November 1, 2006 A Saint for the Day
I believe that the saints are part of our community of faith,
for they assist us on our journey even though they have attained
what their faith envisioned. They have arrived and help us from a
distance direct our journey properly. So we need not travel
Some of those saints are popular ones who are known to
travelers because of their own undertakings in life -- the ones who
journeyed far and wide such as Thomas the Apostle, Francis Xavier
or Martin I. Others are those who stayed near at home but were
aware of the needs of those on the journey such as Theresa, the
Little Flower. All of the well known saints are close to the
community of believers, but on this day we are encouraged to choose
others as well who are not so well known -- either from the 20,000
or so recognized saints, or from holy people who we are quite
confident are in the radiance of the Divine Light. Why not, for
that is what All Saints Day is all about?
I hear about certain communities (churches or religious
groups) who are confident that one or other person who has passed
on is already before the throne of God, and pray to them for
intercession and protection. We are all one community and the ones
who pray are sure that the deceased is in a good position being in
the company of Jesus and the heavenly court. A favorite
acquaintance, friend, or relative may fit the bill of a model to
uphold and converse with through prayer. Quite often, as in the
case of saints who are on the road to public canonization, special
favors are showered down. A person recovers to good health even
after stopping taking prescribed medicine; another feels protected
from impending dangers; still another will secure a job after much
frustration in finding work. These special favors encourage
petitioners to continue prayerful conversations.
I only rarely make such petitions, for I am convinced that
God's will is being done at all times and that what we need most is
the ability and willingness to perceive and obey this will. Do
saints help? Yes, and I think all Christians hold that the
community at prayer helps -- no exceptions. The differences are in
the portions of that body of believers who hold the saints have a
special role. I see the great need to have models in life and so
my homilies are constantly spiced with examples from the lives of
the saints. They are there to help as part of the divine family,
and we are challenged to see our needs as a family affair.
It is good to know that the power of the saints extends to a
broader community and not to a very select few. We all know people
who most certainly have suffered enough in life. Surely a loving
and merciful Lord will give them special favor at this time. It is
healthy to be on the lookout for these others who are able to
endure the trials of life and come through successful. It is also
very good to tell others, especially youth in the need of models,
just how they succeeded in life.
November 2, 2006 Daniel Boone: A Poor Soul
On this day when we remember holy souls who are on their road
to seeing God, we think about individuals who for some reason did
not succeed or accomplish what they set out to do. We call them
"poor souls" because they attempted to, but did not properly attain
the highest mark that they set for themselves. I think most good
Kentuckians would call Daniel Boone, who was born on this day in
1734, truly a poor soul, whether or not he is still on road to the
Light. Why the poor soul status, since it seems he should have died
with great honors being the father of the future commonwealth of
Boone moved about much in his life and never fully established
roots until later in life. He was born in Pennsylvania, and moved
when young with his family to North Carolina. He took part in the
1755 Braddock campaign, which was disastrous. After serving as a
frontiersman in Kentucky (including a year or so near my own home
in Mason County in the 1780s), he moved to West Virginia in 1788.
One decade later Boone said Kentucky was too crowded and so crossed
the Mississippi and settled down in Missouri, where he died in
1820. Though he held several elected offices, these did not induce
him to lay down deeper roots in the frontier settlements that he
In 1775 he was hired by the Transylvania Company to chop a
trail through Cumberland Gap to the Kentucky River, and this should
have launched his high career. However, war ensued and he was hard
pressed to hold the small Boonesborough Fort together. He was a
prisoner of the Shawnee in this Revolutionary War period and yet
escaped after having actually befriended his captors. He saw
relatives incur violent deaths, including close relatives in the
Battle of Bluelicks. He was robbed of $20,000 that was entrusted
to him for land purchases during and immediately after this period.
He could have been called the "father of Kentucky" and yet Virginia
retained the future Kentucky until 1792. He lost title to
thousands of acres of land he surveyed in what would be the
bluegrass state, these titles were voided due to improper entry
into record books. Thus he left Kentucky indebted -- not lauded.
He returned later after settling in Missouri to paid back debts.
His exact Missouri grave was disputed when his body was
presumed removed and brought back to Kentucky in the mid-nineteenth
century. But in this state's Frankfort cemetery he was still a
poor soul, for his grave stone was damaged by souvenir seekers.
And to add still more misfortune, the only major highway named
after him here in Kentucky was renamed for an elected official a
few years ago. Yes, Boone is a legend, but legends tend to gloss
over misfortunes of life. Daniel Boone must have been a creative,
easy going, hospitable, and high energy individual who amid all of
life's vicissitudes did not surrender to cynicism. Boone was
basically an honest person, the type of American who truly was one
of the cornerstones of our great land. While a "poor soul,"
Daniel Boone is a person worthy of our continued respect.
November 3, 2006 World Community Day
With growing clarity we know we must create a world community.
The challenge is ever greater as we consider possible options for
improving this troubled world. One approach is to focus on global
bodies and leave local issues to others; another is to ignore the
global demands and focus on the grassroots as healthy organisms
that influence the planet from the ground up. The true answer may
not be an either/or but a both/and. An emerging global community
demands healthy and self-regulating local communities at the
grassroots, and grassroots organizations need global networks for
communications and regulation. Both are needed for final success.
Some object that if we are so deeply concerned we should deal
only with critical global environmental issues. But we can respond
that the "environment" is a broad issue and that to harp on global
warming or endangered species day after day turns people off. It
is frustrating hearing what must be done and yet feeling powerless
to do anything. Actually, enhancing local environmental health is
not only something we perceive more easily; it has a scientific
basis as well as broader-based community support. The beauty of
changing nature, foods and dishes, human relations, and day-by-day
practices is as important to the total human ecology as the
pressure to say things constantly about what others must do. We
seek an elementary balance that is achieved through attention to a
wide variety of subjects. The philosophy used in creating the
"Simple Lifestyle Calendar" is still operative.
Again reasons for pursuing both courses together is: attention
must be given to improving the quality of life through viable
alternatives for people who are tempted by the allurements of this
consumer culture; and attention must be given to the improvement of
larger global agencies so that the world may unite as a single
body. Never before in human history has the oneness of our purpose
and goals so overlapped on the level of all major religions and
authentic movements. We are converging to a unity: world courts
and administration of justice; world police and peacemaking
functions; world trade agreements for better or worse; world
trusteeship over Antarctica; world regulation of use of the oceans
and of shipping; world cooperative endeavors to deal with
epidemics and health problems; world warning systems for climatic
changes and natural disasters; world communications and airline
regulations; the Geneva Convention; world sanctions on trade in
endangered species for commercial purposes; international
scientific conferences; and on and on.
Each of these global issues is worthy of attention and the
purposes worth reflection and support. We try in our own way to
give the global concerns some time -- but in the end what we do on
the local level has equal weight, for there we see the effects of
our own undertakings and pass our learned experience on to others.
May we also be able to engage on both the local and global fronts
without dampening our enthusiasm for environmental issues. That
will continue to be a challenge to all of us.
November 4, 2006 Green Hospitals
Six weeks ago at Saint Malo's in Colorado I led a
seminar/retreat for health caregivers (administrators and
chaplains) from the 40-hospital Catholic Health Initiatives group.
The basic themes were eco-spirituality and environmental ethics.
In the course of talks and discussions that emerged two important
points where religious-oriented hospitals could take a leadership
role in the total American health care arena: seeing individual
suffering as part of a grander picture and green hospitals. The
first is treated here under the April and later sections of
Spirituality through the Seasons. The second has a broader appeal
in the health care community system.
A green hospital (not referring to a money-generating source)
is one that takes environmental protection and promotion as well as
resource conservation seriously, and is willing to become a model
for other such institutions to imitate. Participants mentioned
both specific hospitals that were starting to think this way and
instances where their own hospitals were concerned about initiating
green practices. Obviously, the major change in the last decade is
the curbing of smoking within buildings. A number of other proven
innovations have been suggested:
* Solar applications -- Using solar energy in such practices
as hot water heating, passive space heating, water distillation,
and photovoltaic applications (electricity generation, fountains,
path lights, signs, etc.) (see Daily Reflections Contents);
* Green roofing and grounds -- Planting grass, shrubs,
flowers and herbs on roof areas of buildings. This modification is
best undertaken in the construction rather than the retrofitting of
buildings; it has the effects of expanding accessible green space,
improving exterior beauty, acting as low-cost insulating materials,
and conserving water, especially in arid areas. Trees could be
planted on the grounds and dedicated to honored past and present
administrators and personnel;
* Utilization of materials -- Recycling of unused supplies.
Once opened medical and surgical kits are discarded by state
requirements, even though substantial portions are perfectly
useable and recyclable. Some hospitals ship unused portions to
health facilities in less developed countries;
* Room decorations -- More colorful and homey atmospheres
designed for hospice and long-term care facilities;
* Noise pollution controls -- Curbs on interior noise.
Surprisingly this is a frequently suggested topic because some room
and corridor noise levels are elevated due to lack of acoustical
materials and sheer traffic and activities. Carpeting, drapes, and
wall fabric hangings muffle noise but present cleaning problems.
Individual paging systems reduce vocal intercom announcements.
Earphones can be used when listening to television and radio.
November 5, 2006 Called to Love Others
I love you Yahweh, my strength. (Psalm 18:1)
What we are often reluctant to admit is that love drives our
actions. Marriage partners proclaim it in their words and actions;
those raising children show it through caring; artists portray
their love for the art in their works; caregivers manifest love
through ongoing dedication. People like what they are doing. I
admit that I enjoy God's call to me for the priesthood and hope
that this enjoyment and appreciation continue every day of the
remaining active ministry. We can say only so much; billions of
words do not equal that of faithful and devoted deeds.
Today's Gospel passage (Mark 12:28-34) is the story of an
earnest scribe asking Jesus what is the greatest of the
commandments, and Jesus answering with loving God with our whole
heart, soul, mind and strength, and the second is loving our
neighbor as ourselves. The two are closely tied, for we actually
affirm our love of God in words and confirm it in deeds of loving
kindness to others. And the scribe adds that these are worth more
than burnt offerings and sacrifices. We need to remember that
there were many requirements and commandments in the tradition in
which Jesus lived and that burnt offerings were the work of the
priests in the name of the people.
We are all called to do special things in life. We often pray
that God's work be done in various specific ways such as religious
life or priesthood. The sacrifice is not the important thing, not
even what we give up to follow a certain profession or vocation.
That is part of the journey of faith that calls for sacrifice. It
is how loving we are in accepting the sacrifice and how much we
offer not as burnt offerings but as loving offerings back to God
for the privilege of living at this time and place. In our heart
of hearts, most people want to do meaningful and fruitful service,
not seek security, power or wealth. We want to hear the divine
call and obey it through service to others.
It is not wrong to dream of what lies ahead provided the
dreams are down-to-earth and realistic. However, we are often
reluctant to acknowledge our dreams because we don't like day
dreamers. We prefer to focus on our unworthiness that becomes more
evident with time. But is that being realistic? When young, the
world is full of possibilities; in time we find that our education,
stamina, ability to interact with others, or a million drawbacks
keep us from fulfilling what we dream of doing. But we can still
love amid all these difficulties. Many folks flee from being who
they are called to be and seek refuge in media, Internet, or
substance abuse. They strive to become another, or live
unrealistic dreams, or have no dreams at all. But we cannot flee
from the Hound of Heaven. Each of us is called to be ourselves and
to be with the Lord through being with our neighbors in their
struggles. And to do so more perfectly takes some imagining and
dreaming. Pray that we continue to love and enjoy our calling.
(photo: Janet Powell)
November 6, 2006 Going to the Polls
The expression "going to the polls" requires explanation to
some who now see polls as referring to getting an opinion on a
political or social matter. It means in traditional parlance going
to vote at polling or voting places. When I was growing up, my
folks always made a special effort to vote during an election on
the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November. Yes, voting
was regarded as almost a religious duty that has carried on through
the years. When we have newly moved, the task of knowing the local
scene becomes far more difficult.
Do vote. Tomorrow is "Election Day." This does not have to
be a partisan matter but one of exercising a civic duty. We are
advised to give the listing of candidates a special once-over. If
we are unfamiliar with certain positions or people, we most likely
have a trusted friend who knows the slate very well. Is it wrong
to ask another for advice? By no means. In fact, this may prove
a far better way to learn how to vote than listening to or watching
advertisements on the news media -- for often the appeal is to
appearances and not to the depths of the issues.
Seek advice. If we see eye-to-eye with the views of certain
people, it may be that their choices are most likely our choices.
However, said, after staying around a while and learning what the
elected officials do on certain issues, we should be able to make
our own individual choices with greater finesse and consideration.
Study where candidates stand. No matter how glitzy the ads,
still the manner in which someone responds to key issues may be a
determining factor. It may be what is said or what is omitted, but
it is worth listening to or reading about a particular candidate's
response. We ought to spend time reviewing track records and weigh
responses to issues. It may be late in the game (the day before an
election) for learning about candidates and yet we need to do the
best we can.
Should one vote for a political party? Some say an
unqualified "yes," and some "no." Perhaps it depends on whether
you are a party loyalist. Such party line voting reflects a
confidence that those who rose in the ranks of a chosen party are
closer to personal views than a random selection from various
slates. This view does not appeal to many of us today, and we
prefer the suggestion to vote the person and not the party,
especially when we judge that a particular candidate will be
effective no matter whether his or her party wins or loses.
Get others to vote. Your urging may be all it takes to
exercise one's civic duty at this time. Sometimes they may say it
is too hard to get to the polling place -- and that means offering
them the transportation to get to vote. They may protest that they
do not know the issues and candidates. That will take some
additional contribution of time and resources.
November 7, 2006 James Lovelock: Right or Wrong?
I heard an interview by Bob Edwards on National Public Radio
with James Lovelock, the British scientist who propounds the "Gaia
Theory" of Earth's being a self-regulating system or organism with
a life of its own. This theory hits a responsive cord for most of
us who regard Mother Earth as alive though fragile and needing our
continued protection. While his scientific theory may have some
basis, his most recent book, The Revenge of Gaia, sounds
frightening and quite uninviting, for Earth is not capable of such
emotional responses to our actions. Perhaps his biological
expertise has been stretched just a little beyond the territorial
limits of his academic competency. In the interview Lovelock
paints a bleak picture of where Earth is heading. He even talks
about the irreversibility of our environmental destructive
practices. Earth is on a downward spiral due to human
mistreatment, and the three Cs: combustion, cars and cattle. We
often forget the cattle, but passing methane, overgrazing, and
cutting of forest for grasslands have taken a devastating toll on
I even agree with Lovelock when he says that biofuels (making
alcohols from plant growth) are simply crazy, if people think they
are a solution to the fuel problem. Yes, we get little return from
the vast use of cleared farmland to grow the crops that are
converted to fuels that are partly wasted through the
inefficiencies of the internal combustion engine. Even worse, some
forests are being cut down to grow the plantations that will
produce the palm oil to be used for the biofuels. Yes, it's crazy.
Beyond these comments, I disagree greatly with Lovelock on
this the birthday of Marie Curie (born 1867), a scientist who
worked on radioactive materials. Let's remember that Lovelock is
not an appropriate technologist and thinks in terms of megasystems
and large-scale schemes for averting or postponing the disaster
that may or will come. He does not see the value of reliance on
wind and solar energy in combination with energy conservation (my
Earthhealing-proposed solution that is standard fare for most
environmentalists). He says wind is not continuously blowing
(true) and each unit produces a tiny fraction of what a nuclear
powerplant does -- but costs an even smaller fraction, right?
Lovelock places his bets on saving Earth on nuclear power. He
belittles the unsolved nuclear waste problem, the billions of
dollars needed for nuclear powerplants, the serious health problems
associated with mishaps, and the centralized and terrorist-
attracting prone plants (as opposed to decentralized harmless wind
generators). Certainly, nuclear power plants emit no carbon
dioxide if, yes, if you forget that most enriched uranium in the
United States is derived from processing plants using coal-
generated electricity. Every pound of processed uranium represents
a massive amount of carbon fuel, which is overlooked. Lovelock
casts a vivid fearful scenario for our planet, but his solutions
are equally fearful. Can't you do better than this James?
November 8, 2006 The Fall of the Berlin Wall
Seventeen years ago today the Berlin Wall fell. That ugly
symbol of oppression that divided Communist East from West Germany
lasted for about four decades and did much to create massive
tension for people wanting to cross over to the other side. In the
attempt some were shot and others caught and imprisoned; and all,
and especially the divided German people, were happy to see it
fall. My only encounter with the Berlin Wall was when I had to
return to the Youth Hostel in which I was staying in 1982 and I
could not remember the full name of the place nor describe it well
enough in my elementary German to get proper directions. Time was
running out before closing time and the streets were dark and I was
near panic along the Berlin Wall -- what a vivid nightmare.
In 1989, crowbars and bare hands brought down the Berlin Wall,
that awful symbol of division, and the atmosphere was one of
euphoria and joy. The Cold War was coming to its finale and yet
there was no fairy story ending. Eastern Germany has had a hard
time assimilating and obtaining an equal economic and social
footing with the western portion of a united Germany. Migration
has been heavy from the East as people have sought better
opportunities -- even though considerable national wealth has been
utilized to overcome differences. Can we not learn from history
that Berlin Walls like the Great Wall of China and the Roman Empire
frontier walls do not ultimately serve the best interest of any
party? The Chinese were attempting to keep the Mongol out and this
worked for a period of time. The Romans were attempting to keep
our own Germanic ancestors out of the rich and cultured Empire and
that worked for a certain period -- though when the Rhine froze
one winter in the early fifth century A.D. the hoards crossed in
large numbers. With time they entered, overpowered and conquered.
Barriers are not easily removed after a generation or more.
We find this in neighborhoods such as those in Ulster in Northern
Ireland, where barriers between the Catholic and Protestant
neighborhoods exist. Maybe we should learn from history that
contrary to what our poet Robert Frost says about the domestic
scene, walls do not make good neighbors -- they only hold
back from settling underlying neighborhood disputes and
differences. Far better to tear down the barriers and settle
matters by other means.
A lack of historical consciousness may result in the United
States at this time repeating past mistakes and erecting a
physical barrier between this country and Mexico (passed by both
houses of Congress as of this writing). Many of our people
including those in power are bent on constructing a barrier wall
with the latest detection equipment -- all to keep out people who
want to come and earn a livelihood in our own fair land. And
plenty on our side of the border are encouraging them to make this
dangerous crossing. Far better would be a guest program that would
not require illegal entry or the presence of an expensive,
unsightly, and forbidding barrier wall. Tell us Berliners!
A lovely autumn scene,
Sunrise Ridge, Stanton Kentucky
(Photo: Marge Para)
9, 2006 Finding Our Way Home
People are like homing pigeons with an instinct for going
home, but people lack the skills of the bird in their undertakings;
we do not always know the way. However, we desire the security,
protection, warmth, and love found in home life that is often so
elusive. "Home" brings back memories of past happy occasions when
the domestic walls of a pleasant place in which we resided or
visited exuded love. These were more than mere houses or
domiciles; these had special quality; we could relax and take off
our shoes and put our feet up. Hospitality was in the atmosphere.
A lot of sentimental songs have been written and sung about a
home far away: My Ole Kentucky Home, Home on the Range,
Home, and on and on. Something makes our heart skip when we
of such homes which were such special places. We are destined to
seek home and we are oriented in many ways by the place from which
we came. A good more permanent home gives us orientation and
direction or bearing. Earth as home becomes our motherland, our
birth and tomb, our object of respect. And Earth is shared with
others who live here and seek a decent life as well. A sense of
home needs to be extended to them -- for we are all strangers and
guests in some way and thus must make the best of what we've got.
Today is the feast of the dedication of the mother of all
churches in the west, St. John Lateran in Rome. It was built in
328 in the time of Constantine, and dedicated to Our Savior. Next
to this church, the popes lived for a thousand years, and this
ancient church was the location of five general councils of the
Church. So it holds a special place in our collective spiritual
hearts as part of the Body of Christ that needs sacred space -- not
because God needs it, but because we as human beings need it as a
American soldiers and travelers have a sense of pride on
seeing our land again. They may even become a little weepy.
Homing is a beckoning movement within us that draws us back again
to where we felt a sense of belonging. Psychic energy and
residual loyalty enhance each other. The sense of being drawn back
is a deep experience, something that is never erased by time. That
is why homecomings and family get-togethers are so important and so
enjoyed by those who have been absent. We are again with our own -
- whatever that could mean?
However, no home we have experienced, no matter how warm and
loving is totally satisfactory, because we are people on the road.
Our ultimate home is eternal and is beyond the veil of this mortal
life. Yes, we must keep our present house as home to kith and kin.
But that is not enough. We long for the face of God, and that
longing is the very core of our restless quest. We will not cease
hunting and moving out until we reach our ultimate home in heaven.
And this restlessness is with us in a startling manner and won't go
away. Simultaneously, we are at home, homeless, and always
homeward bound -- the past, present and future of the "home."
November 10, 2006 Moslems and Respect
As the Middle East conflict deepens with impending or existing
civil war, and in the aftermath of 9-11 and all resulting soul
searching, we must compare our attitudes with the Moslem world --
and especially so on the birthday of Mohammed who was born on this
date in 570. Are we so willing to cast blame or create stereotypes
when Moslems come in all shades, nationalities, and cultural
backgrounds? This question of attitude is not meant to cast blame
on ourselves, only to ask what we hold and how this is influenced
by current developments. What some of us are arriving at is that
this is a long-term conflict between Moslem and western cultures.
But is this a complete assessment and does it contain some
dangerous and hidden implications?
Pope Benedict XVI has taken a leadership role in inviting
rational discussion of differences in cultures -- but his remarks
at Regensberg in September were deliberately taken out of context
by the news media and thus triggered a global fire storm among
Moslems. His learned article could hardly have demanded apology
for it is true; he phrased it correctly in saying he regretted the
misinterpretation -- what more? He never agreed with the quotation
that caused the controversy and said in the preceding clause that
this was an historically wrong approach. The reaction surely
showed how tender the situation is today and yet what he asked for
-- rational dialog -- is more needed than violent reaction.
I deeply respect Moslems and even more so after performing an
environmental resource assessment of their West Virginia center.
There I was able to witness their prayer service and found that
they pray with sincere and open hearts. However, this must be said
as well: we Christians are quite often prone to being self-
critical for we must be a confessing people. Our history includes
a past that needs to seek forgiveness -- and that is evident to all
and is expressed. However, we live in a world of two-way streets.
All need forgiveness and our respect for other religions
all become aware of the two-way nature of seeking forgiveness. The
age of military crusades is far gone and we have learned from
history -- we hope. We are here on Earth together.
Moslem/Western dialog must include the question of cultural
differences, respect for the sensitivities of all parties,
willingness to accept each other, and openness on the part of all
nations to allowing the practice of the other's religion -- and
this is especially true in Saudi Arabia and parts of the Middle
East. We do not reduce respect by such accommodation to all
residents; rather our respect for the other grows as more freedom
is allowed. It is precisely because we are called to respect all
believers that we want them to grow together with us in peace and
tolerance. Any form of violence only erodes that respect and
requires extra effort to rebuild it. Our world is simply too
small; we cannot tolerate violence but that must be said in an
atmosphere of love and mercy, not militaristic response. The
rational dialog must begin -- and at once, not down the road.
November 11, 2006 The Ones Who Gave Their All
I am like many Americans on this Veteran's Day as the death
count in Iraq surpasses the three thousand mark for Coalition
forces. And what if we include the tens or hundreds of thousands
of Iraq citizens and soldiers who have also died. With such
mounting casualties it is all the harder to discuss the morality of
that Middle Eastern conflict. Should a potential recruit seek
advice before going into the military, we must be forthright about
our views. But what about attitudes for the person who has already
entered and now is engaged in training, shipment to a war zone,
fighting, or returning? This is another story. What do we say to
relatives of service personnel, especially those who have made the
supreme sacrifice? That is a 2006 Veteran's Day question.
An additional internal struggle occurs in discussion,
counseling and addressing the wounded and relatives of this
particular conflict. Does anyone really suffer or die in vain?
This last question is perhaps the most pressing for the conflict
will most likely continue for some time. Veterans remember their
fallen buddies and know that the conflicts have a certain degree of
tenuous legitimacy that has allowed some to justify the supreme
sacrifice of that person -- even when a nation shows less gratitude
with time. Certainly, confidence in that conflict is being
shaken. For some, soul searching is frightening and we, as
companions to those who suffer, must help address their concerns.
I was faced once before, in the Vietnam era in my first
pastoral role, fresh from ordination to be an associate chaplain at
Great Lakes Naval Base (1967-69). Yes, my hatred for war or even
particular wars does not mean I do not offer assistance when called
for. My ambivalence is still present. I cannot refuse pastoral
help, and yet I will not pretend to justify the struggle even in
the manner that some of the combatants have justified it in their
own lives. I honor their own justification. However, they may
seek personal counseling; if they now desire conscientious
objection status, I assist where I can; if they want to talk, I am
there to help; if they seek forgiveness, well we are all part of
the cause of global conflict and we all need forgiveness.
Suffering that we endure but do not individually cause is
never in vain. If anything, we suffer for all who are collectively
participants and all who are partly to blame. Thus while not
perfect, we all enter into the sufferings of the Lord who is
perfect and was least deserving of what he endured. The greater
the degree to which we offer that suffering and do so with
forgiving hearts, the better we prepare the world for its coming
glory. So even a surviving or wounded veteran and the family of
those who were killed in the conflict can offer meaningful
suffering for the sake of all, friends and foes alike. The more
open our hearts are to such sufferings, the more valuable our
offering. Thus through love and mercy we ensure that no suffering
or death was in vain -- and this much we must do no matter what we
think of the horrors of the previous or ongoing conflict.
November 12, 2006 The Widow's Mite
A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few
cents. (Mark 12:42)
The Art of Radical Giving. The art of giving sometimes
requires critical decisions. Other times it involves the smaller
moments, which grow into bigger ones and help us make the act an
art. If we learn to let go with a generous heart when young, then
we can do it better when older. We begin by letting go of the
little things: our time, our talents, our thoughts and treats for
the day, our treasures. Jesus tells the rich young man to give up
his possessions, if he wishes to be perfect and to let go of what
he holds so dear -- namely, his money and power. So often we try
to give everything to infants or children or employees or spouse.
But mere giving, without a responsibility on the part of the
receiver, can sometimes lead to false expectations of still more
and more gifts. Giving to another should be accompanied by a
reciprocity, not that it is absolutely necessary for us, but rather
it is for the receiver of gifts.
Mini-crises. Stephen came in among the top ten in his running
meet, which meant that he qualified for the team trip the following
week. The time-keeper got it wrong and said the next runner had
come in ahead of Stephen. Great disappointment, but he was
counseled to accept the mistake to go, for the next fellow was so
jubilant that he could go on the trip. Fair rules: give, if it
involves you; hold on for justice, if it involves another.
Affluence can harm us. Giving a large amount out of existing
surplus can be dangerous for it makes us think we have the power to
give and to dictate how the gift is to be used. This surplus is
worth considering in all that we do, for surpluses must be given in
justice, not in charity, when a genuine need exists. In former
times, distant people could not easily communicate about individual
needs, and so the surplus could remain in good keeping. Thus
stewardship consisted in storing the surplus until the need
(usually local) should arise. But in our age, with instant
communication and efficient transportation, the message of need
from a distant country comes to us loud and clear. We are aware of
hungry children, and the modern transportation system gives us the
possibility of meeting those needs effectively. Affluence means
holding on to our goods so tightly that we never want to let go --
and such a grip is utterly harmful to our own spiritual growth.
Telling Others to Give. It is easier to encourage others to
let go of their surpluses than to convince ourselves. We each have
a certain area where we let go, whether rich or poor, in the eyes
of the world or of ourselves. We let go of our childhood which was
shared with others, or we let go of our school loyalties, when we
moved or chose a partner or went beyond where we were before. The
Lord calls each Christian to continue to let go all though life,
and ultimately at the moment of death. Giving of our surplus is
part of the art of letting go. Let's do so with grace.
November 13, 2006 The Karen Silkwood Saga
Today 32 years ago, a 28-year old lab technician at the Kerr-
McGee plutonium fuels production plant in Cresent, Oklahoma, died
in what many regarded as a suspicious automobile accident. Karen
Silkwood was on her way home after work and had been involved right
before in criticizing her worker safety environment. In the eight
days prior to her death her criticism had become most intense
because she discovered plutonium contamination in her immediate
workspace area and then it was discovered in her home environment.
After her death, tissue analysis revealed some contamination within
her body, most likely of recent origin.
Questions from that time until now remain for the greater part
unanswered. I, for one, know how easily lab contamination can
occur from working in chemical laboratory environments. And yet my
loyalties were torn because of my respect for the union that Karen
belonged to (the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers), for these
generous folks gave us our first office space when three of us
opened the Center for Science in the Public Interest in late 1970.
The questions that have persisted to this day include: Was
the Trooper who investigated the Silkwood accident correct in
calling it a one-car-sleeping-driver accident? Was Karen's car
struck from behind on that lonely Oklahoma Route 74, and, if not,
why were there fresh dents in the back of her car? Had she taken
or was she given the methaqualone to induce drowsiness that was
found in her stomach? After certain legal struggles immediately
after her death, why was the case headed back to court twelve years
later and then settled out of court for $1.3 million? Why did the
plant close a year after the accident? Why a few days before her
death was contamination found on her arms and face and yet not in
her locker or car? Had she ingested plutonium immediately prior to
her death as the Atomic Energy Commission analyses seem to have
suggested? And was she or someone else the cause of her
contamination and/or of her death?
Some unanswered questions recede in our memory and get lost in
the clutter of life. And sometimes they are retained and
retriggered year after year at certain times and happenings. It is
that way with the Silkwood Saga. Nothing truly made sense if she
perpetrated the accidental events. On the other hand, why would
the company have deliberately contaminated or harmed her? What we
do know is that something dramatic happened and that it led to
serious questions about worker safety in the nuclear processing
industry. In the ensuing thirty-two years, numerous cases of
worker health problems have surfaced that were not the result of
mere haphazard accidents. Workers in substantial numbers have
developed rare cancers and other diseases that can only be
attributable to proximity to plutonium -- an extremely dangerous
carcinogenic compound. We know we cannot treat worker safety
issues in a cavalier manner. Questions about the Silkwood death
remain unanswered, but the event is well worth remembering by all
concerned with worker safety -- and with nuclear power issues.
November 14, 2006 American Education Week
We all are concerned about the value of the education received
by American youth. All of us have ways in which we would like to
see this education improved. Some of these ways have proven to be
somewhat successful; others await the final verdict. I am not a
professional educator but realize that the citizenry has a stake in
voting bond issues for candidates for education boards and
administrators. The following are education issues worthy of our
* Morals and values being presented at public as well as
* Safety and discipline on route to and at particular
schools, how well the students and teachers are protected, and a
willingness on the part of students to report threats of any sort;
* Access to and use of illegal substances by those at or near
the school including the sale of drugs in the vicinity;
* Availability of auxiliary services (laboratory facilities,
music, art, computer technology, guidance, and counseling);
* School lunch and nutrition programs along with easy and
unsupervised access to junk food;
* Bullying or unfair peer pressure especially with reference
to dress codes;
* Value of magnet or other special advancement or placement
facilities in a total system that lacks adequate funding;
* Over stress on certain extracurricular activities and
especially sports programs and the funding of these;
* Heavy focus on testing and rating by the state or other
groups that place too heavy a stress on under-achieving or creative
* Presence of mixed racial or cultural groups and the
relations and harmony in the entire school body;
* Inability of those who deserve advanced studies or those
with special needs to have them attended to;
* Participation of parents in school policy-making; and
* Financial issues related to adequate teacher pay and the
type of equipment and physical facilities.
These seem at first hand to be the primary voter concern and
yet we may still be omitting top priority items related to our
current education systems. We must all stay involved.
American chestnut, Castanea dentata. Unblighted at
this young age.
(photo: Janet Powell)
15, 2006 Chipmunks and "Ground Squirrels"
We in Kentucky always called the eastern chipmunk (Tamias
striatus) "ground squirrels," but further west the other related
species of rodents are known as Richardson's ground squirrels or
gophers or American marmots. By the time one reaches the Great
Plains there are prairie dogs and a variety of burrowing and
excavating creatures that are sub-distinguished -- and west of the
Rockies there are still more. But the eastern chipmunk is brown
with light and dark stripes and is our common ground squirrel.
Friend or foe? I always regarded this chipmunk as cute and
worthy of close observation. Their chirp, especially when
startled, is a delight. Besides the sheer beauty and entertainment
that these rather ubiquitous creatures give us in our daily
observations, they do serve some specific functions. The little
varmints bury nuts and seeds that can sprout from their complex
tunnel networks and become the trees of tomorrow when it is
particularly difficult for some of these to be buried far enough
below the surface to germinate. Some make pets of them and find
they can live beyond their normal life of three years to upwards of
five additional ones in captivity. Others regard these creatures
as a food source for mammals, raptors and snakes as well as for
dogs and cats -- a problem in itself.
Pests? Some call these little omnivores nuisances, since they
will eat just about everything, from grains, seeds, berries
(blackberries and raspberries) and mushrooms to insects, bird eggs
and salamanders. Extensive literature is available on how to trap,
kill or move them to other locations. However, many of us are
against transferral to new locations, for, after being moved, the
little varmint is more susceptible to being preyed upon or
spreading disease. They can get into flowerbeds and gardens and
look for bulbs and seeds. This year I blame these culprits this
year for uprooting my small American chestnut saplings to extract
the remainder of the nut. My nearness to the Daniel Boone National
Forest makes me more tolerant of the various wildlife that come out
of the woods
Hibernation? We observe chipmunks on various of the
increasingly warm winter days and wonder whether the claim that
they hibernate is really true. Maybe their food sources are
scattered and not in one tunnel complex. Maybe they think it is
spring before the normal time. And maybe they are only temporary
sleepers who get up and stir on occasion. But in fact we do see
the rustling of winter leaves when they make their quick movements
about in the wooded areas or in protective underbrush. In fact, in
the non-growing months that are upon us, it is good to hear and
observe the life of the "ground squirrel," the non-total sleepers
who are all around us. I doubt whether these little rascals will
ever be given full protection, but they deserve our respect as they
make a grand living on what would appear to be rather barren land.
They may not be the harbingers of spring, but they are part of
ongoing winter life -- and of ongoing wildlife in its utter delight.
November 16, 2006 Natural Capital
The BBC recently reported that one ecological economist
estimated that the forested sections of northern Canada and Russia
contribute some $250 billion annually in value to the planet
through absorbing carbon, purifying water and providing other
ecological benefits that may include modifying climate conditions,
harboring wildlife, and controlling pests. All of us recognize a
series of such benefits from evergreen forests, but we are
skeptical as to how such economic totals can be arrived at.
Certainly "natural capital" may be acknowledged even by some of us
who are not admirers of capitalism, but we need not worry: few
capitalistic economists will include this natural capital in their
But though natural capital estimates may be somewhat loose
approximates, an environmental discussion should include them. We
have accepted estimates that in Maine hundreds of millions of
dollars worth of damage has been done annually through operation of
off-road vehicles in cross country exploits; we have said that
tourism necessitates the inclusion of the scenic value of untouched
forestlands as a component of any assessment of forest worth -- not
just the price of the timber; global warming advocates reach out
for damage estimates; air pollution health effects include the
value of a human life -- for better or worse.
The trouble is that we live in a world that judges in dollars
and cents what is gained or lost by individuals or corporations
through purchase, sale and tax assessment. Market exchange is the
sole arbiter of value and that makes the broader environmental
discussion more confined. But that should not be the case. Some
perform calculations based on the cost of damage repair and, for
instance, when determining hurricane losses from Katrina include
the loss of wetlands that could mitigate storm effects. Again,
estimates of environmental damage run into the billions of dollars
-- making the final totals only an approximation. Thus we
frantically search for the proper authority to verify our basic
intuitive awareness that ecological health has monetary value.
I would not stake too much on the final dollar calculations of
the worth of a forest, but add that to perform traditional
practices of valuing by resale or by timber or mineral assessments
is certainly not the true total value either. We should not be
drawn into the trap of both admitting natural capital and giving an
absolute monetary value to it. We know the environmental value is
simply not able to be estimated; we can show the existing or
ultimate value, but we should not see potential environmental
damage given in figures that are open to refutation by the savvy
traditional economists. Common sense, artistic appreciation, and
a sense of eco-justice announce a value; let us not allow the
marketplace to make such a determination, for it will always be a
deflated figure that allows the destruction of that priceless
environment without any sense of remorse. Natural capital exists,
but should the value be subject to economists' final judgments?
November 17, 2006 Non-Driver Independence?
Recently I returned to Austin, Texas, to perform an
environmental resource assessment for a parish. during the free
time I tried to stroll around St. Edwards University and found the
same problem I had observed while jogging in that city thirty-six
years ago, when I was a University of Texas post-doctorate fellow,
namely, the city lacks sidewalks. Granted, Austin is a much
larger city and has more sidewalks than in 1970, but it is a
motorists' place and knows it. As in much of America, if people
seek to get around without a motorized vehicle, they are at a
massive disadvantage. Who would walk on an Interstate or even
attempt to cross one? Pedestrians beware!
That brings us down to our dependence on the automobile and
our sense of loss when we cannot get in and ride away at our own
convenience, timing, and creature comfort. The car has so many
advantages and yet the disadvantages (e.g., air pollution,
petroleum depletion, parking demands, congestion, etc.) are well
known. We "have" to have a vehicle or how else can we get around?
The entire culture is geared to allowing the powerful motorized
vehicle to reign supreme -- and to make those who are without,
suffer through the requirement to compete with speeding vehicles.
Now we come to the loss of "freedom" expressed by those unable
to drive due to youth or senility, illness, handicap, poverty,
inexperience, or revocation of a driver's license. Did we name
them all, for nearly half of Americans cannot drive for some
reason? Amazingly a sense of loss of freedom overcomes those who
previously were among the drivers of our land. They feel
inconvenienced through dependence upon others for groceries, health
services or visits to the other places that are outside their
walking range. Freedom is thus restricted due to the nation's
being a drivers' world and through the lack of nearby services.
Scattered and isolated, these feel marooned on islands between the
torrential rivers of traffic.
The answer is certainly not to open the driving privilege to
more and more such as youth and the demented. The answer is a
better service system for the immobilized that would require far
less funding than the expensive Interstate and street systems now
found throughout America. Roads can be both avenues to break
isolation and bonds that bind in those who cannot use them on an
equal basis. A lack of public access that was available a hundred
years ago through local train service is a sorry condition and
exacerbates the isolation of the non-driving public.
Would that those who feel that loss of independence realize
that two-thirds of our presidents did not drive automobiles and
that much of the world today is without such conveniences. Freedom
includes an aroused citizenry that demands that non-drivers's
rights be pursued. What can we do for them while our own
privileges are still intact -- for we are destined to become non-
drivers some day, if we live so long? Who will speak for us then?
November 18, 2006 When he returns will he find faith on
Of all Scripture phrases this haunts me most,
for I sometimes doubt my faith-filled boast,
that we are advent people awaiting his coming,
and can excite others through constant drumming.
Will he find us steady in our own end of time,
expecting him, not in today's passing paradigm,
but rather in salutes of wind and drum, not fear,
trusting that a new creation will surely appear?
I hear his question echoing in my daily praying,
challenging my feeble soothsaying,
seeking success in what's always been done,
and hoping that today's run will go on and on.
Are steely eyes burning with fundamental light,
haters of all worship, not theirs, so right?
Are we ritually correct to openly yearn,
and gradually learn to eagerly await his return?
Will he find faith on Earth?
Will we be ready to help in planetary rebirth
to this wounded and fragile land,
fresh and ready for the coming Son of Man?
November 19, 2006 Apocalypse and Tribulations
But in those days, after the time of distress, the sun will be
darkened, the moon will lose its brightness. (Mark 13:24)
Next Sunday we end the liturgical or Church year and we always
culminate the closing with a look at the end of the times. Really
the imagery is somewhat frightening but that is not the intention
of the writers; for even in times of distress we are to find our
hope and security in the Lord, confident that nothing is lost.
That confidence extends to a final fulfillment when Christ hands
over the Kingdom to the Father. The message written during the
time of former persecutions is still meaningful to us today.
The persecutions described by Daniel (12:1-3) or as quoted in
Mark's time were violent and devastating and yet not totally
different from those today. In Daniel's time, Israel was occupied
by the Syrians and Greek culture, and worship was being imposed on
the Jews by oppressors. As Mark's Gospel was being written,
Jerusalem was under siege by the Roman armies. However, we have
our own tribulations as we find our Earth in turmoil. Terrorist
attacks are quite possible. For anyone in a smog-filled
environment such as Beijing, the sun is not visible; for anyone
enduring light pollution in an urban area, the moon has lost its
brightness and at times can hardly be seen. We hear of drug use
all around, disbelief, and gangs and struggles in schools; we know
people somewhere are without food and that many in our own land are
without health insurance; we are told about famines, AIDS and
hurricanes; we feel the effects of global warming and seem
paralyzed in doing anything about it. We too are in turmoil.
A deeper spirituality is called for today than at any other
time in the world's history. Our ancestors had troubles, but they
could not conceive that their own individual and collective actions
could bring about the destruction of Earth itself. We know that
ours can -- and that some regard the destructive process as already
irreversible. Though as Christians we do not share that pessimism,
we sense that these are critical times deserving of a particular
closeness to the Lord. We would be truly false prophets if we deny
what is so. The truth hurts, and it takes a strong spirituality to
be able to know what is and still steer a steady course in these
Some look for signs of the times from specific Scripture
passage, just as the fundamentalists conceive of the beginnings of
the universe as a scientific record from the Book of Genesis. In
neither case is it so, for the words of Scripture are theological,
not narrative science. The Apocalypse does not give details of
what is to come, but rather shows that what comes must be borne
with equanimity and seen in its honest dimensions, and it still
beckons us to remain faithful throughout all the process of
distress. We are not to lose heart; the Lord will come in God's
good time. But we know something more; the Lord continues to come
to us even in our everyday tribulations, whatever they are.
November 20, 2006 Barns: Environmental Weather Vanes
Far more people are fascinated by barns than just those who
grew up playing, working and spending time in farm barns. Many who
find that these structures punctuate the countryside with a certain
rustic beauty know their contributions to the total environment.
Some of us can tell the economic health of a community by the
conditions of the barns; others find that the cultural expression
of the settlers is shown through the unique architecture of the
farm structures and especially barns; still others see that the
manner in which these structures were built told the story of what
commodities were grown in particular areas. Barns thus become the
study of a people and they tell a story long after the builders
pass on to their sure reward.
Youngsters are drawn to barns, for they are worth exploring
and they stretch the imagination by their presence and inviting
atmosphere. However, I find the fascination has actually deepened
with years, for there is so much cultural history in the shape,
location, and condition of barns -- their size, materials,
foundations and placement. In reading about ethnic settlements and
the cultural ways brought by settlers, one sees that some barns
reveal a complex history of place of origin. There are Germanic,
Polish, Czech, Amish, and Scandinavian barns, tobacco barns and
livestock barns, storage and drying barns. Some are close to homes
and even used for homecomings, dances, worship and social events;
others are multi-tiered, allowing equipment, hay and grain storage
above and livestock stall and pens below. Others include silos and
adjunct structures as integral parts of farming operations.
A tour within the structures give us even more insight into
the manner and materials used by builders in constructing these
buildings. Our large barn at home was 120 feet by 60 feet and was
built for hanging tobacco plus storing hay and equipment as well as
providing pens and stalls for livestock and a milking parlor. That
barn was built about 1900 in a post-and-beam style with 12 by 12-
inch red oak framing timbers about 30 feet tall in the center
posts. Honestly, the interior timber may be worth more than the
structure itself. In inspecting older barns of the 19th century
one finds this gold mine of older heavy timbers of oak or poplar
than can hardly be found today. As long as the roofs are intact,
the timbers are well preserved.
Many of the lesser well-built barns have fallen into disrepair
and perhaps half of those in America are gradually disintegrating
for lack of funds or proper maintenance. The condition of
America's barns is pathetic to say the least. Only a minority have
the white, red, black or gray painting that characterized the barns
when I grew up during the Second World War. This state of
disrepair actually depresses entire communities, no matter how well
the homes are kept. If and when possible, we should try to
preserve barns for they give the countryside a certain character
and add to the scenic beauty of the surroundings. The barn holds
a special place in our hearts.
November 21, 2006 Added Seriousness of Global Warming
We have already discussed the rapidly emerging problem of
global warming twice in two years: an eco-justice issue (July
2004) and prudence (May
27, 2006). The first said that it is certainly
a problem and the second, why we must act now. Amazingly, the
warming process is raising questions but the complexity of climate
makes scientists hesitate to predict results due to emerging
positive (reinforcing warming) or negative (countering) feedback
loops. Here are some possible effects, though the degree of
seriousness is not yet clear:
* Shutdown of the Gulf Stream -- Currently the stream warms
western and northern Europe by about 20 degrees over comparable
latitudes in Canada. The Thermohaline Circulation pulls in
salty tropical water and when this water cools it sinks and draws
down colder Arctic water and brings in still more tropical water.
Excess fresh water from the Greenland icecap could weaken the
stream's saltiness, and this seems to have started happening in the
last few years. Some scientists say it is too early to tell, but
others say the stream will stop flowing within two centuries.
Rise of ocean levels -- Ocean levels have been rising about 4
mm. per year for the last decade or so. Glaciers are melting at a
faster rate than predicted even five years ago. Ocean levels have
varied as much over the centuries, but even a one meter rise would
flood one-sixth of crowded Bangladesh's surface. The melting of
Greenland's ice sheet would raise ocean levels by seven meters and
the melting of West Antarctica's sheet (already showing signs of
rapid melting) would raise them an additional six meters (great
trouble for low-lying island nations, and goodbye Florida coasts).
Should the East Antarctica field (not expected to change much)
melt, ocean levels would rise an additional devastating seventy
meters. When the Larson B shelf collapsed into the Wendell Sea
adjacent to West Antarctica in 2002, it caused the glaciers behind
it to begin moving at six to eight times the rate of a mere two
years previously. Also Greenland's largest glacier is now moving
at twice the speed in 2003 that it did in 1997, and speed is an
indicator of melting rate as well. However, we know that the rate
of melting is not the only factor determining ocean levels.
Hurricanes now seem to be associated with climate change.
Some scientists that say the intensity and frequency of hurricanes
off the American east coast could be due to increases in ocean
temperature. Recent scientific papers suggest an increase in both
frequency and intensity during the past thirty years. Due to
increased activity, the insurance estimates of damage were $145
billion for 2004 and $200 billion for 2005. All of this should be
an indicator that people should think twice about settling in the
Gulf and southern U.S. Atlantic coast areas.
The global warming clues say much, and prudence tells us to
change our habits so that impacts will be no greater than could
reasonably be predicted.
November 22, 2006 National Stop the Violence Day
Many Americans would not regard ourselves as non-violent
people though we all admit some are. We add that "hopefully, those
who are violent have the matter under control or are behind bars."
We also realize that this is not always the case. How can we teach
self-control when so few practice it? This is a perennial
question, but is often at the roots of an individual loss of
control of temper -- and anger takes hold of the person. Though we
know some forms of righteous anger are present and even needed at
times, still lack of control leads to violent behavior that makes
us aware of the demons within. Self-control is not a wise or pious
option; it is a personal necessity in our journey of life.
Curb domestic violence. Our homes are to be places of peace
and tranquility and yet violence creeps up in so many settings.
Some who are without control have a weapons' cache, are plotting
ways of expressing their violence, lose control of themselves,
watch the wrong programs or Internet connections, and fill their
minds with anticipated violent actions to self or others. In
domestic matters we can express violence in so many ways and we do.
Less access to weapons, illegal substances, even prescription and
over-the-counter drugs, and less pressure within our society would
help curb domestic violence to some degree.
Learn to curb violence nationally. As a nation we have been
a country of the frontier, pioneer, anti-colonial, Yankee, and
military spirit -- and none of these, though possessing many good
characteristics, include a sense of gentleness and kindness to
people. Americans have a tradition of not being overly polite and
courteous though we are maturing as a people. Rough ways of cowboy
or urban warrior are not noted for being non-violent. Thus non-
violent behavior must be taught and required on school playground,
in commercial transactions, and in driving on the highway.
Violence abroad must be recognized and countered. Our foreign
policies have been replete with examples of American violence
spreading out from home and town to beyond our borders. The Monroe
Doctrine was meant to reduce violent interference and yet we have
somehow colonized the western Hemisphere by the manner in which we
engaged in elections in opposition to existing governments. In
matters of violent behavior, history may be less kind to us than we
are to ourselves. While we have shown restraint in entering into
entanglements with Napoleonic, First and Second World War struggles
and other instances in American history, we did fight in each case
after hesitancy. At others periods we fought without restraint:
many engagements with Native American tribes, in the Mexican and
Spanish wars, in Vietnam, and in the Gulf Wars in which we are now
deeply engaged. Unilateral behavior can lead to violent actions
that are not in the best interest of all parties. Yet, once in a
fight, how do we get out? That is far harder than not getting into
the conflict in the first place, yet we must stop the current
violence in the Middle East. We simply must stop the violence
November 23, 2006 Thanks for Little Things
Today we use the two most important words in the English
language, "thank you," to God. Don't overlook little things:
Audiences who listen
Bells and more bells
Decorations at graves
Moms and Pops diners
Nice waiters and waitresses
Old timers with sound minds
Utensils for cooking
Valleys and hills
Fresh mushroom on autumn forest floor.
(photo: Marge Para)
24, 2006 Buy Nothing Day
Today is the largest shopping day of the year, in the frenzy
that initiates the holiday buying spree. But let's consider that
this is hardly a fitting close to a sincere offering to God of
thanks for all the good gifts given. It is almost a taunt at the
Giver of all good gifts. The temptation is to forget about the
humble and prayerful posture of Thanksgiving Day. Let's return to
the normal posture of becoming consummate materialists again while
working off the turkey and dressing.
One response to temptation is to refuse to say that buying is
a patriotic act that holds up the economy and keeps people at work.
Rather we should attempt to see if we can close down those 24-7
stores and allow the management and staff a time of well-deserved
rest, which is what "Blue Laws" were all about in the first place.
I try not to make purchases on Sundays as well, since these were
meant to be days of rest for the serfs, slaves and servants -- one
workless day a week and meant for all.
As members of our hurried and busy world, we need to pause,
rest and reflect; and the day after the Thanksgiving feast is the
most opportune time to do just that. Put up your feet, talk to
guests, snooze, stroll, watch the games on television, see a movie
rented earlier, or chat with those around you. Just don't make
purchases, if that is possible. And get a few others to do the
same thing. Who knows, if enough people observe Buy Nothing Day,
the stores managers in the malls may be nice and give their
employees an extra long holiday.
The best self-control this can generate is putting off going
to the corner store and refraining for one day from making the
smallest purchase. Try it for just one day please. Observe self-
restraint in allaying the consumer spending impulse -- and get all
those around -- family and friends -- to do the same. It may be
the ideal time to engage folks in seeing why we must control our
consumer urges. Remember, we are the most consuming culture the
world has ever known, and this planet cannot afford another nation
like our own. Just recall the amount of material we consume and
the impacts this has on the rest of Earth; this includes the
expenditure of natural resources and the resulting emissions of
waste materials. Today is a golden opportunity to raise
environmental consciousness among American consumers.
The day after Thanksgiving is somewhat difficult to handle
especially if traveling distances beyond one tank of fuel.
Certainly, you may buy gasoline for shorter trips the day before,
or carry a packed lunch to refrain from the fast foods or diner
trip. But beyond that it is difficult because emergencies may
arise or distances must be traversed. But ninety some percent of
Americans will not travel great distances in the middle of the
holiday weekend, so the observation of Buy Nothing Day could
make a noticeable impact on the total sales. What a miracle!
November 25, 2006 The Art of Walking
We can not let this year go by without saying something about
walking. We have already talked about winter nature walks (Dec.
2004) and walking to work (Dec.
19, 2005), so the subject needs
reintroduction with another perspective -- developing an art to
walking each day. Hiking and jogging have been given extensive
treatment in various forms, but the lowly walk is meant for us as
we age and there are many good reasons to make the selection:
* Walks are not overly exerting as are jogging bouts that can
harm the knees or back;
* Walks (when we are properly protected) are less dangerous
in snowy or rainy weather than is jogging with the possibility of
* Walks give the daily constitutional without extraordinary
exertion of energy especially in hot weather;
* Walks when done briskly can cover a surprisingly long span
of road because they do not require the rest stops of jogging. I
can get in as many steps walking as in jogging in a one hour period
-- though the total distance that I cover is not as lengthy;
* Walking gives us the opportunity to see the countryside and
reflect on creation in a deeper manner than does jogging;
* Walking lacks any competitive stress or dreams of greatness.
In fact, the act is fairly plain and not worthy of much comment.
Now having justified my acceptance of advice from various
people to walk instead of jog, I will look further and find some
art attached to it. In first place, is the determination to do it
frequently and not allow excuses to get in the way. The second is
to be as brisk as possible with arms swinging. It looks stupid but
that is in the eye of the beholder; jogging for some of us is
foolishness when someone is too old. The art portion is to forget
what others may think -- just do it at your own pace and in your
own way and in your own costume.
Granted there is not as much of a workout in walking, but
there is some, and the smaller degree of sweating does help the
body even though it does not equal heavy exercise. One response is
to wear more clothes, which increases the perspiration rate
considerably. Another is to increase one's walking speed. A third
is to breathe more deeply as you walk.
Added benefit: Walking invites neighbors to converse whereas
a jogging pace makes them think they will disturb you if they do
more than say hello. When I go walking they seem to be more
willing to chat -- a happy surprise. Looking back on 48 years of
jogging, I must admit I never had many conversations in the middle
of those bouts. I wonder why!
November 26, 2006 Thy Kingdom Come
Yes, I am a king. I was born for this. I came into the world
for this: to bear witness to the truth, and all who are on the side
of truth listen to my voice. (John 18:37)
Today, we celebrate the feast of Christ the King and thus we
recall that we have no king but the Lord and him alone. And we
seek for, struggle for, hope for, and anticipate the coming of that
kingdom in its full as the Church year comes to an end and we await
the holy season of Advent.
We live in a world that is not fully formed; it is in
process. Our environment shows both God's glory and human
sinfulness. The glory is in every sunset, the multitude of stars,
and the immense microcosm beneath our feet. But even surrounded by
this glory we can and do miss the mark. Our misdeeds include the
air, water and land pollution all around us; this pollution is part
of a reality requiring a deep spiritual insight to see and to do
something about it.
Christ with us -- The Lord comes among us in due time. The
multiplication of the loaves occurs on land overlooking the Lake of
Galilee where the plenty of God is revealed. The disciples seek to
respond in a manner in which they are called to do. God's plenty
triggers our thankful response and our desire not to waste any of
God's gifts -- for all things are good. The Lord asks each of us
to make our environment a quality place where we share our goods
with those in need. We all must now take on Christ's kingly role
and witness to the truth.
The Earth -- This is the place where our communion with God
first realized, for here Adam and Eve walked and then challenged
God by taking their new-found freedom beyond its limits. Through
their sin a spiritual separation has occurred. Their and our
destinies have come through the sweat of the brow. The human race
cries to heaven, and God in mercy and love brings forth redemption.
It is on Calvary the blood of the Savior falls and make holy the
ground of that Jerusalem site. It is the Earth touched by the
Savior's blood that makes this a Holy Place. From this moment all
of the happenings become a transcendental event, a movement out to
the entire Earth, an overshadowing of the New Earth and New Heaven.
The imperative -- We heal this wounded Earth through taking
the role of Christ who is king. We do as a community of believers
what Christ initiated in his days on Earth and we do so in company
with him. "Go out into the whole world; proclaim the Good News to
all creation." (Mark 16:15) We proclaim the Good News just as
resurrected Jesus takes the Good News of salvation to the souls in
limbo. We are called to bring on the Kingdom of God and not to
await his coming as passive idlers; we are called to be active
caregivers of the Earth. All creation cries out for redemption and
it is our mission to hear that cry and to respond through the
mission given to us through our entry into the Divine Family.
November 27, 2006 Solar Shingles
While wind power is taking off as the world's fastest growing
energy source, its renewable energy sister "solar energy" has been
slower in getting rolling, even though solar cell production has
been increasing by about 33% on average each year. This has mainly
been achieved through subsidies from the governments of Japan,
Germany and California. The solar production base is still quite
small because equipment is expensive, and consumers are awaiting
major price breaks in the near future. Hopes are to produce low-
cost shingles for building roofs that can serve the same function
as a typical solar photovoltaic array (July
7, 2004) and also act
as roofing. Unfortunately, the cost of solar electrical generating
equipment has remained steady over the past three decades.
Recent solar innovations may be changing the picture, as
reported in The Economist (September 16, 2006 pp. 89-90). The
focus is on substitutes for commercial solar cells that have been
made from highly efficient (ranging from 15 to 30%) silicon cells,
which are still somewhat difficult to produce and sell cheaply.
It is the silicon that needs replacement with a cheaper material,
and several plastics have been proposed. Though alternative
materials are much cheaper, the efficiency has been only 3 to 4%.
Alan Heeger won the Nobel prize by discovering that some plastics
can conduct electricity; he and Kwanghee Lee of Korea have found
that adding titanium oxide to a sandwich of plastic, and baking the
item in an oven at 150 degrees C yields a highly efficient (5.6%)
crystalline device that is more sensitive to the more intense
sunlight wave lengths. Electrons move more easily through silicon
and other crystalline materials and an efficiency improvement to
about 7% would make plastic cells competitive with silicon ones.
A Swiss group headed by Michael Gratzel is working with dye
sensitized cells that increase efficiency to 11%. These mimic the
action of chlorophyll in leaves that are part of the photosynthetic
process. Likewise Prashant Kamat of the University of Notre Dame
is working with a carbon nanotube that acts like wires to conduct
liberated electrons from a cell to the electrode that collects
them; efficiencies of 5% to 30% have been attained for ultraviolet
wavelengths and such efficiencies are expected to be retained using
plastic and dye-based cells.
What is evident in a renewable energy starved world is that a
breakthrough is very near. When it comes, solar energy will be a
low-cost decentralized form of electricity production with each
home and institutional building furnishing the electricity for that
facility. These solar systems can be integrated into a total
energy grid that also furnishes electricity from other sources that
are interlocked through net metering systems. Solar-generated
electricity is non-polluting and with no worrisome waste products
or prime terrorist targets (like nuclear power generating
facilities). The day is coming when the roofs of buildings will be
the source of much of the electricity for that structure and when
the total roofs of a nation will be a leading energy source.
November 28, 2006 Earthjustice
Every month we list an environmental or related group that is
worthy of our recognition and support. Oddly enough, we have never
recognized legal organizations as such even though they are most
important in furthering the environmental causes that we advocate.
The largest of these in the United States is Earthjustice.
group describes itself as a nonprofit public interest law firm
dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources,
and wildlife of the earth and to defending the right of all people
to a healthy environment.
They add that they bring about far-reaching change by
enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of
hundreds of organizations and communities. Certainly the listing
of groups served is quite impressive ranging from the Anacostia
Watershed Society and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe to United Farm
Workers of America, Friends of the Earth, and Public Citizen.
Legal actions cover the areas of air, oceans, forests, water,
wildlife, public lands, health, and international environmental
issues ranging from global warming to stopping the construction of
a US military base on a coral reef.
One of the areas of concentration is the protection of
roadless areas. The Bush Administration had suspended the Clinton
Roadless Area Conservation Rule and had refused to defend it in
court against timber interests. In 2005, the administration
repealed the rule and replaced it with a toothless substitute that
gave no protection to roadless areas. All the while Earthjustice
has defended the original rule and now has successfully challenged
the administration's repeal of the rule through the action of a
Federal Appeals Court (California). Earthjustice claims an
important victory! And that is just one of the many issues that
are being currently litigated by this group.
For more information look up the Internet site --
or write to --
Earthjustice 426 17th Street, 6th Floor, Oakland, CA 94612.
November 29, 2006 Compulsive Counter
Some people have compulsive behavior in one or other way. I
think I inherited one from my dear departed mother who spent some
of her final wheelchair tours counting the number of parked cars in
the senior citizen parking lot. That is okay for seniors, and yet
I have counted different things for a long period myself. When
undergoing testing upon entering the Society, I was asked by
psychologist Fr. John Reinke, what happens when I miss counting
telephone poles while riding the school bus. I had to confess that
I never recalled missing any.
My compulsive counting does not mean that I cannot reflect or
converse while counting. There developed over years of finesse an
ability to do both. And so I have counted the steps that I take in
walking and when formerly jogging -- and logged these in my record
book faithfully along with phone calls, letters written, e-mails
sent, hours spent on major projects, Masses, money expended, times
for appointments, miles traveled, daily weather conditions and
ranges of temperature, and a host of other numbered items of little
major importance. When traveling I do like to keep the listing of
license plates from different states with a blank map of the United
States in my head that gradually fills as the day progresses;
sometimes I allow for more than one day for the counting span, and
regard the multi-day trip as the time span. What happens if I miss
a license because of failing eyesight? Well it just happens.
Should we be concerned with the quantitative aspects of life
(poundage of food grown or eaten, money remaining in the bank
account, time it takes to produce a certain product, or minutes of
phone time on a credit card)? I highly suspect that my overly
quantitative approach is non-appealing to many others, but not all.
They are also aware that we need order to our lives. I find the
non-counter as being somewhat non-appealing as well -- though it is
hard to make a judgment. When they count down for a rocket lift-
off I have wondered what happens if they miss a number -- six,
five, three, two -- Will it scratch the launch and cause disaster?
Counting at least keeps the number sequence fresh in our minds.
In order to fall asleep some count imaginary sheep jumping a
fence, but that would keep me awake. I did count the number of elk
(30) I saw in Estes Park back in September -- but that to satisfy
my desire to observe Rocky Mountain wildlife. Some things are
worth counting -- and thus the popularity of rosaries and prayer
beads. When does the sun rise or how old are you? Such is the
tyranny of numbers. Some get mesmerized by particular numbers like
three for the trinity, four for the four seasons and directions,
five for the fingers on one hand, etc. You may prefer to count the
days from the beginning of this vicious Iraq War (1351 on day
written). Isn't some counting important? Why did the media count
the days the Iranians held American prisoners in the 1970s (to
embarrass President Carter) and why do they fail to broadcast this
war's total duration day-by-day? Is partisan politics involved?
November 30, 2006 Saint Andrew's Day
St. Andrew, like his brother Simon Peter, is a fisherman (Mark
1:16), who is called by Jesus (John 1:44) and undergoes martyrdom,
custom says on an "x" shaped cross. An "x," the symbol of Scotland
on the UK flag, stands for Andrew, its patron saint. Several
passages in the New Testament relate to Andrew for he is the one
who with fellow disciple Philip conveys the message to Jesus that
the Greeks want to see him (John 12:22). His name in Greek means
manly and thus he is characteristically masculine.
While we know little about Andrew's missionary exploits, we
can highly suspect that he shares with the other disciples the
burning ambition or immense desire to succeed. He gives up all to
follow Jesus and expects a Messianic Age with immense conquests and
Jesus succeeding to the throne of David and Solomon -- and he is to
be one of his trusty lieutenants. Most likely, Andrew engages in
the conversation over who is the greatest among them (Mark 9:32ff).
Jesus does not respond by deflating their ambitious spirit; he
seeks to convert that spirit into doing good for others. If they
have the same desire to be top dog, then surely they can be first
by being least among all as servants of all. In fact that would be
what Jesus envisions Church leaders to be.
In September I saw a herd of elk grazing at Estes Park at the
entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. They had come down the
mountains for late fall pasture and it was the rutting season. I
asked the van driver whether these are dangerous and he admitted
they can be if one interferes with the current practices and gets
in their way while they contest with a fellow elk. They seek to
prove to be "top elk" just as the disciples do in their discussion.
Does this not hark back to the Darwin's selection of the fittest
and the fact that many species try to prove leadership so that
their characteristics will carry on in future generations? That
may be in human bones due to the propensities of original sin, but
Jesus asks us to go through prayer and self-control beyond such or,
better, to remain ambitious but convert that desire to do greater
deeds for our fellow human beings.
Parents undergo astounding sacrifices for their offspring and
yet they dream of their being the greatest, because a little bit of
self will be contained in the ego-centricity of the achieving
youth. But Jesus is telling us that we must sacrifice for others,
not self. Maybe if we were to see the Divine Family as the total
group to which we are called (as the disciples did also after
Pentecost), then we would see that ambition is meant to be selfless
deeds for the whole of the People of God and that our family is all
-- so vast that a lifetime's effort will not fully suffice.
Ambition is still present in many of Christ's followers and it
ought to be -- for we desire to do great things. However, ambition
is now extended to all creation -- and we are called, like Andrew,
to undertake this mission in an evangelistic spirit. We need to be
first in service and that takes all the effort at our disposal --
and most importantly God's help.