisis as better people, then the result is a
positive one no matter how grave the circumstances or conditions
that are portrayed in order to draw initial attention. It is more
in how much time we give issues, and how well we move people to
take appropriate action.
29, 2005 Body of Christ
Today, we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of
Christ. For the vast majority of Christians this is the heart of
our community worship, the center of our focus, the sacramental
presence of the Lord in our midst. We worship together and in
doing so we are formed into the Body of Christ, a people continuing
to do what Jesus did when he walked among us.
Memory -- The Deuteronomy story (Deut. 8: 2-16) of Israel's
Desert Experience began with "Remember how for forty years now..."
The Chosen people were called to remember through the signs
rendered and the care God gave them, -- a care that included manna
as basic food and the spiritual care of forming them into a people
of God's own. "Not by bread alone, but by every word that comes
forth from the mount of the Lord." Our Eucharist is likewise a
memorial and much more. It does not just recall the Last Supper
but it brings that event into present time. Thus the remembrance
takes on a significance far greater than recalling the Desert
Experience, just as Memorial Day means more than happy memories of
the loved one who gave all for home and country.
Sharing -- Paul speaks of how we are to share in the one cup
of blessing and the one loaf. He is telling the Corinthians that
the pagan feasts have been far surpassed by this Eucharistic
celebration. We gather and eat together, but we cannot go and do
so when some people have plenty and others are starving or without
the basics of life. The Fathers of the Church said we would not be
doing so worthily, if some in the local community were in need of
food. But we are realizing that sharing now takes on a global
significance for through rapid communication and efficient
transportation our world community can take food to any part of the
world to feed starving people. We are share, for God is so
generous as to share Jesus with us. Our sharing of Communion is
the foreshadowing of our sharing on a global level.
Eternal life -- The sixth chapter of John's Gospel begins with
the multiplication of the loaves -- a miracle directed to feeding
hungry people. Then Jesus moves on to the Eucharist which many
misunderstood and walked away. Some do the same today, for the
Eucharist is the sharing of the person of Christ Jesus and not just
the portion of his being -- Body and Blood. We hold that this
communion with the Lord is the sharing of his totality, and thus we
need only take one of the elements for a complete reception of the
Sacrament. The eternal life is in our future and thus a future
aspect of the Eucharist that energizes us throughout our days.
Thanksgiving -- Eucharist is thanksgiving for gifts given, and
all the many God-given gifts we have received: from life and family
to nation and environment. We remember, share and glory in our
gifts -- those of the pas, which we remember especially on this
Memorial Day weekend, those of the present, which we need to share
with the needy, and the eternal life promised in the future.
30, 2005 Senior Moments
For Memorial Day
I think these statements are all of my own creation and I
believe I have not presented them before -- but I'm not certain.
Forgive me if these have appeared elsewhere, for I try to keep
each day's reflection different.
Senior times and moments have arrived when --
* I think they've already been here for a long time;
* All the work and hand tools we used on the farm are now in
* Half those people on the obituary list are younger than I,
as are most of the world's leaders;
* The "war" means either the Civil War or the Second World
* Strenuous exercise consists of taking a walk up a slight
* I forget which of the three medicines I still have to take;
* Youngsters include those from 7 to 70;
* The journey from is far longer than the journey to;
* Distant memories appear clearer than yesterday's;
* I start realizing how important it is to speak well of those
who have passed on to the Lord, for my time will be coming;
* Time no longer seems to stand still but quickens its pace
with each year;
* Prayers become simpler and more direct;
* Kind words and deeds are appreciated though we can't
remember who gave them;
* Though formerly I checked to see whether the pants were
presentable and the shoe laces tied; now I check to see if I have
pants and shoes on;
* It is worth repeating Melville's words in Moby Dick,
"I am a man running out of time;" and
* Past worries seem quite insignificant.
May 31, 2005 Threatened Seed and UCS Report
The Union of Concerned Scientists has recently produced a
report "Gone to Seed: Transgenic Contaminants in the Traditional
Seed Supply." The conclusions from their own research were
somewhat sobering in relation to corn, soybean and canola
varieties. Most of the traditional crop varieties tested were
contaminated at low levels with transgenic sequences (DNA)
originating in genetically engineered crops (see March 26, 2004 essay
for genetic engineering dangers). Thus the UCS Report reached the
alarming conclusion that widespread contamination to some level
within this country's seed system could be expected. From this, a
further conclusion was that it appears that seed contamination by
a wide range of transgenic varieties including field-tested
varieties could potentially contaminate much of this nation's food
and feed supply unless certain safeguards are instituted.
The above report listed a number of actions to preserve the
safety of the traditional seed supply:
* The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) should sponsor
a full-scale investigation into the extent, cause, and implications
of transgenic contaminants in the traditional seed supply;
* The USDA, the Food & Drug Administration, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, and other appropriate federal
agencies could amend the regulations for all types of
pharmaceutical and industrial crops to ensure that the seed supply
for food and feed crops is not contaminated at any level with
drugs, vaccines, plastics, or related substances; and
* The USDA should establish a reservoir of seeds from non-
engineered varieties of major food and feed crops free of
transgenically derived sequences.
Note our recommended non-profit group of the month is the
Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). More information on their
mission and publications can be found on <www.ucsaction.org>. The
particular reports mentioned above can be seen on the website at
Copyright © 2007 Earth Healing, Inc. All rights reserved.
Use FreeTranslation.com to translate this page into