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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.

A series of written meditations and reflections

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Table of Contents: Daily Reflections

May, 2011

may 2011 calendar - daily reflections

Copyright © 2011 by Al Fritsch

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Pink Lady's Slipper, Cypripedium acaule.
(photo: Janet Powell)

May Reflections, 2011

     Spring is upon us in all its glory in our northern temperate zone.  Snow storms are behind us or up ahead beyond the summer season.  We thank God for more things than we can list, but strive in this season to give thanks for May.  We look out to a vast  universe of heavenly bodies too hot or too cold, too dry or too filled with liquid methane, too fiery or too frozen for life to exist; we thank our Creator in the warmth of the expanding day for being able to live and be involved in the HERE and NOW of our lives.  Proper location and current time are such double blessings!

      Sights and sounds flood us.  Yes, May is the month of new life, the month of lilac and bridal wreath, lily-of-the-valley and ox-eyed daisy, red clover and black locust bloom, multiflora rose and apple blossom, strawberry and rhubarb, spinach and red radish, mushroom and poke shoot.  We hear May sounds: buzzing busy bumblebees, chirping hungry robins in the nest, gurgling streams, and frogs -- though fewer in numbers than in the past.  It is the time to hike and raise our minds to the marvels of a renewed landscape.  Enjoy the freshness, for June will soon be here. 

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Flame azalea, Rhododendron calendulaceum.
(*photo credit)

May 1, 2011        Gratitude Leading to Mercy

      Today we celebrate "Mercy Sunday."  Perhaps it is a perfect time to see that God has shown us mercy in the coming of Christ, in his resurrection from the dead, and in the sending of the Holy Spirit to inspire and teach us.  Mercy has been shown and shared, and this calls for mercy in return.  We profess our belief in a  loving, merciful God, and in trying to be godly, we show love and mercy in our own service for others. 

     Love and mercy overcome any tendency to be vindictive to our fellow human beings.  Often we may feel they are not doing the right thing -- true, but what can we then do about it?  We can express our disfavor, or how much it hurts us.  In response to their saying that their own actions are private, we need to counter that all action has a social dimension and consequence.  We are convinced of this religiously, practically, and scientifically.  The first law of ecology is "Everything is connected to everything else." What you do affects me, and so your action is my concern.  Mercy is knowing this and still loving the other all the while. 

      Mercy means assisting those who want to change their own lives, namely, those who in the past have been overburdened by prison records, or failures in work, or mistreatment of individuals, or acting in an immature manner.  People change and must be given the benefit of the doubt without causing us who are assisting to become gullible or off-guard.  Accepting the possibility of change is an act of mercy that our government, courts, communities, and family members must foster in order to improve the social life of our community and world.  Ultimately, forgiveness and mercy can be fused into one attitude.

      Mercy means being sensitive to those who have handicaps in a spectrum of practices, from the way they speak or interact to what they do and how they live.  Affluence often breeds insensitivity;  thus we must examine our approach to others in our society and give them the room it takes to operate and find themselves.  God shows mercy in giving us the time to know ourselves, reform our ways, and start to act in a more perfect manner.  If this is the case in our own lives, so ought we to allow time for others to overcome their shortcomings and change for the better.  With each incremental change we must show recognition and genuine encouragement to see the struggling person that we value their success.  In fact, our entire culture has to do just this so we can heal our troubled Earth. 

      Prayer: God of mercy, you wash away our sins with water,

               you give us new birth in the Spirit,

               and redeem us in the blood of Christ.

             As we celebrate Christ's resurrection

               increase our awareness of these blessings,

               and renew your gift of life within us.

     (Opening prayer on the Second Sunday of Easter) 








Blossoms of May. Woodford Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

May 2, 2011   The Little Blue Book:  A Blueprint for Radical Change  

      We are now releasing the entry that was in draft form for the past nine months, namely The Little Blue Book.  The purpose of this work is to reveal the theoretical underpinnings of the upcoming book "Reclaiming the Commons."  The primary inspiration is to counter those who said that this call for "radical change" is based on some Marxist or Communist writings;  this is simply not the case.  I have always been a radical, but this outlook has a religious foundation and not a basis in past political thought of any type.  Mary indicates that the lowly rise and those in high places are brought low.  Yes, God brings this about, but we are God's instruments in this noble work.  

     In contrast is the championing of those in high places. I have always had great differences with "Prosperity Christianity," which seems to be the work of a Godless capitalism alien from the "Jesus" in whose name we stand.  This aberration of religious practice, where the more religious and those to be emulated are the wealthy and those in power, negates some efforts at ecumenism.  The social and economic foundation of the prosperity people is false and it blurs the spreading of the Good News -- that the lowly will hear and respond to God's word.  Unless we confront materialism directly and its move to world domination, we will allow our planet to be wrecked.  A world of superrich and destitute is not stable, and all the military might in the world cannot contain this unstable condition.

      A first degree of humble service:  The desire to know justice and to extend this knowledge to all people of good will is essential.   This refutes a basic denial of current conditions of vast disparity of wealth and power.  To know the poor is the first step to salvation, but only the first step, and not totally sufficient in itself to bring about change -- mainly because knowledge does not automatically produce action.  Those who know may opt to distance themselves from the difficult struggle. 

  A second degree of service is to enter into solidarity with the people who suffer.  The serving person wants to help but on his or her own terms.  However, this is still largely theoretical and allows the one who enters to find time to escape into the world of allurements, because the task is so difficult and all consuming. 

      A third degree of service is to identify with the lowly.  This  calls for action that is so risky that it leads to becoming marginalized. Only when we risk distancing ourselves from people at the first and second levels are we able to find ourselves close to Jesus and authentically Christian enough to work with others who strive to do the same.  Thus our ecumenism must be primarily with the poor throughout the world.  It is the Scriptural underpinnings of this third degree that moves us to reclaim the commons. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us get this message out to a world in desperate need of an authentic approach to social justice. 








Appreciating the beauty of a spring wildflower.
(*photo credit)

 May 3, 2011     Wildflower Week Is Worth Celebrating 

      Here are eleven ways to celebrate Wildflower Week: 

     * Take a hike and spend time outdoors, for the foliage is now coming on the trees, and the understory has only this week or so before the sunlight can no longer reach the flowers of April;   

     * If you attempt to seize the blessed moment of this wildflower season, get the camera and take some photos, for they are worth viewing, treasuring, mentioning, and sharing; 

      * Select your own or a library's wildflower book, and leaf through it for some samples of what are present in your woods, or absent but worth seeing and learning about; 

      * Learn about one new wildflower this season and tell others about it; 

      * Pick a bouquet of exotic wildflowers that are usually found in fields or vacant lots and arrange them as a decoration for some special place; 

      * If you have broadband Internet access, scroll down the months at this website, especially in spring and summer, and discover how many times wildflower photos appear in the last five years.  There are dozens with few repeats; 

      * Generally we refrain from picking anything but exotic species.  However, select a wildflower and press into a plastic laminate to make a bookmark for future admiring and utility -- these also make a fine gift; 

      * Write a wildflower verse or at least think about composing one when the proverbial rainy day offers nothing else to do;   

      * It is not too late;  sow some wildflower seeds for this summer's growing season but do so quite soon.  Prepare the soil properly, sow, pat it firmly, and moisten the surface so the plants will sprout and grow;  

      * Support the Transportation Cabinet's efforts to insert wildflower patches at road shoulders or median strips.  While a little distracting to drivers, they are also uplifting and add beauty and quality to the lives of weary travelers; and  

      * Should you really have time, identify wildflowers and make signs for them -- and get others to help install the signs so viewers can learn the varieties in your neighborhood. 

      Prayer:  Lord, inspire us to learn from the glory and beauty of seasonal wildflowers, and to see their pristine moment as a sign that we have but a short time to glory in the sun as well. 






Grandma Marietta farming, age 91.
(*photo credit)

May 4, 2011      Aging Can Involve New Adventures                  

                         Aging Concerns

      It is time to rise, though it's middle of the night,

       Time is fleeting that will ne'er return,

      And blessed sleep fades away,

       Yes emerging eternity will make us free. 

      Maybe we have spent the bedding span

       Thinking back with great regrets,

      A purgatory here present that bespeaks

       what could have been if we were better then. 

     A day ahead that looks the same

       as yesterday and the day before;

       and what will today and tomorrow bring?

     Mercy, how can it be? C'est la vie!


     Where is the energy to rise,

       to find my footing on the floor below

       and gain balance so no stumbles occur?

     Just to find the light is a brief delight.


      Sleep long gone by now,

        as daytime aches return to full notice

     and I grip the furnishing while on the way

        to find the place to be, to see, to pee. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to enjoy this time of life,

            for it will never be the same again,

              and we had better make the best of it,

            and live this journey span as best we can.     

Distillery wall with Vinca minor, periwinkle. Millville, KY.
(*photo credit)

May 5, 2011    National Day of Prayer Concerns

      Each week we find ourselves with new prayer intentions -- and so our listing changes over time.  The same pattern occurs during each annual National Day of Prayer.  As mentioned in the entry of May 7, 2009, we offer constant prayers of praise and thanks to God for our faith, our family, our church, our nation, our freedoms, our health, and on and on.  However, we do attend to special areas deserving of mention.  We beg pardon for past faults of which there were many; faults that hinder our broader concerns.  Now let us recall our current needs and give them special attention:

      * Thinking about personal and family needs that stand out as though they are the only real problems; 

     * Remembering our local needs and the people who suffer from illness or addiction or the allurement for material things; 

     * Confronting our regional and national budget crises and our unwillingness to tax the rich and cut wasteful spending of all sorts -- including a war in Afghanistan and the highly inflated military budget; 

      * Formulating a coherent energy policy that addresses climate change and also focuses on replacing fossil fuels, biofuels from food products, and nuclear power, utilizing instead environmentally benign wind, solar, geothermal and some hydropower sources;

     * Assisting victims of natural disasters (e.g., earthquake victims in Haiti and Japan) as well as helping the poor in Africa cope with rising food costs through promoting local farm programs;   

      * Helping to heal the divisions that separate the rich from the poor by overcoming the disparity of wealth and power; 

      * Pressuring our elected representatives to begin a process of improving our damaged infrastructure in this country and world;

      * Defending the helpless, sick, elderly, and unborn; 

      * Breaking the cycle of greed, which seeks to overwhelm those who are voiceless or timid; 

      * Encouraging those who are unemployed and the poor to unite as one people and take what is rightfully theirs (ours), as a means to a decent life and the exercise of true democracy; and

      * Purging our 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. 

      Prayer: Lord, teach us 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. 








Dicentra cucullaria, Dutchman's breeches.
(*photo credit)

May 6, 2011      "No New Taxes" versus "TAX THE RICH" 

      Congress and political groups struggle over deficit spending and impending indebtedness.  The voices are somewhat muted when it comes to taxation -- a way of answering these obvious problems of lack of money.  Too much money is thrown in the wrong direction.  True, those funds need to be well-spent and for the benefit of all.  What if some are almost getting away with murder by allowing their neighbors to die without proper food, water, and access to health care? 

     Some may tell me that since I pay no income taxes, I have no right to speak.  They are correct about the first point, for my "income" goes into a community pot and to the non-profit agencies it sponsors.  However, there are plenty of taxes that affect us all:  the taxes at the gasoline pump or when we buy laundry soap and pay a 6% Kentucky sales tax.  Proportionally, we in the lower income brackets pay more taxes.  A state property tax was attached to a donated secondhand vehicle based on its "blue book" value;  these are taxes with which we can be and are confronted at times.   

      Others object that billionaires are not murderers but often the most charitable of citizens.  Let's take a look at all three bold terms.  Yes, if we allow the destitute of the world to go without proper medicine and food and drinking water, then we help kill them -- and if this is done willfully, when we know these needs exist and still sequester resources, then that is essentially murder.  Withholding resources that must be shared as needed for their lives is to pronounce death to them.   

      Charity is often a misnomer.  To give according to the donor's dictates and retain much wealth is a blatant disregard for democratic process.  

      Responsible citizenry is not to swallow gullible myths, but to become vigilant to those who evade legitimate taxes.  In this year of the one hundredth anniversary of the birthday of President Ronald Reagan, most people consider him the champion of less taxes -- though his first act as California Governor was to oversee the highest tax increase by any state government to that time;  his federal record as President included eleven tax hikes.   

      People love to construct and defend myths that are untrue -- e.g., ALL Americans are over-taxed.  That is pure bunk!  As governments on all levels seek to cut, cut, cut, the aroused and overtaxed citizens ought to shout, "TAX THE RICH!"  We need to break up the international tax havens and redistribute wealth to programs that assist those in greatest need.  Of course, use money wisely, but allowing the untaxed to decide is unwise, for such are the ones who started the financial crisis.  Promote "fair" taxes.

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to cease being a complacent citizenry and, through vigilance, to create a fair system of redistribution of the abundant resources of this nation and world. 








White trout lily, Erythronium albidum. Woodford Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

May 7, 2011         The Marginalized Activist Dilemma  

       We once had a worker who it became apparent was determined to become disabled so as to be funded for life.  Unfortunately, that was not a false judgment on our part.  Twice he told us of falling down, and expecting to be seen and thus observed to be hurt.  Twice was enough and so we had to dismiss him;  he went on to another job and within two weeks played the same trick -- and they let  him go.  A short while later at his third job, he received his wish.  That fall required a helicopter to airlift him to the emergency ward and, after rapid release from the hospital, he got the disability status and payments.    

     In somewhat the same way, we activists like to describe the story of injustices so that others will take notice -- but what if no one listens or pays enough attention to give us the designation of "activist for this or that cause?"  What if they say we do not really exist in their or anyone else's area of concern?  This leads some activists to take more drastic means to receive notice  -- the dramatic action that draws media attention.  We have become aware that terrorists practice extreme activism, mainly through an exit from life by being blown up along with other, often innocent, individuals.  The publicity accelerates the acts of these copycats and their sponsors.   One possible way of halting such terrorism may be by refusing to report such acts no matter how dramatic they are.  In due time the terrorism would cease because the message is not getting across as a publicity stunt.     

      A counter approach to violent forms of activism is to resort to mercy and love -- for this relies on the spiritual reality of the world in which we live.  The spiritual world accepts temporary marginalization as an imitation of Jesus, who was marginalized by the establishment of his day.  In so doing in a non-violent manner, this form of activism counts on the trust that ultimate success will occur, but that our physical presence or even a dramatic exit is not necessary for success.  This form of activism trusts in the spiritual economy of salvation, and that our good deeds are remembered by God, even if not by those creating media events.  We seek to be the Lord's servants, not winners of popularity contests. 

    St. Theresa, the Little Flower, is our model, for in life she was certainly not in the forefront of activism, and yet she truly was an "activist" all her life.  She prayed that her practices of love would become known later, even after she had died -- and so it was as witnessed by her simple autobiography becoming known to the world in many translations.  The miracles attributed to this popular Saint were countless, and so her prayer was answered, and her activism of love and mercy triumphed.  Publicized activism may be currently successful for all things are possible with God, but they ought to be motivated by possible long-term results. 

      Prayer:  Lord, inspire us to be active and yet to realize that the full affects may await a period after we exit mortal life.  Help us here and now see that being is greater than doing.








A lone shooting star, Dodecatheon meadia. Cedars of Lebanon State Park (TN).
(*photo credit)

May 8, 2011       Companions on the Road to Emmaus 

     The disciples recognized the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:35) 

      The Emmaus episode is an eye-opener for the disciples.  The fellow traveler joins in their walk, speaks to them about the meaning of the Scriptures, accepts their invitation to eat with them, and shows them who he is in the breaking of the bread.  Jesus is that fellow traveler on our journey of faith, and we are called to listen to him, to invite him in, and to feed him when he is hungry.  His recognition comes in eating together.   

      We are fellow travelers with the Lord.  Are we open enough to walk with him -- and with all who identify with him through their own suffering?  Are we willing to listen to their stories and find Good News there?  Are we sensitive to those wishing to break bread and share with us?  Our journey of faith is not just a "Jesus and me" or a "Jesus and a few of us" story.  We need to go out to all who want to be invited in and ask them to come and share with us.  Inviting all into our home is a physical impossibility, but our hospitality has a ripple effect that can go out to the world.   

      * We need to recognize the God within, a renewed enthusiasm for the awesome tasks before us.  The consolations are here if we but look and see.  Much depends on our willingness to leave ourselves and go out to others, a willingness to share our faith with the faithless and disheartened. 

      * At a time when foreign assistance is being axed in our national budget, the wealthy continue to take their ungodly profits.  We need to ask whether we recognize Jesus in suffering humanity and are willing to share our resources with them, and to share in their struggles for justice as neighbor to neighbor. 

     * Are we willing to share our journey of faith with others, telling them of the moments of joy and consolation that we have received?  If we open ourselves to sharing with others, we then encourage them to share more deeply with us -- a meaningful conversation.  Our growth in faith is a gradual process of coming to the Liturgy of the Word and then, in Eucharistic gratitude, to find Jesus, and to be impelled to go out and tell others. 

     Easter people recognize the victory and hope that are being realized, a faith that something marvelous that was promised in the past is starting to happen, and a charitable impulse to share with others here and now.  The Emmaus episode is a transition -- a risen Lord extending to the disciples a mandate to share in a global journey of faith with Jesus spiritually present to all.  All elements, recognized word, gratitude, and movement forward must work in tandem.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to recognize you and your word in our midst and to extend the Emmaus journey to an entire planet. 








Awakening of the hazelnut, Corylus americana.
(*photo credit)

May 9, 2011          Social Responsibility in 2011

        Responsibility is the awareness that there is more than gifts to me, rights for us, and deserving rewards for many.  As social beings, we live in a two-way street, and so we have gratitude to express for gifts, duties related to rights, and a general sense of responsibility that pervades our environment.  Previous essays on this subject dealt more with what individuals ought to do -- personal responsibilities.  Social responsibilities also extend to all groups in government, business and local communities.  Corporations often follow the extreme capitalistic expression of "the only social responsibility is to make a profit."  Instead, may concerned citizens regard social aspects of corporate practice to include a judgment on where and how investments are placed, what to expect from corporate managers as to conduct, and how much attention ought to be given to laborers and to local communities.  

      While the subject area of social responsibility is quite diverse and nuanced, still let's give attention to the social aspects of a disparity of wealth.  If everything is connected to everything else (Barry Commoner's First Law of Ecology), then all parts of this world and all activities have some impact on other parts.  The free acts of individuals make a difference in society, and thus good deeds benefit and bad ones harm.  The same applies to communities where acts of kindness benefit as well.  Thus, if we as groups, or regions, or nations, use excessive amounts of the world's resources, others are affected in some way. 

      The social dimension of our collective actions enters the purview of the global arena.  Waste and frivolous use of resources, when food prices around the world are rising, will affect all of us including those who are hungry.  What our nation does has a social dimension, and that applies to citizen individual AND collective action.  We as citizens are socially responsible in the manner in which we vote, and in our vigilance over elected officials once they are in office.  If such is the case, our national actions are no more isolated than our individual ones.   

      Since our nation is highly influential, the consequences of our collective action are all the more social in their effects.  Thus if the Lord expects us to act in an individually responsible manner and feed the hungry, the same Lord wants us as democratic citizens acting collectively, to act responsibly.  If we individuals are condemned by ignoring the hungry when we could have acted differently, a fortiori, our nation with it many gifts will be so judged.  Will we fail and be condemned?

      "When did we (as a people) see you hungry?"  Is the divine reply -- " When you allowed one thousand billionaires to go uncontrolled and one billion people go hungry, you did it to me?" 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to spread the message of social responsibility to all people, and to ourselves as one people.  








Dicentra canadensis, squirrel-corn.  Franklin Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

May 10, 2011     Energy Efficiency Demands Top Priority  

      Conservationists agree that every effort must be made to focus on energy conservation as the cheapest and most efficient way to meet increased energy demands;  this is especially true as the world climbs out of the Great Recession.  Coal, natural gas, and oil production are booming, and renewable energy alternatives are being installed at a rapid rate.  However, still greater attention ought to be given to energy efficiency for the benefit of all.  Curbing energy use reduces the demand for more and more powerplants and the corresponding needs for increased energy extraction, processing and transportation, along with energy wasted in transmission losses from large-scale electricity generation processes.  

      Attention must focus primarily on energy conservation -- for green building materials, smart grids, transmission systems, domestic and office electronic devices, and more efficient cars, trucks and planes. Energy efficiency standards for vehicles, lighting, powerplants, and appliances would go a long way to reducing energy needs for this decade.  A global effort to boost energy efficiency with existing technologies could cut more than 20 percent of world energy demand by 2020.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) has made this conservation approach a top priority.  

     Vehicle manufacturers are currently undergoing painful adjustments to get efficiency averages to 45 or 60 or 75 or even 100 miles per gallon.  Several nations and American states are insisting on fuel-conserving resources of ever greater efficiency.  Mass production of more efficient vehicles as well as renewable substitutes lags because retooling takes time, especially after recent economic troubles.  Electric vehicles powered by solar energy could help cut motorized vehicles loose from the umbilical cord of petroleum fuel, but electric vehicles need to be efficient. 

      Since efficiency is a national and global win-win situation, one expects the era of ever-more-efficient lighting (LEDs and compact fluorescents) and other electronically efficient practices to be mandated in a short time.  Many energy producers, however, do not take a strong stand on efficiency; their influence is considerable and their profits are high.  When new sources such as natural gas are found and the relative price of fuels declines, the cost of initial energy conservation innovations become less attractive.  This happens to be the case as of this writing.  Even with all the hype about future petroleum and gas shortages, there is plenty of fossil fuels to go around right now.   

      Only an energy tax could make the difference and get conservation on an equal and greater par with the fuel producers, processors and transporters.  Our resources are meant for both present and future generations, so let's be prudent in their use. 

      Prayer:  Lord, encourage us to be people who do not waste things, and let us see that energy use is one of those things.








Fresh fruit for May picnic.
(*photo credit)

May 11, 2011         How to Combat High Food Prices 

      For the past nine months we have observed rising global food prices.  In 2011, U.S. ethanol production will consume 15% of the world's corn production, up from 10% in 2008.  Unfortunately, this will only increase, for it is part of our heartland economy.  Currently, one million barrels of crude oil (of over 80 million used daily) is "saved" by ethanol substitution -- and global food prices are rising by 40% this past year.  Some 44 million more people enter food-insecurity poverty levels annually.  

   Some time back an emaciated lady and her child came to my door and asked if we still had leftover pizza.  I was unaware of any, but offered instead a share of our storehouse full of nutritious foods. She replied, "No, we just want pizza."  I later found a pile of rock-hard slabs of pizza in the bottom of the freezer, from a past dispenser of charity who collected stale pizza from the local commercial outlet.  As a compulsive no-waster I soaked the pizza in tomato juice and microwaved it for lunches.  But why couldn't that begging lady have accepted our other food to feed her child? 

      One answer is ignorance.  Our "Moms for the Morning" program at Our Lady of the Mountains Church seeks to address this problem.  The group goes out together and does comparative shopping, returns and prepares simple lunches, and takes the rest of the purchased ingredients home to prepare family suppers.  This program surpasses pure charity, and allows the poor to take charge.  Thus the first way to combat high food prices is to purchase basic ingredients (not prepared commercial foods), and do one's own cooking.  The very poor of the world know this lesson all too well, but America's poor have much to learn about food preparation.  

  A second answer is to buy food in bulk -- a lesson the astute poor know.  Billions spend over half their income on food, and rising prices can lead to riots and starvation.  Subsidies to ethanol fuel producers have contributed in part to rising corn prices, and this has had a longer-range effect on global grain prices.  We must realize that excessive auto use influences global food prices, and that some must cut their cornmeal purchases, because they do not have enough money to buy cornmeal to make tortillas for their family.  Yes, as stated elsewhere, materialists are insensitive to this problem. 

      The third answer is to promote the growing of produce on one's own where even minimum space is available.  Most non-urban people can find some space, and most people can find some time for gardening.  High food prices are caused by several factors and are expected to continue to rise according to current reports.  Simply growing greens and radishes as quick crops include nutritious supplements to basic grain meals and allow for soups of variety (see 365 Soups on this website).  We ought to help support small food-growing operators, for hunger is a form of terrorism. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us see the agony of rising food prices. 







Stretching the neck to take a nibble.
(*photo credit)

May 12, 2011  Renewable Energy: An Answer but When?    

      This reflection considers renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, certain biofuels, and such future sources as tidal and wave).  These are clean and environmentally benign fuels;  their installment costs are going down with new technical improvements and economies of scale.  They have great advantages over nuclear power (though the industry produces an opposing propaganda), and use of fossil fuels that never paid their total environmental costs.  Some biofuels that use food products are questionable;  use of productive agricultural lands for growing corn for ethanol biofuels is an abomination, and subsidies need removal ASAP.  Other biofuels encourage eradicating wildscape and wildlife habitat for cellulosic fiber production.  When biofuels are made from waste products (wood, agricultural or food wastes), possible economies result from their conversion to fuels. 

      The good renewable energy news is that potentially by 2030 the world could be on a totally renewable energy economy, if the will for good energy policy will be implemented.  A recent study in the journal, Energy Policy, projects that total global energy use could be renewable by satisfying the following goals: 4 million 5-MW wind turbines; 1.3 billion 3-kW roof-mounted solar photovoltaic systems; 90.000  300-MW solar powerplants (including PV and concentrated solar); and a smattering of geothermal, wave and tidal powerplants.  This study left out biomass (because of pollution and land use issues) as well as nuclear energy.  However, this could be amended to include hydro powerplants as well as geothermal sources.

  A more realistic report by the World Wildlife Foundation International in February, 2011 set a goal of 95% renewable energy by the year 2050.  In that year, total energy demand could be 15% lower than in 2005;  building heating needs could be cut by 60% through energy efficiency and by the use of solar power and geothermal heat.  Electricity grids need to be upgraded, smart grids installed, and electric transport introduced on a large scale globally.  Meat consumption is to be halved in industralized nations, and people replace planes and cars by cycling, walking and use of trains.   

      Renewable energy's success will depend on coal and fossil fuel cost and availability (see tomorrow's reflection).  Big money will encourage propaganda to cast doubt on future climate change projections -- as happened in the 1960's-80's struggles over smoking-related cancers and other health problems.  Limiting renewable energy's advent is countered by traditional energy interests, and this creates a hurdle for renewable energy growth.  A decentralized renewable energy program would be environmentally optimal; unfortunately, current economic thinking and incentives favor large energy corporations.  If every locality furnished its own renewable energy through the selection of sources, beneficial results would be forthcoming.  Will this be the case?    

      Prayer:  Lord. help us translate our idealism into practice.







Arisaema atrorubens, Jack-in-the-pulpit.
(*photo credit)

May 13, 2011  Is the New Age of Coal to Be Welcomed or Condemned? 

      I look out my window at three 110-car coal trains on parallel tracks filled with coal (black gold) destined for powerplants in Florida and Georgia.  This train series has occurred twice a week for the past seven years during my stay here.  Coal is a standard fuel here and with U.S. coal reserves at 245 years (and Russia with less total tonnage but still a 527-year supply at current mining operations), we can expect this fuel to last long after I am gone.  Furthermore, the new giant coal exporter to fuel-hungry China and India is Australia, with a 186-year remaining supply at 2009 levels. (Ref. The Economist, January 29, 2011, pp. 64-66). 

      First, coal is challenged by easier-transported natural gas, but supposed environmental advantages of newly-discovered gas sources are regarded by recent EPA reports as overstated.  The growing appetite for energy sources makes consumption of natural gas obtained from fracturing of shale deposits relatively cheap in relation to current renewable energy costs.  Recent EPA studies show that escaping methane from leaking pipes and natural gas extraction (far more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) makes the environmental impact approach the polluting effects of coal itself.  All the while, the "cheap" coal myth needs to be exploded: a recent Harvard study shows that coal costs the U.S. economy $345 billion each year though elevated cancer rates, lost tourist opportunities in devastated mining areas, and general environmental damage.  If all accounting were done, coal would cost 18 cents per kilowatt hour, thus soon making renewables cheaper.  

      The International Energy Agency (IEA) is warning that the 2020 goal of slashing greenhouse gases is fading fast.  The American consumer economy is picking up again and Chinese and Indian consumption demands are exploding.  All know that coal is dirty and cheap and plentiful.  New technologies for sequestering the emitted carbon dioxide are mostly in the idea and wishful thinking stage.  Certainly new powerplants are relatively cleaner than older ones, but their number and emissions' volumes overwhelm savings and cause MORE carbon dioxide along with worrisome mercury emissions and other hazardous materials to enter an already overburdened atmosphere.  The IEA estimates that China, which gets over two-thirds of its electricity from coal, will add an astounding 600-GW of coal-fired power capacity to its voracious energy consumption picture in the next quarter century.  Others estimate that the country will reach that figure far sooner.   

      The reality is that coal mining is expanding and that high-quality coal sales are rising.  We may overlook total coal costs but we ought not.  If we continue to overlook, then we will bear climate change problems in the coming decades.  Remember, we must make coal pay its fair share for redress of environmental pollution.  Our planet deserves clean, affordable fuel.   

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to see reality and what it means, and give us the hope that change can result through our efforts.








Ripe fruits of the pokeweed, Phytolacca americana.
(*photo credit)

May 14, 2011         Poke Salad Time and Festivals 

      Today, in Blanchard, Louisiana, there is a Poke Salad Festival -- and in other places in the South people are also enjoying the glories of this productive native plant.  Poke has always fascinated me; as kids we would paint our arms with poke berries to the horror of others who did not comprehend our child's play.  Yes, but there are far more aspects to poke than the extreme poison of its roots, and the mild effects of the berry as a homemade medicinal.  I have long regarded poke's edible shoots as the welcome sign of springtime.   

      Poke dishes abound for Appalachian people.  We break off the fresh sprout that will grow back in a matter of weeks.  These can be the size of asparagus spears and cooked with the same preparation after boiling twice, draining, and throwing out the water.  The poke leaves have the taste of spinach in all its rich and nutritious greenness; the leaves can be eaten with vinegar and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.  The sprout should be stripped and harvested while it has an early green skin; the sprouts can be coated in cornmeal and fried, or creamed (like asparagus), or treated with a vegetable oil and lemon seasoning -- and possibly bacon bits;  often, cooked poke shoots are eaten with eggs and bacon.  Mountain people use the term "Poke Sallet"  and refer to a dish eaten with fried bacon and cornbread.  Variations are listed on 365 Salads on this website.  Other recipes include ingredients such as sesame vinaigrette, jalapeno peppers, and macadamia and scallion pesto.    

      As the season progresses the red-coated stalks appear.  That never fazes some of us, as we strip off the maturing red skins and boil with two changes of water, and proceed in the manner of preparation previously described.  Some fear poke-- and it is possible that folks may have digestive problems, so a little caution may be needed.  Still, poke has advantages, a noticeable one is that the plant regrows in the same location year after year.  Another is that the plant weathers drought wonderfully and requires no irrigation or fertilizing; the plants reproduce at an astounding rate -- and the taste is as good this year as last.  For quantity, quality and maintenance-wise, nothing beats this native plant that can become a staple of a greens patch with little labor involved. 

      The Tennessee Polk Salad Association has a major meeting each year.  Note the spelling "Polk" in the State with its native son James K. Polk and the Elvis Presley recording of a song by the same spelling.  Note also that the Association has a disclaimer that its recipes and materials are meant for information and educational purposes only.  Many folks regard the poke plant as poisonous for a number of reasons; talk to your physician if you question the use of it.  The root, while highly poisonous, can be used as a natural pesticide and also with precaution as a medicinal. 

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to use what we have in our wonderful native plants, and to do so with discretion and proper care. 








A view along the Sheltowee Trace.
(*photo credit)

May 15, 2011           Becoming Sheepgates for Others 

       I am the gate.  Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.   (John 10:9) 

     Jesus is the Good Shepherd and invites us to become his helpers and fellow shepherds.  When we speak of the sheepgate it is an applied way to treat this sheep metaphor.  I recall visiting a goat farm once; a young kid got loose and ran frantically up and down the fenceline of the neighbor's farm trying to get back to the flock.  The family had to take time and go over to the farm and retrieve the frightened kid through gateways that eventually led to its return to familiar territory.  The kid was secure again! 

      Human faults build fences, tall and unclimbable.  All sinners wall themselves in, imprisoned by their own hands.  Each needs a way out, a gate with well-oiled hinges and easy latches -- a way to leave the prisons of the mind and heart.  Thank God for mountain gaps and passes, for paths and roads, for coves and gorges and fords and smooth flowing water.  Thank God the sinner can still find these among the shadows of a dying year -- and through some new beginning go out to broader space. 

     Appalachia:  A Meditation, Al Fritsch, SJ and photographs by Warren Brunner, Loyola University Press, (1983), p. 138. 

      In enclosures, we may find safety, but through gates we exit and enter freely.  Gates provide a way to freedom, the passageways to the horizon, the needed way in and out.  Jesus, as good shepherd is the tending and merciful one.  At times we need to stay within the fold for companionship and safety; and Jesus helps us do this.  At other times we venture forth because our hearts are truly restless for the completion of our journeys of faith.  As we say at Pentecost, we need to venture forth from the community and to return for refreshment by and with the community.  Jesus calls himself the light, way, lamb, shepherd, life, and the sheepgate.  Jesus is our passageway from Earth to eternity; he helps us find safe resting places on our faith journey, life's ins and outs.

     The emphasis here is on the shepherd, not the sheep.  We are not dumb sheep; rather, all must use sheepgates and help others do the same.  With Christ we learn to become good shepherds and help a wandering world to find its way, to get refreshment and safety  from enclosures, and yet to move out in daylight to new pastures.  This is the task of committed Christians: to follow and learn to lead with all the expertise it takes.  We are the gateway for others to follow and to orient their own lives.  We could make it difficult or easy, and thus we are challenged to act properly.   The hope is that we show the love and mercy of the Easter season. Gates seem so simple, for they open and close easily.  The task is to help frightened and lost sheep find the gate.   

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to follow you not by slavishly entering and leaving after you, but by helping others who are wandering outside or trapped within to find their way in or out. 








Looking up!
(*photo credit)

May 16, 2011      We Need Trees for Many Reasons 

     Trees are becoming endangered in certain places and among some varieties (hemlocks, elms, dogwoods, certain oaks, etc.).  Trees are valuable to our world, and so we should encourage students to write essays on "We need more trees because they --" 

     serve as habitats for wildlife;

     act as the lungs of our planet;

     mitigate climate;

     shade us in summer;

     support swings;

     cool surroundings;

     act as wind barriers in winter;

     offer sap that can be boiled down into sweetening agents;

     are beautiful to behold;

     provide names for towns and streets;

     help furnish that beautiful dash of autumn color;

     clean the air by catching airborne pollutants;

     retain moisture;

     store carbon dioxide as a living storage system;

     mark the countryside by their distinct shapes and locations;

     furnish fruit for the taking;

         and nuts in abundance;

     are sacrificed to make timber products;

     populate a forest with its own inherent value;  

     are resting and nesting places for birds;

     have potential to be memorials for the planters;

     become energy savers when planted in urban areas;

     give off fragrance when in bloom;

     remind us of better times;

     increase the sales value of property;

     provide a hidden refuge for tree-house dwellers;

     make us look heavenward;

     outlive most of us, reminding us of our mortality;

     soothe the harshness of a ruined mine field;

     become hitching posts;

     protect us during unexpected showers;

     become part of a viewscape;

     attract visitors;

     whisper in the breeze;

     fix in our memory youthful joy;

     are signs of life in the desert;

     allure those who need to get away;

     act as balm for the wounded;

     serve as escapes from dangers;

     can become the lightning rods of our property;

     invite good pruning and other management practices; 

     are a blessing to us all; and

     give glory to God by their presence. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to see how valuable trees are to us and to spread the Good News. 









Inspecting and admiring garden-fresh tomatoes.
(*photo credit)

May 17, 2011     Decisions During a Tomato Year 

      Some who grow their own tomato plants will say this is a little late to be reflecting on "tomato year" in the northern temperate climate.  Perhaps, but many of us do not start our plants from seed but purchase them from others who maintain greenhouses; we prefer simply to grow and harvest the luscious fruits in due season.  All things considered, these tips may be helpful: 

      Stake or not stake?  My late Uncle Ed used to stake only half of each crop -- gambling that, whatever the weather, some plants would prosper.  A dry season tended to favor the unstaked variety and a wet one the staked plants (from opportunistic diseases). 

      Variety or not?  Most would agree that people like certain varieties of tomatoes, depending whether they are eaten in fresh salads or how many are canned or stored for future use.  A good canning tomato is not necessarily chosen for a salad or sandwich.  Variety allows for a longer growing season and an assortment of flavors during a productive period. 

      Solely planted or interspersed?  Those of us who prefer the tomato at every meal know that we have to grow quite a number.  For those with a shortage of arable space we seek to intersperse tomatoes among other vegetables.  Tall tomato plants take less room and allow for early spring crops to mature before needing more space.  Planting tomatoes within radish, endive, kale, spinach and mustard patches allows double use of the ultimate tomato lands.  Even cucumbers amid the tomatoes work quite well, for their vines act as living mulch while the tomato plants are growing.   

      Extended season or a simple taste?  Many folks do not like as many tomatoes as this writer eats in the year, and so prefer to curb the summer season, and move on to other autumn crops.  I like an extended season going from at least late June to November. If you pack green tomatoes in paper they can be enjoyed at Thanksgiving and beyond.  Greenhouses and special varieties offer longer seasons, and "Tommy Toes" are candidates for such choices. 

      Water or not? Watering is a necessity if we desire a plentiful harvest in dry times.  Irrigation is preferred, but can be done conservatively by use of water inlets very near the plant roots;  this avoids watering the foliage where it is not needed.   

      Preserve or give away?  Both saving and giving are favored if the tomato harvest is good and neighbors would appreciate the surplus. One can preserve in many different ways: deep freezing, making catsup or sauce, canning whole tomatoes or as juice, drying into a leather, or wrapping in paper and storing in a root cellar for late autumn and winter.  Fresh or preserved, tomatoes make good and appreciated gifts.  

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to teach others to grow wholesome produce, to become expert growers, and to share their expertise. 








Rose acacia, Robinia hispida, Wolfe Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

May 18, 2011         Every Person Is Irreplaceable 

      When a friend or relative dies we know they will be more than missed: they are irreplaceable.  They are unique beings created by the hand of an infinite and all-powerful creator who made all the universe composed of billions of diverse stars and planets.  The same might be said of unique snowflake designs, though who can prove or disprove that phenomenon, since no similar patterns have been detected?  Yes, we know more about people than about stars and snowflake -- and all human beings are different.  Granted, designers of occupational positions specify slots that they want to be perfectly replaceable.  However, that is wishful thinking;  we may conceive of special molds, but the ones expected to fill those molds are, thank God, unique persons. 

      We seek for children or grandchildren to be "chips off the old block," or similar to parents or grandparents -- but they simply are not, and it is wrong to think they ought to be.  WE ARE DIFFERENT, and we ought to celebrate differences as much as similarities.  What is more difficult in such groupings of supposed sameness and dissimilarity is to have people fill our ill-formed stereotypes.  Those who speak of types of personalities have things to say, but they must be careful, for everyone comes as a surprise once we know them thoroughly.  We are not cannon fodder for senseless generals to use on their chessboards nor workers to fill slots of faceless industrial or computer banks;  we are created in the image of an all-creative God.   

      Celebrating differences can be liberating.  We are not what some who do not know us expect us to be;  we are meant to plot our own course in life and not follow footsteps of others we cannot possibly fill;  we are to be judged individually before the Divine Author of all differences, not by judges filled with biases and expectations fashioned on unmerciful limitations.  As irreplaceable, we can be missed genuinely even when disliked or having manifested severe limitations.  God loves each of us and asks all of us to do the same -- so our uniqueness is somehow related to godliness, at least remotely so. 

      Those who follow models, or saints. or heroines/heroes, or celebrities, or champions, or ancestors remember:  God created us to be who we are.  Yes, we are social beings who must surrender some of our individual likes and dislikes for the sake of the greater movements of this world.  However, regimented sacrifices come at a price that should always be recognized and calculated.  Replacing one person with the image of another is an impossible task with inherent limitations. Thinking it possible is a grand deception.

      Prayer:  Lord, help us be who we are, to be thankful for the blessed chance to live, and also thankful for the other good souls we cannot be or pretend to be -- but from whom we can learn much by simply knowing.  On second thought, don't let our irreplaceability hinder our coming together as one body.  







Bellwort, nodding in the breeze.
(*photo credit)

May 19, 2011          Radical Sharing Reconsidered 

  John the Baptist answered, If anyone has two tunics he must share with the one who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.  (Luke 3:11)   

     In our attempt to reclaim the commons for all, basic attitudes on the part of all parties must be reconsidered.  We need a radical sharing that flows from and understands the essential needs of all people (social awareness), that permits the giving up of excess without a basic struggle (solidarity), and that trusts resources taken will be used properly (cooperative trust).  All three components are necessary, and each calls for ever-deepening levels of service.  Radical sharing has a hidden power to control self interest, to build sociability, and to lead ultimately to a harmonious global community.  Awareness that giving is necessary changes to imperfect or selfish giving, while retaining some surplus.  A deeper sharing results when takers collectively demand all, and not just a fraction of the surplus -- for such surpluses holds back the total community's progress.   

      Simultaneous giving and taking with the good of all in mind allows for growth in a spirit of togetherness that gains strength with time.  If all parties merge toward perfect harmony, one gives and another takes, and administers justly what is taken.  The basic attitude is one of gratitude directed principally to God, giver of all gifts, but also extending to the givers for the sense of magnanimity, and to the takers for being merciful and not showing revenge.  Radical sharing goes to the root of motivation and to a compassionate love of the human family, all of whom will benefit through the act of sharing.  All give up something:  those with resources must give up what does not really belong to them; those who take, do so for the community and not for selfish reasons.  Givers give up all; takers give up self interests.

     On March 27, 2007 we wrote about heroic and extreme forms of sharing such as organ donation.  Sharing of surplus wealth by individuals or by nations is of a lesser degree, but necessary nonetheless for establishing a just social order.  Such radical sharing leads to liberation of people, both the holders of excess and those who are destitute.  All liberate and all are liberated.  The Spirit is the catalyst, and all sharers serve as witnesses and catalysts.  Those who practice sharing in common are candidates for being agents of change, for what is done on the local level must now be globalized.  We are to share resources fairly with all people.  Ideally, that involves a parting with one's excess, but if that is not achieved, a merciful taking must ensue for the benefit of all.  Both givers and takers may exercise freedom and grow in freedom through generosity.  Radical sharing is the realization that, what one gives and another receives when done freely and non-violently, binds the world more tightly together as one people.   

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to share and to break the barriers that hold us back.







Lake McConaughy, Nebraska.
(*photo credit)

May 20, 2011    Awareness of Impending Water Shortages 

      Water, water may be everywhere in the vast oceans, but water that is potable and pure enough for irrigation is quite limited in many parts of this country and the world. "The Drying of the West," (The Economist, January 29, 2011, p. 32) tells about a water crisis looming in the Colorado River basin, especially for the desert city of Las Vegas, but also for much of Arizona and five neighboring states as well.  A decade-long drought has caused Nevada's Lake Mead to be at only 40% of capacity, but how much this is due to climate change is unclear.  The crisis is intensified by demands on the Colorado River's water in the basin and service area.   

      Is this shortage a foreshadowing of other water crises to surface both soon in American and other major global metropolitan areas?  Some people do not become alarmed because they are confident that modern water demands could be curbed quickly by rationing the precious liquid.  Why all the swimming pools?  Why grow green lawns in the desert?  Why all the water used for washing vehicles and leaves off pavements?  Certainly elementary water conservation measures delay crises until later -- but not for the long term.  Desalinating ocean water for use has a promising future, but solar processes are not immediately applicable, and taking salt out can become expensive. 

      One can discuss the water crises as fourfold: physical, legal, political, and cultural.  Droughts, however caused, bring on depletion of available water sources;  legal differences can result from how water is assigned by previous long-standing agreements before shortages cropped up; politically, people within the areas of need have different degrees of influence in water decisions.  Serious "water wars" can develop in the upcoming years.  Legally,  an established "right to water" may be permitted for growing certain water-prone crops, watering lawns, or filling the pool when others are forced to ration essential water use.  Water problems call for cooperative action in order to avoid possible friction. 

      A right to water applies to all, and thus water is part of the commons.  Powerful corporations or individuals should not take over the sources and require payments according to their own profit-making schemes.  Water, like air, ought to be free.  More than ever, communities affected must form water districts capable of treating all parties fairly.  However, should people be allowed to grow lawns of bluegrass or irrigated cotton in water-short western regions?  Some call Las Vegas' emerging problem a canary in a mine shaft.  If the emerging climate-change picture does not alter rapidly, expect more water shortages.  Thirsty people can raise a storm of protest, much like those suffering from rising food prices.  Promoting water conservation along with solar desalination of brackish and sea water are high priorities.   

      Prayer:  Lord, the Calvary words "I thirst" are being heard in many parts of the world.  Will we be able to hear, listen and respond in ways to help redistribute potable water to all in need? 








Fort McPherson National Cemetery.
(*photo credit)

May 21, 2011    The Ambivalence of Armed Forces Day           

      When our American military are engaged in the longest war in history in Afghanistan (now passing the Revolutionary War's length) it seems unpatriotic to be overly critical.  Each Sunday one of our public liturgical petitions is for the safety of those in harm's way.  The major group of Americans in such predicaments are the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines who serve our nation and world in this time of conflict.  Let us never cease to pray for peace. 

      Yes to personnel needs.  No one wants to undercut the essential needs of military personnel and their dependents.  They ought to have proper supplies and defensive gear, as well as appropriate housing and other amenities for their families.  Thus, protective equipment for individual members of our military should be a high priority in any budget.  Buying such items is not the same as purchasing sophisticated weaponry costing millions of dollars, some of which Secretary Gates wants halted. 

      No to military industry wants.  Almost half of the entire world's military budget is paid (or borrowed) by our federal government for the upkeep of America's military forces -- the most sophisticated the world has ever known.  But do we need aircraft carriers and missile defenses and far-flung bases in countries that could defend themselves?  The myth that we must constantly increase military budgets out of loyalty for our service members is simply feeding an industrial-military complex that President Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address in 1961.  We are beholden to a system that is not-so-much defense, but rather wanton profit-making consumption of precious resources.  A far better defense would be to redistribute a heavy portion of those defense dollars for appropriate food production, water distribution and affordable housing of hundreds of millions throughout the world.  

      Yes to military defense, but ....No doubt, a military presence is needed.  Our military personnel deserve good protection and proper supplies.  We do not have to saddle our military with super-expensive devices that are of little use in current combat zones -- and timeliness is associated with profits.  The defense industry is not part of Armed Services Day.  A military presence was needed when the tsunami occurred in Indonesia, and our military came in full force to assist stricken victims.  Thank heavens!  We are starting to learn a lesson:  military discipline can be used well for the benefit of suffering people, the victims of natural disasters.  Defense ought to be directed to natural disasters and military personnel trained in instant global response in times of tragedy. 

      Prayer:  Lord, watch over our defenders; let them come to know what real defense is all about, and to be trained to be first responders in time of global emergencies.  Help our nation to move away from the outmoded militaristic postures of the past to one of caring concern for populations endangered by natural causes. 








Dwarf iris, Natural Bridge State Park.
(*photo credit)

May 22, 2011         Being of Service to Others 

     I am the way and the truth and the life.  (John 14: 1-12)

      Diaconia means the call to give service in the Church, both those called to the priesthood, deaconate, or religious life, and those who are called to ministry of healing, educating, lecturing, cleaning, performing music and dance, or engaged in environmental modeling of the community.  The Acts of the Apostles shows the gradual movement from Jerusalem to Rome, and the spreading of the Word first to the Jewish community, and then to the world.  As  mission expands, offices or services or ministries develop with it.  Greek names appear in the deacon's listing.  With time millions respond to the vocational call to minister within the Church. 

      Peter is that first bridge-builder in the Church;  as first pope, Peter lays the cornerstone and we hear the Scripture:  You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people.  Yes, this passage extends beyond Peter and includes the priesthood of the faithful, not just the ministers of the Liturgy.  The invitation in these critical times is for all of us to help build bridges among divided people.  The goal ahead is lofty, but the road to reach this goal is rough and takes all of us working together in mercy and love.   

      Jesus is the way that we are to follow in our journey of faith.  Jesus is the truth that is the foundation of a common understanding allowing us to work together in order to establish the Kingdom.  Jesus is the life, a divine family in which we are invited to live through the grace of Baptism.  In turn, we become Christ to others and show them the way that they are to travel; we are to present Good News, the truth of the Lord's presence.  We are to live in such ways that others will want to imitate us, not in worldly ways of total affluence.  We ought to consider this call to be like Christ as a sacred duty, for we are a chosen race, a holy nation, God's own people.     

     Late May is graduation time for many students as their educational journeys from kindergarten through technical or professional school wind down.  Graduation means a change in location and stage of learning and maybe career.  We add to the worthy graduates' celebrations through support, prayers and meaningful gifts.  We can become the way, truth and life for them.  We realize the effort it will take for the one moving on the way to adjust to new, difficult, and even risky situations.  Part of serving others is to aid in the transition through prayer, encouragement and helping them discern their next step.  A healthy society and church need all posts filled.  Let us emphasize that making a wise choice is important for them personally and also for our society.  Give these people options, for these are very troubled times and they are soon to become keenly aware of it. 

      Prayer:  Lord, inspire us to assist others who are on the road to their own achievements; help us to help them decide what to do. 






Little brown jug, Hexastylis arifolia.
(*photo credit)

May 23, 2011      Clean Nuclear Energy?  A Lie! 

      President Obama and a host of federal legislators may feel beholden to purveyors of promises about "clean" nuclear power.  This "clean" is an utter falsehood, worth confronting by those of us who are not persuaded by nuclear industry propaganda.  Ask each legislator willing to vote to greenwash nuclear power, how much financial support they have or are receiving from that industry:  

1. Nuclear power uses uranium that has been proven to pollute places where mined, processed and enriched as well as causing countless health problems for workers at various levels of processing; 

2. The spent fuel remains a toxic problem for centuries, with no final safe waste storage place yet established in this country; 

3. Remember Chernobyl!  One mishap could do vast damage to entire areas of the nation (some with dense populations);   

4. Nuclear powerplants are tempting targets for terrorist attacks, and thus the major need for guarding these facilities; 

5. The immense expense of building a nuclear powerplant is to be expected (about eight billion dollars each), for nothing could be allowed to go wrong without immense consequences;   

6.  Radiation may be odorless and undetectable by eye, but it is being released at all levels of the operation, not just when accidents occur.  There's NO safe level of radiation exposure; 

7.  Spent fuel pools could be subject to a "zirconium" fire if the national electrical grid system were paralyzed by a solar flare.  A recent Oak Ridge National Laboratory report says that such a flare in this century could cut grid power from one to two years, for two-thirds of America's 104 nuclear powerplants; 

8. Nuclear powerplants are so risky that no single utility would ever dare pay insurance costs without governmental guarantees; 

9. Coal is often used as a principal fuel source to operate plants that help enrich fuel in nuclear power facilities, as well as process structural and operational materials;  

10.  Per kilowatt, produced nuclear power causes six times the amount of carbon emissions as does windpower and two to three times more than solar power.  

     The only major reason the temptation exists to declare nuclear energy as "clean" is because of the money given to the legislators to declare it so.  There is nothing clean in that either. 

      Prayer:  Lord, make us honest and trustworthy in our use of language, and to bury the myth that nuclear power is clean.  







Evening grosbeak feathers (Coccothraustes vespertinus).
(*photo credit)

May 24, 2011    The Ministry of Shared Suffering   

      Radical sharing means going to the deepest level of our emotions, finding there the elements that stir us, and then bringing them forth and sharing them with others.  The bringing forth of our compassion involves inviting others to share in life.  This sharing of suffering in all its forms is a way to spread the Good News, a sense of belonging to the Lord with others.  Nothing hurts more than to suffer alone and without any sense of sharing; nothing is more comforting than to know that what hurts is somehow transmitted in a spiritual way to others -- and  that they also enter into this  community of suffering. 

      In the heart of all activity is the hidden power of love, that power that is repressed by those who hate and who refuse to love.  However, love that is expressed overpowers all evil.  That is why those who suffer must be made to discern their own suffering as sent as a gift sent by God for the good of others.  Saint Theresa, the Little Flower, understood this in a very special way.  She suffered with her tuberculosis and really never recovered; she experienced no startling miracles in which she rose from her bed and went off doing great deeds for others.  She suffered willingly through the condition given her, and was immensely productive as an example after passing on.  Her hope was that if miracles occurred, they would occur later -- and they did so globally. 

      The ministry of suffering is meant for everyone but is principally the focus of humble sowers of good deeds and not reapers of them.  Often the spiritual benefits are delayed until after the sower of seeds passes on.  Our spiritual life has a mortal/eternal continuity and we are often reluctant to speak this truth to the ill, elderly, and immobile.  However, this is a worthwhile subject, for many people want something in the future to look forward to and realize that salutary effects spring from their current sufferings.  They want to know that after their current immobility they can run, skip, dance and move about at will in an indefinite future.  Yes, they suffer while they hear the distant music and celebrations.  The future awaits them -- and us.

      Shared suffering is a reality in which we can all take part and contribute positively.  In an age of activism, some regard  sufferers as living lower qualities of life.  However, passive suffering is salutary and, when offered in a positive manner, can be highly productive.  This is a valid ministry, a communion with Jesus on Calvary, a purification of soul, a growing vision, a spiritual reality, a shared experience.  When we are not yet in the reality of suffering, we ought to learn to be cognizant through a compassion that can extend to all in our troubled world.  Sufferers await the Good News that their situation can be a shared one.  An added benefit is that all can participate, not just sufferers.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to share and to discern the imperfections that hinder us from learning the gifts of suffering that others have to offer. 







Urban scene, passing through Cincinnati, OH.
(*photo credit)

May 25, 2011      Urban Centers:  For Better or Worse 

     A nobler want of man is served by nature, namely, the love of Beauty.   Ralph Waldo Emerson 

      I recently heard a National Public Radio guest espousing the good qualities of urban life:  proximity to places of work and business, public transportation, social life, and other amenities.  The assumption was that with more people there is an economy of scale; with over half the world now crowded into cities, this means the population has voted for cities by moving to booming metropolitan areas.  Certainly health and educational centers cluster in urban areas, as do museums, night-life, concert halls, and festivals.  Fashion is more urbane; restaurants are more varied; speech is more cosmopolitan.  People are attracted to where the action is -- and to where the better paying jobs are located.  Today, our policies favor concentrating funding to the urban area, and thus the location of higher-paying, employment opportunities, but is this the whole story? 

      Only a few weeks before writing this, I talked with my provincial superior and we realized that much of my work was not dependent on geographic location, provided that basic communication systems (such as broadband Internet) were available.  The key is to have freedom of mobility, and the Internet allows for this.  Granted, some places have less Internet access, but benefits accrue in less-congested areas as well as urban ones.  On this birthday of Ralph Waldo Emerson, advantages of less-congested places may be worth promoting.  Certainly, a less-crowded and noisy countryside has advantages, as well as its slower pace of life.  All things considered (and with good paying jobs in the non-urban areas), the vote could swing heavily towards country life, provided  communications and transportation are reasonably available.  Today many writers and independent operators opt away from cities.  

      I will not live long enough to see this movement away from cities, but several factors point to that counter-movement: universal Internet and phone service can counter urban communications advantages; terrorist threats turn people away from congested areas; noise factors are harmful to human health;  higher food prices lead more people to grow their own produce; improved public transport renders more rural areas accessible to distant urban ones; trees are more desirable as a forested non-urban phenomenon; social networking reduces the need for constant physical connections and proximity to work; business, banking and purchases require fewer trips to malls with more taking advantage of Internet commerce; higher city temperatures in summer favor non-urban living conditions; and air pollution will be troublesome in urban areas even with electric cars and renewable energy sources. 

      Prayer:  Lord, make us indifferent to where we are located, provided that we can do your will and touch the lives of those who need us in some way. 








Buffalo Mountain wind farm. Near Oak Ridge, TN.
(*photo credit)

May 26, 2011      Windpower and Changing Landscapes     

      Windpower is coming, and is certainly more environmentally

friendly than fossil-fuel and nuclear facilities.  However, some people object to windpower for various reasons.  One objection that is so often overlooked is that property-holders make money on the turbines situated on their land;  however, nearby residents feel cheated when they have to "suffer" the change in scenery with no monetary benefit.  One answer is to adjust local taxes to include the money-making turbines so that local schools, roads and other public services benefit more from their presence.   

      While that objection is unspoken, the threatened change in viewscape is often a major concern.  As mentioned in our essay of December 20, 2007, wind development has detractors who cite environment issues, e.g., viewscape deterioration, noise, and bird kills.  Cape Cod residents object to the first Massachusetts off-shore wind farm, for this will mar their unobstructed and privileged views.  However, is this a valid objection in an age in which critics also use electricity?  Are they wanting to go back to Civil War times when transmission wires were absent from the idyllic landscape -- and when residents cooked and heated water without electricity?  Some improvements demand sacrifices.  Dutch windmills used to pump water and to grind grain, and are now regarded by tourists as positive scenic assets, beautifying elements in monotonous lowlands.   

      What about the swishing sound of the turbine?  Does this disturb the neighbors as well?  Recall that other environmental negatives, such as polluted air from fossil-fuel plants, cause breathing difficulties for those living near the powerplants though distant from many privileged users.  Sounds may be annoying until one gets used to them -- and they hardly compete with some modern music, which can harm eardrums.  The rotating blades kill thousands of birds flying past, but plate glass windows result in millions of bird deaths, when the animals become confused by objects in their flight path.  Some turbines close to residences cause interference with communications' signals of various sorts.  Furthermore, really close turbines can cause some vibrational disturbances.  Nothing is perfect, and hopefully the wind turbine will be far enough removed to allow for peaceful cohabitation.   

      The landscape is changed by electricity-generating powerplants and transmission wires and hills leveled through mountaintop removal.  However, I mute my objection to this last environmentally negative practice because I use coal-fueled electricity;  it is similar to imitating Thomas Jefferson and his ambivalence about his slave "property."  However, one solution is to fight for renewable energy in all its forms, and windpower is one of these.  Objections to windpower, exist but they are nothing compared to miners whose health is compromised by radiation or coal dust.   

      Prayer:  Help us, Lord, to translate the mighty wind of Pentecost into the Good News of renewable energy for all. 








Water droplets appear as jewels.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

May 27, 2011        Thinking with the Church in 2011 

      Is "thinking with the Church" something that is old-fashioned?  Let's look at this from the viewpoint of a faithful member of a Church congregation.  Not thinking with a group is a negative attitude comparable to a flu virus that contaminates the enthusiasm and spirit of an entire body.  Groups seek positive approaches for good membership growth.  For the Church, the goal is to fortify by liturgies, sacraments, and homilies, so that each person can help spread Good News.  This evangelical aspect of the Church's mission is key to active membership.  Positive thinking is paramount. 

      Positive-thinking people need unifying words, pledges, creeds, commitments, and liturgies.  If we go overseas, we can follow the Mass even if the vernacular language is unfamiliar;  the ritual is standard in all nations.  We are familiar and have a basic trust that all are striving to work together for the betterment of God's kingdom.  Within our Catholic communion (in the Latin Rite), there is momentum to prepare for some word changes in the Liturgy this November 27th.  This is to bring more of the entire English-speaking text closer to the official Latin one.  This is needed all the more because hundreds of small language translations of liturgy throughout the world come through English and not directly from Latin.  English is a global tool for communication.  

     Negative objections can be destructive;  positive criticism can play an important role provided the critic seeks a way to improve our togetherness.  Critics who want to retain a more familial English forget that difficulties arise in translation.  The Principle of Subsidiarity emphasizes doing what can be done best at the lowest level of organization.  Flowers for the altar is a local concern as is specific music.  Global communication needs to come from the broadest level because a large number of groups are affected -- and the goal is unity.  It is not a local "privilege" for select local groups to effect the change of other local groups.  Communication ought to be from a universal source, especially when English is a tool for the many who are not versed in Latin. 

      Environmentally speaking, global regulation is utterly needed to save our endangered planet.  A fortiori, we need globally-functioning groups within the basic and unifying aspects of our Liturgy, without denying that certain aspects could have local content.  However, we are not liturgical tea-partyers.  We stand in place of Christ --divine and human.  The divine aspect has a more universal and solemn character; the human includes the fact that we are not automatons or robots, but express our devotion in uniquely human ways.  The incarnation mystery is revealed in part at Mass, and the priest needs to be godly in solemnity and human in touching people -- a difficult balance.  A rigid legalism is a typical American temptation, but has no place in the Liturgy. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to pray as one universal body and yet also act in ways that encourage local congregations. 







Halberd leaf yellow violet, Viola hastata. Red River Gorge, KY.
(*photo credit)

May 28, 2011        Haircuts:  An Earth Healing Topic?

      What's the matter?  Have you run low on topics as you near the 2,000 mark?  Yes, haircutting is a new topic, but it can be justified as a worthwhile subject for several reasons.  We need to be respectful of appearances to a certain degree, for we can influence others to do the same -- and our wounded Earth needs deep respect and caregiving.  If armies are in retreat and only limited supplies are available, how about issuing combs?  Proper grooming has a place in keeping spirits high, and that is needed for healers as well as comedians and artists and musicians. 

      After plugging the important services of barbers and hair dressers, comes my disappointing comment:  I have not had a professional haircut since 1980 (immediately before my parents' 50th wedding anniversary).  Yes, I have plenty of hair and thin mine every month lest it grows out of control.  You see, my decision to go personal in haircare occurred at the time that the Jimmy Carter Administration (which was so good to public interest folks), was coming to an abrupt end (Jimmy lost his bid for a second presidential term to Ronald Reagan).  In fact, the Reagan crowd called me and others to Washington, DC, and dismissed our "Science for Citizens Program" in one stroke.  It suddenly became evident that tough times were coming -- and so personal haircutting became a mandated economy matter for me.  I was reminded recently that this practice has saved $4,000+ during a three-decade, personal cutting period.   

  The secret to self-administered haircuts is to have thick hair or none at all.  Nicks and marks are easily covered over for  thicker-haired people, and others have no cutting needed.  In fact, having few salutary features at old age, I find the only public notice comes because of my head of hair -- God's gift.  Once someone even asked if I go to a stylist.  My reply was true,  "No, I'm too cheap for that."  But financial savings is not the only advantage; personal hair-tending takes only a few minutes every week, and so time saved by not going to barbers (wherever they are located) is time available for other worthwhile enterprises.  What is the point of this reflection?  Be cheap?  Do it yourself?  Save money -- and time?  Learn to be yourself?  Forget what others say?  A good answer is that the homesteading tradition that is needed today is strengthened by such practices as self-barbering.  

      Trade-offs must be acknowledged.  Support barbers.  The barbershop is a place to exchange ideas and engage in citizen discussion.  Conversing with our neighbors enhances social capital.  However, I'm reminded that patronizing barbers keeps money in the local economy, and barbershop customers have more to give others than just fees -- and we who seek to economize on time ought to take note.  In making social sacrifices we lose something for ourselves and others, a grace that comes with conversation.  Maybe my walking through the neighborhood is a good alternative. 

     Prayer:  Lord, I have nothing to say or pray on this subject. 







Yellow horse gentian, Triosteum angustifolium. Cedars of Lebanon, TN.
(*photo credit)

May 29, 2011     Learning to Do Good Deeds through Self-Control 

      If it should be God's will that you suffer, it is better to do so for good deeds than for evil ones.
  (I Peter 3:16)

     The Spirit is alive within us and teaches us to live through good times and bad.  As we prepare for the upcoming season of Pentecost and the ordinary knocks of life, we discover that this is meant to be a teaching/learning period of the year.  We are trying to imitate Jesus and the qualities he exhibits during his ministry  (patience, mercy, controlled anger, listening, attending, healing, etc,).  Being a good Christian has its ups and downs, and we are called to live as we are called to be and do, or in a loose manner of speaking, "ride with the tide, go with the flow."   

     Jesus, our teacher through the Spirit, indicates the path we are to take:  we are to live a good life;  in doing so we assist others to do the same.  The two (love and service) are joined and not observed singly, as though individual perfection by attending to self and service to others are separate.  Jesus is perfect in his individual life; and Jesus heals, teaches, dies and rises for us.  Through perfect living and perfect service Jesus indicates to us a path that we are to follow.  

      Now we come to something that we have learned through modern research and studies: children who are taught self-control have fewer addictive problems and better financial and physical health later in life than those who are not.  Self-control comes in part through a child's imitation of parents, teachers, and others who these children imitate.  Can we celebrate our learned (not inherited) self-control and realize that this involves religious practice?  This becomes a touchy subject, for many would say that later problems have many causes, and they place the onus on freedom of the person who chooses misdeeds.  The Paraclete or Spirit works with us, and we work with those who mentor us in many ways.  We learn to move about properly and ultimately to succeed in what we are trying to do.  Learning, without the harshness of episodes of lack of control that hurts others, opens us to better service.  

      To do better service takes practice, and self-control is a key ingredient in this practice.  Furthermore, the part that our faith plays is utterly important; the time we spend fasting and abstaining or confessing our faults has a part to play in our self-discipline.  No one is perfect, and so we accept penitential practices, not just for personal salvation (though needed also), but for the social good of all through our improved service to others.  Jesus tells us that to love means to control our lives and to move toward perfection.  The message is so simple, but also so often unheeded.  We prefer gimmicks that are shallow and forget that a ministry of service requires watchfulness and practice. 

      Prayer:  Ever-living God, help us to celebrate our joy in the resurrection of the Lord and to express in our lives the love we celebrate.  Open us to ever greater service to and for others.  








Grandma's flowers.
(*photo credit)

May 30, 2011     Memorials: Real and/or Artificial Flowers 

      I have never met a person who valued artificial flowers more than real ones -- yet we all know that artificial flowers have their place.  Flowers of whatever types and kinds have a certain gradation of value, but are inherently worth something.  The flower is our way of expressing remembrance and gratitude for the person to whom they are dedicated.  Real flowers are fresh and have their scent and fleeting beauty.  However, artificial flowers last longer.  Yes, Memorial Day includes both the real and artificial.  

      Growing flowers are of longer endurance than those that are cut and laid on graves as remembrances -- but growing them takes continued effort.  Rarely in America do we find the European custom of tending graveyard plots with potted plants and freely-growing flowers.  However, when in Lee County, Texas, a few years back with my sister to visit America's only Wend colony, we discovered to our surprise that the burial grounds had people tending flowers.  What acts of devotion and love!  I recall our great, great grandparents' graves in the Rhineland in Germany; the growing flowers that adorned the cemetery were incredibly beautiful and manifested a sense of care.  The cemetery where my parents, grandparents and some great grandparents are buried in Old Washington, Kentucky, allows rose bushes to be planted at the individual plots.  Thus, two of my first cousins tend to graves, since my siblings have all moved away.  We are extremely grateful for their devotion. 

      Fresh-cut flowers that decorate graves are also beautiful, but they last but a day and soon wilt and die.  My mother made a big fuss about selecting flowers of mid-spring (lilacs, peonies, roses, poppies, bridal wreath, and tulips) to decorate the graves of her loved ones.  Some got almost a carpet of flowers, and others a single flower -- but all were still remembered.  I share her sense of obligation to visit special graves at this time of year, and add some wild daisies -- for that was what my grandmother said would be enough.  Doesn't it mean more to the flower-giver than the flower- receiver?  Bonds still hold.  In Switzerland, when graves are unattended, remains go to an ossuary, and the space reused.

      Artificial flowers are often colorful, durable, and striking resemblances of real ones.  Some cemeteries are abandoned and the space is not needed for reburial.  Rather here, if loved ones have died or moved away, weeds appear and the place reverts to wilderness that can have a healing effect over time.  Any sadness is not in return to wilderness, but that no one is around to care for graves.  Artificial flowers are an intermediate solution for the amount of tending is reduced but not totally absent.  Loved ones can place their artificial bouquet and then return to a distant residence.  Some burial "gardens" place artificial flowers on every grave over a time period and then replace them when they fade.  These flowers give a colorful appearance from a distance, and a sense that someone is attending. 

      Prayer: Lord, help us say it with flowers -- and prayers.   







Cinnamon fern, Osmunda cinnamomea.  Wolfe Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

May 31, 2011        Discerning When to Drive or Not 

      As the summer travel season begins, we ought to reflect upon our privileges to drive on our public roads, on which half the population will be moving today.  That privilege gives a sense of freedom but also bears an awesome responsibility.  Many people regard themselves as more skilled drivers than they really are, and many of us overlook the fact that driving skills and attention change.  Often quite-skilled drivers push themselves too hard. 

     Yes, this subject involves curtailing our auto use in the not- too-distant future.  Drivers on public highways with powerful vehicles must consider the obligations to ourselves and our older licensed relatives and friends, with whom we help plan their driving ability.  That is not an easy assignment.  When will it be necessary to stop driving?  What effects will that have on one's sense of mobility?  In a car-filled society with almost as many vehicles as people, this becomes one of the major lifetime adjustments requiring an honest discernment process -- and I am preparing for it myself in a short while. 

     Multi-tasking.  No one is good enough to drive while drinking alcoholic beverages or taking drugs.  The list of forbidden substances and practices ought to be extended to include texting or engaging in cell phone use.  Use of those devices on a broad, empty highway with no other car in sight may be exceptional, and certainly not the rule.  What about eating or listening to an engaging lecture on the radio?  We all know that there are times to stop and do what has to be done, including making that phone call or eating something.  Good judgment is required, but thinking of those others on the road must always be a consideration.  Others' lives depend on our judgments. 

      Restraint.  The "when" may include a variety of times in which we may drive, and other times when others could drive for us. Due to my eyesight, I try to severely limit night-driving and refrain when it is raining heavily.  The same holds for refraining from driving in congested areas at rush hour.  So it may be that people either impose on themselves, or those under their charge, some form of driving limitation.  Granted, restrictions on certain driving for youthful drivers have proved to curb accidents in-the-making.

      Total ban. This sounds foreboding, and certainly IS, for people who for a half century regarded being "behind the wheel" as a sacred right.  Many drivers matured with their own vehicles -- washing, refueling, repairing, vacuuming, and shining them.  Now, when keys are withdrawn by necessity, advice, or demand, some feel a loss as great as losing a limb or eyesight.  To drive or not to drive;  to drive now or later; to drive here or not; to stop driving -- these are issues that virtually all of us will have to face or help others face.  Are we prepared? 

      Prayer:  Lord, inspire us to see our driving as a privilege and to take all caution needed to protect ourselves and others.

Copyright © 2011 Earth Healing, Inc. All rights reserved..

Earth Healing team:
Albert J. Fritsch, Director
Charlie Fritsch
Janet Powell
Sally Ramsdell
Mark Spencer

Excerpts from the JERUSALEM BIBLE, copyright © 1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd. and Doubleday & Company, Inc.  Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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