The November skies progressively turn grayer and the leaves drop from the trees. Daylight time shortens with each passing day. Heavier frost retards the outdoor growing season, except
where temporary cold frames keep the late vegetable crops snug for a little longer. We extend these cold frame coverings (cloth or a light leaf cover) to the Japanese radishes, which grow to large size in autumn, as well as to the autumn greens -- kale, mustard, collards, endive, spinach and turnips. Trees are surrounded by the fallen pears and the yellow jackets vie with us for the riper ones. The woodlands teem with wild turkey reminding us that Thanksgiving is coming very soon. November makes us ever so thankful.
You stood giant bulwark against storms, and yet succumb to a blight, a massive tree cover laid barren, with gray ashen ground-strewed bones. Alas, the endeavor of human heads and hands and hearts gives new life. Behold! prickly covered nuts abound.
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(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
November 1, 2016 Striving for Sainthood
On this All Saints Day we ask a searching question as we consider the multitudes who are moving towards or have settled down in their heavenly home. Their numbers are large, thank God -- but will they include us? We ask knowing that war-ravaged Syrians, migrating Africans and the very sick in all parts of the world have lives now cut short while making their way to the Light.
We may wince in horror that Mother (now Saint) Teresa had a long dry period in her own spiritual journey, as though a sweet time here ensures a sweet bye and bye. Perhaps we can comb spiritual writings of great Saints and find helpful signs that will give us added hope in this troubled world in which we find ourselves:
* Accepting suffering -- Active and passive events occur to make us imitators of Christ carrying his cross. Christ promised us this suffering as a way to sainthood, whether that be passive physical discomfort and shortened life or active effort that we must undertake in helping others. So we are called to accept and take up our cross joyfully and with a sense of trust in the Lord.
* Being watchful -- When health is still good we seek to exert ourselves as actively performing the mission given to us to do, and doing so cheerfully and with wholeness of heart. The time is short and so we have to make the best of our Indian Summer of Life.
* Approaching all hopefully -- We resolve to overcome any form of cynicism, excess criticism and denunciation of others by seeing good in those we meet, with a hope that things will improve for all. Even when we choose to be apocalyptic, we strive to rally others to become positive in their own approaches to life.
* Being honest before God -- We speak to God in the simplicity of prayer, like the "publican" in the parable. The Lord knows our imperfect condition, and that in our heart of hearts we do not want to offend God. Even if we fall one more time, we beg to start over and over, and yet always fear our God who beckons us forward.
* Forgiving and asking for forgiveness -- We seek forgiveness for all our wrongdoing past and present; and
* Avoiding self-righteousness -- The one thing we do not need as a characteristic of sanctity is that we rest on our laurels, in the belief that we are already saved and need not make an effort to obtain the final goal. We rest comfortably that we may not pass the rigid tests of canonization, for most of us lack noticeable heroic virtue -- but in God's grace we may still be saints within the multitudes whose lives we celebrate today. And there is something redeeming about this on All Saints Day, when we count on the previous success of the countless who have attained the goal.
Prayer: Lord, guide us to the sure ways open to us to turn our minds and hearts and hands to your glory through our efforts.
Brilliant foliage of silver maple, Acer saccharinum.
November 2, 2016 Remembrances in November's Indian Summer
November is a month of transition and a solemn season when we celebrate All Saints Day (yesterday) and remember all our sainted friends and relatives who have passed on to the Lord. Then today we remember the Holy Souls who have passed on but have not yet attained the face of God. As part of our heightened community spirit and concern, we pray that the Lord hastens their arrival at the throne; we are confident that the Holy One will hear our prayers. Then there are the other remembrances such as on November 11th, of veterans both living and dead who have sacrificed so much for their country. As the growing season ends we recall friends and neighbors who passed on this past year -- and we become more aware that our time of passing approaches. How meaningful and solemn for this is Indian Summer season.
For those who love fresh vegetation we hate to see this month come and watch the leaves fall. Yes, the month has crisp, frosty morns and the somber colors of the landscape -- gray, white, and rust, are punctuated by the evergreens. However, somehow there is something liberating about November, especially on days when the sun shines. We are free of summer's little bothering things, for insects are now asleep, dense clutter of foliage no longer hinder our walking in the wood, and the sun is not so fierce. We may have to wear jackets, caps and gloves, but these can be worth it for giving comfort -- things unneeded on hot humid summer days when garments stuck to the body and sweat rolled down like a waterfall.
Even November's smells of wood smoke and rotting leaves seem to convey a sense of settling down and staying indoors near the fire. Really, daily reflection for many of us comes easier during this season, for a pensiveness seems to pervade the atmosphere. We think of one or two more things to do, but the outdoor work lessens quickly, especially if October chores were well recognized and attended. It is time for attacking the "must read" pile that accumulated in summer time, most inviting when glorious autumn takes a spell of clouds and mist. When we chance to look out to the commercial districts we see blinking Christmas lights each year hung out a little earlier. It's the ever-expanding merchant's game of catching us unawares. Caution! They would like to liberate us in this late autumn from any accumulated cash, so that we can feel better in the holiday season.
Finally, we prepare for the Thanksgiving season: a time to show gratitude for being alive, for being able to communicate and eat well, for security and a million other things. It does us well to spend some reflection time considering the past year and realize that we have much to make our Indian summer glorious.
Prayer: Lord, slow my pace this day so I remember relatives, friends and acquaintances who have passed on in the last year. Our remembrances through prayer have power if we only believe that you have given us a share in the resurrection and its fruits.
November 3, 2016 Recalling Nut-Gathering in Autumn
In springtime we gather greens; in summer, berries; and in autumn the nuts. When I was young our family gathered two types of nuts, since the wetter valleys and dales were ideal for black walnuts and the forested hills were part of the oak/hickory bioregion in which we lived. Walnuts and hickory nuts were the staples and both trigger memories -- only some perfectly pleasant.
The black walnuts come with an iodine-smelling green-to-black outer pulp that has to be removed. We would gather the nuts in early autumn and then proceed to hull them with a wooden mallet; we would then scatter them in the barn loft to dry for several months before eating. Unfortunately, some of the stain from the hulling would get on my hands and not wash off for a week or so. I was embarrassed to go to school with walnut-stained hands. Sister Victoria (originally from a western Kentucky farm) noticed the ribbing I got from classmates and told us all that "there is clean dirt and dirty dirt -- and the first type one wears with dignity because it is the sign of honest work."
The other type of nuts we gathered were hickory nuts, which come in a variety of sub-species from what we called small "pig nuts," to larger ones with more meat in the nut. My mother wanted the latter because she made her famous holiday hickory nut cakes, which required a month of nut-cracking and picking to collect the ingredients for her baked delights with the thick caramel icing. We went each autumn to nearby Lewis County, which had a multitude of hickory nut trees in its woods. My family had favorite sites and would ask the owners for permission to undertake the hickory-nut gathering. The hulls of the hickory nut are not like either the staining walnut or the prickly chestnut, with which we were less familiar due to an earlier chestnut blight. However, once in a grove it didn't take long to gather a bushel of smooth tan hickory nuts.
The hickory nuts were hard as rocks and only an experienced cracker could break the shell without pulverizing the nut "meat" itself, or including fragments of shell in the harvested contents. My mother developed unique hickory-nut breaking and picking skills, and used what is now an antique "iron" for pressing clothes. She used a special tool (mechanic's mallet) with a precise stroke to crack but not crush the resistant hickory nut. A day's work would yield only about two cups of picked nut meat. In comparison, the meat from thin-shelled commercially available English walnuts was rapidly and easily extracted. The hickory nut gives a special flavor, similar to hickory wood being prized for curing meat.
Other native nut varieties are good for autumn gathering. They include chestnuts, hazelnuts, beechnuts and white walnuts that are more scarce than black walnuts and hickory nuts. Besides, competition from the squirrels for these types is quite high.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to gather wild edibles for our delight.
November 4, 2016 Updating a Sustainable Energy Blueprint
The following is technically feasible by 2025:
* Reduce total energy consumption by at least one percent/year from 2005 levels, through efficiency improvements in housing, manufacturing, vehicles, airplanes, government facilities, and businesses, so that, by 2025, U.S. energy use totals no more than about 80 quadrillion BTUs. * Increase from 2005 levels production of renewable energy from biofuels, biomass, geothermal, hydropower (and other water power sources), solar and wind plus renewable-based hydrogen -- in an environmentally responsible manner. * Phase out the current generation of nuclear power plants by not relicensing currently aging reactors and not building new ones (8 quads to 1 quad). * Reduce oil consumption by at least one percent/year below 2005 levels so that by 2025, U.S. oil imports are not more than one-third of total petroleum use (39.5 quads to 27.0 quads). This is being exceeded due to current fracking products. * Reduce natural gas consumption by one percent/year below 2005 levels up to 2025. U.S. now produces all of its natural gas for domestic use and seeks exports (22.5 quads to 18.0 quads).
* Reduce coal consumption by at least one percent/year below 2005 levels -- ahead of schedule (23.0 quads to 18.0 quads). * Reduce carbon dioxide and other GHG emissions by at least one percent/year so that by 2025 they are at least 20% below current levels (renewables gain from 7.0 quads to 16.0 quads).
An early attempt for conservation was entitled "Energy for my Neighbor," sponsored by the Dept. of Church & Society of the World Council of Churches. It is still a propos after 38 years:
1. We ask for better patterns of energy use because: looming shortage of non-renewable energy sources coupled with rapidly increasing demands; wasteful and inefficient energy use in our societies; and negative social and environmental effects of high levels of energy use.
2. Share energy resources with neighbors. An unequal distribution of energy use is a critical factor in world poverty.
3. No peoples should consume energy resources or pollute the earth through energy intensive activities at a rate greater than the earth could stand if all peoples did likewise.
4. A better way of living is needed that is more in harmony with the needs of the great majority of the people of the earth and the earth's capacity to sustain our activities.
5. There is an energy cost to every activity, and that some ways of doing things are less energy costly than others.
6. We affirm that energy conservation is the most immediate and promising resource, and that savings can be enormous.
7. Therefore we seek to change from a high energy fossil-fuel based society to one using renewable energy resources.
Prayer: Lord, help us make practical plans and keep them.
November 5, 2016Remedy for Vanishing Agricultural Lands
Statistics of arable lands being turned into development (residence subdivisions, commercial areas, parking lots, health facilities, or highways) show a frightening map of "Farming at the Edge" throughout the United States. More is targeted to fertile farms than to desert areas where water resources are more scarce. Rapid urbanization continues though at a slower rate than in the 20th century -- but it occurs especially in Asian countries. Today there is one hectare (2.4 acres) of cultivated land per four persons on this planet. With population increases expected for some time in the foreseeable future, the amount of land per person will decrease further during the 21st century. Land for food production is decreasing; add to this losses due to rising oceans through climate change and the problem can only get worse.
We are aware that several policy changes are being suggested including emphasis on less meat products (taking up much of pasture land and half of grain-growing areas for farm animals). Actually, a highly vegetarian diet on the part of all could alleviate massive hunger, but not satisfy growing demands for resource rich types of foods. Increasing yields of grain and edible oil-bearing crops can only go so far as well as double cropping within warmer climate zones. Predicted droughts and floods will certainly take a toll.
Guess what? An added and excellent remedy is not to create farms out of forests or wilderness, but out of latently productive backyards (and front yards) now used in ornamental ways. Yes, one answer in lawn-filled America is to turn this mono-cropping of humanly inedible grass (that needs constant mowing and maintenance) into high-yielding domestic gardens. The thirty million "victory gardens" of the Second World War proved that people can gain skills and grow many vegetables in short periods of time in their backyards. An equal number of American backyard gardens is now estimated to exist -- and this includes part being grown in pots without tearing up paved surfaces. A new phenomenon is roof gardens sprouting up in dense urban areas such as New York and Chicago.
About one-tenth of an acre can supply half of a person's yearly food needs, especially with emphasis on such bulk crops as potatoes or sweet potatoes. If the person lives on a vegetarian diet, an additional one-tenth of an acre could grow the extra bulk and special crops needed to meet basic individual human needs. If the person's diet includes considerable animal products, then two or three times as much land per person is needed to furnish the feed and pasture for the livestock. In the coming years as the population increases and food quality demands increase, greater attention will be given to urban agricultural production. It can be done! It must be done for the sake of the food security of the world. Resource rich food diets will be called into question.
Prayer: Lord, you are the bread of life. Help us to discover
and utilize all the areas where physical produce can be grown.
November 6, 2016Confronting Secularity with a Merciful Spirit
God is not the God of the dead but of the living. (Luke 20:38)
In today's Gospel (Luke 20:27-38) we find the Sadducees, who claimed no resurrection of the dead, uttering a tale of woe and death, not a culture of life as found in Christ's words and deeds. In contrast to a despairing mortal finality to our life, Jesus affirms an afterlife for the just when they will be free from further death. He promises that we are destined for a state of eternal freedom as sons and daughters of God. If no resurrection, then as St. Paul says, our faith would be dead, with nothing to look forward to. Those with no future leave a fading mark in this changing world that grows fainter with time; those with a future leave an eternal mark of permanent love woven into the fabric of a New Heaven and New Earth.
Today's Sadducees are really militant secularists who take any profession of afterlife or mention of God to be offensive to their beliefs. They want a world of utter secularity with no possibility of present or future spiritual life. In the midst of their yearning for total secularity to be publicly professed, is the intolerance of what they will not utter and demand that others do not utter in their presence. However, let's continue to be in contact and not let our differences make us self-righteous. These secularists are insecure, for they have no ultimate future and their somewhat hostile attitudes must not offend us who believe. Consider them as brothers and sisters in this Year of Mercy.
How are we to answer this emerging secular society? The hope of Resurrection enlivens us and gives us an eternal vista, a refreshing future. All people, believers and non-, suffer the ultimate letting go of life; all will experience the last things for we are all mortal. For secularists, nothing beyond is worth considering; for believers with more in store eternally, we have an enthusiasm or the God within. Belief in the future informs and enlightens our way of acting. Our faith sustains us even in times of adversity, for better things will certainly occur. We look beyond illness and death that are surely in the pathway to future glory, for these draw us closer to Christ's presence.
Merciful confidence transcends the cynicism that confronts Jesus in today's account by Luke -- and confronts us in our everyday lives. We discover a world struggling to come to some meaning in life and seeking a sure ground for that meaning, a ground in time, and a time that looks to the future -- to eternity. A promised change is profound as Jesus indicates in today's reading, far beyond current knowing. The Gospel invites us to do more than prepare ourselves at a personal level. We are called to affirm the resurrection with an enthusiasm that this belief engenders within all of good will a confidence in our future.
Prayer: Lord, help us see our world for what it is and not
allow secularity to sway us or color our balanced responses.
Lingering blooms in November of the aromatic Aster, Aster oblongifolius.
November 7, 2016 Fossil Fuel-Free and Nuclear Power-Free
The following are twelve goals needed to liberate our economy from both fossil fuels and nuclear power:
1. A goal of zero-CO2 economy is necessary to minimize harm related to climate change; this is achieved through a hard cap on CO2 emission -- that is, a fixed emission limit that declines year by year until it reaches zero. This would provide large users of fossil fuel with a flexible way to phase out CO2 emissions.
2. A reliable U.S. electricity sector with zero-CO2 emissions can be achieved without the use of nuclear power or fossil fuels.
3. Nuclear power entails risks of nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and serious accidents. It exacerbates the problem of long-term nuclear waste and perpetuates vulnerabilities and insecurities in an energy system that are avoidable.
4. Highly efficient energy technologies and building design, generally available today, can greatly ease the transition to a zero-CO2 economy and reduce the cost. A two percent annual increase in efficiency per unit of GDP relative to recent trends would result in a one percent decline in energy use per year, while providing three percent GDP annual growth, well within the capacity of available technological performance.
5. Biofuels, broadly defined without environmental side effects, could be available in transition to a zero-CO2 economy.
6. Energy efficiency can be achieved without incurring any cost penalties (e.g., introduction of LEDs and efficiencies in refrigeration and household appliances).
7. Fuel economy standards for cars and trucks should be at least double what they are today, with an accelerating pace in the third decade of this century. Mass transit must be increased.
8. By 2030, no less than 25% of the nation's liquid transportation fuels should be provided, or displaced, by renewable sources, including renewably-generated hydrogen.
9. By 2030, no less than 25% of the nation's electricity should be generated by renewable energy sources and increased by at least 1 percent/year thereafter.
10. By 2030, state and/or federal standards should mandate that 20% of all new buildings must be zero energy buildings (all new buildings being zero energy by 2050), using a combination of efficient design and clean on-site energy production.
11. By 2030, energy use in the electricity sector should be reduced by at least 10% through the use of clean distributed generation such as combined heat & power, district energy, fuel cells, and improved energy storage and transmission technologies.
12. Expansion of renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean distributed generation technologies should be promoted through national interconnection standards, i.e., net metering and transmission access reforms, production and investment tax incentives, government procurement, updated resource assessment, and state and local planning programs.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to use our resources wisely and well.
November 8, 2016 Manifesting Citizenship on Election Day
Voting is a privilege, a duty, a responsibility, and an exercise of citizenship. Therefore, urging Americans (often half of the potential electorate is idle) to vote is a crucial matter today when we cast ballots for filling high offices. Should people vote if they don't like any of the candidates? Surely on the lengthy ballot are some who they regard as worthy candidates! Maybe it has been such a disturbing year that you have gotten fully saturated with distasteful politics long ago. Still vote!
* Start fresh today and purge the bad taste of the campaign. * Begin with a prayer that the best candidate wins.
* Review the sample ballot, either in the newspaper or on the proper website that can be easily googled.
* Consider well for one last time the key issues and the possible judgment and actions of various people, especially those vying for president and vice-president of our country.
* Don't forget that other offices add to the total proper operations of our nation, state and local situations. While few are perfect as candidates, an overriding trust in some may be the good reason for voting for particular ones today.
* Confer with a person who knows certain candidates on the list if there is still some lingering doubt.
* Consider car pooling and ensuring that those who have difficulties (and do not cast absentee ballots) get to vote.
* Arrive at the election place on an optimal time whether this means early, middling or late. Some places have long waits so psyche yourself as to the effort and time it takes.
* VOTE carefully so no mistakes are made. Don't feel hurried about the line outside, for your time is precious and your rightful span means a more proper exercise of citizenship.
* Call and give an encouraging word to those who are more likely to skip the hassle of voting today. This should be coupled with prior attempts to get out the vote;
* Prepare to listen for the returns this evening and wish for the best, while expecting some disappointments are possible.
* As the election progresses make a resolution that you are going to help hold the winners accountable, whether you voted for them or not. Don't let defeats get you down, for elections are the start of what is to follow in exercise of office.
Prayer: Lord, help me do what's right on this Election Day.
November 9, 2016A "Man on the Moon" Renewable Energy Program
To reach the goal mentioned on November 7th more quickly, this country needs a 1940's Manhattan-type (national atomic bomb development) Renewable Energy Program. It would be similar to the Kennedy "Man on the Moon" Project, but with the urgency of the Manhattan one. This is to be an immense national effort to convert to a renewable energy economy -- though many say we should move faster than 2030 goals. Climate change is having drastic effects on some parts of the world, especially among poorer native residents (e.g., Bangladesh, Pacific islands and the Arctic regions). We have sufficient R&D; we must overcome climate change deniers in Congress to make this a public works project with ramifications for other nations to follow suit.
A combination of renewable energy sources along with a program for improving energy efficiency could work together to meet the energy needs of our country by the year 2030, some sixteen years from now. The LEDs lighting revolution can cut almost one tenth of energy needs today along with continued energy conservation. New auto design as well as green housing construction will help reduce energy consumption in transportation and space heating and cooling.
A mix of solar and wind with intermediate characteristics can be supplemented with geothermal and hydropower to fill in the crevices of supply needs. Batteries are now being developed at far lower costs that can store additional surpluses from windy and sunny days. Estimates are that wind farms, whether on shore or shore could be within fifty miles of half the American population, and that wind has now passed coal and natural gas in lower energy economic costs. The time is right for wind and continued growth in solar, as well as improvements in geothermal and hydropower.
Those who say a renewable energy economy cannot be reached are generally those advocating for the status quo of Big Oil and what remains of the coal industry. We do not have to wait until some new source is fully developed, such as tidal or wave energy sources. There will be additional development in wind and solar technologies to be sure, but the existing states are already satisfactory to do the job well and at ever reducing costs. Putting off the inevitable abandonment of fossil fuels is only adding profits to the industry and is also raising the amount of carbon dioxide that is causing such consternation for climate scientists and policy makers. We must hold carbon dioxide levels to 2005 levels to keep from expanding beyond the 1.5 to 2 degree Celsius temperature rise.
The energy mix will vary with what part of the country is being considered. Wind has high potential on coastlines and in the Great Plains along with a number of other areas. Solar is the same as is the potential for developing regional geothermal and small scale hydropower. Willingness joins with energy diversity.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to strike out on a major project to protect our planet and its vulnerable inhabitants.
11/9/16: Solar Application at Ravenna, Kentucky Church - Click here for details and photos!
Tufted titmouse, Baeolophus bicolor, near autumn feeder.
November 10, 2016 Soul-Searching amid Failing Military Solutions
Tomorrow we "celebrate" the 98th anniversary of the ending of the "war to end all wars" (World War I). We must be honest; in the midst of Middle East conflicts we realize that violence never ends violence. The struggles in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have engaged American military personnel for fifteen years with no end in sight. The sheer length and failure in seeing an outcome takes its toll on the general population -- much less what it is doing to the resident populations in the Middle East. Yes, the toll involves all the ones who suffer: hundreds of thousands of casualties as well as 10 million displaced persons.
Let us not forget the financial cost of the war, which I predicted in its beginning in mid-2003 would cost "tens of billions of dollars." Actually the estimates were way off, for this war costs have passed a trillion dollars. What could have been done with all that money in securing the infrastructure of this country and in furnishing basic services to people in all parts of the world? A non-military security could have resulted in many places that suffer from lack of essential goods and services. The Iraq invasion was a mistake and we will suffer from that for years.
The Great War of 1914-18 was succeeded by a greater Second World War (1939-45); both had their heavy damage in life and limb. But a hidden toll was the loss of idealism of the young that their efforts would have some effect on improving the quality of life for all people. To ask whether the Middle East fighting was worth it is placing a weight on the questioner that is not easily lifted. For one thing, the vague "quality of life" could mean areas of spiritual value or it could mean more secure petroleum supplies to run someone's SUVs at lower cost. And the idealist turned cynic may pose an added question: Does this all have to do with the continued prosperity of the profitable defense industry?
Pragmatic folks say: we are deep in a conflict; what other solutions are there? It is like two rival gangs who are already shooting and expected to stop voluntarily. To pray for peace is to express a hope that it can and will come, but we cannot first shoot and then expect peace and non-violence to come simultaneously. Our conduct is one of violence in its many forms, all of which are tolerated and even encouraged. My own record is clear: I did not want to get into the Iraq War in the first place because it was uncertain how we would get out once we sunk in the quicksand of the Middle East. It was far easier to get in than out. Ultimately, the Iraqi and Syrian people must decide themselves. Nevertheless, redividing these artificial countries, invented by Western Powers after World War I's break-up of the Ottoman Empire, is not sufficient. Once ISIS is defeated (unfortunately by continued military action), war parties must focus on thorough diplomacy.
Prayer: Lord, may a peaceful end come to this quagmire, and may we believe in our prayers that this can truly occur.
November 11, 2016 Reflections on Imagining the Hereafter
Today is Veteran's Day; it is an ideal time to reflect on those four last things (death, judgment, heaven and hell) that seem to be more appropriate in November than in any other month. Today we recall the passing of loved ones, but most especially those who gave their lives for patriotic causes. Imagine going into battle with the odds against coming out whole or even alive. Yet in some ways, each of us goes into the struggle of our own lives over a relatively longer period of time and yet are not certain of our personal outcome -- though in faith we believe that a final victory is ultimately certain. The believer hopes to be part of that. Imagining the conditions of non-believers is different, but we can pray for them and humbly profess the Good News without really entering into their shoes. Our hope is that they enter ours.
Should our efforts exclude imagining the glories of heaven, for we are unable to precisely do so anyway? Perhaps believers must know the present for what it is instead of imagining the future. Though we make our own future through our openness to the will of God, still it is what we do now that directs us to those four last things better than anything else. A future and current goals on our journey of faith are interconnected.
Sometimes we may stop and in a daydream imagine our own funeral. Though I do not do this now as it gets closer, I do recall such imagining when younger and especially when someone in the community about my age died. Certainly, we can prepare for our funerals so it will not be left to loved ones or associates, burdened with details that are not easy to supply at an unexpected moment. Specifying and updating details (e.g., place, manner, pallbearers, services, etc.) have a way of focusing us on the reality of mortality -- and that can be salutary. Imagining the funeral event can be misleading and perhaps morbid. I got over it when realizing that Jesus' funeral was extremely small in attendance and quite hurried. Why imagine being better than him? If a flock of birds comes, that ought to be sufficient.
Better to believe in a transition, a post event. If there were no resurrection, then as St. Paul says, our faith would be dead and there would be nothing to look forward to. The image of resurrection enlivens us. Believers have a broader vista that opens before them in an awaited but indefinite future. The promise of a New Heaven and a New Earth somewhat removes but not totally separates us from the non-believer. We both share current life in its mortal nature; we both do not totally know the future. Here differences emerge, for the believer has faith and hope and these cannot be minimized; faith enters in the way we conduct our lives; hope keeps us going on our faith-filled journey. What we see in faith is a world struggling to come to some meaning in life and seeking a sure ground for that meaning, a ground in time and a time that looks to the future -- to eternity. This gives us comfort.
Prayer: Lord, keep our eyes focused on where we are going.
Remants of the white snakeroot, Ageratina altissima.
November 12, 2016 Let's Beware of Scam Artists
Today, I am keeping the same title, but changing contents composed a month ago to ones that reflect the Tuesday disaster. Some thought they voted for pro-life candidates but did they -- if in doing so the vitality of Earth is now threatened? Trump & Company, who non-profit church people were not to mention by name prior to the election, have won; their promise to undo the Paris Conference on Climate Change and its subsequent Agreement calls for a red alert by those who accept election results but not conclusions. To promise to return jobs to laid-off coal miners is empty, and those who have sold a public on "Making American Great Again" are artists who have conceived the greatest scam on this vulnerable Republic.
Tomorrow, we will hear the strong words in Luke's Gospel by Jesus, "See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he,' and 'The time has come.' It is to guard against deception of this coming "time" that requires believers in a future and watchful citizens. To say that voters accept results and that this keeps us democratic as a nation is one thing -- but acceptability of election results is different from accepting policy or personality traits of a proven scam artist with false sounding services and so-called universities that milk the poor. Acceptability means redoubling our efforts to be pro-life and save our planet and all its inhabitants. To accept is to struggle in every way possible to bring on a renewable energy economy even against scam artists who lie openly in calling climate change a hoax. Thus in Ravenna we put a solar array on our church and hall.
Yes, I accept that Americans were disturbed and they felt their choices were limited. But to take immense risks to bring about change calls for accepting the double duty and mandate to defend our true conservative values that include the life and vitality of our planet. Yes, the billionaires will redouble efforts to enhance fossil fuels by greasing their palms with profits, but we must speak out and say "no" at every one of their steps in gutting EPA regulations, abandoning the Climate Change Agreement and reintroducing the construction of the Keystone Pipeline -- bringing tar-sand gunk for export to addicted lands.
Being aware will take a renewed patience and determination, for it will make us testy when former allies are tempting to allow the heartless to get away with planet murder. Let's not be so emotionally charged that we lose our energy and become paralyzed before the grandest scam every perpetrated on this fair land. Do not be deceived! And in this hour in our Republic's history make this an opportunity to become truly patriotic. Stay sober, stay true, stay close to the Lord; try to keep a smile and a sense of humor. Perhaps, just perhaps, someone may convert a scam artist. But don't count on it. Accept responsibility to be watchful.
Prayer: Lord, help us.
Intricate colors of the turkey tail fungus, Trametes versicolor.
November 13, 2016 Awaiting The Day of the Lord
And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon. (Luke 21:8b)
In this media-sensitive world, we hear in matters of minutes or hours about earthquakes, hurricanes and wars in distant places. Not a day passes without some disaster in some location -- and we know about it almost instantaneously. In fact, such ongoing events can wear us down and for a few they indicate that the world's end is coming quite soon. Perhaps one could make a case for the world's end at any time since the Gospel of Luke was written -- and it would sound convincing. All we know for sure is that we do not know the day or hour.
Caution! Quite often Jesus tells us not to be frightened and this message again appears at the end of the Church year as we prepare for the Feast of Christ the King next week, and the seasons of Advent and Christmas. When we hear the word "end," it does bring on some foreboding, but should it? When something shocking happens we can become drained. If the event is expected, then it is somehow less stressful. Just anticipating a calamity diverts our attention from the tasks at hand. In the course of these reflections we have constantly emphasized the task of healing our wounded Earth. This serious work involves collaborative efforts by all the world's people. When we have forebodings just mentioned, we are tempted to focus on saving our precious necks and those of our family and community. However, Jesus expects more of us.
That Day. Speaking about the end we hear talk about the terrible day of the Lord -- Dies Irae (Latin for Day of Wrath), from the ancient song that was sung at medieval and later funerals. The prayer within the song was to deliver us from a judgment that we justly deserve. Freedom from the excessive fears of those who refuse to reform their lives is what we seek.
Our Day. We are to make every day a day of the Lord, not just this Sunday or special occasions in our lives. We are the Lord's, for all time -- even our own -- ultimately belongs to God, and we are given this time span as a special gift. Thus we are called not to waste our energy in meaningless ways, for the end is not yet -- and the period of the "yet" is the gift to do something meaningful for the Lord. Thus that day becomes this day, our most important.
Hold steady in life. St. Paul tells us to be good workers through all the conflicts that beset us in life. We are not to be idle and await the end, as though our salvation is assured and all we need do is wait in patience. Nor are we to be busybodies and interfere in areas that are not our concern. Let's pace ourselves and make the Lord our companion in ordinary practices of life.
Prayer: Lord, help us to realize your day as motivating, inviting and challenging as we go about our daily life.
Tonight we can observe Full Beaver Moon and thus it is appropriate to select this busy little namesake as the wildlife of the month -- and it is also the national animal of Canada. Among the beaver's marks of distinction is that it is the "keystone" to creating new wetlands and so we couple beavers and wetlands, though they are not always found together.
American beavers (Castor canadensis) are those cute semiaquatic rodents that we both love at a distance and hate if they decide to move next door. Next to the human being, this animal has the greatest potential to change the bioregion through its diligent construction of stream dams and cutting of the trees. In fact, in South America many regard beavers as menaces or pests and worthy of extermination, and some North Americans agree. Up until a few decades ago beavers were commercially prized for their fur, but they were severely thinned through trapping.
"Busy as a beaver" is a saying that applies to both the American and European species. The animal never seems to stop or have a day off. If a tree is part of the plans of this energetic creature, down it comes in the middle of the night. Our friend and former associate, John Davis, lived for years next to a beaver colony in upstate New York. His home endured some near misses as the beavers decided to take down another tree. John preferred to let them do their thing and had a fascinating time just watching them work. When tolerant people desire to save certain trees, they can attach metal sheeting or wire screen making the tree off-limits to beavers whose teeth are meant for wood, not metal.
In our environmental resource assessments we encountered the activity of beavers several times. When property is desired for specific intended activities, woodland beavers may not be welcome and the entire colony may be removed to another site. Even though beaver activity may be unwelcome in particular places, these creatures have performed valuable functions over the millennia. In fact, they are engineers of budding wetlands through their damming operations that usually occur in streams of running water. The sound of trickling water seems to drive them into high gear, and their construction skills are called forth. Dams hundreds of feet long and tens of feet high are known -- real construction feats that can hold back the waters of relatively large rivers. In so doing silt is deposited and pretty soon a wetland emerges and good habitats for aquatic flora and fauna appear.
Wetlands are part of the life of our varied planet; wetlands help raise the water table, purify the water (as seen in artificial wetlands, reference Healing Appalachia), and promote biodiversity. Besides outfoxing predators in their homes (lodges), the beaver, for better or worse, ranks high on the wildlife intelligence chart. And they will keep working in the bright beams of tonight's moon.
Prayer: Lord, give us the energy to do what we have to do.
November 15, 2016Learning to Share through Gardening
The world is divided between the haves (some with superabundance) and have-nots (many degrees of want and destitution). Social justice calls us to share the resources of this limited planet with others, so that all receive the basics necessary for a modest quality of life. "We have in this world," as Gandhi says, "enough for our need but not our greed." Growing a garden gives us confidence that basic necessities can be produced and distributed at the grassroots. Certainly the Earth is bountiful, if we use it well and with respect. The wish that all the Earth's have‑nots obtain enough land for growing their own food seems farther from reality with each passing year, as the pace of urbanization quickens and land becomes ever more scarce. Furthermore, some developing nations have policies leading to increasing agricultural output for furnishing the moneyed developed world luxuries and resource intensive foods such as beef.
How can I share my surplus vegetables with distant poor? It will rot before it reaches them, and this particular act becomes an empty gesture of pretended charity. True, a particular perishable item can't be shared abroad without great expense in speed and refrigeration -- but it can at less expense be shared at home with the needy. By becoming sensitive to needs at home I am stimulated to prod our governmental representatives to increase a paltry foreign aid food program for distant hungry people and to enhance and not curb food sharing programs in our country. In the Middle Ages, Saints Isidore and his wife Maria were so touched by the local poor that they shared meager farm produce from their own table. We can also share from our own garden.
The developing world's food insecurity can't be solved by improved agricultural methods alone, especially when many suffer from interim calamities such as famines. My garden produce that supplements my meals frees up bulk grains that can be shipped overseas by public and private relief agencies equipped to transport, store and distribute food. Through advocacy and financial support along with utilized global communications and transportation we can make this possible -- provided alleviating world poverty is foremost in our agenda. Is that sensitivity to the poor inversely proportional to super-affluence?
A new Eden is where all can enjoy Earth's fruit. Global human solidarity simply cannot exist while some live in luxury and others do not have enough to eat. What can we do about this injustice, where bounty and want exist side-by-side? Shouldn't this excess bounty be shared through radical action, either through giving by the affluent or taking by the oppressed? Shouldn't the bountiful individual gardens of this planet be connected in a necklace that extends beyond national boundaries to Africa and Asia? By tackling global hunger we hasten the day of the emerging New Eden.
Prayer: Oh, Just One, the bounty of our garden tells us that
You have given us much, and we are to share with those in need.
Wild turkeys, Meleagris gallopavo. Washington Co., KY.
November 16, 2016Consider Creating Sacred Space
In the past we have sought to discover sacred space in our hearts and in formal places such as churches and shrines. As committed Earthhealers we look about and discover forgotten arenas of natural sacred space and undertake a more heroic venture of re-creating what was wounded.
Discovery: Find areas of spatial reality that stimulate our senses to acts of profound thanksgiving:
Sight -- Look to the beauty of creation and see places to observe brilliant sunsets, colorful flowers, verdant forests, the movement of the ocean waves, and floating clouds. Touch -- Reach out and touch the living things around us: the bark of trees, texture of leaves, softness of petals, and realize at the time that paved surfaces and urban lighting have distanced us from natural phenomena. Sound -- Listen hard and hear the natural sounds of thunder and rushing water, or the more gentle sounds of songbirds and crickets, gurgling creeks and peepers. Reflect on pauses that make for harmony of sound and silence. Taste -- Search about and find something that can be tasted in the landscape, at least during part of the natural growing season: berries, fruits, nuts, herbs, sassafras bark, or even a friendly mushroom or lichen (when familiar with edible ones). Smell -- Breathe the aroma of surrounding fresh air, for it is different for each season and for each geographic area. Smell the particular vegetation all around, fragrant flowers, evergreens, and even the decaying leaves in autumn and winter.
All our senses turn our hearts and minds to God. However, we can discover damaged landscape, ugly sights, foul odors, moaning sounds, taste of despair and feel of disharmony. With our senses we can be drawn to be sensitive to the needs of others.
Re-creativity: Accept the responsibility of finding God in remaking the landscape through the use of senses:
Sight -- Clean up roadside litter even when you did not throw the materials thoughtlessly away and see the refreshing look of what has been cleansed. Touch -- Feel the weight of a shovel full of upturned soil as you dig a hole to plant the sapling that will cheer a denuded landscape -- and be assured that it is a wonderful experience. Sound -- Hear the excitement of those helping to build a nature trail for others to enjoy land being reclaimed. Taste -- Taste the home-cooking of those who appreciate your coming and helping with insulating and repairing their dwellings. Smell -- Take in the whiff of wood smoke as you burn the briars and untangle the choked landscape so that native species can grow once again. Caution! Don't burn the poison ivy.
Prayer: Enliven us, Lord, to use our senses properly.
November 17, 2016 Struggles Triggered by Climate Change Deniers
It is imperative that when leaders (e.g., the President-Elect) considers climate change as a hoax, that the issue must be confronted, for unattended consequences could devastate Earth and civilization. Conflicted are predicted to occur:
* Africa. Areas of the world may get wetter or dryer. In Africa, grazing tribes are in conflict with settled farmers because both want to graze and farm the same limited land. As the weather in Africa becomes dryer, other conflicts will inevitably occur, especially in the Sahel and bordering areas. In northern Uganda and in neighboring Kenya tribes vie for rights to water and grazing land as well. Climate changes combine with population pressures, and even on game preserves neighboring hungry people press for bush meat (wild game) and livestock grazing land.
* Middle East. Climate change, population growth and economic pressures will exacerbate current civil war and regional conflicts in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. One cannot expect fresh water swimming pools in one armed camp and desiccated orchards and grain fields just outside the borders. Damming of rivers upstream will extend conflicts when people downstream see their needed water reduced to a trickle.
* Asia. Bangladesh is down stream and in a flood zone of Nepalese and Indian rivers; earlier this year areas in river deltas were inundated by floods. These fertile delta lands are inhabited by tens of millions of people, many of whom depend on the proper flow of the rivers to furnish water for crops and drinking -- but not too much of a good thing. At times half of Bangladesh is knee-deep in water. Too much is as bad as too little water. Certainly, one alternative is moving residents to higher ground. Potable rain water storage cisterns and houses that rise and float in place with floods are too expensive for many Asians.
Delaying and mitigating climate change is in the forefront of current international policy and rightly so. In preparing for the worst is necessary that each of us do all we possibly can:
1. Address the issue head on. Climate change is for many reasonable people a major, if not THE major, environmental issue.
2. Watch and invite deniers to watch the movie "Before the Flood" by Leonardo DiCaprio.
3. Review the issue of our Earthhealing YouTube "How to Halt Climate Change."
4. Read and invite deniers to read Merchants of Doubt by
Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway (Bloomsbury Press, 2010).
5. Write letters to the Editor for news media or, if possible, submit opinion pieces on consequences of climate change.
6. Continue the fight on every front.
Prayer: Lord, help us to anticipate what could happen to the poor and make every effort to reduce the impacts of climate change.
November is the end of the growing season in our part of the country, but I have remembered times in the past when we went out in the frosty season and gathered the autumn pears (the summer ones would have been picked several months before). These pears had fallen on the ground amid the autumn grass and were inviting us to pick them up and take a bite. They were competing with some late fall apples and the native persimmons (that needed a frost to ripen) for the last fruit of the growing year. And these "winter" or "late fall" pears were good candidates for storage in our root cellar, for they would remain hard and crunchy and not become soft and mellow like the earlier ripening ones. Similar to the sensations of eating an apple (taste, sight, smell and even sound and have a special texture), pears are quite pleasing when we enjoy them in their raw state. Why cook an autumn pear?
November falls at the end of our temperate growing season and just before the citrus fruits (oranges, nectarines, lemons, limes and grapefruit) come in from points south and fill up the fruit cravings of the holiday season and mid-winter. Thus, this intermediate season is the time for stored apples and pears -- and a seasonal period of fruitful joy as well.
Pears are best untouched by knife or the cooking stove, just eaten one bite at a time, and are even a good fruit for sharing a bite with another. Pears are clean and respectful and do not crumble like peaches and plums after the first mouthful. They remain dignified in shape to the very end. And they can be consumed to the last bit with hardly a core left as residue. Keeping the pears wrapped in a cool and dry climate can extend their lives through the winter. However, some of the venturesome wish to extend the goodness of apple's many applications to that of pears as well. Samples include:
dried pear hazelnut stuffing
wild cranberry sauce with pears
mixed fruit salad with pears and raisins
fruitcake with pears
pear chutney (with ginger)
Gewurztrammer poached pears
acorn squash with pears
pear thyme and rosemary sorbet
All said, taste and see the goodness of the raw pear, and experiment to your heart's content.
Prayer: Help us, Lord, to appreciate the good things of life and to encourages others to do the same.
November 19, 2016 Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation
On the 153rd anniversary of the delivery of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address we return to the struggles of that Civil War. We recall that in the middle of that conflict Lincoln came to the determination to free slaves as part of the act of preserving the union. The emancipating act that was such an internal struggle for Lincoln had much to do with practical affairs: threats from border states, a possible coupe by George McClellan, defeats on the battlefield, an unacknowledged racism by many northerners, a hesitant cabinet, personal tragedy with the death of a son, and the rising costs of military maintenance of a massive army.
Today, it is not slaves that must be freed, but those caught in the throes of destitution. What Lincoln did bears remembering because though history does not repeat itself, it does at times take similar paths. We too are faced with a great global conflict, as to whether this or any world can survive half destitute and half wealthy. What we face is of equally great peril because there is a world, not one nation, at stake. Today we need leadership to help bring about a proclamation -- a spreading of the Good News that needs a committed democratic people as well.
Lincoln faced the issues of his day trying to balance between states in rebellion and those border states (Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware and Missouri) that wanted to preserve the union and still retain slavery. Today, most nation states are not in civil war, yet they are facing civil strife and insecurity caused by both internal and external terrorism. Only part of this is due to basic inequality. Citizens with good will want to keep the world peace and still tolerate some destitution -- but is this proper?
Lincoln wanted to save the union and that was always his main goal -- and he was willing to make a number of compromises in order to achieve this (a scheme for colonizing ex-slaves, a compensation program, etc.). When he became aware that this country could not exist half-slave and half-free, he realized that preserving the union required a deeper commitment that he was at first reluctant to make, namely, freeing the slaves in occupied Southern territories, which he was convinced would expand over time. However, he saw that he had to hasten this and so he put this action to prayer and vow.
Today we see that we must save our Earth and that this is a goal that reaches out and includes more than just certain leaders; we are all committed to this task. In order to do this, we are awakening to the fact that we cannot save Earth without freeing all people from destitution. Furthermore, though this process like emancipation could be better if compensated, gradual and with the vote of all specific governments involved, it may have to go beyond. Saving this Earth includes lifting people from destitution. We cannot remain a planet of haves and have-nots.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to act decisively now.
Sunlight and shadows in rural Kentucky valley.
November 20, 2016 Christ's Cross: Weapon of Mass Blessing
It pleased God to make absolute fullness reside in him and, by means of him, to reconcile everything in his person, everything I say, both on Earth and in the Heavens, making peace through the blood of his cross. (Col. l:19-20)
As the Church year draws to a close we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. In the three-year cycle of liturgical readings we focus this year on the cross of ignominy and glory, or curse now transformed into blessing. The contrast makes us view a world threatened by mass destruction from nuclear weapons and see here in the grace of Christ an opportunity to bring about blessing to this troubled world. Mass destruction or mass blessing: how do we turn?
Transforming weapons. What is now becoming clear to us is that the threat of a weapon, whether the cross in ancient times or the weapons of mass destruction today, does not change our conduct for the better; it generally leads to more violence and destruction. Attempting a global policy based on threat of weapons leads to doom. The transforming of weapons into instruments of usefulness and benefit includes beating spears into pruning hooks and swords into plowshares. What was invented for death-dealing can be transformed into something life-giving.
Reminders. Rudyard Kipling wrote of the somewhat transitory glory of the British Empire ...
The tumult and the shouting dies, the captains and the kings depart, Still stands the ancient sacrifice, the humble and the contrite heart. Lord God of hosts be with us yet Lest we forget, lest we forget.
A century ago royalty ruled the great majority of the world's people from India to Russia, from China to Germany. Today royalty is part of a constitutionally restricted government for less than one-tenth of the world's people. Lest we forget, there is only one king now who rules over all and that is Christ himself. A royalty based on high status through nobility of birth has now given way to one person, begotten and author of life, Jesus Christ.
Transforming kingship. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the ghastly weaponry of a cross has been transformed into a badge of glory; the glitter of kingship has been replaced by a humble leader stripped and scorned who does it all out of love for us. Through him weapons can be turned into beneficial means of salvation and royalty can be shared by all who are baptized. The transforming action occurs over time. This transformation includes shared citizen action on our part. On this feast of Christ the King we pray that this world is less dependent on weaponry and more democratic in leadership and participatory practice.
Prayer: Lord, let your cross be our guide.
Autumn frost on hydrangea bush. (*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
November 21, 2016 Lead and Universal Children's Day
This week we celebrate all Children and recall how in recent months the Flint, Michigan lead in drinking water issue has been so prominent. Lead contamination hurts children more than adults. We recall that lead paint has been a major problem over the past century, along with lead in some toys by unscrupulous manufacturers. No one would doubt the attractiveness, luster and lower price of lead paint, but our people are wary of children who tend to touch things and put their hands into their mouth -- and so the anxiety about accessible lead objects has grown immensely.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell us that about one in twenty-two children in this country has high levels of lead in his or her blood from a variety of sources such as dust, paint and soil. In the past, lead was used in water pipes, gasoline and of course the house paint that still coats many of America's older homes(though now often covered by non-lead varieties). However, lead can chip off and infants can find these chips. About one-twentieth of affected children can suffer from learning disabilities, impaired hearing and even brain damage. All of these problems can be avoided by removal of the lead from the environment, and that is both for objects and for drinking water.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers some simple practices to help protect susceptible children:
* Testing -- Children at ages one and two who may appear healthy may have high levels of lead, especially if exposed to high levels of lead in toys or paint chips. Children ought to be tested in areas of older homes and where lead levels in water are high. * Cleaning -- Children like to play outdoors. The yard of an older painted home may have lead in the soil -- and some soils were contaminated a long time back. Wash the bottles, toys, stuffed animals and other objects that the children use frequently and clean the floors, window frames and other surfaces. * Reducing risk -- Homes that are about sixty years or older will most likely have been painted once at least on doors, window sills and even siding with lead-based paints. Make sure the child does not chew on chips from this or from older play pens and cribs covered with a former coat of lead paint. * Removing lead paint -- If lead paint must be removed, get a person with special training to do the job. Don't do it yourself. Local and state health departments can give advice after performing the lead testing to determine whether this is necessary. * Avoiding dust -- Have the children play in sand or grass instead of in bare dirt, even though they may prefer dirt. And make sure their hands are washed after playing outdoors. * Using water -- Use only cold water for drinking, cooking, and preparing baby formula and run the stream 15 to 30 seconds before using. Old piping may be suspect; thus, get water tested. * Storing food -- Don't store food or liquid in crystal glassware or imported or old pottery. These may contain lead.
Prayer: Lord, keep caretakers always alert about safety.
Autumn barnyard view. (*photo by Marge Para)
November 22, 2016 Stop the Violence Day
Our troubled Earth includes: victims of ISIS, civil warfare, poverty, disease and landscape that is eroded, denuded and drought-stricken. We know effects of violence more than its causes. Some place the root of violence in the devil; others say that money is the root of evil; others place the onus on the quest for power or fame or fortune; still others say that our culture breeds violence by condoning television shows, movies, computer games and other types of entertainment where violence has a prominent place. What makes some cultures more violent than others? Here are eight of such causes and undoubtedly there are more:
Overcompetitiveness that leads to disregard for the people who are neighbors and actually neglects to bless those who come in second or third or last -- thus creating violent reactions on par with the competitive practices themselves.
Ideology (ISIS) that fails to see others as worthy of his or her way of life and thus exerts intolerance in cruel ways in order to achieve demanded results.
Animosity that continues old barriers which separate people from each other due to race, culture, religion, locality or other differences and allow these to continue to influence behavior.
Greed that champions the retention of property and wealth as something to exclude from others and not share with them. The inability to radically share in a world of growing limits on resources affects all parts of Earth and can lead to conflicts.
Wastefulness that does violence to the limited resources for others -- our current neighbors and future generations. While greed leads to monopolistic possession, assumed privilege leads to consuming as one likes and thus the continuation of inherent wastefulness. This practice damages land, water and air and violates the right of all people to clean air and water.
Self-righteousness that inclines some to violent reactions because they are sure of being right in what they do and are. They never question their own manner of living as being imperfect or others as being worthy of partial imitation.
Readily available weapons that make the owners feel a sense of power and ability to frighten or intimidate others into submission. In America, technologically advanced weapons get into the wrong hands and these are transformed into weapons of mass destruction. Destitution that can trigger desperate measures by victims to defend or acquire basics of life. Inability to improve can lead to violent reactions, which have a certain degree of justification.
Prayer: Lord, give us the grace to be non-violent and lead others to follow the harmony that you as Triune God inspire.
Patterns in Corbin snadstone. Laurel Co., KY.
November 23, 2016 Piety: Enhancing the Sense of Mystery
Piety is the gift of the Spirit that inspires us with a tender and filial confidence in God, making us joyfully embrace all that pertains to the divine service. A distinction needs to be made for this and fear of the Lord (the last gift of the series); these are closely associated and often regarded as a single gift. We seek the attitudes that we strive to graciously embrace (piety) and the reverence that humbly acknowledges our limitations placed with trust in God's mercy (fear of the Lord).
Mystery is always before us, and from it springs forth a basic enthusiasm, or the God within. Those with genuine piety sense the presence of God within one's individual and communal journeys of faith. Our mission is filled with the Spirit, creativity abounds, an interior energy swells up and spills over in action; we are enlivened. Thus piety is far more than scrupulousness and proper conduct at given times of worship; piety is loyalty and devotion to the specific mission that we are undertaking. It is not a rote pious act performed out of custom, but rather a unique role performed with enthusiasm and care.
We are pilgrims into the unknown? We are all drawn by Mystery and yet we are tempted to insert other causes, names, idols, and crusades in our inability to define absolute "Mystery." For to define this ambiguous word is to restrict it beyond its unlimited characteristics. Why do we continue to search? Is it because, as St. Augustine says, we cannot rest until we rest in God? Are we being drawn by something and we know not what? Accepting Mystery is comforting for it allows us to accept the other gifts and conditions -- our limitations, our insights, our ability to choose, our willingness to take risks. Even if Mystery is the source of our restlessness, it offers encouragement, direction and bearing. Gradually we come to realize that our journey is not one of conquest, but of surrender to the God who calls us. Only from a distance do we have glimpses of the Holy Other whom we cannot see.
Mystery is an atmosphere in which one breathes freedom's fresh air, not to do whatever one wants, but to do what God desires of us. To do our own thing is to limit ourselves to the lifeless idol of self. We seek to approach infinite Mystery. Claustrophobia yields to healthy air and the atmosphere becomes breath-taking. Mystery is the deepening gift of the Spirit. Mystery is not agnostic; even admitting that we cannot penetrate Mystery does not mean we confess lack of knowledge -- or abandon desire for knowing more. We know God through feeling when God touches our hearts, warming them to share with others. The prophet Ezekiel speaks of conversion of heart. Mercy, not sacrifice; love and not hearts of stone; these are the indicators that the quest for Mystery is a movement of heart, one undertaken with enthusiasm and earnestness -- and piety.
Prayer: Lord, keep us devoted to the journey we are on and clothe us with a piety that seeks and finds mystery in our lives.
Thanksgiving Letter 2016
Thank you again for the support you gave the Earthhealing Program during 2016. During the year our concern continues for addressing climate change and moving all to a renewable energy economy ASAP. In May, I spoke for ASPI (where I was director for 25 years) at Ralph Nader's "Breaking through Power" Conference in Washington, DC. Also we are getting funds for ASPI's Solar House's replacement solar panels after former ones gave noble service for over 30 years. Likewise, my Ravenna parish is installing solar photovoltaics to furnish church electricity needs and as a model for Appalachia.
Our environmentally-related Daily Reflections has continued to be popular with sixteen million (recorded) hits for the last year, plus great numbers of unrecorded ones on new digital devices. In 2017, look for new texts and fresh photos, and review 2925 entries for the past eight years and the 2017's added 365 Daily Reflections. Each month also includes an introductory YouTube invitation for viewing. Furthermore, your support is requested to help promote our new YouTube series launched last year on a variety of subjects. We are including a listing of those available or currently being completed, along with a tentative 2017 listing.
Finally, Appalachian Water Reflections, with Warren Brunner's photos and my texts is available on Amazon.com -- an ideal Christmas gift. We have three books at various stages of publication and promotion. Comment is invited on drafts of Healing Earth and Jesus Christ Activist: A Work in Progress; both are available free in digital format from Brassica Books. Since commercial publishers will not publish books where drafts are available to the public for comment, we are now launching our last publishing project entitled Resonance that we have in digital format; the Draft version can be obtained by asking for the password upon specific request from friends. You are welcome.
Again, we request your support for 2017, a critical year in preserving the viability of our wounded Earth. Your donations are tax-exempt when made to "Kentucky Jesuit Missions." Thanks in advance for your continued support. We hope you see fit to help us keep this public interest project flourishing.
Al Fritsch, SJ
316 Fifth Street
Ravenna, KY 40472
Our "YouTube" Series
Earth Healing initiated a YouTube Channel last year over the Internet. The list of topics for 2015-2016 is included with tentative listing for the year 2017: Click here.
Thanksgiving meal under aspen. Rowan Co., KY.
November 24, 2016 Giving Simple Thanks
Thanks for the spark that gave me life,
the moment of joy and that of pain,
the time good folks made ready and brought me forth,
the family warmth to receive and nurture us all.
Thanks for the waters that cleansed me,
the bread that sustained me, the oil that strengthened me,
the words that renewed me.
Thanks for the joy of youth, the fresh air,
the freedom to explore,
the liberty, the promise yet unconquered,
the hopes for a future and better days.
Thanks for the books, the schools, the sacred times,
the power to read and write and think,
the places and zest to go,
the rest and silence in just staying.
Thanks for the colors we see, sounds we hear, smells of fall decay, the feel of rusty leaves soon to pass from sight,
the taste of good cooking.
Thanks for all of these and the power to move,
and climb, and skip and jump, and dance,
and crawl and jog, or at least to be satisfied
not being able to do all these movements.
Thanks for the peace and our own hope to establish it,
for love and to be loved,
for faith and to be trusted,
for happiness and the times of sadness with others.
Thanks for the glorious sun in the morning,
Whippoorwills, the heralds of evening,
Mourning doves, the announcers of spring,
Crows, the voices of the autumn.
Thanks for letting us grow up,
for responsibilities and concerns,
for labor and sweat,
for achievement and knowing when it fails us.
Thanks for gray hair and strength to be wise,
for the memories and good times to recall,
for the chance to see our failures and learn from them,
for the knowledge that it's never too late.
Thanks for allowing us to endure,
to live fully each moment,
to know that quality of days, not length, are important,
and to live once more on Thanksgiving Day.
Thorns of the honey locust, Gleditsia triacanthos.
November 25, 2016 Let's Start Redistributing World Resources
The world's wealth and resources do not belong to a select few; they also belong to the poor. (Benedict XVI, 9/5/07)
On Buy Nothing Day we should avoid the market places and reflect more deeply on how we use goods as though we have a right to them. At least we surmise that there is no conservation police out there to rap the hands of the wasting person. Also we think of weak governance only in developing lands, where conflicts over water resources are cropping up during the destabilizing conditions brought on by climate change. However, poor governance is also a condition of many parts of the world including the so-called developed nations, that allow their privileged few to squander world resources -- water, land, trees, and fossil fuels.
This owning what does not belong to us most likely comes through some trumped up fiction of colonization by the privileged -- a concept prevalent for hundreds of years of taking undeveloped resources on the part of white European/North American colonizers. And this is supported by national myths that we can use what we "own" better than natives who do not exploit them. By such thinking, resource finders become keepers. However, social justice tells another story; the limited Earth's resources belong to all the people. This raises the question that grows in urgency with each passing year in times of ecological crisis. How can those deprived of resources through lower status in the social system obtain or "take" what is rightly theirs?
Thus for the Christian with a moral sense, the basic question of who owns world resources is quite simple: we ALL as all or we all as individuals? However, the discussion only begins there. Who can retrieve those resources and make sure they are redistributed to those who need them most? The ownership question becomes a redistribution one. One way of conceiving of the answer is to say the poor or the lowly will do this in a revolutionary manner. However, that could lead to violence as already witnessed in our increasingly terror-filled world. The second more idealistic hope is that all parties will sit down and come to an agreement where the resource-lacking make their pleas and the resource-filled will voluntarily empty their coffers in utter largesse. The first scenario is a real but dreaded possibility; the second would be a miracle; we do not make global environmental policy on the basis of possible miracles.
Thus, we return to a message mentioned often in these reflections: we need to sharpen the governance on our country and world to moderate through regulation the use of resources, so that all have the basics of life and those who squander will be curbed and placed under tight control. Here churches have a role to play; we must strengthen the will power for global change in direction. Sharing ownership by the few with the many should occur in a peaceful manner through better and more democratic governance.
Prayer: Lord, help us apportion resources according to need.
November 26, 2016 Encouraging Shut-Ins As Earthhealers
During this Thanksgiving weekend when many think of Christmas shopping, we may look to assist shut-ins who are trying to endure the sadness of a limited holiday season. We sympathize with those who cannot get out and travel as much as they used to when ambulatory or when driving a vehicle. Certainly, cheerful shut-ins are an inspiration to many, and their sacrifices are of immense importance in saving our troubled world. However, it takes spiritual insight to see how they can effect change. Let us move beyond sympathy to an attitude of positive encouragement: each person who is restricted by physical weakness or health problems can generously offer the sufferings he or she endures for others in union with Jesus on Calvary, an event extended in space and time.
These can be bearers of Good News. They can focus prayers for a particular wayward acquaintance and this is laudatory; they can extend their prayers for a troubled planet and unite with the intentions chosen by Pope Francis for each month. They can see themselves not as an "incapacitated" multitude but as "people resource," as an immense spiritual source of energy that is capable of being tapped for changing the world. We join them as bearers of Good News by encouraging their immense spiritual potential offerings. The Spirit inspires us to deliver this message in different ways: as a current activity that gives meaning to suffering; as a future investment in a heavenly home; or as a way to make up for the waywardness of our past lives. The offering is an apostolic means of helping others. Consider the "Little Way" of St. Therese, the Little Flower (who was a shut-in who gave all in love of God and is now patroness of the foreign missions).
The shut-in can reach deeper levels of involvement in light of one's love of God and neighbor. For instance, if you offer this day to the Lord for those who could be inspired to see this website, you will help spread the Word in your own way right from your home base. We speak of those who can stop pollution practices, conserve resources, get people to use renewable energy, and buy and use more efficient vehicles. What the shut-in as healer can do is encourage others to reflect on the power that is present in their own cheerful act of offering. They can become healers by inspiring other through their sacrifices to be encouraged to continue selfless offerings for others.
Once I had the ambition to get a group of shut-ins moving in an association. While this has merit, the needed efforts were never expended. However, attempts to get individuals involved in such offerings seem more satisfying and worthwhile. A ripple effect is less known by the public and yet still quite effective -- if we have faith to believe it is. Shut-in as Earthhealers can perform as much caregiving as others in a hospital, a nursing home, or a medical laboratory. A shut-in has power to act but must have faith that this power of the resurrected Christ is truly at work.
Prayer: Lord, give to shut-ins the power to heal our Earth.
A stroll along Kentucky creek. Mercer Co., KY.
November 27, 2016 Self-Denial and Advent
So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. (Matthew 24:44)
Today we begin the season of Advent. While different in spirit than in Lent, we still have preparation for the Christmas event ahead of us -- and we can focus on self-denial. I need it and so perhaps do you. Personally and nationally we need to move to a carbon-free and nuclear-free economy -- and this involves some degree of denial and sacrifice. Our record on resource conservation is poor, for we do not regard self-denial as a virtue. For some, self denial is unpatriotic, for it is counter to the consumer-spending culture in which we live and supposedly thrive. However, the upcoming holiday season, which is really launched in earnest this week, is the epitome of self-indulgence; it involves giving every loved one and remote associate something that is of commercial cost to show concern and respect.
Our Lack of will power is worthy of attention. We find it hard to say "no" to certain practices and things (eating, drinking, texting, etc.). We are in critical need of better practices as individuals and better governance as a nation. We like to find fault with impoverished or decadent governments among other nations, but never pause to see that our governance has much that needs improving. In fact, in this 21st century no rationing or self-denial accompanies our ongoing war efforts. On the other hand, we all share in a social addiction and must take steps to overcome it. We must seek to lower temptations and raise the willingness to avoid the addicted product or go cold turkey.
Churches are ideal places to preach self-denial, for this enters into the deep religious message of proper conduct. A church leader hesitates, for such topics are unpopular lest congregations dwindle and the message appear offensive. At least close the eyes lest some think the speaker is targeting them. The false prophets of old and today seek nice things to make all feel comfortable about their self-indulgence. Self denial is seldom a part of the issue, lest the money stop flowing. And instead, the church messengers would rather indulge themselves in saying how to do some very little things such as a weekend volunteer foray -- which is not bad in itself. It is just not self-denying.
A meaningful self-denial has many benefits: it bolsters will power and gives new spiritual confidence; it is a true exercise of freedom to say "no" to allurements; it can produce a community ripple effect with others willing to sacrifice; it can bring us closer to the sacrificing Savior, and it can save money by not buying luxuries. And furthermore, that which is saved could be used to enhance the lives of the poor nearby or in distant lands.
Prayer: Lord, who is soon coming, help us prepare the way through personal self-denial and encouraging others to do the same.
Rainbow over Kentucky barn. (*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
November 28, 2016 Borrowing from Future Generations
Vast debts seem to accumulate at national, state and other levels. How is Puerto Rico's $72 billion debt to be paid? Greece's debt? Or the U.S. 13 trillion dollar one? Debts for individuals and groups seem to climb. An acquaintance started a public interest group and I asked him about his finances. He said he had a valid credit card. That was the last I heard of his group.
Granted, some may have to borrow to make ends meet, to build a home, to start a business, to buy a car, or to pay off a major health bill. Borrowing without an assured way to repay on time or with no intention of paying back during one's lifetime is bad, very, very bad. Borrowing on supposed inflated home values also fits that wrong-headed category and was evident during the recent Great Recession. Is it ready to happen again? These practices amount to a form of substance abuse, for they abuse money that is meant to further a fair exchange of goods and services. The rotten system of borrowing on easy credit is a shared fault of both lender and borrower -- and the worst thing to do is to hope that Uncle Sam will supposedly bail out a privileged negligent party too big to fail. Easy credit is our current system's weakness.
Excessive borrowing allowed a consuming public, whether individual or cooperate to live beyond their means or off of the resources of the planet that are meant for future generations. These excessive actions have resulted in current air and water pollution and climate change problems. We would not have consumed so much, if the fad of borrowing against a supposed inflated value of a home were not encouraged -- and if so much pretending were not considered normal. Eventually "the chickens came home to roost," when mortgage fine print schedules have kicked in and credit payments came due. The trouble is that some national and state debts are yet to be reckoned, and that is going to be difficult.
A permissive system that allows such borrowing beyond the means of reasonable repayment has a major weakness. It is burdening future generations with enormous debts long after the spender has died. With over one trillion dollars owed to China alone, the U.S. citizenry has got to come to its senses. This is a time of sober reassessment, for we are all too deeply marred in the credit culture. Certainly, tightening credit may patch a faulty system. Probably the deliberate liquidation of all debts is a fresh but revolutionary start.
Are there any painless major readjustment gimmicks? Will stock market prices crumble and massive unemployment follow before the public learns its lessons of living beyond its means? Will we learn a lesson or will the indebted seek to beat this lenient system one more time before these borrowers exit this mortal life? When living within one's means, a plan for repayment is realistic. It's unethical to pass financial burdens to future generations.
Prayer: Lord, help us to learn to live within our means.
Cette specialite servie a travers toute l'Alsace....
-- L'Alsace: Province de Caractere
We think of sauerkraut as German or Alsatian (French), although the Chinese may have been first. However, Americans modify good things, and kraut can be garnished with juniper berries (Alsatian) and caraway seeds (more American)? Whatever the origins, we Americans stake our claim to sauerkraut to some degree.
Kraut-makin' was an important event in early summer when the cabbage was ready and we got out the kraut cutter, a board with sharp knives for shaving the cabbage head. We kids would wash our bare feet and vie to tromp the kraut in the large containers; we would climb inside a large ten-gallon crock and dance about, pressing the layers of freshly produced kraut and salt (the "sauer" ingredient for preservation and taste). I think it was the only farm chore my older sister Dorothy ever enjoyed doing. However, the foot pressing was not the end of the operation. My mother had the added work of seeing to the fermentation and then doing the cooking as well; in senior years, when the table had fewer mouths, she canned the kraut in gallon jars and did not have to maintain the heavy crocks.
Why kraut in November? That was the month the fermentation was sufficient to allow us to eat the product. Really it was because one major farm event that I have as yet refrained from mentioning occurred in that month -- hog killing. The butchering of these animals was a very important event in our farm life and yet it was hard work and too filled with squeals to dwell on. The combination of sauerkraut and the fresh pork made for the special gastronomic experience. In fact, Alsatians hardly conceive of this kraut without associated varieties of pork, and La Grande Choucroute contains seven types of pork and a dash of Alsatian wine. Our recent vegetarian tendencies take something away, but do encourage appetizing substitutes.
Sauerkraut and Appalachia. In the 1970s, being from Kentucky, I was asked by the Appalachian Pastoral Letter Committee (This Land is Home to Me) to approach Bishop Ackerman of Covington, a quite conservative bishop, for his approval of the document. The committee reckoned correctly that his signature was crucial to its success. Joe Holland, the writer, and I had lunch with the good bishop and we entered into a conversation that mostly focused on the qualities, preparation, cooking and tastes of good sauerkraut. Time was taken up and after more pleasantries we concluded the meal and wondered whether Bishop Ackerman would approve the statement, since we neglected to really discuss the letter's contents. In due time the Bishop told the Committee that he had a good discussion with us and he readily signed the letter -- a most liberal contribution on social justice. Sauerkraut be praised!
Prayer: Lord, open our hearts for the good things of life.
A new Eden is not created in a day; it takes patience to trust that what we begin will not perhaps see full fruit for a time and perhaps even after we are gone. Expert gardeners and the willing inexperienced can work satisfactorily together. Certain rules and procedures may be needed to prevent unintentional damage. Tolerance is not the same as permissiveness, a truth that applies to the New Eden as well. Tolerance in Eden allows space to make some mistakes and still be included in the whole community. The process of becoming an experienced gardener needs its maturation time. However, to make experimental errors is one matter; to destroy the garden's sustainability is not tolerance but license.
A gardener's care can transform a homestead into a home. The emerging Eden is the ecos, par excellence. It is becoming a home to plants, animals and human beings as well. Here is a sense of belonging, of security, of direction and focus. This does not mean that the gates to our domestic gardens are thrown open for all to come and trample. That is no way to establish a home. Eden, as home, means that respectful coexistence can occur with friendly plants and animals and that the good will of a garden operation can be communicated to an ever broadening network of gardening enterprises. We love wild animals in the wild but will not open our doors to a bear or cougar. The emerging Eden is embracing the cultivated gardens of the world as well as preserved wilderness areas and wildlife refuges. There is enough space for all, though not exactly the same space. However, lovers of wildlife know that the garden, as home, can attract certain friendly wildlife: song birds, worms, insects, and butterflies; and the garden must turn away others in ways mentioned elsewhere (fencing, trapping, selection of types grown, use of hot sauce spray, etc.).
Do we treat massive agribusiness ventures with patience? Good ecology points to small-scale domestic gardening alternatives as necessary, but we are fully aware that large agribusinesses are major suppliers of our food needs today. Their crops are generally cultivated and harvested by farm workers who do back-breaking tasks for long periods of time at low wages, with poor lodging, no access to profits, and hazardous (pesticide contaminated) working conditions. It is not enough to advise that workers be patient -- or grow their own when they own or can rent no land. Social changes demand organized action on the part of a citizenry for better higher quality produce.
Prayer: Oh Great Spirit, Who moves across the waters and changed darkness to light, give us the patience to build community with all of your creatures and especially with our fellow human beings. Help us to recognize that not all are at the same place in life's journey and many do not understand the importance of gardening to building community. Teach us patience while waiting for seeds to sprout, plants to mature, and neighbors' hearts to change. Open our eyes to see that this is a great foreshadowing of a better world, a New Heaven & New Earth that we await in patience.