Preparing for a day of field work.
May 1, 2019 Joseph the Worker: Championing the Right to Work
The first day of May has a long history involving Celtic May poles and celebrations in many lands. Several decades ago, Soviet military might was exhibited in Moscow on May Day. But both the Celtic and the Soviet traditions have faded, though this is still a "workers' day" to some degree. However, there is further special attention on May first to St. Joseph the worker. We feel close to this foster father of Jesus, with all his responsibility, trust and struggles. The just Joseph cannot fathom why the innocent betrothed Mary is with child. What must he do? The Spirit tells him to take her, and Joseph follows, journeying with unwavering trust to Bethlehem with the pregnant Mary, and then fleeing with his little family into Egypt as refugees from Herod's reign.
Yes, Joseph is more than a carpenter -- and that is not said with disrespect for that noble profession. Joseph is constant in his trust and thus the protector of the Church as an extended part of the Holy Family. He is the patron of workers. He does not speak a recorded word in Scripture, but remains in the background in Jesus' early life -- but still he becomes a key figure in history, “Was this not the son of Joseph and do we not know his family?" Joseph's humble life becomes a target of cynics who ask whether the Messiah would spring from such a simple household.
Joseph is thrust into a pivotal position in the coming and revelation of the Messiah, yet he is a tradesman from hill country without degrees or wealth. He works in obscure Nazareth or perhaps at the rising Roman provincial center a few miles away. This is his occupation though of the noble House of David. He takes turtle doves, the sacrificial gift of poor folks, when he and Mary present Christ in the Temple. He brings the family yearly to the Temple festivals. He is breadwinner, overseer of family life. Joseph is aware that native wood is scarce, and so carpentry involves making buildings, furniture, doors, and a multitude of items by skillful use of materials, all needed to provide a family's livelihood.
Work brings on self-respect. This respect is horribly shattered when ambitious youth discover that the dog-eat-dog world does not afford them opportunities to do what they want. We sympathize with them, and pray that they do not despair. Would that they become the cadre of those demanding their right to work. Will it shake nations with their accepted bonus-takers, tax havens and deductions for the wealthy? Why should unemployed frighten anyone? Are we to keep them contented as though it’s our religious mission? Should we help shake off contentment and arouse the unemployed to recognize their self-worth? Shouldn't we break the silence about civil rights violations? Isn't it a crime that workers are willing and work must be done -- and yet financial resources are sequestered by the wealthy? Isn't the challenge to liberate financial resources to allow willing workers to care for the elderly and build roads and other infrastructure in our world?
Prayer: St. Joseph, people pray to you to help find a place to live; let's also pray that they find meaningful work opportunities.
The berry patch.
May 2, 2019 Considering Mulberries for Edible Landscapes
When I was young, we did not have mulberries in our rather varied orchard, but when we visited our cemetery on Decoration Day we discovered a mulberry tree. That was my first taste of mulberries and gave birth to the thought that all cemeteries should have edible landscaping. Why not, and why not mulberries, for here is a native species that would be an ever-bearing fruit?
Since that youthful introduction, I have come to see the value the many good qualities of the mulberry. On further investigation we find that mulberries come in a variety of colors and flavors and that some are from our side of the planet and some, such as the white mulberry (introduced for silkworm cultivation), have been brought over from the Old World. Our Illinois mulberry was planted in honor of a former pastor, Father Tom Imfeld; this tree has thrived on poor soil, and it sprang up to become an almost 30-foot high tree in a decade; growers predict that such trees could reach 35 feet. The tree has had a good crop of mulberries from almost the start and larger amounts with each passing year whether wet or dry. The fruit has a wonderful taste and comes during the summer months. If the berries are picked often and when not perfectly ripe, birds tend to avoid them, for most like ripe sweet berries.
Most mulberries tolerate poor soil and a variety of wet and dry conditions. They are generally free of pests and diseases. The trees like full sun and would prefer enough room to spread out. In urban areas, some residents dislike colored mulberries, because the fallen fruit will stain everything it touches and can be tracked onto sidewalks and into homes. For better or worse, birds like the ripe fruit and their mulberry-stained dropping can splatter the countryside and clothes drying too close to the trees.
Mulberry trees can be trained so that the number of branches will not become too dense. Trees should be pruned while dormant, because the cut place tends to bleed sap in summer. The white mulberry is regarded as a weed tree in both rural and urban areas of America. Depending on the sub-species, the mulberry is quite cold-hardy; it seems to tolerate pollution, and some sub-species can even grow well in a tub.
The mulberry thus has many of the requirements necessary for edible landscaping: food for both humans and wildlife, pest-free for the greater part, longer life than most fruit trees, a more ample shade, especially when tall in contrast to most pruned fruit trees, and a pleasing appearance when given enough space to fully mature. Add to this a longer bearing time and less susceptibility to frosts that plague peach and other sensitive early blooming trees. Mulberries are quite hardy and easy to grow.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to love the simple things of life, even the simple trees that some regard as of little worth. Help us see value in many things that others overlook -- including the mulberry tree.
Stay Cool as Best You Can
A moral question? One of my commenting friends asked earnestly whether it is right to flaunt air conditioning (AC) as a non-essential energy expenditure during times of record-breaking summer heat. We can expect (after four successive hottest summers in the 150 years of record-keeping) that 2019 may bring more extreme heat. Certainly as mentioned often, additional AC powered by fossil fuels is a major contributor to global warming. And equally I feel more justified in refraining from AC use as long as possible. But what if my practices lead an elderly person to also refrain and suffer heat exhaustion and even possibly death in doing so? Bad news!
Let's review a series of suggestions for staying cool and healthy in the coming months:
Adjust activities timing. Plan less outdoor exercise in the heat of the day. Rise earlier to garden, hike, jog, bike or shoot hoops, or wait until the longer evening hours (which can prove hotter than in the morning). If you must pick fruit or berries, do it in the morning before the sun is at its peak.
Drink plenty of water and keep cool. In hot weather we can easily become dehydrated without realizing that this is a risky way to lose weight; do your daily scales check early in the day and then take in all the water needed for moisture balance. Emphasize water, for moisture from soft drinks and fruit drinks add calories, though hot or cold tea or coffee could be helpful for moisture balance. Alcoholic beverages are not a water substitute.
Eat lightly and relax more. It's hard to digest heavy meals. Light cold soups and salads are perfect for the season. Give more time to soft music and reading and add some additional sleeping time during the summer months. It's a perfect time to simply sit in the shade and enjoy life.
Dress lightly. It is astounding how many people do not change to lightweight clothing in summer time due to living and working in super-cooled air conditioned (AC) atmosphere. Loose-fitting clothes made of cottons instead of synthetics help; changing during the day and night as temperature rise and fall along with a shower is worth considering.
Avoid super-cool space in summer. While overheating can be oppressive, overly cooled rooms can also be unhealthy in summer and may even lead to pneumonia for some older or infirm people. Moderation in temperature in the 65-75 degree Fahrenheit range is optimal. My only summer in Texas, in 1969, involved travelling several times a day from a super-cooled laboratory building at the University of Texas's Austin campus to a computer center several blocks away. I think I got pneumonia out of that practice but never had it diagnosed.
Use natural cooling and non-AC where possible. Fans take less energy than AC. Open windows at night and allow breezes to flow through and close during the day; roof turbine ventilators can help. The luxury of shady trees are efficient coolers and can reduce temperatures by 25 degrees. Consider planting annuals or perennials such as sunflowers or Jerusalem artichokes outside windows to act as sun screens. Window boxes of flowers, including morning glory growing on lattices can reduce temperatures as well.
Building design adds to natural cooling. Structures built with adobe or heavy masonry or those that are earth shelters are naturally cooled. Higher ceilings in older houses are helpful. Porches (my old residence has porches on three sides) certainly help keep the place cool; so do roofs covered with light-colored materials. Increased insulation can help retain the night cooling during the heat of day. Awnings are helpful as are curtains and window shading devices. Some new window sun-screening covers are highly effective, either free-standing or as films attached to window panes on the sunny sides of houses. Not everyone has the luxury of choosing some of these home features.
Air condition moderately. Some who insist on air conditioned space could acquire local units for bedroom or immediate living space; they can allow temperatures to rise elsewhere in the building. Even so, please use AC to a moderate 75 degrees -- this avoids super-cooling and its health effects as well as curbing excessive use of energy. Residences in congested urban areas can become sweat boxes through lack of shade trees or simply exposure to sunlight that helps in winter with solar applications. The cutting of a large shading elm did add extra summer heat as did removal of shrubs next to my residence.
Know essential conditions for health. While super-cooling is not good for health, nor is oppressive heating to where some are overcome in summer months. Shut-ins, whether the very old or very young are susceptible to excessive room temperatures in summer; heat exhaustion is a real possibility and one where a conservationist mentality can overlook the need for a more healthy situation. Stay alive! For the sake of conservation we would not want to kill someone or even make life difficult for them. Usually this works fine in May but as the heating season continues it becomes more difficult with gradually rising temperatures in the summer months. Night ventilation may prove inadequate for aging residents.
In conclusion, strive for more than mere comfort in summer. Stay healthy with plenty of cautions and strive to help neighbors do the same. Recent hot summers, especially in Europe, have found people unprepared and excessive heat-related deaths have been recorded. Use of moderation is ideal, but some people need moderate summer room temperatures -- not too hot and not too cold. Person to person differences must be honored. Certainly AC use is on the sharp rise throughout the world; promote renewable energy sources to compensate for this increase in global energy use.
Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides.
May 3, 2019 Staying Cool in Discussing Climate Change
Scientific experts tell us that the planet's temperature has risen 0.8 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial-revolution times. Some, including our current American White House Administration call the evident scientific facts "fake news" with a shred of evidence to prove it. This is the propaganda dished out by the fossil Fuel industry attempting to buy time to keep profits coming at traditional rates; they refuse to allow climate change discussion to occur in their departments and agencies, all to the detriment of ongoing cooperation with the civilized world who are all party to the Paris Climate Accord. The major players of that Accord as well as a majority of American citizens are frustrated.
A vast majority of scientists (about 99%) accept the human causation contribution to climate change and point to dire consequences, if the temperature continues to rise by two degrees Celsius in the coming decades. More pessimistic climate scientists say that without outright efforts on the part of major energy-using countries such as China, the United States, and India, the very serious two-degree rise could be doubled in this century; this would result in catastrophic effects throughout the Earth.
Prudence is a virtue directed to careful management of resources at hand; the prudent are those who do not squander and overuse resources -- and this applies to fossil fuel use. Prudence calls for replacement of carbon dioxide generating sources by non-polluting renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydro and geothermal. Those who waste or control resources for selfish gain, are acting contrary to prudence; they oppose any change in practice that affects their privileged position. On the other hand, prudent people are willing to err on the side of caution for the sake of human health and safety. However, they must do so intelligently and while in control of emotions. The signs of our times, the reddening skies of climate change, stand as stark reality and make us realize that greed for fossil fuel profits can blind those in power. Confronting that actual power takes all the ingenuity at our disposal and it must be done efficiently and quickly.
Climate scientists talk about the long-term, not the local weather at a given time or a single year's temperature rise or fall. Climate change may and does include more severe snowfall and winter temperatures in certain places for extreme weather frequencies are part of the ill effects facing our polluted environment. Can we bring about change outside of electing those in agreement with prudent action? The window of opportunity is closing and that makes many nervous. Are greenhouse gas levels continuing to rise to a point when disaster is inevitable? Climate change deniers argue the emotional "greens" are alarmists. However, don't we sound alarms when there really is a fire or we smell smoke? We must do what is necessary without being violent.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be prudent on climate issues, not to be overly alarmist, and to realize and take effective measures when human beings are found to harm our vulnerable planet.
Chives, in bloom.
May 4, 2019
Asking Soteriological Questions
Christ saves us all, we say,
and is that the total message's worth?
Is all saving a matter of Christ's sole action?
Or do we help save our wounded earth?
What is this our imitating role:
Securing what in theory is already gained?
Proclaiming a deed that will unfold?
Or adding chorus to a grace-filled refrain?
Is presumption saying Earth will be saved?
And despair saying it will not?
Or is hope's mission what Christ's members say:
"Earth will be saved, if we but...”?
A school of patterned fish.
May 5, 2019 Fishing in Today's World
St. John's Gospel, Chapter 21, tells us much about the resurrected Lord and how he wants us to cooperate in spreading the word. We are to be partners with the Lord, as illustrated by a story about disciples who fish. Peter begins the scenario by saying he is going fishing, and others agree to follow along. However, Jesus is not present; they toil in vain; then Jesus appears on the shore and directs them to cast nets elsewhere. They follow his direction and catch an enormous load of fish maybe one for every land in the world. Or is this another of the signs that are found in the Gospel of John? Is 153 fish a mere extraordinary number (the sum the cube of the integers --1 cubed + 5 cubed plus 3 cubed)? Or does it tell a message that Christ gives plentitude?
Peter puts on his garments and jumps into the water -- really, one of Scripture's humorous passages! He goes to Jesus on the shore and finds that he has lit a fire for their breakfast and asks for part of the catch so they can eat together. The invitation extends to each of us future followers to take our troubles to Jesus, and then find solace in his presence and care for each of us. The Lordship of Jesus is not one of distance and aloofness, but one of immersion and concern. Our own efforts may prove seemingly fruitless, but if we have a sense of listening, we will recognize that the Lord directs us to be ever more fruitful. "None dared ask him who he was." The Gospel of John is a story of all coming to know who he really is.
This chapter concludes with Jesus asking Peter to repeat his vocational call. Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, and really loves him (Jesus uses a more intense word for love within the series). We must realize that our past must be put behind us so we can live a new life in Christ, and that this is of utmost importance to complete our ever expanding mission. Each must learn that just as the Church grows in age and wisdom, so each of us must grow in faith until the day we die. Jesus asks Peter to follow him all the way to the end, even when others will take over his freedom of movement, and lead him where he does not want to go. There and then, the fullness of following the risen Lord is realized.
In some ways this last part of St. John's Gospel stands alone, and in other ways it summarizes is the whole story of growing faith and relationship with the risen Lord. Christ is in our midst loving, working and encouraging us to continue in our journey of faith. Many of us have that autumn call of life to take on new possibilities as we grow and overcome the weaknesses that crop up in mid-life. Let us move one step farther, and see that the Lord is calling our faith community to grow in age and wisdom as well. Christ is with us and yet we must perform our action as part of the body of Christ, one that grows with age and wisdom.
Prayer: Risen Lord, you call all of us to give up the self-seeking found in trying to do all things by ourselves, and to find you in partnership in the work we are undertaking.
Rainbarrel, quaint and functional in the garden.
May 6, 2019 Listing Rainwater Barrel Benefits
Rainwater barrels are containers that hold some of the water collected when showers or rains occur; these allow an excellent source of untreated water, for use on garden produce and flowers during times of water scarcity. While these containers are smaller than cisterns, they can save precious water for domestic use (watering plants and pets and washing cars and soft water for washing hair). They need screened intakes to keep out mosquitoes. A summary of advantages include:
* They are a non-chlorinated source of water for garden plants -- and chlorinated products are harmful to some plants;
* They do not have the high salt or iron content, or other chemical contamination often present in groundwater;
* They can provide high quality water, which is near-at-hand;
* They are under sole control of the homeowner;
* They do not require water treatment for anticipated uses;
* They are inexpensive to maintain and reduce water bills;
* They allow small rain showers during droughts to be conveniently collected; and
* They remind us constantly of the need to conserve water.
The 55-gallon barrels are available in most areas, for they are used for a variety of commodities and can be purchased at different prices depending on availability. Some prefer a specific barrel with an outlet spigot to release water when needed. Choose a clean barrel that has not contained chemicals. Plastic may be better than metal, for metal will rupture, if filled with water in winter and the contents allowed to freeze. Even the metal barrels can be protected by inserting a chunk of Styrofoam that will allow ice that might form to expand against the foam rather than the barrel walls. Many people simply empty the barrels in winter -- and that is assured protection.
Some may want a larger water store and thus think of a larger fiberglass water tank of hundreds of gallons or a cistern. However, the regular commercial barrel will be sufficient to carry one through less severe drought periods. Often people would prefer one barrel at each side of the house rather than running guttering from both sides to one barrel. The downspout can be equipped with a cut-out that is always left in an "off" position except in a heavy rain, and after an immediate cleaning period by the early rainwater. This will save having to install filters so that the barrel does not collect debris. Elaborately painted rain barrels can be expensive, but they allow budding artists opportunities to show off their skills; the painted barrel is good promotion to get neighbors to consider water conservation measures. The decoration of the barrel could be a youth community project.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see that water is a precious commodity that must always be treated with respect; give us the creativity to find ways of doing this and utilizing high quality water for our more immediate garden needs.
Cultivated pink dogwood, Cornus florida rubra.
May 7, 2019 Bestowing the Blessings of May
We consider May as a blessing in itself, but it also consists of countless minor components called blessings in themselves. Within an atmosphere of gratitude we recognize the gift to bestow as well as to receive blessings -- thus seeing blessings as empowering in themselves. We can make May a greater blessed event by being especially thankful for:
* Woodlands -- forests are now clothed in full greenery as the late oaks are finally leafing out;
* Wildflowers of May -- the last of the litany of wildflowers along with those in lawns such as azaleas, lilac, bridal wreath, lilies-of-the-valley, and subtle blackberry and raspberry blossoms and fragrant black locust blooms; they last a brief span and then are gone for another year;
* Garden -- the newly started plot contains a variety of herbs and veggies all seeking to mature in a short span;
* May rains -- these enhance the garden's growing plants;
* Fragrance of new-mown hay -- coumarin fills the air;
* Mockingbirds -- the aviary community includes many nestlings that are now learning to fly. May they succeed and have a satisfying life;
* Swimming pools -- warming water holes are now inviting the influx of gleeful youth who love the splashing sound of water;
* Graduation music -- we celebrate the hopes of those who seize their diplomas and move out to a waiting and sometimes disappointing world;
* Farewells to friends -- May is often the time for departures and changes of life, though people always stay close today through cell phones and text messages;
* Travelers -- those speeding on the highway are hopefully giving the proper attention to the road and not to cell phones, iPods and things to eat and drink;
* Police -- those who defend the security of our country at this time or in times past deserve gratitude for their faithful service; and
* Mothers -- we must never forget their love and care for those under their charge; may it always be intense and warm, and may all find time and place to show respect for their mothers living and deceased.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to always have a thankful attitude; may eternal life be an eternal May.
Phlox divaricata, common blue phlox.
May 8, 2019 Defending Wildlife, Wilderness, and Forest Commons
There is no quiet space in the white man's cities. What is there to life, if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around the pond at night? Chief Seattle
In a privatized world of gated-communities for the wealthy, it is important to reaffirm and defend the commons, that is, resources to be shared by and with all. The global resource of wildlife and wilderness should be regarded as belonging to this common heritage. A polar bear or elephant ought to have its own habitat and not be crowded out by others wanting to use the space resource for their own benefit. Wildlife and wilderness have value by their presence, and that should not be reduced to tourist potential or source of commercialized animal parts. Value goes beyond human utility and includes just being present -- even when human activity in a wilderness is minimized.
Since so much of the global treasures of wildlife and wilderness are threatened, our defense must be all the more emphatic. We learn all too slowly to respect wildlife habitats through protective means. Furthermore, we ought to be satisfied with simply enjoying wildlife's presence on the planet through virtual proximity -- reading or viewing films of wildlife or wilderness on video or DVD. Sanctuaries such as wildlife nesting and feeding areas must be encouraged for otherwise targeted species, even when nature purists say birds do not need special attention. Sponsorship of wildlife nature centers and education programs, maintenance of nature trails, periodic bird counts, and control of feral cats and populations of certain game animals are all part of a balanced wildlife program.
Since the advent of white colonists to our Hemisphere, the global forest commons has been seen through commercial eyes. The commons are forgotten and trees are privatized for lumber. Native populations have understood this "commons" better than did newcomers bent on commercial gain from furs, timber, and farmland. Even when respecting private forests, the common demands of the world's people require that forests are maintained as wildlife habitat and as the "lungs of the planet."
In the county where I reside, the nineteenth-century charcoal-fueled, iron furnace industry denuded trees for miles around. However, today forests have regenerated and trees though secondary growth cover barren landscape. Deforested areas of the world await replanting -- a simple healing act and ideal for youth tree-planting activity. Even urban reforestation enhances summer cooling and has other energy-saving benefits. Tree planting under the direction of expert foresters should emphasize variety and not single crop plantations; experienced guides can suggest suitable native fruit and nut trees.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to respect the commons even when we are tempted to use everything ourselves in utilitarian ways.
Jacobs’s Ladder, Polemonium reptans.
May 9, 2019 Reflecting on Ecotourism in Appalachia
Like all parts of the United States, the Appalachian region is eager to discover ways to entice and promote new business in these hard times with the demise of coal. The beauty of our region with its scenic rivers, forests, caves, gorges, natural bridges and cliffs makes it a prime attraction for visitors-- and these scenic resources are potential business opportunities, provided the resource is not damaged by the business operation.
One such opportunity is ecotourism, that is, inviting people to come to enjoy ecological attractions and to act with respect for the resources at hand. Sightseeing, the number one tourist activity, accounts for about forty percent of all tourism in America, and is a worthy candidate for being truly ecological. Some tourist activities like hiking impact the environment only slightly; others such as off-road motorized vehicles can prove quite harmful if regulations are not enforced.
Tourism is the region's third largest business and source of income, and it holds an even greater promise for poorer regions, provided competing for tourists does not lower environmental standards. Central Appalachia is poor and has immense ecotourist potential, but it is fragile and susceptible to damage through overuse. Over half of the U.S. population lives within an easy day's drive of our region with high tourist potential. Air travel to tourist sites can have a hidden carbon imprint. Caution is needed to avoid -- unplanned development; disregard for local customs; mass-produced and cheapened crafts; and underpaid services by poor locals seeking jobs.
For many years, our region has been beset by an influx of motorized vehicles that traverse at will both public and private lands in the guise of "ecotourism." Popularity is enhanced by commercial pressure from equipment makers seeking sizeable profits. Special recreational interests such as the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) create a myth of ecotourism through advertising pressure and some guise of responsible practices. NOHVCC also gives scholarships to Marshall University as part of this "good neighbor policy" that includes a host of trails on reclaimed strip mine lands.
The goals of responsible environmental groups who desire to control motorized recreational vehicles are straightforward: maintain integrity of our public and private lands and especially fragile areas; prohibit such vehicles where they come into conflict with wildlife, roadless wilderness areas, wildlife habitat, air, water, vegetation, landscape, solitude, natural quiet, and archeological and historical sites; allow them only on designated routes, with all cross- country off-road vehicles prohibited; and allow motorized water craft only on public waterways where vehicles cause no measurable ecological damage.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to always respect our Earth, especially when we seek to enjoy nature's vast resources.
Black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia.
The Glory of the Black Locust
Few trees have as humble a story as does the deciduous black locust (Robinia pseudo-acacia). This quite prominent tree in this part of North America is not a grand sight most of the year when it takes a back landscape seat to stately oaks and shady maples; locusts are present but overlooked much of the year. These trees have only a narrow crown and are often spindly saplings, which in height normally reach 40 to 50 feet, but known in special cases to reach as high as 75 feet. The black locust blends into the surroundings; in Kentucky their presence is generally in richer soil regions, but is also found throughout the Commonwealth at road sides and in old fields, pastures and thickets.
Disadvantages of the black locust include the following: its bark is not attractive but deeply furrowed. The black locust is certainly not a shade tree; it has pinnate leaflets that are 1-2 inches long and not densely clustered; these can become diseased and turn brown by midsummer as one of the first trees to shed; while the volume of leaves is quite small, some consider these and accompanying seed pods as messy; these seed pods can scatter and start exotic saplings afresh in uncultivated space; and many regard these locusts as "aggressive" with sucker growth and being willing to live in thickets. The tree is regarded as susceptible to severe wind and ice damage because of weak branches. An added disadvantage is the small thorns attached to the branches.
Questionable rating. Because the black locust can sprout easily and in many places it is regarded as having invasive traits by the Morton Arboretum, which gives a "non-recommended" rating to the black locust; it casts the tree into the undesirable class of the tree of heaven and other "weed" trees. However, does the hardiness of this species and its ability to grow in a wide variety of places allow it to deserve such an unfair rating? The black locust's questionable qualities include tolerance in acid soils, alkaline soils, soil salt, salt spray from highways, drought and dry conditions; however the black locust cannot handle poorly drained soils and wet conditions. Its hardiness extends over growing zones 4 through 8, making it possible to thrive over much of the continental U.S., though the focal center of its native locale is considered Illinois.
Advantages of black locusts include being a herald of middle spring. This species comes to life this time of year for a week or ten days, if residents look up and see the fragrant pendent racemes; these noticeable white flowers appear in a pea-shaped corolla and the floral clusters seem to overwhelm the thin tree as its stands out for that brief moment of glory. However, this glory only lasts a short while and then with a bow the black locust fades into the landscape. Nevertheless, for about three centuries the floral clusters have given popularity to the black locust in Europe, especially in England and France where nurseries sell tens of thousands of saplings. The flowering burst attracts the tree to that continent more than being honored in native North America.
Additional advantages are worth considering. The black locust, like its cousin the honey locust, along with the redbud and Kentucky coffee tree is a legume and adds nitrogen fixation to the soil and thus encourages other plants in its vicinity; much native flora regard black locusts as a friendly neighbor. Soil conservationists seeking effective erosion control agents find black locusts as one of the fastest growing hardwood varieties; it has become a favorite to plant on unstable hillsides and for borders of streams and ditches.
Another favorable quality is that the black locust is considered by some to be the hardest wood in North America. Some describe it as the fastest tree to convert sapwood to hardwood. Farmers (like my dad who was a strong admirer), railroad workers and miners have recognized the value of black locust logs. Their uses as available fence posts, dependable mine props, decking and railroad ties are well known; black locust logs last over long periods of time and some underground portions of fence posts seem to never rot. Due to the American locust borer the hard wood is not sawed here into beams or siding, whereas in Europe where the borer is absent the wood is used for such purposes in domestic timber and even furniture; it is even known to hold a high shine when polished.
Black locust time has come, especially right now in May; let's honor this most humble and often maligned tree species in North America. Selecting this species for use involves accepting characteristics that can be beneficial under given conditions and even to champion its fragrant flowers for the urban and rural landscape.
Skygazing at the
park, waiting for the night to fall.
May 10, 2019 Facing Reality as Deepening Spirituality
That voice is round me like a bursting sea:
"And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!"
"The Hound of Heaven," Francis Thompson
We know people who overspend, overeat, overdo or over-indulge in one or another substance; we first seem powerless to do anything about their condition, and there may creep in upon us a righteousness that we refrain from their weakness. We may dismiss their problems with "They can't face reality." That may be true, but the lack of facing reality confronts more than a few; we all are immersed in a culture sated with material things and enamored by the quest for comfort. We are a country of drugs and drug advertising; as a culture we lack a sense of abstinence; we indulge in promises of future fortunes; we champion fiction and gaming; we stumble in handling reality. Some may chide us for urging addicts to face reality: "Don't be cruel to them."
Facing reality extends to our nation as well as our neighbors in our local communities. If we know relatives and neighbors who are going bankrupt, what about our nation's spending habits and our needed commitment to less materialism, racism and militarism? Let's wake up! The U.S. is living beyond its means; we allow automatic weapons in the hands of crazies; we let billionaires avoid fair taxes; we permit our President to take us out of the Paris Climate Accord; and we allow small businesses to die at the hands of monopolists who are praised.
Facing reality is part of anyone's spiritual health. We need a deeper sense of the hard knocks of life, the suffering to be expected, and our shortness of time. Reality is stark but, when truly faced, it has a surprise -- God is present in our midst when we face up to reality and gives us courage. We are prone to laying out elaborate plans that go by the wayside. Shorter-term realistic planning is sparse.
We need to do real things that count: be humble, refrain from overusing, conserve resources, cut back on improperly defined "needs," look for more than material profits. People seek material security that does not satisfy. We all have those moments when a car stalls, the house is smoke-filled, a friend comes down with cancer. Yes, we stumble upon reality when least prepared, and then must face it. Ben Franklin said that it is good deeds, not good words, that count. Deeds involve putting prayerful intentions into action. In doing so we discover that God is at our side. The Spirit directs us to right action, and gives us consolation when we are moved to do so. We resolve to do more than promise; we come face-to-face with reality, and therein act accordingly -- and our spirituality grows.
Prayer: Lord, fortify our resolve to see what is before us, and find you present in our midst to keep us going.
Bleeding heart, Dicentra Spectabilis.
(photo by Sally Ramsdell)
May 11, 2019 Using Tools Properly
I once knew a crafty old farmer who would ask the aspiring worker to go pick up the shovel or hoe and bring it to him. He testified that he could tell how experienced the candidate was by the way he picked up the tool, how familiar he was with it, and how well he gripped the handle and balanced the implement in his hands. I remember that farmer when I ask people to pick up hammers and spades. However, I caution myself for some act improperly, but they are earnest and quick learners.
A picture in an issue of the periodical "One" shows a farmer in Ethiopia, and from the way he positions the scythe (parallel to the ground) I know he is an experienced farmer. There is a knack to handling every instrument -- and that applies to everything from a tennis racket and baseball bat to a concrete trowel and level, from a keyboard to a cello. There are ways that make the task easier and more accomplished, and good teaching and observation make these practices teachable. However we must also be tolerant in allowing for handling peculiarities by some; there is always more than one skilled way.
This story goes beyond crafts and arts and extends to the way we run our households, whether domestic, regional, or national. The economic tools at our homes include everything from a check book to credit cards, from light switches to cooking devices. Our cars can be regarded as instruments of travel, and these also are handled differently as are cell phones and iPods possessed by drivers who are tempted to multitask. We learn with time that we must attend to each task in order to succeed. Do we show such care in our domestic and community relations?
On a national level, the tools of state include administrative regulations, legislative measures, and use of powerful military weapons. Tax revenues are instruments that can be used justly or unjustly. Where does an aroused citizenry demanding fiscal responsibility fit into the picture today? Why the massive military budget? Does it render perks to most congressional districts, rendering legislators paralyzed to make needed cuts? Can Earth be safe without such vast expenditures?
We must handle all tools with care, knowing which ones we can use properly and where we should look for those who can use them better than we can. It takes grace and humility to realize the need to detect, learn and discern what is needed to create an efficient labor force. One bit of tough love: beware of the inexperienced! One unskilled person with a hoe can ruin a garden quickly by chopping out plants, loosening soil near them too much, or omitting the weeds that need to be attacked. One unpleasant task may be to divert the inexperienced to less damaging work. We need to persuade some to defer to others. Encouragement must be given to each with proper tools.
Prayer: Lord, we are tool-handling creatures; guide us in our choice and use of them, so that Earth will be a better place.
Peony hybrid, in bloom.
May 12, 2019 Hearing the Call to Mission
My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.
Each of us is called by God. For Christians the call is to follow the Lord, but what does this mean -- being dutiful sheep before an all-powerful leader? Thus to answer our call we need to see that through baptism we are to be other christs to the needy of the world. In following, we are called to be leaders.
Shepherds may have different characters as do all leaders. Some leaders are physically forceful and corral their charges through force, thus herding the reluctant because of the power of the leader. That is hardly a proper model. Some are magnetic and draw people to themselves by the charismatic nature of the individual person. Christ, as magnetic shepherd, acts in a loving manner, knowing the characteristics of each under his charge; he calls each by name and is sensitive to presence or absence; he sacrifices much to bring them back into the fold.
Shepherding is a God-given and Christ-refined art that must be willing to be a guiding principle for all who follow. Christ enlightens others, catalyzes them to action, leads them on the way, and is a light of the world that warms the hearts of those who have gone cold. Thus shepherding is enlightening through the example given for each of us to have the insight to follow, even when the circumstances are difficult and demanding.
As followers of Christ, we are not meant to be dumb sheep who enjoy the pasture field and the confidence of a leader who will care for them. We are called to also be shepherds in our own right, and that is not just in parish or other church situations. We imitate Christ by being other christs to our brothers and sisters throughout the world: through sacrificing and giving them special care; through risking ourselves in bringing them back to security from dangers; through coming to know individuals and their own particular needs; and through standing out as being counter-cultural in what we do and how we act. Just as Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is willing to lay down his life for us, we, in turn, are willing to be of service to and for others on this Earth -- plants, animals and human beings within a community of all beings.
Becoming other christs is the heart of vocation for each and every person. Some are called to the priestly state or the committed religious life; others are meant to care for their elderly parents or a special needs child; some will give special attention to teaching immigrants our native language. Callings are unique, and yet we must see the vocation to shepherding as more-or-less being willing and enthusiastic followers of Christ.
Prayer: Lord, help us to hear our unique calling and to follow you where you call us. Help us to respond not by blind following but by creative leadership in the work ahead.
Carolina wren young, nest made in bundle of
newspaper insulation materials.
May 13, 2019 Breaking Silence on World Communications Day
Having a Time for Keeping Silent, a Time for Speaking.
It is as important to cultivate your silence power as your word power. William James
They tell us that sometimes silence is not golden -- just yellow (and cowardly). In fact, both our speaking and our remaining silent have their time and place. Far better than always opening or never opening one's mouth, is to know when to do each act. Here is a listing of silent blessing and contrasting failure to speak.
Silence is a blessing when --
* All need time to reflect deeply on a subject;
* We are preparing for a difficult task ahead;
* Speaking distracts those performing difficult undertakings;
* We are at a vast and beautiful vista and no words are really desired or worthy of the scene;
* We are trying to make a retreat or pray in private;
* We have concluded our remarks in an emphatic manner and all know we have little more to say;
* We and others know we have nothing more to say;
* Outside noises bother us immensely and so we retreat;
* We accept deafness as a challenge and a reality;
* We attend a wake and act respectfully;
* We are walking through a cemetery;
* Taps is being played;
* And we just sit in the presence of another we love.
Silence is a curse when --
* Someone lonely wants to hear from us, and we have so many other things to do or places to be;
* Our public voice means so much for the oppressed;
* Peers demand silence so they alone can speak;
* Or peers demand that we all remain silent on a controversial subject;
* A loved one is on the wrong road and will perhaps, though not necessarily, listen to words of offered advice;
* We fail to tell a loved one who is on the wrong track just how deeply his or her actions affect us;
* Our civic duty is to vote, write in protest, or speak up as part of the need for justice;
* Another person is hurt unjustly and we do nothing;
* We are too intimidated to speak up;
* Our singing, chanting, resonating voices need to be heard in unison for the good of all; and
* Oppressors frighten us, and we capitulate.
Prayer: Lord, prompt us to speak when we must, be silent when we ought, and know when to open and when to close our mouths.
Fresh dewberry blossom
May 14, 2019 Degrees of Humility: Thinking Globally
Our Earth all around us has troubles, and we take note. Our senses detect unhealthy conditions that fly in our face and that we cannot avoid. We have first a vague and then an ever more encompassing awareness that something is amiss, first immediately around us and then, through communication with others, we sense the entire planet is being threatened by greed and ignorance.
St. Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises speaks of three kinds of humility. The first kind is necessary for salvation, and involves obeying the law of God and in no way violating the commandments that bind me mortally even to save my own life. The second kind is more perfect and involves an attitude wherein I do not desire riches rather than poverty, provided that in doing so I promote equally the service of God our Lord. Even to save my own life, I would not consent to do the most venial of offenses against God. The final and most perfect kind of humility assumes the first two and states that if God is equally serviced one would desire and choose poverty with Christ's poor, rather than riches and even to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ -- because he was thus treated. Christ is present in the poor, poor people and poor Earth.
The first degree of environmental consciousness: Becoming green follows the same patterns as does individual spiritual growth. We are moved to turn from the misdeeds that harm our wounded Earth. If we are silent to polluting practices, we are party to them. The first stages of environmental consciousness in the 1970s and 1980s was seeing environmental harm and deciding to say something about what was observed. However, often initial observation made the damages stand at a distance from us, and merely seeing the damage, voicing objections and calling for remediation seemed sufficient from this initial awareness level.
Denial is not an option for us. Someone must act and halt the malpractice: air and water pollution, deforestation, pesticide contamination, endangerment of species habitat and extinction of species, toxic waste, and land erosion and mining damage, fossil fuel use to name but a few. At this first level, human irresponsibility stands out, must be exposed, and a firm resolution made to halt these damaging practices. Specific laws, regulations and restrictions are imposed by governments at various levels in order to stop air or water pollution, deforestation, or to save the gray wolf or bald eagle. Actions on this level include supporting the Paris Climate Accord. In the process of acting, conscientious people become aware that their actions are imperfect. From the concerned citizen's standpoint there is need to influence governmental agencies whether by citizen contact, legal action or through citizen petition and lobbying. Awareness moves one to action.
Prayer: Lord, help me to see the poor, the hungry, the suffering. I do not want to be lost due to insensitivity, which is a mortal fault; help us grow in awareness.
Dobsonfly (Megaloptera:Corydalidae), biological
indicator of water quality.
May 15, 2019 The Second Degree: Acting Locally
When we become more aware, we move from merely seeing troubles and come to realize that something ought to be done at least at our local level. My indignation goes beyond blaming the distant culprit. I resolve that I must take several types of actions: to change my own life in some way; and to help our neighbors change their lives. It is not enough to merely see damages, but be moved to action at least locally. My sensitivity is heightened, my modeling to catalyze others to act, and my will power is strengthened. My growth in environmental consciousness goes beyond pinpointing environmental damage by others.
The second degree of environmental consciousness looks at the personal need for assisting others; it involves going out to help them in many ways: with housing, with feeding the hungry, with servicing the sick, with environmental repair and with clean-up operations. In the process of going out, we find that we are imperfect and our meaningful work demands improvement. Physician heal yourself. Introspection ensues. We make some discoveries that are personal and local. In part our own imperfections stem from unrecognized privileges and use of resources due to our current place in the world. Yes, I am partly to blame for the conditions of the world around us: I use resources; I fail to recycle; I travel much through inefficient means. I contribute to the consumer culture in my overuse of electricity, my unneeded mobility, and my consuming goods geared for planned obsolescence. Local involvement is necessary.
Excuse is no viable option. I look down into the practices through an audit of consumer practice. An entire world opens before me with many resource conservation techniques: conserving water; turning off unused electronic devices and unused lighting; driving energy-efficient vehicles or traveling by public means or hiking or biking; engaging in less environmentally-impacting forms of recreation; growing fruits and vegetables and purchasing organic locally-grown food; turning lawns into edible landscape; turning down heat in winter and cooling devices in summer; and simpler living techniques.
Simple techniques consume time and effort, and after much study, practice and interchange we justify this focus by saying it is sufficient. Like-minded individuals can re-enforce our attention to individual and local activities. In fact, the methods are so diversified that new and better techniques are constantly coming to the fore and information exchanged. Is this enough? A wider world is out there, and our model living may be overlooked or only tolerated; others may continue in their wasteful practices. We may simplify (a kenotic revolution) -- but the world will not. Earth is not automatically saved (presumption), nor damned (despair); hope of salvation rests with a deeper spirituality that involves local action.
Prayer: Lord, give us ways to overcome our uneasiness with others in need; show us how to give specific help to them.
Finding a place in the world.
May 16, 2019 The Third Degree: Collaborating with Others
Within the third degree of humility, an individual seeks to be with Christ in all that it takes. A solidarity embracing all suffering in our world. While this level is quite plainspoken when it comes to individuals, at the more collective level, beyond committed intentional communities espousing poverty, this gets more difficult. However, the present economic system favors the wealthy and joint remedial action must be taken. Any temptation to tweak the system is only denying the urgency of the current situation. Many people throughout the world, especially the unemployed, experience a sense of powerlessness. What can be done in the face of economic and political forces, which are so influential? For many to change the system seems hopeless. But can we bring a sense of hope at the deepest level of support and solidarity?
A third degree of environmental consciousness is starting to awaken. I see how little I can do alone and sense a growing need to involve and join with others in a collective enterprise. We seek a certain solidarity with our fragile sister Earth. We express this in song, poetry, prayer, dance or other artistic and spiritual ways. This deepest level may not be primarily a natural consequence of the first two levels, but rather a major spiritual ingredient expressing a hidden and deepest power found as part of the Body of Christ -- a togetherness that reaches beyond natural efforts. To be one with the poor as a WE does not mean selfishly escaping to an ever-shrinking natural wilderness. Our entry into the world of the ones who seem powerless is to show a sense of hope that underlies all our undertakings.
Escape to our ever tempting allurements is no option; we cannot run from what is before us no matter how difficult the task and how risky our efforts at solutions. Today, poor Earth is threatened as never before; the poor will continue to suffer and so true solidarity means not seeing disaster or even hearing the cry of the poor, but being poor and saying: "WE the poor" -- yes, WE poor people and poor Earth. At this deepest level of environmental involvement, the emphasis is on social justice seeking to become visible and present. Earth's resources belong to all of us, in a common good of which Benedict XVI speaks. Yes, we have no room for economic and political systems that permit the resource-using privileged few.
We conclude that if we do not act now Earth will be severely damaged in the long haul. We must propose and bring about a new world economic system not based on material profit nor fostering greed, but rather based upon fair distribution of essentials and avoidance of wastes. It is our spiritual duty to embrace all and work for a global unity with all people.
Prayer: Lord, make us see beyond simple individual acts and go to a deeper level of organization, and thus set our goals at working to enhance a system wherein justice may prevail upon our wounded Earth.
Knowing Your Personal Energy Use
About a half century ago I began attempting to calculate the energy use by individual persons. This seems easy at first, since it seemed to entail keeping track of auto fuel amounts along with parsing our energy bills according to specified uses. Such a practice is shown in the appendix to The Contrasumres: A Citizen's Guide to Resource Conservation, (Praeger Press 1974).
Today, we are more deeply concerned about contributions from various individual applications to current global climate change problems. While these fossil fuel expenditure accountings are never precise they do have the advantage of making us more aware of a variety of energy uses; some of these expenditures are quite extravagant and some merely social additions due to distribution of governmental efforts across the entire population. Furthermore, these distributed energy costs can mount to such a degree that they make individual precise accounting far less meaningful.
First, we fail to consider social costs that affect all of us in the form of local governance and policing, state maintenance of highways, airports and flood control systems, alert systems at all levels, federal military commitment both at home and abroad, fundamental research and development costs, a social security and veterans' health system, and public and private water and other utilities which benefit all citizens. This incomplete listing makes for a large total amount divided by the general population and makes precise domestic expenditures far less meaningful. Consider the complication that wealthy individuals and corporations seem to need more security than that of lower income individuals.
Second, we tend to overlook the entire health care and educational system expenses; this is true for healthy adults who no longer are involved in formal education and are sufficiently removed from hospitals and clinic care. Mere use by some is not sufficient to absolve the adult healthy populations from including these social costs in their personal energy debit card. In addition we must realize that sailors on an aircraft carrier should not have to bear costs of running large ships (that immense expense should be divided among those served with protection). When we go to help another, energy cost of auto fuel should be attributed mostly to those served. If the driver takes a vacation trip or goes shopping then this becomes his or her expense.
Third, calculations of such expenses as our personal food costs may contain hidden and overlooked area economy. If we are to figure our food costs in energy terms, we must include such things as food inspection, inherent wastes of certain items in growing, shipping, commercial and cooking operations, advertizing of store products, and certain farm laborer costs. This becomes more complex for those buying food in contrast to those who have gardens and furnish some of their own produce needs.
The complexity of exact calculations should not detour us from using known energy expenditure areas (four listed below) and to keep tabs using conservation practices to reduce wastes:
1. Auto expenditures are listed first because keeping tabs on gasoline consumption is an easy way to monitor energy use through efficient vehicles, combining and reducing number of auto trips for errands, purchase goods on line, car-pooling to work, vacationing closer to home, checking tire pressure, and most of all changing to public transportation modes. The abandonment of the auto is of course a major energy-saving practice. The transition to an electric vehicle depends on whether recharging is from electricity generated through fossil fuel sources or recharged for the most part by domestic or corporate solar energy sources.
2. Domestic heating and cooling can be the highest energy use for those dependent on public transportation or low auto use. Much depends on temperature in the homes during summer and winter; in winter parts of infrequently used space could be left unheated and all living space temperatures held to 60 degrees, along with wearing sweaters and heavier clothing. Summers today come with corresponding cooling costs even when striving to keep living and work space to 75 degrees F. In each of the four recent years we have experienced warmer temperature averages with global warming. Venting at night can be very effective, plus closing well-insulated houses during sunny daylight hours and using fans in place of AC.
3. Air travel is listed third, not because the actual fuel costs are so widely recognized, but because this public form of transport is not really economical. An average long distance flight uses more energy per person than an entire African village uses in a year. Awareness of energy expenditures in air travel makes the use of frequent flyer trips more problematic for inducing further travel. Yes, filled airline capacity results in less fuel per person, but air travel has become so highly popular in the U.S. and other nations resulting in growing fossil fuel demands.
4. Electronic devices are often grouped with domestic appliances, which are far more energy efficient in recent years. However, electronic devices include more than plug-in domestic energy; they include enormous amounts of corporate energy needed to bring social media to you and your home. In addition to electronic devices recall that lawns may become edible landscape or maintained with gasoline-powered mowers, commercial packaging takes energy resources, and clothes not dried in the sun but by electric dryers contribute to one's energy budget. Many domestic electronic practices are still fossil fuel-based and await renewable energy.
Renewables such as domestic solar applications can make a great difference in energy use. This means the substitution for fossil fuel applications has a greater effect than focusing totally on energy conservation practices. Hopefully over time, more and more portions of fossil fuel energy budgets can be replaced by renewable energy sources.
Lady bird beetle on spicebush flowers, Lindera benzoin.
*May 17, 2019 Varying Spices and Herbs for Dishes
You who pay your tithe of mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law -- justice, mercy, good faith! (Matthew 23:23)
This is National Herb Week and a fitting time to celebrate the host of herbs we use for culinary and medicinal purposes. Are we not ignoring the major problems facing the human race and our wounded planet? Don't we seem to tithe time and space for herbs and forget about focusing our reflections on justice, mercy and good faith? The searching soul may attempt to address these questions differently, but my major reply to the focus question is that cultivating and enjoying herbs and spices help prepare us to spend quality time on weightier matters. The quality of herbs and spices when seen as divine gifts raises our heart to deeper levels of respect. These herbs have attributed medical properties of great moment, though research is incomplete at this time. Pharma sees no profit in pure natural products.
We can train our tastes to find delight in the natural herbs that can be grown or easily acquired. There are selected herbs of the year; in 2019 the herb is Anise-Hyssop Agastache ssp. During this year I select one herb or spice mixture for each week for use in soups and other dishes of that week, hoping to discover some new experiences not generally known. Why not experiment without going to costly exotic varieties? Herbs are enjoyable to grow, prepare and use in culinary potential delights. Share with the herb club members when having a good discovery. As Victor Robinson says, "No happiness equals the joy of finding a heart that understands." So share herbal tastes.
Our herbal club features a special herb each month, and over time we get acquainted with many varieties. However, we also have an "herb-of -the-year," when we reintroduce ourselves to one of our kitchen- cooking herbal family members. Many people are enslaved by the expert culinary writer who gives a spice and a specific way of fixing it in a dish. Don't be enslaved! How about becoming your own herbalist? And when finding an available herb that works well, tell others. I find that cinnamon is flavorful in veggie soups and dill seed in ice cream topping.
Favorite herbs are to be expected since variety can only go so far. Some culinary writers make a list of a dozen herbs one must not be without. Okay, but that is their specific habit and may not be yours. Over time your favorites for certain events and dishes may differ -- and even subtly change. Don't be hesitant to describe the herb flavoring as though a secret ingredient that only you know. Spread the word so others may learn to experiment as well or to use your recommended choice in their own cooking habits. Different spices and herbs go well to add quality to many dishes -- and these deserve to be celebrated.
Prayer: Lord, help us to appreciate the gift of exquisite flavors that add quality to daily life and those of friends.
Purplerocket, Iodanthus pinnatifidus.
May 18, 2019 Facing Cultural Bankruptcy
And they [Cities] will be swept away by various kinds of destruction: some will be ruined by wars; others will be destroyed by idleness and a peace that ends in sloth, or by luxury, the bane of those of great wealth. Seneca
A few years back, I sent a donation to a colleague who had started a small non-profit organization in Appalachia. However, his plans did not seem well formulated and so I asked him how he was to keep the new office functioning. He replied, "I have a credit card." Though I held my silence (while his group struggled), I should have said, “This is the mentality of why I don't have a credit card." Living on credit fosters a fiction that the brighter future will erase all debts, and that sources of income will happily arise out of nowhere. Paying off credit debts is remote from people who live in the world of pretending.
Fiction-writing is so popular -- and lucrative -- that I am tempted to shift to that pursuit. Why not tell within a gripping story about the rottenness of the credit mentality and how we live unsustainable lives on the sure road to cultural bankruptcy? There is plenty of ammo for such stories: one-third of a million foreclosures occur per month; credit card fraud and identity theft abound; people make choices between housing and health insurance; nations, states, cities and local groups stand at the brink of default, and yet their streets are filled with citizens defending their overpriced positions. Maybe the fictional story should be of people craving change, showing anger about those who are materially privileged, and calling for a new economic order. Is the reason we hesitate to change because we still believe in storybook magic or, as the selfish elders among us think, because the chickens will soon come home to roost?
The truth is always that reality is stranger than fiction, and often far more interesting. However, few want to delve deeply and would prefer to stay in the comfort of fictional living that distances the reader/viewer from immediate reality. Our illusion within our materialistic culture is that we can conquer cultural problems through sufficient material techniques and resources. Children’s stories even mesmerize adults who prefer books of fiction, novels, and network sitcoms; we fail to abandon unsustainable living practices. We fail to effect longer-term solutions; something is out of place, is missing.
Culturally we must change; we simply cannot continue the economic and political policies leading to ruin. With trust in God a new power is discovered. We can effect changes before it is too late. We can confront the cultural greed and covetousness leading all to ruin and offer a viable alternative. It is not too late, but we must use the spiritual resources at our disposal. Our mission is to bring hope to a broken world.
Prayer: Lord, shake our collective being and give us the courage to offer viable options to a threatened world.
Little Wood Satyr Butterfly, Megisto cymela
May 19, 2019 Loving: The Unfinished Story
You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:5
What does it mean to love God? Millions of words are spoken, written, or sung about love, and yet love is better expressed in deeds -- to sacrifice for another. We yearn to break out of the prison of self-love, and to go beyond to a sometimes distant calling. We want to fly, hang glide, rappel, experience the freedom of a skipping child, or ride the scooter in the leaping turn. And to love is to be free as well in a more profound manner, to abandon selfishness and move towards the mystery of God. In the Gospel of John (Chapter 14) we see God's love, the love of us through the suffering and death of Christ, and the love we return by performing deeds for others.
The Second Commandment: Love of Neighbor. Leviticus says, "You must love your neighbor as yourself." The Shema or prayer of hearing follows immediately after the Ten Commandments. The second passage that Jesus relates to love of God is taken from the "Holiness code" in Leviticus -- the collection of the principles on how to be holy. The two commands are coupled, because love of God is not genuine for us, unless shown in love of neighbor; love of neighbor is not truly founded unless we recognize the source as love of God.
Jesus loves all. The infinite ocean of divine love stretches before us. The motivation to love one's neighbor springs from love of God, and the test of authenticity of love of God is found in love of neighbor. Jesus calls us to do more: to love as he loves -- which can be a striving that cannot be fully attained. We flee from biases and dislikes for certain cultures or races. We are to love all -- radical Muslims, communists, skinheads, those on death row. Jesus says, "Love as I love you." The Good Samaritan parable in St. Luke's Gospel identifies our neighbor, our love of everyone even when we have special friends. Today the Internet, TV and radio bring neighbors from the other side of the globe into our own living rooms -- a truly global phenomenon. This raises our consciousness to the cries of needy folks. We learn from Mother Teresa, who saw urgent need and responded immediately -- thus seeing what catholic means.
Love is inclusive. Early Christians faced the challenge to take Gentiles into their community. Certain Jewish regulations were expected to be omitted -- and were. Extending our love to a global community will challenge us to move out and accept the ways of other cultures. We can't be inclusive with any overuse of resources when living in a world of hungry neighbors. Rather we are drawn by love to share our own resources and urge the privileged to do the same. Our salvation is at stake, salvation tied to our love of neighbor.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to love as Jesus has loved us, for that is our unfinished journey to you.
Overlook near Copper Harbor, MI
May 20, 2019 Contrasting Material and Spiritual Privilege
We often mention the "privileged few" versus the great numbers who lack total material means, the ones who satisfy wants as though needs, and simultaneously many caught without essential needs. To allow this condition to continue is a SIN of our culture of which we must realize, confess and make amends for. Such a condition of wealth for the few and poverty for a great majority of people will damage and destroy the cherished but fragile democratic spirit that is our goal. As responsible citizens, we must challenge wealth as undue economic power, power leading to political access, and access making possible undue influence; thus the materially privileged have become de facto nobles who can purchase laws that enhance their privileged status. Through media they influence irate citizens with the mantra, "No new taxes," and turn them into lemmings rushing to the sea of national insolvency and disaster.
On the other hand, a spiritual privilege also exists that is unlimited in nature, a gift given in our Baptism by a generous God who creates us and sets us apart to help bring all together. The gift of entering the Divine Family has an eternal duration; it is not exclusive but is directed to inclusivity of all. Good News reaches the ears of the condemned prisoner, slave or beggar and to all the poor and forgotten, for spiritual privilege is for all, not a few. Let's help make it reach everyone! Future now becomes a grace-filled unlimited horizon.
Spiritual privilege involves being able to see with the eyes of faith what is in store, not becoming a "few" who are allowed to see apart from others. This graced privilege of first in time does not mean to stop at this point; we must invite others to enter the limitless sea of God's Love. Being first only means being first to invite others -- not to block others from a limited competitive space. This is why a privileged ability to see ahead is a gift that exists with awesome responsibility. Sharing overcomes any desire for exclusive possession -- and this is why a materially tainted false spirituality is so harmful. We receive a spiritual privilege to share; service is inherently a refutation of exclusive "spiritual privilege" that leads to self-righteousness and a blinding insensitivity to others.
A distinction is in order: we condemn material privilege in a world divided by haves and have nots; we affirm spiritual privilege that opens the door wider for others to enter. We do not rest and excuse ourselves by saying that we distance ourselves from the facade of material privilege. From a citizen and democratic standpoint we must confront a limited material privilege of the economically wealthy. Material wants are fueled by an inordinate greed and effort to make others strive for that sort of economic wealth. Confronting this vice is our duty as those with spiritual responsibility to bring others into the warmth of the Divine Family.
Prayer: Lord, thanks for spiritual privilege to see ahead.
Ladies' tresses, Spiranthes diluvialis
May 21, 2019 Challenging Talents Used for Material Privilege
All of us are privileged with certain natural and cultivated gifts: intellectual, athletic, artistic, social, etc. A few are Beethovens and Handels. While Mozart died penniless, many of the talented are now being privileged in monetary ways. The early Greek athletes received a non-monetary crown of laurel, but modern athletes receive more than laurels and gold medals. Money, big money looms just over the horizon. Our materialistic culture goes farther; it gives the winners perks. How is Tiger Woods, a talented golfer, so wealthy? Is it simply the road from talents-recognized to material privilege?
We admit that the presence of gifted individuals does not mean another person is entirely bereft of gifts, only that society does not place equal monetary value on all talents. All of us are to know our gifts and to help others find theirs for the sake of the common good. The difficulty is that in a materialistic society, people place value on certain gifts and then reward the celebrities with advertising contracts and other monetary awards in order to knight them with material privilege.
Those who should be promoting healthy spiritual values often mix the goals of material and spiritual privilege. Is the intellectual on a road through privileged institutions of learning to positions of privileged power and wealth? Intellectual or artistic talent is recognized and granted material privilege. One easy answer is to allow the material awards to be given, but to subject them to just and fair taxation. People may bask in becoming instant millionaires or billionaires, and then watch in satisfaction as their awards are redistributed through the power of fair taxation to those more in need; as of now that is not yet the case.
Prosperity is regarded by some as a mark of spiritual growth. Fools certainly rush in where angels fear to tread. Thus prophets of prosperity concoct examples as Jesus dining with the wealthy, or wearing a seamless garment, or being given Magi gold. Leaders of "prosperity churches" strut on stage with diamond rings and travel by private jet to the next glittering event. This is a natural outcome of those who hold a perverted view that material prosperity is the mark of success.
Akin to material success is tolerance of those who are privileged either by royal blood or material wealth; they are permitted to remain wealthy, provided they give a portion to the destitute and poor. However, material privilege must never be justified as an opportunity for spiritual growth through charity. What a perversity! We must purge this world of misunderstanding and prepare it for a radical sharing of wealth, whether freely done or enforced by proper regulated fair taxation.
Prayer: Lord make us radical enough to resist the temptation to material success, and strong enough to challenge others who succumb to spending quality time acquiring economic wealth.
Tulip poplar flower and leaf, Liriodendron
May 22, 2019 Revealing the Mixed Mesophytic Forest
Residents in forested areas tend to overlook their near-at-hand treasures. Affirmation comes in celebration and appreciation of forested ecological gems. Those who want to extract timber or coal from these priceless commons often deliberately suppress their value, so as to go unchallenged.
Our forested gem, the "Mixed Mesophytic Forest," stretches from southwestern Pennsylvania to northern Alabama, and includes the Appalachians and Cumberland Plateau. The name of the forest was bestowed by noted botanist and ecologist, E. Lucy Braun (1889-1971), who amassed some 12,000 plant species in the course of her lifetime. "Mixed" refers to thirty plus canopy trees that appear in predominant patterns and are thus called oak-hickory, beech-maple, oak-pine, etc. This is a relic of ancient mesic forests that once covered much of the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere; it escaped the Ice Age and is the world's oldest and most varied temperate forest. It contains a rich understory of fungi, ferns, small trees and shrubs, herbaceous plants, a multitude of wildflowers, and a variety of animal wildlife species -- elk, deer, bear, wolf, fox, snakes, opossum, raccoon, beaver, rabbit, turkey, and some two hundred species of migratory or resident birds. Creeks teemed with varieties of fish and crayfish, frogs and salamanders. Behold a treasure!
Mixed Mesophytic Forest
Verdant ancient garment of America's East
Oak and hickory-stitched, chestnut deceased,
spring flowers, refreshing showers, and firetowers,
elk, bison, deer, geese, and the Indians cry "Ours,"
while trailblazers say, "My gun empowers."
Remnant of a distant past,
you did survive the glacial mast,
but can you now outlast pollution's blast,
or timber worth more than price of land
or off-roaders who grandstand this grandest stand?
We know how different axe and chainsaw sound,
one hacks and thins, the other mows all around.
Trees can regrow, but forests don't rebound
from traffic flow of loader, skidder, dozer,
justified as canopy's exposure -- true foreclosure.
"Shelterwood's" the Forest Service name,
but rape's the same however came,
even to the non-virgin and the tame.
Crashing trees release a made-made breeze,
and in an instant the wildlife flees.
Must this mighty forest cease?
Prayer: Lord, help us to respect our priceless forests.
Washington Co. sighting catured by "game cam"
motion-sensing wildlife camera,
Northern river otter (Lontra canadensis), making a comeback
May 23, 2019 Confronting the Drug Culture
When you see more drug reps than patients in a doctor's office, you know something is wrong. (An astute patient)
In 1919: "Doctor, must you give me this drug to take? I do not like to ingest any foreign substances."
In 2019: "Doctor, you must give me this drug to take. I saw it advertized on TV. I forgot the name but it's a purple pill."
Americans have problems with drugs on the individual, local, regional and national level. In fact, the opioid epidemic is a natural issue. Note that there are poppy growers, coca gatherers and mafia cartels in many nations. Even with all the wars on drugs the business of drugs is booming. Part of failure is the permissiveness of a culture that advertises legal drugs, glorifies consumption in virtually all its forms, encourages greed, makes money into a god, and never confronts the dangers of excessive use of just about anything. Addicts abound and most think they are still rational enough to make informed choices, while addiction extends to illegal and legal substances, from narcotics and anabolic steroids to alcohol and pain killers -- killing over 65,000 per year while paining family and friends.
America is home to less than five percent of the world's people, and yet our people consume two-thirds of the world's antidepressants (one-eighth of our people take Prozac and that is only one of thirty depressants). Over three billion dollars is spent by Americans on the medicine Zoloft alone. Numerous drugs are widely advertised; patients press doctors for prescriptions. Most of us might be inclined to say, "But that is a rare happening." Really? A decade ago a celebrity physician at the trial of the doctor who treated Michael Jackson was asked whether doctors are badgered by patients; the interviewee said that it happens all the time. He spoke of "doctor-shopping," or moving from one to another by those with drug-seeking behavior; they hunt for willing dispensers and even threaten those who do not comply. Unfortunately, they find an obliging medic who will try to satisfy, but knowing all the while that drugs do not satisfy.
Face it! We have become a drugged culture; we grope for the remnants of rationality and solid hopes; we stitch these together to reconstitute a healthy society. Drugs are an illusion, a fiction of our culture, the inherent goal of a materialism that calls for more and more. It is as though the quantity will keep the process functioning. We are drugged even by the dollars that seem to say, "The more, the better." Material profit motivation fuels the drugged culture; it builds on itself with a craving for things illegal or legalized by those who influence and control law-makers. Citizens and health professionals are caught in a struggle going far beyond drugs and the production, dispensing, advertising and transporting of legal and illegal substances.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see and address the drug situation.
Protect us when drug-free and inspire us to free the captives.
Memorial Day and Cemetery Visits
This weekend is a perfect time to visit the cemetery where our loved ones are buried. Today, few especially of a younger generation visit the traditional places of family burial; of course this becomes rarer when the near and dear pass on and the buried folks become a distant memory. With the popularity of lower cost cremation in contrast to coffin burials many wonder whether the high price of a plot and perpetual care of the grave sites are worth the investment. Some prefer to scatter ashes (a unique way to remember loved ones) or to dispose of them on property, which may or may not remain in family hands.
Cemeteries have advantages; they are locations for the gathering of the remains of loved one in a particular community, and they are public enough to allow visitation on a regular basis. For religious believers, the cemetery is the gathering of the clan in expectation of the rising from the dead on the last day. This is the destination for sentimental loved ones to return for a visit and a prayer and for occasional decoration of the grave. Remembering through decorating gravesites is a manner of showing respect both for those who passed on and to descendants in hopes that this will be reciprocated after our own passing.
Cemeteries are open spaces; they beautify a congested world and there is a beauty in the green space and trees associated with some but not all graveyards. It would perhaps be better if the places were inviting enough to have family reunions, either at special days of the year such a Memorial Day or All Souls Day. Much depends on the cemetery size and age. Some major cemeteries in large urban areas have several funerals every day of the week. Different policies could be available to those small churchyards and private cemeteries with only a few burials every year or so.
Cemeteries need to be upkept. Respect for the dead demands that small and aging cemeteries have borders and that vegetative growth (weeds, brambles, etc.) be controlled as well as burial plots and grave stones be generally clean and maintained; however, this requires a cemetery organization and time allotted for special maintenance. In Europe and in a few American places relatives plant flowers on their loved ones gravesites, and this makes for an attractive appearance. Others put artificial flowers at Memorial Day or other times of the year, giving a positive impression of grave attention and respect. Lawn care among raised gravestones is labor intensive; one remedy is to develop a permanent evergreen cover that does not require summer biweekly or monthly attention. Still stones, pathways, fences and borders need ongoing care.
Aging Cemeteries should not be abandoned. Like all things, cemeteries age with time. Those attached to active churches have a longer guarantee of life. Many folks confess they really do not care if relatives who moved away come to visit, but do they really mean it or would they like to be remembered by a younger generation? With time certain cemeteries are no longer used because families die out, or move away, or no longer have close relatives in the neighborhood. In parts of congested Europe where the cemetery site is no longer visited, the bones are collected for an ossuary in churches or other buildings --and the evacuated grave site reused.
Cemeteries can be recycled respectfully. I firmly believe the unused cemeteries could be turned into managed parks. The actual burial areas could be fenced off with living barriers such as cedar or willow shrubs and the unused areas made into paths, play areas, and picnic tables. Rest facilities could be constructed if deemed necessary. The upkeep of the park area could then be expanded to include the cemetery proper with evergreen covering of the abandoned graves. Some cemeteries may prove too congested for such facilities and park area, but still can be fitted with paths for strolling, requiring minimum maintenance; beautifying the abandoned cemetery could include tree planting. Completely abandoned cemeteries in urban congested areas could have grave remains collected and disposed in an active cemetery and the unused land open for further development.
New cemeteries should be planned for easy maintenance. An alternative to permanent ground evergreen cover would be requiring new cemeteries to have solely flat stone markers, for allowing mowers to keep lawn-sown cemetery sites upkept through far less labor intensive practices. A more efficient burial preference today is for bodies to be cremated and the remains buried in structures containing large numbers of urns and deposit boxes. Larger structures sometimes four or so tiers high can contain coffins with proper markings as well. Maintenance can be minimized over those of individual sites of which some remain vacant.
All cemeteries are sacred ground and should thus be treated with respect. Upkeep is better handled if there is a specific cemetery association or a project for local communities. The respect for the dead is an exercise in common civility and must be regarded as a duty by elected local leadership and as part of local governance. Today our military cemeteries are treated with due respect nationally, and this should be extended to all burial places that are components of progressive and civic-minded towns and counties. Our concern for the dead (a recognized work of mercy) takes a deeper meaning on Memorial Day weekend. Decorate a grave if possible and keep deceased loved ones in your prayers.
Apple in bloom.
May 24, 2019 Decorating Graves of Loved Ones
As we approach Memorial Day weekend, we try to show respect for those who have passed on and were so much a part of making us who we are. This year I will try to journey once more to the St. Patrick's Cemetery in Old Washington, KY, which contains the remains of my parents, all grandparents, one set of great-grandparents, and scores of aunts, uncles and close and distant cousins. This beautiful resting place has rose bushes as some graves of loved ones and a variety of native trees to give a sense of serenity to the countryside. I always oblige the wish of my maternal grandmother who said she'd be happy if someone just put some wild daisies on her grave.
Our relatives who remember loved ones come often from distant places and show their respects. Many mobile Americans are distant from their original homes and only return on rare occasions. Many have friends do the second best thing and decorate graves with artificial flowers that endure the summer sun and give a sense of color and care to cemeteries. We realize that many Europeans but few Americans actually cultivate a grave site with flowers and tend these during the year. Others seek help from those living closer to the site and ask them to go and decorate graves as a gesture of good will.
Memorial Day weekend is not just the beginning of summer events; it is a time of serious remembrances, of visits and home comings, of picnics and graduations and departures. We pause for a brief moment and remember those who went before us. We pay our respects and that is meaningful in itself. Next to our paternal grandparents' plots is an ornamental pear tree and I think they would enjoy the presence, for they came from Alsace and appreciated pear trees there. In Europe, when a grave ceases to be decorated, it may be declared abandoned and reused. Fortunately, we have enough land in most parts of America that this is not considered a necessity at this time, especially if more people opt to have their remains cremated.
Our American roots go way back in history and includes the sweat and effort of ancestors who we remember with a graveside prayer. Each visit does much for us, for our links to the past are forged through respect -- and time has a way of eroding the bindings. Our links also need to be passed on, for we bear the responsibility to our offspring to transfer respect to them. Graves have ways of quietly recalling for us the love that was generated over time and continues in our lives. It is not sufficient that some (whether neighbors or elders) do the task for us; we have to make the pilgrimage on occasion, for we need the reminder that we live and die a little each day. By distancing ourselves from our ancestors we can easily forget the family history that gives so much meaning to our lives.
Prayer: Lord, teach us respect that includes those living among us and those who have passed before. May the living be respected and those who rest in peace be affirmed as living too.
Soothing colors of cool waters.
May 25, 2019 Exposing Greed as a Vice
Some call greed the catalyst, fuel and lubricant of our economic system and market economy. Greed, the excessive desire for more goods on the part of individual "consumers," is expected to stoke economic growth expressed as Gross National Product (GNP). Estimates are that about seventy percent of that growth is contributed by materially satisfying individual consumer needs and wants. Needed food, water, lodging and fuel are one component; wanted higher resource foods, excessive use of water, spacious homes and private vehicles are another. The first is a vital necessity; the second can be a resource-wasteful luxury.
While current world economy tolerates a relatively small number of privileged individuals with extravagant habits, the ultimate unsustainability of such a system becomes clear with time. When the numbers and impact of the privileged were smaller, material privilege appeared more blessing than curse; it was a goal that poorer folks strived to reach, as well as comfort for those who had attained the goal to some degree. Only in a closer look do we see that some in richer places hog the limited resource pie, and others are virtually excluded. The three richest Americans have more wealth than the 160 million bottom half of population. Something is terribly amiss! What if there are a few more of these? What is the rest of the world wants to imitate the current American economy of vast inequality?
Greed is stimulated by the consumer industry's advertizing and material-profit motivation. Greed triggers the demand for more cars, more spacious houses, up-to-date electronics, and all types of prescription and over-the-counter medicines and cosmetics. Some see the inevitable dangers ahead and define responsible consumerism as tweaking the system through resource efficiency. Others are starting to see that an uncontrolled material greed can spell doom to our planet. They are speaking up for "contrasumption" or confronting our runaway consumer-based economic system with simpler lifestyle practices. Must we have spacious housing or fuel inefficient vehicles? Of course not, and we would all be better off if we learn to share the limited resources in essential ways -- and do so with joy.
In our dysfunctional consumer situation, greed holds the prominent position of being a virtue; this will continue as long as profit-motivation goes unchecked, excessive wealth goes untaxed or not fairly taxed, and tax havens are allowed to exist with impunity. Promoters of this culture turn "free market" into an oxymoron; they allow greed to be an epidemic that sinks its fangs into the sinews of our culture, sweeping up the athletic, intellectual, young and the old -- and belittling those who call greed what it is. It is time to bring a change, and with God's help this can be done in such a way that sharing becomes a real virtue; this more patriotic act enhances security for all.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see the capital sin of greed in all its hidden allurement; help us radically share our resources.
Spring trees in bloom,
against backdrop of stormy sky.
May 26, 2019 Planting the Gift of Peace at Home
My own peace I give you... (John 14:27a)
God is the ultimate giver of all peace, and our role is to receive and preserve this precious gift of peace surrounded by an atmosphere of gratitude. The peace that is given to us as gift from God is able to expand; it is not so limited that it can only be sequestered and grasped by a few. Peace is of infinite spiritual value, not merely limited material worth, and so we are responsible to pass our individual peace on to others.
Peace that we receive into our hearts is allowed to sink in and rest for a brief moment. However, this inner peace is fragile, and its growth potential depends on how well we accept it, mold it, and prepare it to be shared with others. If we ignore peace or become too selective in what we attempt to do with it, a lasting peace is utterly distorted. Friction results. On the contrary, peace must be allowed to settle within our hearts, be recognized through grateful prayer, be nurtured through sacramental life, and then shared as a gift with others. Gift received is gift given, and being a spiritual gift it has infinite quality when accompanied by expansive love.
People crave a peace that the world cannot give, and thus we turn within to peaceable people who recognize God as the author -- these with spiritual insight are the ones capable of offering peace to others. What we discover is that peace within our hearts is able to be cultivated. If the heart of Christ is the source of peace, and if we as loving members of the body of Christ constitute that heart in the world around us, then our peace is meant to be contagious, to go out to all the world.
Peace comes through showing God's love and mercy as experienced by us and is not isolated as a personal possession; we show this love through shared deeds and not merely words. Jesus' farewell address tells us that we are to love as he loves us and sacrifices himself totally for us. God prompts us to recognize that love is already here, to accept it, and to allow it to break loose from within us through our prayers, charitable deeds and sacrifices for others:
1) Sacrificing for others involves letting them know that we pray for them and with them; Love is an uncreated love, not a love that we fashion apart from God; we merely open floodgates so that loving peace once received shines forth.
2) Establishing peace in our homes involves making the place one of love and peace. Let's prepare our homes by following the promises made to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, namely, if our home is graced with the Sacred Heart picture that is placed in a prominent place for all to see, peace will come to this place.
Prayer: Lord, help us open our hearts and our homes for the beginning of peace in our world; help us be peacemakers.
A young Eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus
May 27, 2019 Living with Daily Routines
We can divide human beings into two groups: those of us who prefer formal routine and the more informal who prefer to always expect something new. Most likely this distinction has a long history, but clashes occur more readily when people live in closer quarters, and life takes on a more frenetic pace. As we become more mobile and time sensitive, we find the informal living people are sort of an anomaly. Tight schedules and polished routines go hand-in-hand. Some of us who budget time find routine a liberating element in our hurried lives. We soon parse out times to pray, to eat, to exercise, to do certain types of work, and to sleep. Granted, emergencies do arise that demand the breaking of routine, but that is not normal. Routines are.
I grew up on a small dairy farm and at least some family members were expected to be at one or other of the two milking periods each day before light in the morning and at dusk at night (plus or minus some sunlight depending on the season). Yes, cow milking was a fixed routine for us. Others who open and close stores, deliver newspapers, follow the bells or whistles, or hold a regular job with transportation schedules know all about routines. Amazingly, when delving into the habits of primitive hunting and gathering cultures, one finds that during certain prime hunting and gathering seasons routines were essential.
Some few "free spirits" strive to flee from or avoid routines -- and live from free time to free time. They know that regularity is built into everyday living and even into religious practice: church services, days of fasting, and prayers at times during the day. Those who think of themselves beyond such requirements also find that they are distancing themselves from being effective in a world that has hunger for food requiring essential feeding routines every day. Furthermore, they realize that love has its informality, but it also requires a service based on routine. Those who say "My world," intending to exclude other people, will most likely have a shock on Judgment Day.
Hints for improving necessary regularity include: accepting that all need checklists when memory begins to dull with age or cares; keeping a day book or weekly or monthly planner and using it; considering and planning for tomorrow's tasks the day before; following the schedule as closely as possible but not being bound totally by it; giving ample time between activities so as not to be late; developing contingency plans for changes in weather or unexpected delays; communicating ahead so that the parties in an upcoming event know what you are doing immediately before; acknowledging that irregularities occur, and offering regrets even when not the cause; and undergoing a final review at day's end. Don't forget something else in a bow to informality: give yourself some free time for celebration in spontaneous ways.
Prayer: God, who as the master of time, make us find our place in the limited temporal space allowed, and prepare us through fidelity for the possible informality of eternity.
May 28, 2019 Discussing Natural Gas: A Bright Future?
In a world of rapidly shifting energy sources, much attention is given to the rise of wind power as a renewable energy source. However, the message is more complex; some non-renewables must act as transition fuels on the road to a more sustainable energy use economy. A candidate is unlocking natural gas from shale formation by recent horizonal drilling deep underground included in what is termed "fracking." This energy source is quite widespread with many U.S. states and Canadian provinces having abundant supplies. North America has followed Middle East and Russian estimates of natural gas reserves for a number of years, but new estimates are rapidly changing the picture due to the possibility of fracking for supplies. Our American natural gas prices have been lowered in the last decade; here energy independence has been achieved with little prospect of need for imported liquid natural gas (LNG). U.S. pipeline gas flow has shifted from ports of gas entry to those of exports.
This cleaner non-renewable energy source, occurring while reserves of petroleum plateaued and even declined, was not anticipated even a few years ago. Plentiful natural gas bodes well for two of the three major uses of fuel, namely domestic cooking/heating and powerplant electricity generation; it is more problematic for the third, the transportation sector. However, even in the travel arena liquified natural gas could be used in trucking if refill networks evolve, and when electric cars recharged from natural gas electricity sources become plentiful.
One advantage of plentiful natural gas is that it can be extracted with less disturbance than coal -- though natural gas production does have problems associated with extraction. Natural gas can be piped or transported more easily than other fossil fuels; natural gas has only half the carbon emissions of coal per unit of energy produced and thus is replacing coal-fired power plants. Certainly natural gas does not have the disposal and safety problems of spent nuclear fuel. A major advantage is that gas is more easily able to operate in tandem with solar and wind renewable systems, when they are unable to produce sufficient power. Some estimate that at present use patterns this fossil fuel could last at least one hundred years.
However, like other fossil fuels, not all natural gas prospects are rosy. First, while this fossil fuel can replace dirty and cheap coal, its consumption adds to the carbon footprint that exacerbates climate change problems; if leakage rates are as high as some estimate, the more potent methane will hasten global warming more that carbon dioxide. Furthermore, this fuel could become so utilized that it could hamper the current rapid growth of renewable wind, geothermal and solar energy use. Also removal of shale gas could disturb some valuable aquifers and unforeseen technical problems surface.
Prayer: Lord, give us the insight to be realistic in stewarding the seemingly plentiful resources of our planet.
Eastern tent caterpillar, Malacosoma
May 29, 2019 Saying Farewell to the Last Survivor of the Bo
One surviving language of the 7,000 remaining ones ceases every two weeks. I recall a breakfast conversation I had two decades ago with an aging Latinist. I told him each time I hear of a language ceasing to exist it makes me feel the same way as the extinction of a certain plant or animal -- in this case a culture ceases to live. He replied, to my astonishment, "Who cares?" My weak reply was, "At least I do. In fact, my care includes the loss of Latin that is starting to occur."
A decade ago the news one day was the passing of Boa Sr., the last surviving speaker of the Bo tribal language. This Bo tribe was one of ten distinct Great Andamanese tribes from India's Andaman Islands. Survival International estimates that only 52 Great Andamanese from all tribes were left, down from about 5,000 when the British colonized the islands in 1858. The Bo are estimated to have inhabited these islands for 65,000 years, making them descendants of one of Earth's oldest cultures.
Unfortunately, Boa's death is not an uncommon event, for the loss of language occurs about twice a month. That is, if we believe the recent UN estimates, half of the world's almost 7,000 languages will disappear in this century. Many of the non-major and national languages are endangered to some degree. Some will survive and flourish locally through the concerted effort of sponsors; many are indigenous, but the thrust for Internet instant communication drives natives to learn one or more of the major languages. Native youth quite often prefer to break loose and communicate with larger numbers. No one wants to be a living museum specimen. Authentic thriving cultures must be able to be self-sustaining -- but many are not able to compete with predominant cultures. All too often, the drive for globalization occurs at the expense of indigenous languages. The precarious condition of many languages may be recognized too late, and even the songs and tales from these remnant cultures are not recorded in time to preserve them.
The difficulty in preserving cultures is more than the lack of resources to take audio or video tape recordings. It may be the "who cares?" attitude on the part of people who may be astute in other matters; they lack a green consciousness when it comes to threatened plants, animals and cultures. We question those who think that fewer languages will make us more alike and united. Furthermore, there is a lack of persistent champions, for the last speakers are often marginalized and have little voice. Maybe the problem is the isolated condition of many indigenous tribes. Those being reduced to an impoverished state soon learn to communicate in the language of the food suppliers.
Prayer: Lord, make us sensitive to the needs of all people; and help us appreciate that a surviving culture is a precious treasure worth preserving and enhancing. Give us the insight to see that native tribes need as much or even more protection than threatened and endangered plants and animals.
Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides.
May 30, 2019 Spreading Good News through a Loving Community
I am immersed in God's creation; I praise God for the life-giving gifts given over a long span of time. My prayer of praise expresses my understanding of how I can act in this world. Realizing that I do not act or pray alone, I am moved to come together with others to be part of a worshipping community. We are God's children now; we proceed to realize the greatness of God's majestic gifts, expressing gratitude on our part, and a dynamic love that encourages us to share with others. In doing so, we show that we are made to God's image and act in a God-like, even a "trinitarian," fashion. Our worship contains patterns that could be translated into a new world order, grounded in our Christian faith, our hope in future glory, and our loving deeds; past and future enter into one offering.
We bear Good News when in community we perceive God's gifts to us; we do more than voice our communal praise; we perform loving deeds for and with others. Involved in this total action on our part is an environment of gratitude that is shown through the total sharing of all that we are and have. Our own understanding of Christ being present takes on a special significance. We perceive that we have been privileged in the close connection we have within God's family, and this allows us to proceed, spreading out of what we have been given through radical sharing of resources.
Mighty acts of God are experienced. In late spring when the world comes alive, we discover rebirth and our entire being is filled with exaltation. Some of us become so overwhelmed that we try to focus attention on a flower, a plant, a special creek. However, we go beyond the temptation to stop for long; we look out to a broader vista, the greatness of all God's creation. Thus we gather and express ourselves as a community in articulated praise that incorporates the individuality of assembled members. Private prayer gives way to public worship.
Proclaimed Word shows our understanding. Why capitalize "word" in this context? Our articulated words when proclaimed together incarnate the "Word," Christ himself. In speaking as a body, the Church, we unite as people who are the Body of Christ, and our spoken liturgical Word is the fullness of the Lord in our midst. Whenever we pray, Christ is with us; when we spread the message, he is with us. All too often the example of misplaced words becomes publicized; when differences of interpretation are magnified, then the spreading is stifled to some degree. A faith-filled community professes the spoken Word in unison.
Loving Deeds are put into practice. The Spirit empowers us to go beyond speaking in public assembly; we are now able to go forth and put what we understand into broader-based deeds. The freer we are, the better we can perform meaningful acts, and to be sensitive to and serve the others' essential needs.
Prayer: Show us, Lord, how our actions proclaim who you are.
T.J. "el Jefe," zoning out for a nap, at age 19 -
a devoted pet..
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
May 31, 2019 Building a New World Order on the Magnificat
The Song of the Virgin is the prophetic announcement of the mystery of the total salvation of humanity. John Paul II
Today is the Feast of the Visitation, in which we read from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter Two, the words of the Magnificat or Mary's response to Elizabeth's greetings. These words are pertinent today because of the dysfunctionality of our current social, political and economic order in both our nation and world. Inequality, terrorism, global warming and indebtedness are apparent. Are satisfactory answers to our concerns to be found among the recognized economists and political thinkers? Is not the bias of the affluent so deep and divisive that one simply must look elsewhere? Affluence deadens the spirit and leaves the soul desiccated, and thus it is impossible for inspiration to prosper within a dysfunctional culture.
Should we look for inspiration from within the non-affluent portions of the world's population where the spirited response of the lowly plays an immense role? If Mary helps usher in the salvation event through a simple fiat, surely her song of praise, the Magnificat, has something to say about a New World Order. From a spiritual perspective, the one who will inspire will be the one who is most inspired, the humblest and most lowly, the one who is most transparent and pure, the one who is closest to God, the Virgin Mary. What Mary experiences in her life, we as members of Church are to do on our spiritual journey to rebuild a troubled world. Like Mary, we, as democratic people, are called to participate in salvation history. Mary shows her lowly birth, humble upbringing and universal concern for the poor.
Mary goes before us, though she is truly one of a kind; we follow in her footsteps in humble but singular ways as well. Mary's proclamation is ours today -- a revolutionary prayer of the Church. We are to bear Christ to other people, and thus we too are called to become involved in salvation history -- the saving of our planet. Mary goes before us in time; we follow both as individuals who bear Christ and as a community of faith who enters into salvation history in our specific ways. Reflection on her song of praise had immense possibilities for us who fumble in our search for new meaning.
Mary's song contained at least the following elements or qualities that are components of any radical change leading to a New World Order: praise and thanksgiving, blessings, spiritual privilege, fear of God, non-violence and compassion, grass-rooted participation, spiritual sustainability, merciful service, and continuity in tradition. If modern change agents take on these qualities, we can be assured that justice will prevail. See our Special Issues: Magnificat: A Bluebook for Ushering in a New World Order.
Prayer: Lord, help us to proclaim the words of the Magnificat and to do so with urgency and enthusiasm.
Is It Time for a Jubilee?
You shall declare this fiftieth year sacred and proclaim the liberation of all the inhabitants of the land. This is to be a jubilee for you. (Leviticus 25:10)
America is overwhelmed by national and individual indebtedness, and this comes at a price that diverts funds from infrastructure and growth in quality of life to interest payments and with increasing burden of despair or violence. Some candidates for presidential office regard portions of that debt as a "crisis," with focus on student debt that hangs on for decades. I have never addressed this indebtedness as such but do recall that our Judeo-Christian tradition does speak of a liberation from debts in a year of Jubilee. Political realism demands that we address these financial conditions even while solutions are quite difficult.
Michael Hunson asks "Could/Should Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?" <https://michael-hudson.com>. He raises some vital questions about benefits and risks involved. I am aware that an immoral worsening condition exists where inequality abounds with wealthy accumulating at the hands of creditors at an ever accelerating rate and the indebted sinking into ever deeper financial bondage. The type of debt makes it necessary to focus on certain classes of debtors, but mere forgiveness may not be the best in certain circumstances that may cause the credit debt to actually be enhanced. On the other hand, for those with health related debts and student loans needing repayment this could be a true liberation from enslavement.
Personal debt is the current focus with national debt to be considered later. As in 2018 that indebtedness (mortgages, auto, credit, student and other) reached the highest ever at 14 trillion or higher than immediately before the Great Recession. Senator Elizabeth Warren regards the student portion of that total (1.46 Trillion) to be a matter of crisis and many others are starting to agree. The "other" portion includes health bills that mount for unfortunate victims and these poorer folks do not have attorney fees capable of legally declaring bankruptcy. Needed radical changes, which in the past occurred through revolution, war, pandemic or national collapse may be called for through non-violent means. Is this needed to address portions of personal debt loads?
Frequently, in the long financial history of the world, the burden of personal debts was removed though circumstances that have changed over time. In fact, jubilees were regular practices in the ancient Near East when most indebtedness was to the leaders of the national government; new rulers upon ascending the throne would proclaim edicts that would eliminate existing debts, thus reintroducing economic stability to the land; bond servants would be returned to their homes and liberated citizens would furnish labor and military service for the new monarch.
The Mosaic Law presented the ideal of a liberation or Sabbath of Sabbaths (49) every fiftieth year when agrarian debts would be relieved and land returned to original debtors (see Leviticus 25). The Sacred Scriptures clearly called for social justice, whereby the indebted could have a fresh start in an atmosphere of economic freedom. Today, indebtedness includes immense national debts and the creditors are a mixed lot with intermediary agencies holding and distributed the debt to corporate bodies and investors even in foreign lands. Was this idea of liberation an actual event or only open to creditors as a way of proper behavior before God? We are unsure, but are alert to debted social injustice and enslavement.
Jubilees are rarer in recent history. Actually, one recent successful one was the 1948 Allied Currency Reform in Germany that liberated the average citizen (not businesses) from debts generally directed to the defeated Nazi regime. American history had instances of national modified debt relief (1841 and again in the 1930s) and the Biblical jubilee quotation is found on our liberty bell "Proclaim liberty throughout the land." Can something be again done since our nation has the highest indebtedness in history and, as occurs often in economic history, the wealthy 1% are reaping in half of the advance in income each year as inequality mounts and the lower income classes stagnate? These virtually stagnant incomes do not match growth in productivity of employers. Change is in the air and will it be non-violent?
Forgiving some debts is a moral issue. Imperfect human beings need a time to start over, for many experience false starts and burdensome detours in life. God's mercy brings forgiveness; so ought our human mercy. However, what about a bad credit debt where consumers did not manage limited income properly and follow the allurement to spend "future" money on unnecessary items and services with no heed as to how or when it will be repaid. To forgive those who were thoughtless and with resources belonging to the commons is not really a proper moral practice. Furthermore, who is the moral judge who must decide whether an individual should be debt forgiven or not? It is unfair that the frugal have to bear some of the costs of this jubilee event. Not all debts need to be forgiven when the indebted can pay over time.
What about unfortunate and unexpected debts? The current system of bankruptcy exists for those unable to pay back over a reasonable time period, or a legal system made operative that allows for a paced payback according to reasonable means. Actually, access to legal advice needs to be provided to those unable to secure a lawyer due to inadequate funding at this moment. Laws need to exist that payment will come from assets or other means over a time period rather than being up front. However, once said for those with enormous medical bills, still most individuals do not want the blemish of bankruptcy hanging over their overall credit history. They would prefer to pay their bills and be known for doing so. Still personal choices due to substance abuse or false choices in higher education places some blame on debtors. The situation needs continued refinement. See next week.