November conjures up thoughts of darkness, dampness, defoliation, heavy frost, and the smell of rotting leaves. Depressing or comforting? The newly naked trees allow more sounds to carry; snakes and mosquitoes are gone for the season; gardens take less tending now with salad greens and root crops (radishes, carrots, onions, and turnips); if we are faster than squirrels we get some nuts; and while many birds flew south we STILL have colorful cardinals. Yes, November has good things: pumpkin pie, hickory nuts, winter squash, fresh-pressed cider, tangy endive, spicy mustard, nutritious kale, Thanksgiving turkey, wholesome soups on chilly days, and pleasant summer memories.
Your autumn white covers old fields, holding well through early fall frosts, perennial domineer of the weed stage, hearty, yes so tall and graceful, you hold on to the royal flush in delightfully modest ways.
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In November eco-spirituality takes a new form, a new beginning. The growing season ebbs, the calendar year moves to its final month, and the liturgical year reaches completion. We move to a warm indoors as days get shorter and frost abounds. November fosters interior warmth, sensitivity, and hope -- elements to share with others. This is a time of gratitude, companionship and review of divine gifts given. The Church liturgical selections are related to eschatology -- the last things. This reflection of the end times will occupy us now as we move into the Advent season. We confront our mortality -- a stark reality that is accompanied by an affirmation of eternal immortality.
Mortality is a passage from mortal to eternal life, and November's feasts of All Saints and All Souls remind us of this passage ahead for all of us. We each harbor fears and trepidations, because our ultimate individual and social transformation is uncertain as to when and where. In 2020, this uncertainty is compounded by a pandemic and a spreading virus in the coming winter months. Recall that the great majority of fellow human beings are death-denying folks, who shut out the occasional reflection on dying by immersing themselves in the world of hustle and bustle. The road to the grave is something we cannot deny and our preparation makes that final road easier for all concerned.
November's experiences give us hope that death brings new life. Our thanks are expressed through appreciation of autumn landscapes, sounds of the season, pleasant home smells and tastes, and feelings of warmth and love. Our eco-spirituality opens us to the challenges of the yet unknown future, and November is an ideal time to consider eschatological issues.
Autumn Landscape and Memories. Pronounced former October autumnal changes have now moved into November. Perhaps it is due to climate change. The landscape is transformed day by day in brilliant colors worth appreciating in some fashion. We recall past autumns and mix current sights with memories. Our pandemic speaks of current troubles, but the contrast of peaceful mountain forests instills a sense of hope that things will get better. Let's take some time to simply observe changes that are occurring and thank God for the eyesight to enjoy the color parade before us. Amid it all we too are changing as we age and endure this crisis.
Haunting Bay of the Coon Hounds.In the distance we can hear the dogs bark and they move about restlessly in the cool autumn evenings. They're our companions for better or worse. Theirs is a chorus, though we almost never characterize it as such, for dogs sing in their own way with their own regional twang. Our dogs have a way of expressing themselves ‑‑ cries of alarm or utter excitement. Yes, the coon hounds are really Appalachian, and so are many mixed breeds as well. We've come to detect the lilt of mountain animal voices even when they interject their own blood‑curdling tones. Let's accept them along with the hoot owl and the chirping winter birds that remain all year.
Apples Stored in the Root Cellar. The Appalachian word "fruit" commonly means "apple," from apple cider to the apple stack cake, from apple butter to apple jack, from apple pie to apple wood. It includes the exotic apple varieties brought from the Old World, as well as the lowly native crabapple. Appalachians are apple people, through and through. In some ways, successful mountain harvests are defined by the apple crop, and that by the lateness of spring frosts. Nothing beats the combined sight and smell and taste of fresh autumn apples ‑‑ and add on the crunchy sound and the firm texture of these delights. Perhaps no other food is so appealing to all of our senses; apples shine in the light, smell ever so good especially in a pie, and offer a wide spectrum of flavors that vary with each variety. The sound of biting into a crispy apple is unique. But it is the faint and delicate smell that gives the most glory to this fruit. Appalachians have favorite foods ‑‑ and apples top the list.
Assembling at Thanksgiving. Today, home cooking is becoming a rarity in our land, as people are often too tired to cook very much, especially after working all day at other tasks; they stop at their favorite restaurants and buy carry-out. With time they forget the loving investment in home cooking and seem challenged by the favorite home dishes of the past -- turkey and trimmings, corn bread and pudding, biscuits-and-gravy, soup beans, stack cakes, cooked squash, cranberry sauce, various fruit cobblers, and pumpkin and other pies. At least cookbooks have recipes, and deserve being frequented. Is the taste the same if it is not put there by someone who has a heart to have others enjoy it? Families like to assemble together at Thanksgiving, for unity is nurtured around the family table no matter the cooking source. The presence of kinfolks and good foods work together to make this truly American.
5. Scampering varmints. The hurried movements of squirrels tell us something about the changing seasons. The struggle for precious life in the coming winter motivates more than humans. Observing wildlife includes our eco-spiritual insight into how they praise God in their own ways. There's a contentment in their movement that speaks of extended happiness among all creatures. Observe the scampering chipmunks or ground squirrels moving about through the fallen leaves. They add much to the November landscape by their activity. Will these moments of delight be forever lost or is there some way in which what is observed will continue? If the Creator has fixed these creatures in a place on Earth, can it be that the New Heaven and New Earth includes them in some fashion?
The scenes of autumn open us to deeper reflection, and special attention is given to knowing our present home and how that enters into the fuller world to come. This does not mean we fly from what is our task here on Earth, but rather we are catalyzed to prepare for something new and greater soon to come.
Prairie tall grasses at Bernheim Arboretum, Kentucky.
November 1, 2020 Imitating Saints: Mortal and Immortal Models
All Saints' Day is a perfect time to measure our relations with people who exceed us in virtue and yet whom we still strive to imitate. The democratic spirit of this day rests in our extending awareness of sainthood to the uncanonized or a forgotten but very holy ones. Regarding some who passed on as having special favor with God (and able to seek special favors for us) is a position held by a great majority within the Christian world.
A few decades back, a volunteer arrived exhausted from biking several hundred miles to our place. He was sorely disappointed because he had stopped at the home of a noted Kentucky author and took the fellow's photo even though told (though the volunteer did not hear it) that no photos were allowed. My only comment to the disappointed volunteer was "Don't ever canonize living people; wait until after they have passed on." People are not perfect, nor do they act the way we want them to in every circumstance. After they have died we tend to smooth over personal rough edges and elevate them to higher positions with the passing years. Mortals can hardly be acclaimed in that fashion, because they do things we regard as not according to our perfection standards.
Withholding canonization is still good practice -- but maybe with some modification. We can recognize superior virtue in others who can become our living models. Why not? Just don't idolize living human beings. In an NPR program on the myth of Robert E. Lee one caller told of her grandmother whose dad had been a close associate of the noted general; her grandmother idolized Lee. The caller expressed some misgivings over such attitudes, and we all know of many people who idolize celebrities and accomplished artists and leaders. But should they make them divine?
We are people who are in need of models who show us how to act in a dysfunctional society. Our times are tough and we thrash about for those who handle similar situations with apparent ease. We can discover exemplary caregivers and humble folks who inspire us through their love and fidelity. It is up to us to accept them as models with qualification, but don't idolize them. I am very uncomfortable when I see shrieking adolescents before a rock star or noted political leader or mega-church personality. Not good!
Folks, reserve your enthusiasm; restrain your emotions; don't demean the person at the center of attention for he or she is still human. Rather, let's emphasize the good and know that it can be better. Maybe we all crave models, and by looking at the multitudes of unsung and uncanonized ones (who have passed on) we have many to choose from; they have a special place before God. They make better models than mortals with their imperfections that reporters scramble to unveil and Internet retains unforgivingly.
Prayer: Lord, direct us to saints who have lived in unsung ways and yet through happenstance we have become acquainted from others' testimonies, writings, or our own happy remembrances.
Twisted tree at Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary. Franklin Co., KY.
November 2, 2020 Praying for All Poor Souls
After this Judas took a collection from them individually, amounting to nearly two thousand drachmae, and sent it to Jerusalem to have a sacrifice for sin offered, an altogether fine and noble action, in which he took full account of the resurrection. For if he had not expected the fallen to rise again it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead, whereas if he had in view the splendid recompense reserved for those who make a pious end, the thought was holy and devout. This is why he had this atonement sacrifice offered for the dead, so that they might be released from their sin. (2 Maccabees 12:43-45)
On All Souls' Day we pray for the holy souls who have not yet arrived in eternal bliss. Our communion with the many who have passed on before us is especially felt today on this special day for remembering the dead. We may know of many who had their imperfections, some burnt off in this life, and some who did not have sufficient time or opportunity to do so. We may even know a few and (without severe judgment) must admit that they appeared to have some pretty rough edges at the moment of their untimely passing to eternal life. We conclude that they need our prayers, for they are still on the road to God.
Poor souls among the suffering. I do not want to deny that category of the unfinished and the uncut diamond with its rough edges. However, there is another category of those who, regardless of early life, seem to be suffering greatly towards the end of their young life. Those who suffer on Earth can be regarded in so many cases as enduring a purgatory, and thus have undergone purification before their final mortal breath is taken. So regarding purgatory on Earth as extending to the hungry and ill, the thirsty and those without homes, those with sleepless nights for fear of personal dangers, and who fret as to how to feed their family are all mortal "poor souls" living among us.
Poor souls as compassionate. Let's extend this community once more, and include those of us who are attempting to be compassionate or who are willing to suffer with their suffering brothers and sisters. When we are in solidarity with the poor around or afar from us, we become true neighbors to them. Their poverty extends to us, provided we do not allow our riches and comfort to distance ourselves from them. Rather we enter with them into an atmosphere of utter and radical sharing. Now it is not "they the poor" but "we the poor." Only through such an identification can we find true compassion; we can be in full communion with the holy souls who are regarded as "poor" in their awaiting eternal bliss.
Poor souls beyond. On this special day, let's not forget our recently deceased relatives and friends whose journey to the Lord can be hastened by our own prayers and sacrifices.
November 3, 2020 Voting "Pro-Environment AND Pro-Life"
During this Presidential Election Day many of us have the dilemma of voting for candidates with whom we do not fully agree. We must exercise our civic duty for those we deem honest, fair, open, and willing to compromise on some issues. We have studied policies of each candidate and then today we have decided which ones are best overall for the work ahead. Yes, we can't support climate change deniers and those who would restrict religious freedom or promote the killing of human beings. By their actions and policies few, if any, strictly fit these severe categories.
For over a year we have been giving the bumper sticker that mostly bears the title of this reflection, "Pro-Environment is Pro-Life". For those of us who are both pro-environment and pro-life we face choices that are at times difficult. What the bumper sticker program has attempted is to extend a sense of respect for those who may differ from us; that includes those who hesitate to call themselves pro-environment even when they desire clean air and water for all. On the other hand, we hope those who are pro-choice may see a kinship to those struggling to be for life in its broadest respect and many forms.
Respect has been the goal of this effort. We have hoped to broaden our perspectives about the extent of environment and life, for all want to have a place to breathe and all a place and time to live, none being pro-pollution or pro-death. Each political group must learn to respect those who are not part of their particular party. Unfortunately, there are still some who regard the environment as unworthy of full support and there are those who let life decisions be made by others.
As people point out to narrowly focused pro-lifers: a dead planet will allow only extremely limited human life. The late environmentalist Jim Berry argued: "We cannot have pro-life issues without a living planet on which to live." Let us take this a step farther. What if one candidate professes to be pro-life and yet overlooks pronouncements by the major part of the scientific and moral community saying that humans are causing major climate changes? What if his or her opponent is pro-choice to one or other degree and yet is pro-environment? Dilemma, right? This continues as a reality even to today's ballot box and beyond. Let's recall that voting is not the end all, but a beginning, because future civic monitoring of emerging voting records is also at stake.
All things presumed equal, please note that some candidates are not pro-environment in temperament and others do not profess to be pro-life. Certainly the character of candidates must be taken into consideration. Some will consider what type of person the candidate (if elected) would recommend as judges for the Courts -- and that becomes an issue. The "seamless web of life" includes our defense of the fetus, elderly, death row inmates AND Earth herself.
Prayer: Lord, help us choose the best political leaders.
Unidentified fungus, autumn's "bloom".
November 4, 2020 Prolonging Barefoot Days
One of the great joys of my youth was going barefoot, and this opportunity was one I enjoyed when the weather warmed enough to do so. Really, November was the cut-off month, the time when getting the cows in the coolness of evening made my bare feet chilled to a noticeable degree -- and thus the need for shoes for the colder times. Even to this day, on rare occasions in the winter months I still attempt for short periods to prove the freedom of the shoeless outdoors just as practiced indoors in heated rooms. No parent or others told me to go without shoes or to put them back on; it was only spring's beckoning warmth and autumn's impending coldness. Being reshod was the definitive sign that the freedom of summer was gone for four or so months. How horrible!
Bare feet are a mark of solidarity. I get a monthly copy of Kentucky Explorer and view the photos of nineteenth century school, church, family and civic gatherings with the contributor asking whether people in the picture can be identified by some viewer. The interesting thing is that in half the photos the kids are barefoot for these 1800s (and well into 1900s) images. I always feel akin to these unknown subjects of formal picture-taking.
Bare feet express communion with Earth. We tell who we are by the feet we imprint on the well-worn pathways of life. In so doing we convey a message to the world: stay close to Earth at all times and learn its feelings through one's feet. The rhythms of Earth are best felt through hands working the soil and feet pressing in a temporary and vanishing footprint upon it.
Bare feet are comfortable -- outside of thorny patches. The bare foot is not subject to skin rashes coming with moist or sweaty socks. Feet toughen and bear healthy marks as much as rosy cheeks.
Bare feet reflect an affirmation of freedom on the part of the shoeless. How nice to have our feet touching and communicating with Earth in its most humble form, and we are proud of it. It seems to me that most of the shoeless subjects of the photos bear a sense of dignity in company with other shoeless folks.
Bare feet save shoes. That was one of the requirements in those earlier depression and poverty-laden days in our past -- but this scarcity of supplies exists in today's world as well. Let being barefoot remind us of a disparity in wealth.
Bare feet is respectful before God. We can become more thankful if barefooted when we see that freedom is part of human life. We strip ourselves of shoes as we celebrate our destiny -- as is done in religious celebrations in many cultures.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to bare ourselves before you, to know our humble role in this world, and to be satisfied that in touching our little part of this Earth we are in communion with the entire planet.
Sericea Lespedeza, Lespedeza cuneata, a least-wanted Kentucky plant.
November 5, 2020 Discerning Switchgrass as a Biofuel
Switchgrass is truly an American plant, but the hope by renewable energy optimists is that it will lose its American "weed" status and become a commercial crop in the near future. President George W. Bush asked an Alabama legislator while preparing for his state of the Union message, "What is this switchgrass?" Advocates wanted him to include this mention for renewable energy promotion. It is still an honest question for many Americans, but in ensuing years switchgrass has become less mysterious. However, can this become a crop to replace corn, for some 40% of this year's corn crop is being diverted into biofuels?
Each year, the goal of working with switchgrass as a corn alternative is further postponed. This perennial grass can be grown on currently unproductive land and requires little fertilizer and less energy to use as a crop. Some researchers suggest all kinds of benefits, if less productive corn cropland were turned to switchgrass and other cellulosic feedstocks for making ethanol as a biofuel: more ethanol yields per acre, higher overall corn yields, less fertilizer runoff, less carbon dioxide emissions, reduced nitrogen leaching and thus better groundwater quality. <http://news.illinois.edu/news/11/0712switch_EvanDeLucia.html>
The difficulty emerges that the commercial transition to switchgrass requires some planning and preparation. One does not simply go out and start harvesting any old weed, for there are critical density requirements as well as the entire infrastructure for harvesting, transporting, and preparing the ethanol from the stalks. Predictions of millions (much less billions) of gallons of ethanol biofuel from switchgrass is still years away, but isn't more efficient and electric vehicles a better alternative?
Changing to switchgrass is not a "shell game;" rather, it could be an energy alternative in the renewable energy mix that is considered to replace fossil fuels. The subsidies given for growing corn and soybeans for biofuels are in the process of being removed, but are cellulosic crops proper ecological alternatives? One consideration is that switchgrass can be grown on lands that extend beyond the traditional Corn Belt and include southern and western marginal lands. The crop is more drought resistant than corn and can endure some of the warmer summers now experienced.
Efforts to grow switchgrass extended to my home county (Mason) in recent years. Financial aid has been given to farmers in the Buffalo Trace area of Kentucky to convert to five-acre plots that have yielded five to six tons per plot. Cost of establishing the switchgrass plots have been about $200, but the hope is the perennial will have a rapid payback. However, it is possible that hemp, a traditional crop with medicinal and fiber practical uses is becoming a far better agricultural commodity than any biofuel.
Prayer: Lord, encourage our people to become more willing to make choices that enhance the health of our troubled planet.
Reflecting on Preparing Our Earth
The New Heaven and New Earth stands as a hope that must be started now through our human efforts. As being part of the People of God who are invited into the Divine Family, we Christians have a special calling to help lead the way. We are assured if we remain faithful that an eternal joy awaits us. But this promise still comes with a variety of questions, some of which can only be partly answered at this time.
Seeking a Home. Is our home only here on Earth, or beyond? Perhaps both. Must we focus on this our Earthly home or turn attention to the hereafter? Again, we are called to do both. Do we entertain visions of what is to come, even though we seek to be down-to-earth and practical here and now? The practical life can be accompanied by and realized through visions of what is to come. Certainly, a desired atmosphere of peace and non-violence here on Earth would be beneficial to all the human family. Will other creatures, including those we favor, share in the New Heaven and New Earth? Most likely, for Earth as defined includes plants and animals. As Divine Family members we hope the Lord includes them.
A home is a place of security and quality rest, a place that is inviting to friends. While it may not be totally permanent, it is still one in stable condition and humble though not destitute. The homing pigeon has an inbuilt instinct directing it back to its place of origin; analogously, we have a faint homing instinct, for when away we are drawn to return to what is familiar. Furthermore, for some, home is a sentimental place of birth or long-term residing; it may stimulate us to sing or create poetry.
Some feel more "at home" than others with a wanderlust. We may say that home is where the heart is. Believers may show a restlessness to go beyond the present to an eternal home in heaven; they hear Jesus' comforting words at the Last Supper, "I am going now to prepare a place for you" (John 14:3). These, especially those faithful with terminal illness, begin to long for the face of God, and that restlessness grows in time. Others such as migrants, refugees and the uprooted are lacking a home here and now; they are insecure and are uncertain about their future and their family's welfare. They make us aware that we are all pilgrims and our Earth's present condition is ripe for improvement.
For the eco-spiritual person, ecos means home. Earth is our common home, our motherland, our birth, our womb, our tomb. Through this broad understanding we derive that fundamental eco-spiritual respect that includes other creatures who give us comfort. We wonder whether the highly unexplored "Earth" of centuries ago was as homey as our Earth as we know it today, with exactness of dimensions and neighborhoods easily reached by modern communications' methods such as email and phones.
As we age, we become aware of approaching mortality. Youth think they will live forever, but that impression fades with maturity. Mortality makes current Earth somewhat temporary. We have no lasting city, for Earth is a provisional home and life is short. The seculars say "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we will die." However, for believers Earth as substrate of a New Earth makes our renewal efforts meaningful. Furthermore, descriptive Scriptural passages about destruction refer to the 70 A.D. Temple destruction, "So when you see the disastrous abomination of which the prophet Daniel spoke... (Matthew 24:15; Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11).
Could the concept of fire (Christ says he has come to light a fire) refer to conversion or transformation, not utter destruction? Fire burns cold hearts to loving ones; fire changes ore to iron; fire transforms to good and not a negative apocalyptic interpretation. For believers, wounded Earth becomes a part of a New Heaven and New Earth; Earth as precursor of an end product now undergoing dramatic transition; the planet has lasting value as God's Kingdom emerges, and we are called to give it value.
Reconstructing Our Home. It is a privilege to work; it provides benefits to self and others. Being at home includes this contentment with use of talent through work that goes beyond mere compensation. We hear the words of St. Paul, to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church (Colossians 1:24). We are called to the service of establishing social justice for all. The invitation is to transform an unjust society into one bent on rebuilding a wounded Earth into something new. Most people are willing to use their talents and make a living for immediate and distant human family.
Denying work to willing people is a major indignity and involves hundreds of millions of the world's potential workers. Society is unsettling when "surplus labor" encourages a bidding war among those at the lower end of the economic ladder. The right of workers to earn a livelihood is a basic human right, ensures domestic stability, and is worthy of full citizen support. Willing workers and needed work exist; wage-paying opportunities do not fully exist under the current system. Capitalists suspect that this economic system must be radically readjusted to allow all to have meaningful work. Guaranteeing full employment demands a redistribution of wealth now retained by the privileged few. For full employment, governments become employers of last resort, a philosophy behind the Great Depression's WPA -- a basic need today.
Discovering and promoting meaningful work positions are possible; work opportunities are out there, but it takes creativity to find them and, more so, to furnish the resources to do them well. Merely stating a litany of needs is insufficient. Work opportunities are immense (services for the needy, infrastructure improvement, renewable energy development, environmental protection, literacy training, etc.). Real jobs need to be done and willing workers exist; now these must be matched with financial resources to renew our economic system. Options are forthcoming.
November 6, 2020 Choosing a Resurrection-Centered Spirituality
The call to be earthhealers is an invitation to enter the ecological fray. For those of us who are spiritually inclined, this is a specific call; for believers in a personal God, this is a call from the Spirit. For Christians, the Spirit is a divine person. Furthermore, Earthhealing is a spiritual calling to all people of good will, and so we look at its basic elements:
HERE: Our proximate environment colors the manner in which we respond to our calling. Each of us is in some particular location on this Earth, and the more we are rooted in this given place, the more we are in tune with creatures around us. Our localized environment includes unique landscape and its features, waterways, wind direction, seasonal and weather conditions, and neighbors human and otherwise. "Hereness" includes a particular community with its flora and fauna, which impacts life, attitudes, and even the way we act. HERE gives individuality to our callings.
NOW: Upon reflection, we discover urgency to our calling. This moment is unique in a cosmic space/time continuum, which shapes our ultimate response. If our location is deeply wounded by human misdeeds, then our response expresses a sense of concern. Our wounded Earth strikes our sensitivities, and we soon learn that historical conditions brought about these forms of degradation. Each of us yearns for healing of our wounded Earth in the near future because, if we do not act with the power God gives us, our Earth will be severely damaged by human-caused climate change.
WE: Current needs give reality to the local scene and urgency to the global situation, of which I am unable to make real change while acting alone. In a profound state of discomfort, each of us reaches out and discovers others are in a similar condition. By grasping hands we can work together in solidarity. The distances of concerned individuals and kindred spirits find comfort and solidarity with an underlying spiritual power that can catalyze action at broader levels. Place gives us uniqueness; time gives us a common urgency. Our solidarity founded in compassion allows us the openness to seek divine assistance.
Resurrection-centered spirituality: To focus totally on the HERE is being creation-centered with its good aspect (a feeling for all other neighboring creatures); however this approach is more cerebral and even focuses globally, but lacks down-to-earth action. To focus on the urgency of the times makes needed salvation (primarily my own) a primacy that can be somewhat self-centered. Such redemption-oriented ways of thinking omit the grander global view leading to authentic concerted action. Ecology calls for balance, and thus acting and thinking must be in tandem. Our work is a shared vision of new life empowered by the Risen Lord. See Earth Healing: A Resurrection-Centered Approach on this website.
Prayer: Lord, help us to find our place and time and to act with deliberate speed to take collaborative healing measures.
NO ONE LIKES EITHER TO ADVANCE OR SETS BACK CLOCKS, SO WHY DO IT? Most people prefers one or other time; "switching to or from daylight saving time from or to regular time ultimately pleases very few. Late tonight, all perfectionists will promptly rise and set the clocks back after repeating the phrase, "fall back and spring ahead." But why clock changes? Granted this started as a method to give time in the Second World War, for workers to spend evening in their victory gardens. However, an hour in morning cool is worth more than an hour in the heat of the late summer afternoon. Gardening can be done on either end of the day and mornings are as ideal as evenings. Again, why the change? Some will talk about school kids being made to travel in the dark of winter mornings. Administrators could adjust school schedules, not national ones?
Many people in other nations think this American clock-changing exercise is somewhat odd -- and so do many of us Americans. I am not against time zones in a broad country like ours, but even that bears its own inconvenience. The clock time is somewhat relative to start with; we may prefer the eternal NOW of God, but then we have our everyday schedules that must be met. When preparing for distant trips we are left with the need to add or subtract those hours depending on the shifts in standard to "daylight saving time." What does the term even mean? I have never in nearly nine decades ever saved any time during one part of the year. I suspect that those who rise with the sun may have some annual energy savings, but that is highly problematic as well. For those of us who rise before first light and come to rest after sunset, the entire saving bout is a glorified fiction.
Personally, I do not even have a time preference (thus irritated by both switches) -- just keep it the same year round. Of course each day's light span will differ from yesterday's and tomorrow's in areas away from the equator. In our mid-temperate zone we know that each month an average light span gains or loses by approximately one hour and that gives us the hour span as we know it. We calculate nine hours of full light span in winter (around December 21st) and fifteen hours in summer (around June 21st). Thus, we can estimate how much sunlight each day will have by an easy calculation. Changing the clock adds a complication that does not need to be there in the first place.
By the way, remember that there's a time change at 2:00 am tomorrow in most, but not all, parts of the United States -- states do the deciding. Be a good player; smile when you set the clock back. Then ask yourself the question: Have you really had any daylight savings in the past seven months?
Prayer: Lord, give us patience with the things we do not like or understand, and in fact with life itself, for life contains many aspects that truly baffle us. Help us look for ways to make life a little less complicated.
Resplendent and unfading is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire; whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed, for he shall find her sitting by his gate. (Wisdom 6: 12-14)
Today some parents and friends are awaiting the return of their loved one from Middle East war zones and harm's way. They have prayed for months, followed the news accounts in the area where he or she is stationed and, after each casualty listing and no visits by a military unit, have breathed a sigh of relief. That has been going on for months and now the tour of duty is ending -- and they await the expected one in rapt anticipation.
November is a transitional period when we end the "ordinary" year of liturgical readings and await the coming of the Advent season. We listen to St. Paul (Thessalonians 4: 13-18) talk about the end of time, and regard this as a fitting subject after the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. November reminds us that it is salutary to think occasionally about our own passing from this life. Even the Earth will pass away in order to give way to an anticipated New Heaven and New Earth -- the exact time is somewhat idle speculation. Paul speaks of the voice of an archangel and of a trumpet of God. We certainly can wait with expectation, but to suppose that some will be more able to visualize that happening is not scriptural. We are not divine mind readers. As high as the heavens are about the earth, so high are my ways above your ways. (Isaiah 55: 9)
The Gospel (Matthew 25: 1-13) is about the ten virgins; the wise five virgins take sufficient oil to keep their lamps burning. The ten do not know the hour the bridegroom is coming. The oil of the foolish ones runs out and, when they go to buy some, the doors are closed. Some conservationists may be tempted to speculate about the present fossil fuel economy; in fact, it sounds somewhat applicable since the parable says we are to conserve our fuel (trim the wicks) and take the amount needed (for keeping the lamps lit). However, over-application could encourage a sense of selfishness in keeping a petroleum reserve. Far better is to see this as directing us to be always watchful and even how to make renewables the fuel of the future to halt climate change.
Let's focus as we approach the Advent season on the need for vigilance in the expectation of Christ's coming in our lives, and the growth of the Kingdom of God in this world around us. Expectancy makes us work more diligently in preparing our Earth for the Lord's coming, which is surely to happen in due time. All we know for certain is that we are 2000 years closer to the final day than was St. Paul. Let us be on with the task given us to do.
Prayer: Lord, prepare us for your anticipated but unpredictable coming, and help us act prudently.
November 9, 2020 Balancing Material and Spiritual Growth
In auditing an economics course offered by The Teaching Company, Why Economics Rise or Fall, by Peter Rodriguez, it seems that economic "growth" always assumes material growth -- and yet available global resources at any given time are within a limited pie. If all seek a bigger slice of a finite pie in a limited time frame, then conflicts arise, because the more powerful will undoubtedly get the bigger slice and weaker folks will lose out. Any fixation on macro-economic growth becomes an unrealistic goal. Rather, growth in equality means bringing billionaires down to size, as some elected political leaders tend to desire.
Should we not move away from the standard economic set of measurements for growth (away from dollar or physically measurable amounts) to a new growth, namely spiritual growth? However, the spiritual aspects are often hidden, complex, and quite subjective. The spiritual includes mental advancement, human well-being, a hope-filled future, and a dependence on God for assistance. Spiritual growth includes meeting essential demands for a quality of life (essential food, lodging, health, recreational, and educational needs), and so is closely related to physical or material redistribution. These essential components for quality life cannot be met, when uncontrolled material growth allows the powerful privileged to squander resources in wasteful ways, and use these to attempt to satisfy their insatiable wants.
Is an economics based on satisfying the wants of everyone simply dysfunctional and unsustainable? Does an economics based on sharing with everyone in the world have a chance in this limited world in which we find ourselves at a time of climate change and radical renewal? Growth then can be measured as an increment of shared benefits for all, not health or benefits for the few. Thus we must challenge any materialistic economic model in its very structure. To accept these premises leads to a world of haves and have-nots; the haves may surrender holdings voluntarily or expect that an aroused citizenry will remove excesses through taxation or even more violent means of redistribution.
Should we await the action of the privileged who will most likely surrender very little voluntarily? Is it enough to suffer the world to the hands of the greedy -- and await a definitive correction by the hand of God at an indefinite future event? Christian action calls for initiating a process of sharing material goods with all people -- and the more balanced the sharing the greater the growth together with others. The call is for all to take matters into their own hands and bring about fairness through a spiritual growth that respects the dignity of all people. Only then can growth involve materials, but does not mean more for those who have enough. Needs spawn true growth.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to grow, not by grabbing for material things, but by sharing what is available for the spiritual and physical benefit of all.
During the night of December 16, 1773, a group of Boston citizens disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians; they raided ships containing tea on which duties were to be imposed, and they threw 342 containers of tea into the harbor. The tea was owned by the East India Company (the world's first multinational corporation), and protected by England (the foremost maritime power of the time). The party people were the oppressed little folks who were not duped by existing propaganda and saw tyranny and privilege clearly.
Fast forward to the twenty-first century. Many of us, especially fiscal conservatives, never venture into debt nor hold credit cards. We discover that many fellow citizens have been hoodwinked by big privileged holders of half the wealth of this nation with fourteen trillion dollars salted away in tax havens in various lands. The wealthy elite instigate governmental protection by propagandizing the public with "no new taxes," when true tea party advocates ought to call for "fair taxes" from the privileged privateers joined with governmental officials who do their bidding.
Recall that President Eisenhower's concern about the military/industrial complex was quite valid, and it has now come full term: it has evolved into a big business/big government tyranny, whether western capitalistic or Communist/Capitalistic in America's two-trillion-dollar-debt stakeholder, China. Real tea party people ought to be against the imposition of unfair tax burdens by the combination of big government/big business who have absconded with the wealth of our people to protected tax havens.
We need responsive governmental agencies to assist the little people to get back what is rightly theirs (ours). Rather than equating eighteenth-century oppression with our indebted and overspending government and its military appetite, let's put the finger squarely on the industrial portion of the complex --on the privileged billionaires who inordinately influence our government.
Thomas Jefferson set the call for revolution in the eighteenth-century and his words in our Declaration of Independence. These words calling for profound change involving a dysfunctional relationship of big government and privileged corporations that can so suppress the people; they hoodwink the poor into defending distant privilege through a fading hope of someday winning a lottery. Taxation without representation is NOT "no taxation," but "Fair Taxation." Preserving our democratic government is more demanding than some pretending "tea party" folks think. We need a system to catch thieves who control the wealth and return Commons to the people.
Prayer: Lord, enflame us with righteous anger so that we will ignite a change that opens the financial resources now in tax havens, and loosen the funds so that long suffering poor folks may receive the essentials of food and lodging for their families.
Along Sugar Run. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
November 11, 2020 Remembering Military Veterans
Following the Second World War, our country has given veterans special consideration for sacrifices they performed for our country. Eventually, the millions of veterans of that war were augmented by veterans of conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq (twice) and Afghanistan, the last still generating veterans. The millions of these generous military personnel have received benefits in education (GI Bill), retirement payments, and medical treatment. The costs of benefits mount and is still insufficient to meet mounting medical expenses.
For the past decade medical costs have been the primary driver of growing military expenses. We know from studies of current military budgets that curbing Pentagon expenses is half of monetary savings demanded. Let's turn our collective attention to military hardware that is so expensive, rather than on the cost of keeping hospital and treatments available to the aging veterans from the post-World-War-Two era. Will veterans' health be sacrificed in order to save the likes of military industrial favorites: F35 aircraft and aircraft carriers that are sitting ducks for drones?
Those who were affected by battle ailments ought to have proper treatment -- and many are getting it at this time. What about the many in the current military establishment who retire after twenty years of service. For many, this means retirement in their forties when generally in the fullness of health and before extra medical care is needed. Retirees in full health do not need benefits until later in life and should daily thank God for good health. Just expanding the years before retirement benefits kick in would be a massive saving -- and this ought to be on the table.
Having said this, we return to the military cuts now being considered in special congressional committees appointed for debt containment and reduction. Why more aircraft carriers? Why NATO defense against a Soviet that does not exist? Why all the troops in Korea or Okinawa or Germany some three-quarters of a century after World War Two? Why all our far-flung military bases when quick reaction teams can fly into any part of the world on hours notice? Why the nuclear bomb stockpile and production outrage and the costs of research, development and protection of these weapons of mass destruction? Why engage in the current wars of the Middle East and all their ongoing expenses?
Answering these questions ought to be the focus of attention before cutting benefits to veterans who do not have a strong lobby like commercial interests. Let us defend health and educational benefits for military veterans and do so with vigor since they richly deserve it; however, let's be mindful that the military hardware and far-flung base budgets must be trimmed for the benefit of all taxpayers.
Prayer: Lord, help our country get its priorities straight and to cut its unnecessary military expenses.
Barbed wire merges with cedar. Woodford Co., KY.
November 12, 2020 Dressing Warmly and Lowering Room Temperature
The weather is cooling, and we are beginning to experience sharp winds of mid-autumn. Warm clothing is in order. Furthermore, from previous reflections on general energy conservation we emphasize once more that we save energy by dressing warmly and turning down the thermometer. Room temperatures can be regulated according to time and degree of occupancy. In virtually every circumstance people could get along with better health by keeping the room temperature lower in winter, certainly a little lower than what is expected by air conditioning in summer (say by an additional five to ten degrees). Try allowing sixty degrees Fahrenheit or even a little above pipe freezing -- provided no resident needs elevated temperatures. Some energy conservation suggestions include:
* Adjust thermostats. Attempt to reduce the outdoor/indoor temperature differential as much as possible while allowing for health of all. Overheating rooms is less healthy than underheating them to a reasonable limit -- but don't let the pipes freeze.
* Dress warmly and comfortably. Lighter weight but layered clothing is often superior to heavy single layers. Accept the need to bring out the long underwear and heavy socks even when you do not wear shoes indoors. Learn to imitate your grandparents.
* Establish unheated areas. Bedrooms need not be heated at all, for the speed at getting into a well-padded and covered bed will do far more in winter than a heated room with light coverings.
* Adjust living and work areas. Know the warmer areas of home or work place. There are undoubtedly warmer areas of a residence or work space, and choices ought to be made according to demands of fellow residents and workers. Consider that keeping coats on in public meeting places has been an acceptable practice.
* Joint Decisions: Talk over the heating practices with all parties. Many are unaware that heating costs are as high as they are, or that closing off unused areas could be cost saving, or that heating only a portion of day or week is an economy measure. There is no need for 75 degree Fahrenheit room in winter; champion lower room temperatures as a way to reduce seasonal colds and flu.
* Wear warmer clothing boldly. Some may wear knit caps or other outdoor gear to prove the point that it is too cold indoors. Fingerless gloves may have a place here, and this may require no excuses for failing to heat to everyone's liking.
* Choose warmer fabrics well. Many new synthetics can beat heavy wool as indoor winter wear; this may mean new purchases, but the payback in energy savings is enormous.
Prayer: Lord, give us a sense of well being that also allows us to realize vital and welcome energy savings this cold season.
November 13, 2020 Being Spiritually, Mentally & Physically Fit
As we move through autumn in anticipation of a difficult winter season it is timely to review our preparedness in all aspects of our lives. Focusing on fitness may be regarded as too ego-centered, but we can only do good service to others if we are truly fit -- spiritually, mentally, physically and even perhaps economically. Our individual quality of life is means to assist us in helping others who are in need during an upcoming harsh winter.
Spiritual fitness includes a number of reminders during our daily routines -- to thank God on occasion when the cool breeze blows, or when we enjoy comforting food and warm drinks; to pray during the early part of the day for our needs and those of our loved ones; to say a blessing before a meal; and to be mindful before retiring to review the actions of the day. We ought to include next weekend's liturgical celebration as part of spiritual fitness as well. It is wise to offer each day for some person's needs -- and even to tell the person that you are doing so.
Mental fitness is of utter importance for peace of mind and social presence to others. Though mental health is a God-given gift of which we are deeply thankful, we know of many whose minds are slipping. If we are still blessed, we are able to protect and sharpen our mental powers in several ways -- stay abreast of basic news and happenings in our area, region, nation, and world; do some reading and even writing each day and keep a daybook of activities; be willing to discuss serious matters with others who you trust; and dismiss stressful distractions and any anger or festering of resentment towards the actions of others. Stay alert, receptive, cheerful, and cultivate a sense of humor when possible.
Physical fitness is often regarded as the fullness of fitness. To stay in good physical health may require accepting more indoor methods when it becomes too unpleasant to venture outdoors. Still, daily exercise is needed even in frigid times when not shoveling snow. Amazingly, they tell us that the majority of Americans, youth and adults, do not reserve one hour a day for physical exercise. It is worth repeating that moderation in food and drink and avoidance of substance abuse are key to continued physical fitness -- and ensure it is the right kind of food and drink. In addition, let's resolve to get plenty of rest, even when we cannot sleep for long uninterrupted periods.
Economic fitness includes planning what needs to be purchased, a willingness to avoid credit cards, awareness of how much is being spent this month, and a desire to tackle the budget for next year's anticipated income. Keeping track of expenses is one way of relieving extra strain and tension; many people do not balance their checkbooks or keep records of expenses; they fret about meeting expenses.
Prayer: Lord, give us the ability to focus on our fitness, so that what we do may be for the better service of all.
Visions and Realistic Dreams
Christ has no body now on earth but yours; yours are the only hands to which he can do his work; yours are the only feet with which he can go about the world, yours are the only eyes through which his compassion can shine forth upon a troubled world. Christ has no body on Earth now but yours.
St. Teresa of Avila
All people are called to participate in rebuilding our troubled Earth. Young and old alike can have visions and dreams. How about dreaming realistic dreams, not of fame, power or wealth, but of sharing and benefiting all people of our planet? Local work and global dreams can go hand-to-hand. A combination of dreams and practical application work for the renewal of our Earth. A vision of global collaboration among all peoples of good will is a proper dream worth fostering.
Dreams must call for practical and realistic solutions; they must include a major conversion of at least one quarter of the all-consuming military budgets worldwide to peacetime purposes. Nations like Costa Rica have replaced military forces with adequate local police units with some mobile ones capable of being sent to areas of greater need. Retaining the remainder of the military budget for national defense still allows for traditional armies in a modified degree; these would include rapid deployment forces hopefully made up of multinational units with proper military air and sea transport to ferry them to places of extreme events (earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.). A well-trained, united African force would be far better in areas of regional conflict. Much depends on whether the U.S. is willing to reduce to a peacetime army and help others train smaller more efficient military forces.
Dreams are looked down upon. Was not Joseph in the Old Testament regarded as a dreamer by his brothers, and yet he would eventually be the practical savior of his family? There is nothing wrong with dreaming and, in fact, it must be encouraged as part of eco-spiritual investment in the future. Dreams may go beyond self-glorification or self-interest. Our dreams could be for the entire human family and expressed openly and critiqued as to whether really practical. We must learn to foster and implement dreams at the local level as well as the global one.
Resources are theoretically available; due to lack of fair taxes the superrich retain what belongs to all the Commons. Greater equality is a necessity through reappropriation. Further resources may be obtained: levying of a tax on foreign currency dealings, curbing any current subsidies to fossil fuel applications, cuts in military expenditures as a global issue, and implementation of taxes on all tax havens’ resources. Areas in need of these resources include the following:
Food. The first and most down-to-earth dream is for all to go to bed without hunger. The persistent worldwide hunger problem that affects at least one billion people could be tackled by direct distribution of surpluses to those experiencing food shortages and by supplying materials, information, and loans to small farmers.
Water. All have a right to potable water, but that is currently not the case. A sizeable portion of world drinking water is contaminated by pollution and water-borne diseases. Proper distribution for irrigation as well as urban uses is a high priority among certain nations, especially in the Middle East.
Housing. At least one billion people live in urban and rural slums and they are in need of proper affordable housing; another billion live in homes in need of basic utilities. Climate change and rising ocean levels may displace a hundred million lowland urban dwellers before the end of the century.
Health. All people have a basic right to adequate basic health services (public health, mass immunization, infant hydration programs to combat dysentery, eye infections, AIDS, and other internal treatments, and public sanitation). Satisfying global health needs is dependent on freeing military budgets for genuine security that includes human health.
Education. Illiterates dream of reading and writing. Literacy campaigns seek large numbers of retirees and others to serve as teachers who can help the illiterate to acquire the skill of reading and writing. Even in the twenty-first century, schools are not available today to at least one hundred million youth in the world, due to poverty and mismanagement.
Environmental Protection. Environmental protection and education are a primary concern and are already being funded in developed countries, along with renewable energy applications. These programs will take far more workers than currently engaged in fossil fuel extraction and production. Global environmental cleanup will require millions of workers in many countries.
Recreation. Construction, maintenance, and improvement of recreation facilities require human labor, and supply the need for quality life among all people. Sound recreational facilities should be accessible, affordable and in safe facilities for all.
Home Care. Advanced countries such as Ireland pay for relatives and friends to be employed in homes of the elderly and disabled; providing home health care and domestic tasks of cooking and housecleaning is compensated by the government. Globally, vast numbers are needed for this highly essential work.
In summary, a massive undertaking of work is needed to renew our economic system and rebuild our troubled world. This will call for all willing workers. Work is needed; potential workers are willing; however, currently compensation resources are unavailable. Again, this comes down to redistribution of resources from the super-rich to all in need. A true revolution is demanded.
Look closely for ants in exploration of goldenrod.
November 14, 2020Affirming Biophilia: November's Hidden Blessing
We must love nature in order to be fully human. E.O. Wilson
Tomorrow is America Recycles Day; we all are expected to recycle some of the massive amount of materials that we use in our modern lifestyle. Recycling of materials shows our respect for nature in deed rather than mere words. You and I know many people who love the outdoors, who like to hike and camp, who enjoy birdwatching and gardening, and poets who enjoy experiences of serene mountain scenes and placid shimmering lakes. Thus love of nature includes our moral duty to preserve and guard it. This takes some extra effort, but isn't that what true love is all about?
Perhaps you prefer to talk about a love of nature in spring's floral beauty, summer's glorious sunsets, or winter's new-fallen snow. There is a time for everything, even to love nature, but this is most trying in gray November than any other month. However, love is tried amid fallen and composting leaves, early new-found frost and skims of ice; it is also under the autumn cover of our late garden crops. Lovers of nature are not confined to a single season, if they are willing to look out and see God's glory all around -- and even some added tasks to keep it loveable. While these added cares are a little more difficult in colder weather, still this opens up the opportunity to see the hidden blessings of the season.
November's Hidden Blessings
Gray is hardly a color to inspire our chores in clouds and mists and hidden cloaks that envelop our sensual desires within, and lessen our footsteps out-of-doors.
This month has little to give in new enticing ways, causing us to doubt spontaneous blessings, rolling off our spirit as receding tide, and yet something makes us pause to praise.
The month no longer has the colored leaves, and now heavy frost coats the faded mums, and tropical songbirds long ago took flight, leaving us with crows and chickadees.
November makes the heart grow fonder, for springtime's showers and sparkling sunlight, but wait, we now find joy a little deeper, in nature's subtle gifts that we can ponder.
Prayer: Lord, give us the grace to open our eyes to see new sights, to smell the scents of the seasons, to hear the rippling brook, to feel the brisk weather, and to taste autumn treats.
November 15, 2020 Using Talents During Faithful Expectancy
Concerning times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.
(Thessalonians 5: 1-2)
We continue the theme that we treated last week and listen to the reading from St. Matthew's Gospel that follows the parable of the wise and foolish virgins; this immediately precedes the famous passage on the judgment of the king, which we will reflect upon next Sunday on the feast of Christ the King. This week's parable tells of the three persons who were entrusted with talents, and two made good on investments according to the amounts given. The third buries his talents and refuses to use them for good, and thus is called a wicked, lazy servant by his master.
Jesus tells us to use our talents well and creatively. Perhaps we take our talents (physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental) for granted; they are gifts that are here for such a short time, and we are to find ways to make them be of service to others. We now witness a period when our human misuse of resources has caused some massive climate change problems. One could be paralyzed and await a catastrophe, but that is not what the Lord calls us to do. We are to be people who help create the future.
Through our Liturgy we find the grace and power to use talents well and help with the awesome task of saving our wounded Earth. Renewing our Earth includes physical work, civic participation, neighborly encouragement, and persistent prayerful devotion. In fact, never before has the demand for global collaboration been so great, and still we can only succeed by sharing resources and trusting in God's providence. Never before has the Christian imperative been blessed with so much potential.
Burying our talents and not allowing them to benefit others is a form of lack of faith in our own future activities; we are afraid that the powers given to us will not be effective and that the possible catastrophe will actually occur. Burying talents happens when people deny a calling, excuse themselves from personal responsibilities, or escape to drugs or other allurements. Truly, doing something creative with talents involves a risk: we may fail in trying unless we have faith that we can succeed with God's help.
Creative commitment impels us to choose what is right no matter how uncertain the outcome. Our fidelity is reinforced by hope; we risk loving and that extends to all. Creative fidelity involves the interaction of faith, hope and love, not one or other alone. Our lives are short and these are the last of times; thus our use of talents includes an element of urgency. We are aware that the journey may not give immediate results in our lifetime. The Lord calls and we must act here and now to save our threatened Earth.
November 16, 2020 Championing International Day for Tolerance
This is a day that is most needed as anti-immigration issues arise both in the U.S. and in parts of Europe and elsewhere. How are refugees to be welcomed and treated -- certainly shooting them in the legs as was proposed last year is immoral? Massive numbers of jobseekers are reaching the shores of Spain and Greece; these anxious immigrants cause irritation in border lands on the direct routes from opportunity-hungry Africa to parts of Western Europe. In our country, we desperately need national immigration laws to protect the foreigners who lack proper papers.
Besides immigrants who are seeking a safe refuge, our sense of tolerance is tested by racial bias against minorities living in our own country. As Americans we must take note: at the 911 site in New York or in Tennessee where Muslims seek worship space, tolerance is called for, and must be reaffirmed against agitators harboring racial hatred. Within the growing controversies over minority rights and the manner of treating migrants, a sense of fair play and tolerance is demanded today. We have always been a welcoming land and one where all can live in peace and security. Examples where religious expressions deserve tolerance are becoming more frequent in America and this calls for legal support.
We need to realize the potential for rising intolerance in times that include financial difficulties and political tensions. It is imperative that counter measures be taken to contest the rising tide of hate and innuendo. It is not enough that we are quietly tolerant; we must speak up in the broader arena of our political and economic world. It is important that we focus attention on the causes of unrest in order to root out violent activities before they occur. In our country, overwhelmed with military-type guns, the acts of violence in schools, market places and churches are all too frequent. Gun control regulations and laws are critically needed; these cannot be postponed due to the power of the National Rifle Association and a misinterpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. We need to call out for action in order to reduce intolerance and subsequent actions.
Tolerance is not to be reaffirmed in America alone. We as a nation must also insist that other countries show tolerance for their own minorities. Some 80% of deaths through religious persecutions are perpetrated against Christians in many places (parts of Africa, India and the Middle East). We must speak against the cruel blasphemy laws of Pakistan, where any of the majority population can accuse a Christian of speaking against the Koran; this leads to a perverse power of naysayers to condemn Christians who are unable to defend themselves against such attacks. In fairness, tolerance is a global issue involving minorities, especially in North Korea and China. This can be made a major issue that must be confronted by our government.
Prayer: Lord, give us the grace to be tolerant and to look into ourselves to find and root out any vestiges of intolerance.
November 17, 2020 Conquering Hunger and Homelessness
During National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week we should consider Americans and others who are presently hungry and/or homeless. Whatever the number, it is too high, for all people have a right to food and to decent and affordable housing for themselves and their families. We sometimes overlook the global hunger and homeless situation -- and yet millions are in transit, in refugee camps, or engaged in trying to make ends meet in inadequate housing and long- or short-term hunger insecurity.
If you are like me, there are times in travels or hiking when we have been temporarily lost and do not know the way. The fear and panic that sets in is a form of discomfort we do not wish on others. What about many homeless people -- many who do not have security or comfort this coming night? Homeless folks often cover up their situation by bathing at libraries or public restrooms and try to look neat and clean after restless nights of partial terror and sleeplessness. Some homeless people hide their condition and still maintain jobs or pursue an education during the day.
Besides the traditionally understood homeless (often with a substance abuse problem), America today has entire families where un- or under-employed breadwinners simply lack the funds to rent a place for the family. Sometimes the choice is between food and rent. Some stay overnight in cars or campers; other reside temporarily in camp sites or at storage places; still others park a vehicle anywhere and make the best of a night in the vehicle with associated discomforts. Still others do not even have a precious vehicle to call their own and are subject to the raw elements. This category of people suffer from lack of public affordable housing in the areas that they live but do not "reside."
Globally, serious hunger problems exist. Famine strikes in different places each year and some food insecurity exists in places like central Africa, even when fertile lands for food production exist. When one considers that increased food costs burden many modest- to low-income earners, they have little left for lodging rentals. A vast global migration has occurred in recent decades from rural areas of swelling cities, even though plagued by inadequate housing and lack of proper water and sanitation.
Often young members of food-short or homeless families are hurt most: lack of thorough education through hunger; disrupted social life; absence of a sense of community; and need for recreational opportunities enjoyed by those with fixed residences. Many times the stress is expressed in lower grades or added health burdens, or by being forced to hide actual conditions from those who could help. Homeless and hungry children must be attended, since both adequate food and housing is a natural right.
Prayer: Lord, keep us aware of both local and global problems related to hunger and homelessness.
Tomorrow is Use Less Stuff Day. In a world of stuffed homes and storages places of "stuff" we need to reaffirm two points: "contrasumption" championed here goes against the thrust of America's consumer-based economy; and taking an inventory of the multitude of items we acquire and consume is essential. Today, it is ecological from a global and national standpoint to curb consumption of items that are not essential for ourselves or for those we service.
Our emphasis should turn to expanding consumption opportunities for people who are destitute or are on the low end of the global economic scale. Those people need more adequate nutritious food, expanded agricultural implements and fertilizer, water purification systems, affordable and safe housing, and educational and health related materials. In fact, bringing the global low-consuming end up to an adequate degree demands expanded production of many items. At the same time those seeking to acquire luxury and non-essential materials should be cautioned to consume less and be subjected to a wealth tax to help share goods.
Further reflections focus on our consumption of material goods out of need or want. Let's ask ourselves some questions:
* Do we consume major portions of food (animal products and processed foods) on the higher end of the resource chain, or are we willing to eat plant substitutes for meat products?
* Do we use numerous and ever more sophisticated electronic devices for long lengths of time, and keep computers on standby overnight?
* Are we trying to moderate year-round room temperatures (slightly hotter in summer and cooler in winter), and strive to reduce air conditioning use during the summer months by airing out the house at night?
* Do we drive less and only when necessary? Do we keep tires inflated? Do we drive defensively and at moderate speeds? Do we choose to walk or bike if and when opportunities afford this? Are we members of a carpool? Do we use public transportation where possible?
* Do we have items in the home or office that are unneeded and could be recirculated through swapping or yard sales or some form of barter? Do we overcome our urge to go shopping and then, when needed, refrain from impulsive purchases?
* Do we think twice before we make purchases to see whether we really need the particular item? Do we recycle unused materials in a proper manner? Do we ever challenge others as to whether they entertain the possibility of down-sizing their own lifestyles?
* Do we grow some of our own food supply through a backyard garden and planting of fruit and nut trees? Do we share excess produce with those lacking such bounty?
Prayer: Lord, teach us to use less material things and to encourage others to do the same, so that all of us can become more conservationist oriented.
"Tunas" - fruits - of the native Kentucky plant, prickly pear cactus.
November 19, 2020 Celebrating International Men's Day
Considering International Men's Day is a challenge, especially since more attention is given today to women issues such as pay inequality and health issues. Do men as such have problems? Are these able to be classified as a "crisis"? And if some masculine difficulties arise, are they truly global or more local and culturally conditioned? The one international issue that stretches across many lands, races, ages, and social conditions is that of meaningful employment or its lack. Often women tend the children, the homestead and even the crops and men are expected to hunt or work wherever possible -- that is becoming increasingly difficult.
Male distant employment has many bad effects such as being away from one's family for a length of time or lack of proper safety or adequate wages. However, a far greater ill effect is not having meaningful work at all, whether local or distant. Added tension settles in when the unemployed (male or female) know their life is ebbing away and an income needed for a livelihood is being denied them; yes, they are part of a dysfunctional economy that prefers unemployment pools to keep wages low and profits for the CEO high. Studies are finding that this problem of lack of meaningful employment is spreading from lower-skilled to even middle income professional and business classes of people; jobs are scarce and robots more popular. The condition becomes more desperate when employers ignore unemployed for current jobholders.
Potential work positions exist by the millions -- to rebuild infrastructure, establish small farms, irrigate land, reclaim damaged areas, teach the illiterate, build affordable housing for two billion people, and on and on. This world is brimming over with work needs and potential opportunities to make a livelihood. For the greater part the male (and female) population has willing workers who seek a just wage. However, this world is overloaded with profits salted away in trillion dollar tax havens that need to be invested in meaningful social goals. The privileged are unwilling to open coffers. The rest of us are unwilling to challenge this system through fair taxation. The unemployed of this world have the RIGHT TO WORK, and a democratic society must fairly tax or use other means to create work opportunities.
Encourage men (and women) to march, protest, lobby, call out, and encourage others to the reality of universal work opportunities. This will do more for men than any think tank directive or Internet course or academic lecture. Meaningful employment is the key -- and our government should realize that they are the means of last resort. Of course we do not deny private enterprise, but this does not bring full employment to our world. To reduce underemployed stress and tensions we need work opportunities certainly through governmental support. Only then can we celebrate International Men's Day.
Prayer: Lord, help us to find opportunities for all under- or unemployed and assist all to have dignified and meaningful work.
A New Creation: A New Heaven and New Earth
Visions and dreams can lead to a profound transformation, to a future that is beyond our imagination. Where do we fit into the formation of a New Heaven and New Earth? Are we mere spectators, or do we have a key role in the transformation? Believers with an eco-spiritual background reject the false apocalyptic that this Earth is doomed (generally considered quite soon) and that God alone will elevate chosen ones from Earth's doom. However, sound interpretation of Scripture indicates Earth's renewal.
Are we not participants in the transformation? As called by God to take responsibility for gifts given, we are not actors on a pre-set scene. An authentic eco-spiritual approach honors our free decisions to help refashion and renew our Earth; we could fail to so act. We are called to work together with all others who will share in benefits, and so we champion social justice where all and not just the elite participate and share results. Social justice is not just an intermediate goal -- it becomes the very means through which the New Earth may occur through a radical non-violent transformation. Building God's Kingdom is a deliberate growing "process" that requires our awareness that peace needed for transformation is to be established through justice -- part of the hidden plan of God (Ephesians 1:9). The Offertory Liturgy proclaims that what was created is now more wonderfully re-created. Earthhealing is part of the new creation (Galatians 6:15).
Do we participate through a higher degree of freedom? All beings, from the sub-atomic particles through atomic and molecular structure, to bacteria, plants, animals, and human beings on the individual and social levels possess some degree of freedom. Degrees of freedom exist at both the intra- and intermolecular levels; plant life includes colonies that flourish; birds and other wildlife add the freedom of spatial mobility. The individual human being is free to do good or evil, and the human community emphasizes collective free choices, either through selfishness or in sharing with others for a Common wellbeing.
Do we bear responsibility to repair damage done -- and more? While imperfect, we are capable of acknowledging mistakes and begging forgiveness, and then assuming the tasks before us. Creation did not stop after Genesis' seven days; it has been ongoing from the Big Bang 14 billion years ago until now -- and we are invited to enter the process. Human misdeeds are redeemed through the blood of Christ, who freely came and saved us through a definitive event -- coming, suffering, dying and resurrecting. We are invited into salvation history by our birth, rebirth in baptism, and becoming part of Christ's work through serving others. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other's feet. Service occurs through renewal and Earthhealing activity.
Does our responsibility grow in time? Jesus grows in age and wisdom (Luke 2); in the companion volume to Luke's Gospel (Acts of the Apostles) the Church increases in numbers. As participants we find that our technical skills increase over time -- and so does the power to damage our Earth. We grow in awareness of misdeeds and damage and that we have retarded the movement to the future transformation through our failures, including non-sharing of the resources of our fragile Earth. Inequality paralyzes us and leads to postponement of necessary renewal.
Are we able to hasten the Day of the Lord? Through proper and holy lives we can long for and even bring on a grand transformation (2 Peter 3:11-15). Our awareness starts to grow both as to the end and to the socially just means to advance to that end. C.S. Lewis comments, "It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this." Through an integral awareness of both dimensions we experience the harmony of God-with-us making us effective instruments of renewal and re-creation. We are empowered to act and if done properly can fashion a New Earth and increase the velocity of when this occurs.
Will we have guaranteed success in the work ahead? Natural processes from sub-atomic particles to human actions possess an inherent indeterminacy. At the lowest sub-atomic level, we only have statistical probabilities. In a similar fashion we are uncertain and not determined to act in a particular way in this renewal. Freedom exists and we are capable of actions that hasten, and misdeeds that retard. We do not know the precise route to the ultimate end or when it will occur. We know human misdeeds need be corrected here and now; just as Christ's wounds are now glorified, so Earth's healed wounds could be glorified through our renewing process. This will not be an automatic process, as though a harmonized social and teleological consciousness is inevitable. Our harmonizing actions are not pre-determined because we are free beings capable of saying "no" to invited participation. We can heal and revitalize or we can render Earth sterile and lifeless. Ultimately, good will triumph as promised, but how soon?
Will other creatures be involved in the transformation? Will non-human creatures be part of this promised New Heaven and New Earth, or will this be exclusively a human habitation with the Lord? Recall that with a merciful God nothing is lost that takes effort to create. God is both merciful and just. Plants and animals are not free to choose and thus do not incur blame as do human beings. They are our companions and have worth; they are part of what we know as Earth. Human beings have had close relationships with certain pets, livestock, and wildlife. Will these experiences be merely remembered, or can we help enliven what was so salutary in the past? We are charged to present the Good News to all of creation (Mark 16:16); this presentation of Good News comes through our caring for other creatures and they, in turn, being to our benefit and wellbeing well into eternity.
Considering our participation in building a New Heaven and New Earth has both a practical and mystical outlook. It is evident that far more needs to be said in upcoming reflections.
Artistic sculpture work by beaver. Washington Co., KY.
November 20, 2020Knowing When Affluence Is Excessive
Ever since I wrote The Contrasumers in 1973, the linear span from destitution at one end and excessive and greedy affluence on the other has contained indefinite boundaries. It is easier to approximate the lower end of the scale where essential food needs for individuals of a given age, weight, and activity can be determined. Such approximations extends to clothing, water, fuel, and lodging needs, and so parameters are drawn up by public and private aid agencies for the destitute and the marginally poor. Health and safety issues help set minimal perimeters.
The other end of the consumption spectrum (the over-affluent) is more difficult to define for fear of being called judgmental. We all know that the affluent have to be impossibly slim to pass through the eye of a needle (in Jesus' words). We can establish levels and degrees of essential needs based on culture, temperament, health conditions, climate, etc. That is the reason for an indefinite border on the continuous resource spectrum; a certain leeway is deliberately indefinite to allow for individuals to distinguish their own needs from wants. We must be cautious, for guidelines are necessary; otherwise, the materialistically-saturated society can easily influence consumers to want ever more.
In distinguishing needs from wants we ought to ask: Is food wasted at a meal or in ordinary preparation procedures and little effort made to curb the waste? Are the impulses to buy beyond one's financial means to be curbed in an easy-credit-card world of massive consumer debt? Does the residence contain excessive and wasted space so that inhabitants ought to downsize in order to live within ordinary means? Is the individual so taken up with self-needs that an insensitivity prevails in outlook? Is there some space in a noisy world for reflection and prayer? Is charity an integral part of the life of the person? Does the person work excessively so as to lack time for self and family emotional needs?
Answering these questions may bring possibly one to understand excessiveness. Certainly a comparison, when a world of famine and homelessness is within view on the TV news and Internet, makes us pause. However, the willingness to continue a reflection depends on the degree of affluence and one's sensitivity to a world in need. Here, material addictions color one's judgment. Determining excessive affluence is NOT simply the judgment by the wealthy -- for their decision is often biased. The poor should help decide.
Ordinary citizens in a democratic society are far better suited to such decision-making, especially when they lack essentials of life. The assumption that the affluent's answers are key is not right; the citizens' court of opinion is necessary and judgment can be made that the Commons is being infringed upon by excessive affluence that requires governmental regulation.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to know excessiveness where it exists and to point it out to regulators and political leaders.
Fowler's toad (Bufo fowleri), under cover of lawn grass.
November 21, 2020 Reflecting on Ways to Be Less Violent
Tomorrow is National Stop the Violence Day and we recall the latest of the many disturbing acts that disturb communities and especially schools, malls and churches. The country seemed shocked, but why the surprise? With a world of haves and have-nots one expects violence. Underprivileged youth see little hope and thus thrash out. Many subtle forms of violence also exist:
* Violence to self. Many of us have habits that go unreflected and yet involve overeating, lack of rest, failure to take a needed break, or substance abuse. In our daily examinations, we need to occasionally review our lifestyle for that could uncover hidden forms of violence.
* Prescription drugs. America and many of its states could enforce stricter drug prescription requirements. Some of the elderly with pain medicine are waylaid after purchases or in their homes. Add to this the habit of allowing drugs to get into the wrong hands through multiple prescriptions and sale of drugs on the black market, and we have many drug problems that plague our land.
* Smoking in homes. One in five Americans continue to smoke and they do violence to self and to those who are unfortunate enough to live near them; those non-smoking residents often have little say about being forced to breathe secondhand smoke.
* Violence at the domestic scene. Domestic quarrels arise over drinking, drugs, or unemployment -- and then the guns and ammo appear, brought out by those proclaiming the right to bear arms.
* Violence to a good name. We can easily violate another in so many ways, and this may prove easier now that Twitter and Facebook have so many followers; the impulse to spread a rumor and shatter another's good name may be an overwhelming temptation.
* Violence in excessive competition. A fight over or within a ball game, or rough housing within or outside of competitive sports is where physical violence can arise and take its toll.
And to this the violence of road rage and the unsafe and even the distracted driving of the cell-phone callers.
* Violence includes our part in the arms race. Many weapons of all sorts are exported as part of the American economy. The military/industrial complex is alive and strong, and it needs to be curbed (see November 11). More proper distribution of resources would halt the violence due to food insecurity and lack of housing.
* Terrorist attacks. And finally there is the terrorist with automatic weapons who wants to kill as many in a short time before being killed -- that has become a weekly American occurrence.
Prayer: Lord, awaken within ourselves and our world a need to become non-violent in how we treat our neighbor.
For I was hungry and you gave me food. (Matthew 25:35)
We hope and pray the Lord will someday say these words to us. Jesus, as King, invites into his Kingdom all who give food, drink, lodging, and clothes to other fellow human beings who are in need. People suffer, are hungry and homeless; those sensitive to these suffering souls, and who assist in whatever way they can, see Jesus in the suffering. Affluent people who see the needy but do nothing for them retard the establishment of the kingdom.
We can receive this message either as individuals or as communities. On the individual level, we can ask ourselves about our own callousness and insensitivity due to a self-centered focus and a quest for comfort. Do we forget those who are in dire need, because we are taken up with wants that we deceive ourselves to think are legitimate needs? The dramatic needs of people who lack everything are pointed out in times of national or global disasters such as earthquakes or hurricanes. However, the less dramatic conditions of silent famine victims are often overlooked. Do we turn our heads when the TV shows photos of a starving child?
Christ the King addresses all those with some level of affluence in all parts of the world -- we must overcome unnecessary wants and become sensitive to the needs of the poor or we will lose our individual soul and weaken our community life. Material affluence can overwhelm either possessors or those striving to become so. Actions that are insensitive and self-centered lack compassion and a radical desire to share with others, a mandate that involves salvation of individuals and our nation. To paraphrase Lincoln, we cannot continue in a world half slave and half free, half of haves and half of have-nots. Insecurity will abound. Unfortunately to preserve our affluence the U.S. maintain the largest military machine in the world. This takes billions that could be used to help fight climate change
Christ is our King. In seeing him in this capacity we offer our services to help establish his Kingdom here and now. If we honor Christ above all as Lord of the universe, we will restore a sense of respect within our world; we will respond with enthusiasm for the mighty works that need to be done in this time of climate change and the urgency to act to curb it. As the Church Year is now coming to a close and we prepare for the new one next week, let us do some soul searching. Should we continue to tolerate existing needy conditions existing today or pressure for fundamental change? Did railroad employees charged with shipping prisoners to the World War II concentration camps remain faithful by asking no questions? Let's break our silence and take citizen action to change priorities of our nation to those of peace and justice.
Prayer: Lord, we are haunted by what might be asked at our judgment; give us grace to prepare ourselves for that moment through inspired deeds we are called to perform here and now.
Two lovely nymphs of the stink bug on garden fence.
November 23, 2020 Upholding Thanksgiving Myths for Better or Worse
Myths spring up and some keep us traditionally focused. Perhaps no myth is more enduring than our observing Thanksgiving Day this Thursday. In some ways the celebration has too many good qualities to call for any critical evaluation. We are expected to give thanks to God for the gifts so generously given to us as a people. We do this in a special meal when scattered family and friends come together and enjoy the bounty. Furthermore, we actually have accepted dishes (turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and other goodies) that are American-grown and native in origin. To this degree the myth is salutary and reinforcing what is so important for our national mystique that we share in common. This day becomes a national liturgical event.
However, myths often have imprecise origins or could even be false (Washington cut down no cherry tree even though his honesty needs not be questioned). What comes as a shock is that the first Thanksgiving event may never have occurred, or if it did there was a quality to it we would just as soon forget, namely, celebrating a genocide of a small New England Native American tribe. (See Godfrey Hodgson, A Great and Godly Adventure: The Pilgrim and the Myth of the First Thanksgiving," New York: Public Affairs, 2006). Why tell Americans there is no Thanksgiving mythic event when it means so much to them?
Truth leads to a deeper spirituality. By correcting false portions of the Thanksgiving myth we are more able to enhance the spirit of true thanksgiving -- that comes from the exhortations of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The act of thanksgiving must be humble; however, that original myth of Pilgrims getting together with happy Indians and all enjoying turkey and cranberry sauce is simply a self-righteous fabrication overlaid on the humble thanks that we need to practice.
The arrival of the Pilgrims had shades of gray. We ought to recall the extermination of a contesting residential tribe that survived the massive death rate due to the diseases brought from Europe of which the Native Americans were not immune. Hodgson points out a celebration did occur after the Pequot Massacre in May, 1636, through a punishing expedition (for past conflicts) led by John Endicott from Massachusetts and John Mason from Connecticut. "Within a half hour hundreds of Pequots -- men, women and children -- were dead. Estimates of their number vary from 400 to 700, but only seven Pequots escaped" (Hodgson, p. 124). He adds that the English settlers destroyed this nation as thoroughly as the Romans erased Carthage from the map. Was this the historic grounds of one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations? Again, myths can show a need for forgiveness AND ongoing thanksgiving.
Prayer: Lord, let us teach our people to forego triumphalism and to become humble, giving thanks even when undeserving of the many gifts given. Allow us to increase our sense of gratitude.
Bright coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) provides fall woodland color.
November 24, 2020 Welcoming Change as Enlivening
The old order changeth, yielding place to new, and God fulfills himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
"The Passing of Arthur" by Alfred Lord Tennyson
The current economic order is dysfunctional. This autumn's election calls for profound changes in the offing. Globally and nationally there is urgent call for a new order, one where renewable energy sources will be prime. This country must take a leadership role and do so at once. Fidelity to the American Spirit and to our founders can be channeled in two routes: making profound and global change (not tweaking an outdated system); and addressing the 1787 proposal by elder statesman Ben Franklin to limit wealth.
Economist Jeffrey Sachs, in his quite lucid The Price of Civilization, says on page 8, "I have no quarrel with wealth per se." One response is "Some do quarrel with it -- and our numbers are growing." Wealth uncontrolled tends to become excessive and this wealth can easily corrupt government, pay legislators, buy a political party or two, canonize billionaires (when a billion people throughout the world go hungry), subvert laws, create corporate persons with undue influence, demand lower tax rates for the influential, control the media, encourage the have-nots to crave to be wealthy through unrealistic dreams of lottery jackpots, and label the word "sharing" as unpatriotic. Yes, confront wealth.
Fair taxes is one answer, but frankly these will not solve a dysfunctional economic system, nor be secured by a divided and overly partisan Congress. Legislation to limit wealth is a challenge before this new Congress, but will it rise to the occasion? This legislation must reaffirm the time-honored goal of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness;” all have a right to health, education, and employment -- not just the privileged few. Allow a moderate salary for after reaching a just but arbitrarily set limit, return surplus to the Commons.
In turn, commoners must be responsible and assist in monitoring governmental agencies' performance as part of a civic duty. A future global structure might control resource use, protect wildlife, promote renewable energy, encourage small enterprises and farms, and redistribute the estimated 11- to 14-trillion-dollar tax haven loot to agencies working on basic needs.
------------------ That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to abolish or destroy it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Declaration of Independence
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to monitor actions by our new Congress so that true social justice might be established.
Some people turn to the radio or Internet for daily and even hourly news bulletins on the Wall Street Stock Market; some will even watch the changes as they constantly occur on CNN from weekday hours of 10:00 to 4:00 (Eastern Time). They don't forget the early morning news with rises and falls in Asian market reports and then the European ones as well. In the evening, the news time is filled with daily summaries of these numbers and any further reflections on the cause for the changes during the day. And then through the night appears the futures for the following trading day. Why these numbers? What is it doing to us as discerning people? How can we break away from such pervasive economic reporting?
It becomes evident after a day-long flurry of numbers that this is deliberate, not that even non- or small-investors are inherently interested; we are being subjected so as to make us faithful adherents to the global capitalistic system. We are being taught to enjoy the rises and falls of each day's stock report, and thus the numbers are a type of indoctrination into the gambling system of which some would prefer to be removed. The stock market ups and downs reflect a national mental or emotional state. We are expected to enter into communion with investors (generally wealth holders of the global system) and to cheer when there are rises and get depressed with the falls. Our compassion for the wealth holders is supposed to grow with each numerical report.
This brings us to the role of the media in propagandizing and preparing us through "news." The waxing and waning of Wall Street enters our world and our collective minds. We cheer or boo and thus become participants of an economic system where the rich go unchallenged in their continued growth in wealth and power. We are expected to join the national chorus and cheer rising numbers and groan at downswings. In a short while we are addicted to numbers and can approximately quote yesterday's Standard & Poor's total. We are being badgered to be part of the chorus of the multitudes. We are mesmerized and hardly know it -- through numbers that are almost incomprehensible until we learn more and more. Now we are hooked by a social addiction that is national in scope.
The fans of any of the TV cable channels, radio networks, newspapers or periodicals, or Internet services soon learn that media play a role in the way we perceive and pay attention to stock market numbers. It is so often like taking a sip of liquor and another and another until we have become inebriated by sheer time and sips. If we pray that the numbers come DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, we are regarded as disloyal and a saboteur of the system calling out for our constant applause and concern. Perhaps we could turn off daily news reports or complain that the stock market reports be made less frequently. The response is "The viewers want this."
Prayer: Lord, teach us to know what others are doing to us, and to choose to break loose from the clutches of Wall Street and the numbers racket.
Earthhealing Thanksgiving Report 2020
At this Thanksgiving we honestly ask,"How can we ever forget the year 2020?"Pandemic, racial strife, divisiveelection --and of course climate change with its wildfires and extreme weather events. Amid it all, we still have time to extend special thanks: to the Lord for keeping us alive and willing to help others; to the people who communicate via websites; andto you our Earthhealing Program supporters,past and present, for encouraging us to focus on environmental needs. While we expect changes in 2021, we know the critical struggles will continue well into the decade and beyond. But more than ever the task before us is formidable, and your support is a key to its success.
The growing majority of Americans now see that the environmental threat is real --even though a sizeable portion still must be convinced of the implementation of a Green New Deal(which we have promoted in some form for over fifty years). Our information services are more critical than ever when directed to expanding renewable energy applications, domestic energy efficiency and resource conservation. To deliver this message we need help,even while over half of our current services occur ona voluntary basis. Besides normal expenditures, our costs are expected to rise due to computer upgrades, addressing subscribercomments and information inquiries, increased video production due to the pandemic, and rising transportation and communications costs.
Our readership volume expands with each passing year through long-and short-term approaches. Our recent version of "The Latchstring is Out" is now available on Amazon Books in both digitaland paper editions. On our www.earthhealing.infosite we post DailyReflectionsthat are received in over 125 countries. Each week we produce Facebookessays, which contribute toan emerging eco-spirituality geared to profound radical renewal. Our expanding series of YouTubevideos during this pandemic year have resulted in a stream of positive viewer comments. The total Earthhealing Program is committed to addressing diverse audiences at various levels,from the local to the global.
You are aware that we are quite committed to our mission to make the public consciousof the environmental crisis. A catastrophe can be avoided, but thereis no guarantee: it will take persistent human effort --and we pledge to do our part. We are convinced that all,including the poor,can be liberators and thus we give special attention to collaboration on all fronts. Be assured that your donations will help; they are tax-exempt when directed to "Kentucky Jesuit Missions." Thanks for helping us address the climate change issues facing the world in 2021.Amid it all –Happy Thanksgiving,
Why on this Thanksgiving Day ought we to give more than that pre-meal thanksgiving for all good gifts? Gratitude must become habitual and is a year-round atmosphere in which we live and breathe. Thanks is always on our lips: for all parts of life; for deeds done by another for us; when another calls or greets us; directed spontaneously to the Lord when good experiences are registered; for living through the night on waking; and at the end of day for things achieved during that day. Let's be thankful.
Giving thanks. We don't deserve what we receive, and so gratitude is based on knowing that what we receive in life is pure gift, worthy of response. We are too often in a world of vocal and often harsh demands, from often unexpected sources. I sometimes forget to include an added "thank you" even when not needed, but in afterthought I regret not saying something, especially when taken up0 with other issues. We ought to have a sense of gratitude that is forthcoming at all times, but being on the tip of the tongue comes with conscientious practice.
Receiving thanks. There's more: we could help others to take on a thankful attitude. At this season of gifts and giving, some recipients act as though they deserve gifts given. Should we remind them to say thanks? Much can be gained by asking the recipient, "Did you forget something?" "What?" asks the startled gift recipient. My favorite response is "Oh, I am hard of hearing but I didn't hear you say thanks." One of my pet peeves this time of year is giving, and the recipient seizing a gift without a word of gratitude. In fact, unless we confront this, we are furthering the cause of ungrateful materialism in our culture.
Advancing social justice. Establishing justice is a grateful duty on our part. This could be interpreted as charity, but we can make an issue by accepting the thanks, but reminding recipients this is more than a voluntary act on our part; we have a moral responsibility. Justice advances its establishment when we thank God for inspiring us to be agents of change.
Institutionalizing thanks. Some will say, don't express thanks if you do not mean it. Perhaps, but I would rather say, let the habit be so deep that we do not avert to saying thanks at all times. Institutional requirements assist us. A required or expected thanks helps us grow in our sense of gifts given to us at all times. Others do unsung service for us, and we could express gratitude to clerks and waiters and ticket agents and post personnel. I like to whisper a thanks to the servers at the Liturgy even though that is not part of the service as such -- but it ought to be. If they assist in an exercise of gratitude, then we ought to verbalize this in some small way.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for everything that you give us from this day of life to the air and water and food and friendship and safety and on and on. Let our praise be filled with gratitude.
November 27-29, 2020 Actions at Year's Final Month
In November, several specific actions may be included to give a practical and spiritual foundation for proper home economics.
Recycling. Through the environmental practice of recycling, we demonstrate the value of the resources we have used and which need to be reused for our future benefit. While the act of recycling is not a perfect ecological practice, it is far better than dumping unused material into a landfill, or incinerating, or discarding improperly through littering. Recall that recycling has been promoted by major soft drink manufacturers who see less profit in reusing containers than in abandoning them.
After accepting that recycling is imperfect, let's reflect further on the "waste" generated in our normal lifestyle practices. Our consumer culture encourages a rapid change of fashion and results in discarding clothes, shoes, furnishings, and electronics for new ones, even though there is some life left in current products. Pressure to be fashionable is part of the consumer culture and unfashionable items are shunted to a thrift shop, yard sale, or other places of disposing of such items, such as so-called "charity." We need to oppose planned obsolescence and rapid fashion changes; rather, let's look to how nature reuses discarded materials: decaying leaves, decomposing trees, remains of wildlife. Our recycling practices ought to have a natural component.
We can assist natural recycling in various ways. The backyard compost bin can be used for generated kitchen, garden and yard wastes. With few exceptions, we can place wastes in a container where a supply of air and moisture, along with friendly bacteria and earthworms will do the composting for us. Again, the end result is valuable humus that can be used in the flowerbed, around fruit trees or in the garden for next year's produce. The compost toilet involves a natural process of converting human waste to humus to fertilize trees and other vegetative matter, though many do not prefer this natural process.
Consecrated Home. Our Earth as home needs to be enhanced by introducing a broad "home economics," that embraces more than external environmental protection. Let's start with our residential home to develop a safe place to rebuild our broader world. The newly married are expected to provide a warm spiritual place that is hospitable to outsiders and that conveys a sense of direction and security for those living there or who come and visit. People of faith are convinced that God is present and protects our inhabited space in a special way.
Often Christian homes are similar to secular ones. However, Christians should create home environments that show to the public that Christ is the center of their lives. Amazingly, this calls for a new form of home economics: Consecration means dedicating or setting a place apart as holy. Certainly, Christians can insert religious images or other symbols into parts of their home. In the apparitions to Margaret Mary Alacoque in the seventeenth century, the following words of Jesus are heard, I will bless every place in which an image of my Heart shall be exposed and honored. A Christian home consecrated to the Sacred Heart (the love of Jesus) will be a home of peace. We are invited to enthrone the likeness of Jesus in a prominent place, thus making the home a proper local environment for Christ's presence. Now the home can truly become the launching pad for renewing our Earth.
Special Thanksgiving. In November, Americans celebrate the feast of Thanksgiving -- an occasion that is certainly salutary, for God loves a thankful heart. Our greatest act of freedom as children of God is to say two words, "thank you," to the Giver of all good gifts: for personal faith; for individual and collective health; and for the rich bounty of our land -- fields of grain, forests, majestic mountains, clear streams, and all the wildlife with which we are graced. We can spend time thanking the Lord for placing us here at this time to help renew our troubled Earth, to be part of salvation history, to see the face of Christ in all creation, and to be inclined to healing and collaborating with all people of good will. Mindful of our fragile Earth, we give new meaning to Ecos and resolve in gratitude to improve our wounded home. Damage done is not irreversible; we have the power to reverse directions and take on a new stand. Thankfulness expands this emerging opportunity and is the healthy atmosphere in which all meaningful collaboration is able to flourish.
Summary. What emerges in November is that our model of home is the prime analog of what our destiny is to be, for we move from a small intimate family of kin to a broader global "People of God." To actualize that global movement requires "homework," that involves study, planning, cooperating, mustering resources and engaging in the nitty-gritty of building the new home. For Christians this involves a consecration of one's residential home. But a vision of home with a commitment to work hard to achieve it is not enough, for that could focus us totally at the local level.
We move to a global vision of all people having the basic needs of food, housing, recreation, education, environmental protection, and home care. Achieving this vision involves a growth in teleological and social consciousness. To stimulate this growth in consciousness of telos requires a comparable exercise of social justice that includes confronting the predominant culture that retards the growth of the Kingdom of God. If we fail in the short run, we still affirm the belief that fidelity will bear fruit. Our dreams and visions are very important. Then I saw a New Heaven and a New Earth (Revelation 21:1), (also Isaiah 51:16; 65:17; 66:12). In Isaiah, God in good time will bring forth this new and transformed place. We firmly believe that we can participate in saving our wound Earth. The more we affirm, the more we are empowered to participate; and the greater the service we render through global collaboration. Our faith is empowering: we can heal our Earth -- with divine help.
In grade school days those with nickels and dimes in their pockets (mine never jingled throughout the depression) could, and did buy yoyos and squirt guns. By the time I raised the capital to follow suit it appeared the item was out of fashion and a new one was popular. Finally, I came to the insight to avoid the rat race and stay contented with make shift toys and personally popular items of interest. The practice of non-conformity may be a propos for today's "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving. Are we to return to the borrow-and-spend fashion that is driving our nation into bankruptcy at a relentless rate of four billion dollars a day?
Buy Nothing Day is an opportunity to save. How about sending the savings to a favorite charity that is giving essential services and goods to those who are in greatest need somewhere on this wounded planet? In so doing, the global economy will benefit equally to what it would if we spent on non-essential items for Christmas or for personal satisfaction. Our individual decisions help make the difference. We will feel better in the act and thus the day will improve the quality of all people's lives through radical sharing of our abundance. Now sit down and write the loved one or special friend and tell them what you just did in their name. Believe me, they will appreciate this "material" gift given to one in greater need as much as if you gave them something they do not need or have to pretend to need.
Some would say this day's celebration is unpatriotic, for purchasing items of whatever type on this day is an act of supporting our country's economic system and consumer culture. Granted some salespeople are assisted by a good record of customers coming and spending on this day. However, the counterpoint is that there are other ways of improving the American economic situation. One would be to enact a fair set of taxes so that those making over $200,000 would be required to share excess income with the others of this country and the world. The expanded revenue could be used in numerous ways: building and repairing roads, bridges, airports, and public rail systems; subsidizing caregivers who tend elder and ill relatives; enhance educational programs for the disadvantaged; health research; install renewable energy facilities; and reclaim lands that have been damaged.
Buy Nothing Day counters a prevailing materialism that is never satisfied and which can bring ruin in excessive extraction and pollution to our threatened Earth. Work opportunities need not be associated with materialistic attempts as personal satisfaction, which are never fulfilled. Such practices are the play of the immature, of children wanting the next squirt gun or yoyo, except adults want the newest electronic devices or vehicle or house or boat. It is time to change, for Advent is coming! And life is short.
Prayer: Lord, give us the grace to check and change our spending habits so that others may have a better quality of life.
November 28, 2020 Asking WhetherWild Turkeys Are Really Wild
As we conclude the week which included "Turkey" Day, we imagine a plump domesticated turkey sacrificed for the Thanksgiving meal. In so doing we recall the comfort of eating well and having a filled stomach. For some animal lovers, the sacrifice of such wildlife for our satisfaction seems disconcerting. As a restricted meat eater (on occasions with others in social gathering) ambivalence prevails for some of us. We have become far less meat eaters even when not totally joining the club of vegetarians. We are tempted to declare so-called wild turkeys as a menace, and put a bounty on the thousands of them to thin their numbers -- and use the harvested so-called wild turkeys for another celebration.
We say "so-called" wild turkey (mellagries gallopavo), because many state game and sporting groups have introduced mixed breed turkeys that are larger than the original wild turkey as game for hunters -- and these have taken over the landscape. The menacing comes from the enhanced appetite of the so-called and highly proliferating wild turkey. They sound like a threshing machine or combine as they come through and consume the forest understory, impacting the areas due to appetite and in larger numbers than the land can bear. Turkeys are omnivorous, eating virtually anything (nuts, berries, roots, insects, lizards, snakes, grains and grasses). Ginseng enthusiasts speak of the so-called wild turkey consuming the red ginseng berry in mid-summer and crushing it in their gizzard, thus rendering it unusable for germination. On the other hand, many smaller birds swallow the ginseng seed and emit it whole for future plants. Yes, "Wild turkey" is organic food.
When I was young I never saw wild turkeys (the population in the United States dropped to as low as 30,000 during that period), and yet they or their damage are seen now in our forested and cultivated areas quite frequently (current estimated U.S. population is six million individuals). This growth has happened in the last few decades, and continues in much of the continental United States as well as Canada.
Hiking a while back, I happened upon a congregation of these birds making a deafening noise in their gathering together in mating season; they suddenly became quiet at my approach. Still these birds are taking over the countryside -- and dare you to come near a nesting turkey for you may be challenged. In order to preserve the flora balance in the understory, the vast proliferation of wild turkeys in much of the continental United States must be halted and an adequate portion harvested. This is because they are found inundating areas where wolves, foxes and other carnivores who traditionally established natural balance have been removed or are in short supply. Coyotes are slowly filling nature's niche; harvesting an organic meat source is another.
Prayer: Lord, give us a sense of nature's balance and inspire us to contribute through wise practices to upholding that balance in the world of our threatened flora and fauna.
Today, on this First Sunday of Advent we are starting a new church year. New starts are always times to initiate change, and such is the case in 2020. As we prepare for the coming of the Lord as Christ, we take this season of profound change to heart. As individuals, we reflect on ways of improving our lifestyle and religious practices through personal reform. However, the Spirit is moving us: Stay Awake! Discover opportunities to be alert.
Alertness to personal needs. Think twice in rising from bed. Take a moment before descending stairs to know where to step. Give plenty of time for each of today's tasks.
Alertness to neighbor's needs. This is leaf-falling season. Is the sidewalk cleared for the neighbor's walk? Looking out for others addresses the litigious culture in which we are immersed.
Alert to reckless behavior. Taking care to avoid temptation includes avoidance in being reckless -- tending to enter where angels fear to tread. This may be approximate occasions to sinful misdeeds, or it may be recklessness in excessive exercise or driving practices, all signaling spiritual or physical dangers.
Alert to becoming soft or self-serving. Too often we tend to exaggerate our own importance, or excuse ourselves in saying we need to do this "for others" and mean "for me." Imagine the world going on tomorrow without my mortal presence. It may be humbling to know that most things will continue at their own pace and, though we may be missed immediately by a few, things will return to normal all too soon.
Alert to opportunities: All too often we could help others but deliberately close ourselves off from the public and social occasions when assistance can be given. The points made on Thanksgiving Day are especially to be observed this weekend.
Alert to elected representatives: Keep looking at the voting records of those we elected. Are elected representatives voting conscientiously, or for those they are financially beholden?
Alert to assist those confused. We live in a world where changes are confusing for some. Let's be on the alert to assist those who find change difficult, and speak to them in a kind and humorous matter to help them cope with the times.
Alert to signs of our times. Is this time similar to that of the decline of the Roman Empire? How are we to convince others of serious, human-caused climate change and to help curb it?
Prayer: Help me, Lord, to stay awake when I must, and to rest when I need to, so that my alertness will shine when needed.
Autumn leaves collect in broken well along the Natchez Trace.
November 30, 2020 Sharing Limited Land with Others
The problem with land is that they stopped making it some time ago.
Mark Twain (on his 185th birthday)
Is the observation by Mark Twain a fitting reflection on his birthday? Due to severe climate change, we have the distinct possibility before us that rising oceans may reduce that amount of land in areas of dense seacoast populations. With an anticipated global expansion of two billion people before 2050 we might expect the amount of usable and available land per person to decrease by one-quarter or more. Arable land becomes more a premium.
Really talking about amount of land per person is not helpful since about half of Earth's land (mountains, deserts, Polar Regions, certain forests, and other fragile areas) is not inhabited and has no possibility of being so in the foreseeable future. Thus the far narrower expanse of fertile or useful land must be shared by more and more people. Rather than potentially divvying up uninhabitable land on some sort of equitable basis, let's share existing accessible land more fairly.
* Expand park land especially in or near metropolitan areas with easy public access; let's institute good policing of these lands so that they are not trashed and are used with least human impact by larger numbers of people;
* Remove fragile and wilderness areas from immediate human intrusion, and filming these in ways that virtual travel may be possible by larger numbers of the public; this is to replace small numbers of the privileged who can afford physical on-site visits;
* Limit private holdings that make it a trespassing offense for others to enjoy their scenic sites. Turning these private estates into publicly-policed areas is a way to share that does not include merely dividing large into unmanageable private plots;
* Manage land to grow two crops rather than one in territories that are experiencing extended growing seasons;
* Regard unused and underused land, especially in high density areas (idle plots, roofs, expansive lawns, brown fields, rights-of-way, abandoned rail lines, military bases, and airport bordering space) for limited and controlled cultivation in the form of community gardens or edible landscapes;
* Upgrade forest areas so that the timber harvested will be of a better grade, and new growth can be encouraged;
* Reduce croplands for livestock and move to plant-based meat substitutes;
* Encourage in developing countries, where large scale agriculture has reigned as king, efficient and well-supplied small farms for food production; and
* Promote solar water desalination projects for agricultural irrigation in areas of limited, lower quality water.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to share our limited land with those who are landless and unable to enjoy land viewing, beauty, privacy, subsistence and contact.