Eastern wahoo, Euonymus atropurpureus.
October 1, 2012 Tolerate Non-Believers. What about Non-Belief?
An unanswered question from September's Reflections: Should we tolerate unbelief? We tolerate people with all sorts of belief systems and lack thereof, provided they do not hurt others by trying to act out these beliefs. However, should we tolerate the ill effects of unbelief? What about those who doubt that our Earth is in trouble and demand equal time to refute or challenge scientific testimony evident to so many? If we allow equal time to the merchants of doubt whose doubt is deliberately meant to stall regulation and control of misdeeds, then something seems wrong; efforts to make corrective preventive measures will be deferred while high profits go to the status quo keepers. All the while, Earth herself faces a rapidly approaching tipping point.
Limits to tolerance exist. As stated on September 30 our tolerance is directed to people and their beliefs -- and even their right to lack of belief. People have a right to hold beliefs provided they do not infringe on the rights of others. However, political unbelief does affect Earth and its inhabitants who include human beings. The "right" to believe and do as one pleases has its limits. Exceeding limits of the public welfare is never tolerated within civilized society, and our jails testify to limiting actions of felons in society when they act with abandon.
In unbelief outside these limits? What about actions of those so-called nihilists? If these folks harbor their mental condition as private comfort for themselves, well we can let that go. We tolerate them even if we do not agree with what they hold. However, what if they decide to bomb a building or threaten believers into submission? Now tolerance suddenly becomes a public security issue, and police and FBI are called to visit the bomb-making cellar of the nihilist. Easy enough to demand preventive measures.
Is silence proper in the face of unbelief? A case may not involve bomb-making but computer-generated nihilistic propaganda. Certainly, the age of the Inquisition is long past, but limits to tolerance in our own action must be considered. The Internet is a public place; politically motivated unbelief could lead to intellectual suicide and paralysis. Counter measures may be demanded and tolerant silence must be broken.
We certainly must tolerate unbelievers and their right to believe, provided they do not intimidate us to remain silent to the harmful effects of their belief. They cannot be permitted to paralyze national or global policy changes for their own benefit. Yes, even if unbelief is uttered by nominal co-religionists, it must be challenged. We must speak out. Unbelievers are wrong to think our silence is demanded when their views can inadvertently oppress us and harm our Earth. Defense is not violent action but it must involve direct public confrontation of unbelief.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to know when we must be silent and when we must speak in defense of the greater good.
Osage orange, Maclura pomifera, used traditionally as "living fences."
October 2, 2012 Economics and the Clash of Good and Evil
Is there a cosmic clash of good and evil as Scripture would lead us to believe? Some would like to relegate this to arguments about the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin. However, this is not a sterile question but a theological point involving our individual and collective lives. We are tempted in many ways; we experience hatred, meanness, disasters, conflicts. On the collective level we observe debts, unemployment, substance abuse, mistreatment of others and on and on. Evil exists and affects us. Is conflict between good and evil immune from discussion? Is avoidance of personal or social evil a denial of reality? Does the devil work overtime to prove he doesn't exist?
We observe evil effects in our lives, but they seem to overwhelm us and so we strive to ignore them. It is as though Calvary and Easter never occurred. For the procrastinator, one ought to accept conditions and excuse oneself hoping experts will come to the rescue. Unfortunately, everyone has to be watchful and prudent: avoid pitfalls, control allurements, and refrain from improper activity. We must take charge of our lives and refrain from excuses; we must seek out good ways of proceeding.
One approach to response is dangerous: "Let us acknowledge the problems, await experts, but in the meanwhile escape to other activities that remove evil from our world view." Superficially, to delay confrontation for temporary peace of mind and comfort is deceptive. Procrastination opens one to further escape routes in an insatiable world of material allurements. Escape leads failure to confront issues, and this gives way to patterns that can become addicting and enslaving practices such as substance abuse. The slippery road of escape is downhill from that point.
Evil is present and must be confronted, but we are unable to act alone. We seek and discover that God is with us and has empowered us through the sacraments to confront the situation. We are part of a struggling society and find our own way while imperfectly assisting others to do the same thing. Essential physical and spiritual needs must be met, the very first act of an authentic spirituality. We need to be HERE to those in need -- the poor, the hungry, and the ill. We must see urgency to act NOW and not put off to another day the work that must be done.
We must size up our own ability to act and find our limitations, for it is impossible to fight evil alone. WE are called to learn and to share both our existing resources and our collective needs, for we often lack spiritual resources -- the poverty of the spirit that Mother Theresa observed in Western cultures. With God's help we can join with others and confront our addictions, and discover authentic change for the better.
Prayer: Lord, give us the grace to share our needs within a broader community of those who confront existing evil and resolve with your help to address the pressing issues of the day.
Red Milkweed Beetle, Tetraopes tetraopthalmus, enjoying a favored plant.
October 3, 2012 Confronting Our Vestigial Clan Mentality
Tomorrow we celebrate St. Francis' Feast and recall that his family objected to his desire to follow the Spirit in his life. We also recall that Jesus had great difficulties within his extended family where some members were hostile to his work. Those closest to us as neighbors or kin may oppose us, and mini-feuds within the clan can develop as much friction as among clans like the Appalachian Hatfields and McCoys.
Clans have good qualities: they care for members and show loyalty in times of stress and danger. In primitive societies, clans furnish mutual security and protection of life itself. In these respects, the mentality of the clan can grow and develop into mutual benefits provided that these do not become oppressive to others outside the immediate clan. Unfortunately, clans can be oppressively exclusive, for to be clannish means to be enclosed and unwilling to go beyond certain small tight-knit groups. The more broadminded will seek to extend boundaries (see Mark 6:1-6 and especially Luke 4 about Jesus wanting to bring Good News to a broader poor segment); in doing so they may meet opposition.
Confronting clannishness is a Christian duty once we find ourselves within a clan. To be Christian means we must extend to others the good things we possess. The Spirit drives us to challenge the clan mentality of insulating ourselves within the exclusive comfort zone of a small group. The concept of being "catholic" or universal means we are willing to celebrate with others, especially those who feel rootless and outside of a local clan. We must always be sensitive to the homeless who are migrants, refugees, or workers away from their normal home - and in this sensitivity find the antidote to the clannishness that can easily affect any of us.
A clan mentality can admit of various degrees of size from the immediate family to the local group or even to a regional or national level. People have loyalty to local towns, bands, teams, and leagues; they regard themselves as first and engage in a competitive spirit; in turn, this can lead to a false partisanship that evolves into football team riots or spectators who threaten or injure umpires or referees. Examples of such outbursts are all too frequent both in America and in other parts of the world.
Nationally, clans coalesce into large gatherings and political parties such as the Nazi or Fascist movements. Emotions run wild and people rise to die for causes of patriotism and march off to battle non-clan enemies. However, even beyond violent extremes some forms of clannish nationalism can be dangerous. The manner in which America treats capitalism, gun control, and total numbers of gold Olympic metals all can have clannish overtones. We must move from being a local or national citizen to becoming a global one.
Prayer: Lord, you taught us to expand our vision and to look
out to the needs of others as citizens of one world.
Rural Kentucky in early autumn.
October 4, 2012 St. Francis and Types of Environmentalism
Environmentalism takes on many forms, and yet each has its place. On this Feast of St. Francis, the patron of ecology, we ought to consider how the saint is patron of various aspects of environmentalism:
Celebratory environmentalism: Francis liked to dance and sing, and maybe we ought to find extra time to celebrate how we are empowered to save our wounded Earth. We ought to join others in gratitude to God for allowing us to live in these troubled time and to be inspired to help address the problems around us.
Diplomatic environmentalism: We recall that Francis established a good relationship with various Muslim leaders in the Middle East at a time when interfaith dialog was hardly known. Francis was a rare diplomat and we ought to build bridges as well.
Pragmatic environmentalism: Francis started rebuilding a dilapidated chapel, and this drew others to come and help. By taking a lead in rebuilding our wounded Earth, others may be drawn into the environmental movement.
Gentle environmentalism: A sense of reverence prevailed in Francis' approach to all. Harshness had no place nor should it today among conflicting parties who need a heavy dose of civility. Francis' approach to wildlife and their instinctive response shows how we are to defend and protect wildlife with care and compassion.
Universal environmentalism: Many of us forget that Francis had a focus on God but extended that gaze to sister moon and brother sun and all creatures. His relationship to Clare showed a balanced male/female approach to environmentalism. In this modern age our actions should have a cosmic and broadminded character.
Creative environmentalism: Respect builds on the creative powers of others. Francis was not elitist or authoritarian, but rather accepted that others could and did make contributions to the entire company in which he was forming. We have got to encourage creativity in addressing seemingly insoluble problems today.
Prayerful environmentalism: Our focus must be on the Lord as was the mystic Francis'. When we pray and communicate with God, we increase our awareness that our complex and difficult work can't be done alone but only through our growing trust in God.
Unfortunately, these methods can only go so far when we need to confront the forces that can overpower democratic process. Though Francis was not confrontational, still he confronted his family with their expectations on what to do with his life, and did this in a mild but gentle manner.
Prayer: Lord, let us see Francis as an example of what we ought to be and do.
American chesnut (Castanea dentata), unblighted at this age.
October 5, 2012 Attaining Peace of Soul
Earthhealers strive to do what they can to heal a wounded Earth -- and they often feel this is not enough. If our planet is in trouble, perhaps it is because we do not expose culprits to an accounting. We treat issues such as pollution, resource depletion, and climate change in such matter of fact ways that we lose the sharpness of our cause. Familiarity breeds contempt even in environmental matters -- and this nags at us. Are we like athletic competitors who train all the harder? "Good, better, best; never let it rest until the good is better and the better is best." Guilt overwhelms us and disturbs our peace of soul. Or seeing that this is a joint work with the Lord do we say, "I am doing my best!"
These two mentalities are such that the first can lead to lack of peace of soul; the second when said in a sincere prayer will allow external work to continue, but we are in a cooperative relationship to what we are called to do. If we are not doing the very best, our prayer is our best try here and now. This opening to God fills us with peace and not guilt. Peace of soul comes in doing the Lord's will and the satisfaction gives a sense of internal comfort in that we are doing the best we can -- and in due time God will show us how to act more perfectly and be better.
In compassion we suffer with others in being of one heart and mind in relief and meaningful care. Their ailment may include the stress of pain or of not knowing if recovery is in sight. We need to care for them and our world; this includes reducing their stress by entering into their hopes for improvement, whatever this means. We need to remain internally unstressed and healthy enough to be good healers. Doing God's will brings peace of soul and we thank God for it. God's gift of consolation calls for our gratitude and we should make this sense of thanksgiving contagious, triggering those we serve to do the same. In doing all we can, we show humbly our limitations, but with trust that we will improve later with God's help.
Our own personal ecology embraces an interior understanding in knowing we are doing our best, and at the same time the counterbalanced external urgency in knowing that more ought to be done. Neither of these in themselves are sufficient, and holding the balance together comes through divine grace. Simultaneously, we can rest internally with the Lord; all the while we can act externally as though much depends on improving efforts at healing with God's help. The cooperative effort of human and divine working together proclaims Christ to the world. Being at peace within and agitated without is our condition, but the agitation is with the Lord's help and blessing. Being able to balance interior and exterior deserves our ongoing reflection and ecological thrust.
Prayer: Lord, help us understand where we stand before you; we can do so much but only more through your help. If we do the best subjectively, we are trusting that you will help that best be better in due time.
Tree labels at Appalachia - Science in the Public Interest.
October 6, 2012 Learning and Teaching Tree Identification
Look up at the trees! The leaves are turning color. Many times we identify our companion trees more by their leaves than their shape and bark, which is always the winter challenge in learning about these silent sentinels. Why the fuss for a tree is a tree by whatever name? Because it is good to know our companions' name who are so friendly and comforting and provide us with shade, windbreak, nuts, and wildlife protection. Trees delight us and call for our attention -- and knowing more about them gives us a deeper respect and awareness of the fragile nature of our treasured forests. We identify with other creatures in a form of universal solidarity in which their welfare is our concern.
Learn from the leaves. We couple the acts of "learning and teaching" because many of us non-tree-experts possess a few tree identification books that help us make new discoveries with each venture into our local forest. We avail ourselves of opportunities to master the diversity of our tree population and to assist others aspiring to do the same. Thus we learn and teach at the same time, and encourage others to do the same and master tree knowledge along with others and not as masters over them.
Teach respect for trees. The season may be perfect depending on wind and moisture conditions for this time of year within our specific microclimate. Youngsters are often eager with school projects to collect green leaves while they can still be mounted, and identify the various ones more easily before they will fall to the ground and decompose. Because the number and variety of leaves are so diverse, it may be fitting to offer awards for those starting a leaf collection. Learn how to preserve them well through pressing, laminating, and mounting for display. Yes, we can respect and enjoy trees without identifying them by scientific and common names, but the act of learning more about them will feed on itself and improve our quest for ever greater biological detail.
Tree identification has merit. I am fortunate to live within the Mixed Mesophytic Forest, the oldest and most varied temperate forest in the world. At the ASPI Nature Center sixty miles away we have had trees marked through the good graces of a tree expert, and the nearly complete listing of native species comes to about one hundred trees. It was interesting to get students to move about and see how many of the one hundred they could find and record. In so doing it is like coming to know neighbors by name. We can respect a person without knowing his or her name, but in knowing them we are drawn all the closer and can speak to others about their qualities in greater detail. We connect the dots of tree knowledge by comparison of types of pines or oaks, where they grow, average age, height, and characteristics of wood and ultimate utility. We learn tree diseases and threats and this concerns us.
Prayer: Lord, give us the delight to respect trees, to know more about them, to marvel in their beauty and benefits, and to
join the ranks of those who want to protect our endangered forests.
Autumn-blooming viburnum with Syrphid fly.
October 7, 2012 Marriage and Earthhealing
The Scripture readings today (Mark 10:2-16 coupled with Genesis 2:18-26) tells us much about a subject that has high popularity in the ordinary lives of people, namely, marriage or the lack of it on the part of many parties. Some of the same sex couples promote the advantages of marriage and those unmarried couples of different sexes often prefer to refrain from tying the knot -- and ironically both groups cite economic advantages for their intentional linkage or lack of it. The traditional union of one man and one woman is under attack in our secular society.
Certainly as an unmarried person in my elder years of pastoral care, some portion of my time is taken with instructing, counseling, and investigating the supposed bonds of the married or the aspiring married state. As one who has never experienced the marriage state I am in a learning process but still as a pastor I am entitled to some basic observations: marriage is an important step that takes care and interaction -- and much prayer and advice; many are slower in entering the married state today and maybe for good reasons; marriages are fragile and take effort on the part of both parties to evolve and grow; marriages are seen in both traditional and new ways; no party is perfect in strengthening their marriage bonds; often both parties bear blame for cleavage but sometimes one is more at fault; marriages can be salvaged by counselors and preserved through prayer; divorces are very difficult for all parties but especially for unfortunate offspring.
Marriage is sacred. The readings today tell us that the divine will is in the sacredness of the binding of the marriage state. The sacrament is to be undertaken with care and is to be upheld with the deepest respect. The bonds are an outward sign of the divine bonding -- of Jesus' relationship to his body the Church. In some ways, marriage is a foreshadowing of our permanent relationship to our troubled Earth.
Marriage requires careful preparation. This matter is not something to be taken lightly, and so the Church takes the step of two people seeking the married state as a major undertaking. In turn, this calls for time and proper preparation and knowledge. Full consent by both parties and compatibility are most desired.
Marriages are fragile and can easily be ruptured by selfishness and infidelity. Good times comfort married partners and bad ones test their fidelity and permanence.
Marriages are meant to be permanent and must be regarded as such from the start. Christ asks much of the marrying parties and that request must be sincerely honored. However, we know in the world of changing relationships that many do view marriage as somewhat tentative and not a permanent relationship. Let's give of our effort to help them formalize their commitments.
Prayer: Lord, help us to champion traditional marriage.
Double-crested cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus, near Cadiz, KY.
October 8, 2012 Homemade Laundry Soap as Potential Savings
From time to time we reflect on ordinary savings, realizing that our desire to be good home economists makes us think with the poor. A year ago (10/08/11), we discussed "Jewelweed benefits throughout the Year" and can testify that this saved purchases of less effective commercial medicinal brands. Please check that date on this website for some concrete savings at the medicine counter. This year we have a new arena of savings: homemade laundry soap through helpful information offered by Armeda Sparkman of our local Herb Garden Club.
Basic ingredients: three low-priced items that will last for a year or two even with continuous heavy use:
one-third bar of Fels Naphtha (5.5 ounce bar)
one-half coup washing soda (not baking soda)
one-half cup of borax powder
(optional: one tablespoon of essential oil or an added flavor or scent to one's liking)
Preparation instructions: grate the soap and put in a large saucepan with six cups of water over medium heat. Warm the mixture until the soap melts. Add the washing soda, borax, and optional essential oil stirring constantly until all has dissolved. Let the solution sit for five minutes over the heat stirring occasionally. Using a funnel put half the mixture into each of two gallon jugs. Fill each jug halfway full with hot water and shake well. Continue to fill the jugs to full with hot water. Shake again and then set aside for about 24 hours. This gels and looks like egg whites.
Application: Use one-half to two-thirds cup per load. This will not suds up like most detergents but the clothes smell wonderful. How often we are fooled by the suds!
Added note: You can also add a half cup of white vinegar in rinse water to soften the clothes.
Potential savings: The basic ingredients cost about $3 but the amount of potentials savings over a two-year period could be about $20 to $30. For some customers, the half-hour of extra work (it takes added time for each purchase of commercial laundry soap) is not "worth" it; but isn't that because we have allowed ourselves to be hoodwinked by commercials in the media -- as though the purchased finished product is better than what we can do ourselves?
Prayer: Lord, show us the value of home economics and help us teach and spread the good news to others who are under hard financial conditions at this time. Help us to be creative and see that economic savings can accrue in many ways, and we can live more like our lower income brothers and sisters through such savings.
Ripening persimmon. Hematite Lake. Land Between the Lakes, KY.
October 9, 2012 Should We Promote Clean Electric Vehicles?
Has the time for the electric vehicle (EV) arrived? When running a nature center a number of years back I suggested that we built an all electric solar-powered vehicle using a car that had been donated for our work. On 3/28/08 we spoke of the experiences with a solar-powered car and the many advantages of such vehicles. Unfortunately, the weight of our particular car's battery bank was a burden on the little compact vehicle; the solar-powered product had a limited range of which we hesitated to approach too closely lest we would be stranded. Furthermore, our numerous batteries had a shorter lifetime than expected adding to an unexpected expense. But the solar car did not need gasoline and was clean.
In summer, 2012, the Union of Concerned Scientists' Catalyst contained an article "How Clean Are Electric Vehicles?" The authors speak in general (not solar-powered EVs) about vehicles to be plugged into the American grid system. The article promotes Evs and contributes to preparing the public for general acceptance. Prices can range from $22,000 to $100,000 but a $7,500 tax credit and state benefits are helpful. Consumer hesitancy includes more than price, for Evs save in fuel costs over the lifetime of the vehicle; greater hesitancy includes lack of currently available charging stations -- and time from travel required for recharging.
Advantages for EV owners include savings of about 6,000 gallons of gasoline and up to $13,000 in fuel costs over the lifetime of the EV with a vehicle getting an average of 27 miles per gallon. Fuel savings differ depending on the part of America where located. Recall that Evs have no cooling system or oil requirements, and they are quiet. Better batteries and quicker charges are addressing opposition, and many purchasers like the electric/gasoline backup vehicles over the solely electric ones. Prices will undoubtedly decline as technology improves and all benefit from economies of scale and more general use.
Perhaps we ought to ask how clean is "clean"? The grid system includes a variety of fuel sources. Some nuclear energy powerplants contribute to current energy mix and their safety and cleanliness is discussed elsewhere on this website. Coal-fired plants now contribute a sizeable but reducing portion of the mix -- and they are not clean. But what about the so-called clean natural gas making an expanding portion of total electricity mix? Data on total natural gas leakage is not yet determined, and since methane is a far more serious global warming gas than carbon dioxide, we are unsure whether gas is a cleaner fuel in the long run when compared to coal or petroleum. Thus the ultimate quantitative measure of cleanliness is not fully determined. Still there are fuel and maintenance savings by the EV, and that is far greater if charging is done by a bank of solar arrays or where renewable wind energy is available. The present total electricity generating mix is being gradually cleaned up, and so the EV is coming.
Prayer: Lord, give us sound judgment in making energy choices.
Nature reclaims abandoned coal storage bin of old Kentucky home.
October 10, 2012 Goodbye to American King Coal
Something different is happening this year in the railroad exchange yards just down the hill from my residence. A partial silence has occurred. The traditional half dozen, 110-car coal trains that come in and depart for Florida and Georgia each week have diminished to half that number. Are changes happening? This year, coal miners are being laid off by the hundreds; several coal companies are going bankrupt; and new coal-fired plants are being canceled. Certainly a warmer winter and improved fuel efficiency has lessened electricity demand, and utility after utility is transferring to natural gas. These changes are occurring in a matter of months and years and an energy revolution is here.
King coal is being dethroned by fracked natural gas, and utility operations are joining the stampede. Some anti-environmentalists would like to cast blame on tightening restrictions on toxic gaseous emissions from coal-fired power plants, but that is only part of the story. Revelations about increased incidents of "black lung" among young miners in areas of recent mining amid silicon-type rock formations is another concern, but not an immediate factor in coal's decline. The attacks on mountaintop removal are certainly ongoing, but that has little effect except to be part of the changing acceptability of coal.
Let's be honest about it. The concept of dirty coal has had its effect on our mentality for four decades, but the rapid current dethroning of coal is more due to the current availability of cheap natural gas. Five years ago, using traditional means of gas extraction, that fuel was twice as expensive as coal, but now it is half the price due to the new fracking process of gas extraction -- the new process is revealing about two centuries of domestic natural gas to replace plentiful coal fields. Coal is not the only fuel victim; nuclear power has its high construction price, cost overruns, safety issues, and general uncertainties, and utilities are reluctant to build new nuclear plants. Globally speaking, coal is not dead; while being reduced from half to one-quarter of fuel sources for American electricity, we recall that Asian coal-fired electricity-generating facilities are increasing rapidly.
We bitterly contested shale-rock mining for shale oil in Kentucky three decades ago, in part because of land disturbance and high cost of extraction. However, the new fracking process using pressurized water solutions to liberate the gas and leaving rock in place has changed all that. Yes, we have raised current and emerging environmental problems of fracking on this website -- but the economic realities seem to hold current sway. As a Kentuckian, I hate to see coal miners lose their jobs; as an environmentalist, I have very mixed feelings about the natural gas boom, not only for earthquake and water contamination reasons, but because escaping methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 from coal.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to use all things wisely and well.
Chilly morning sunrise. Barren Co., KY.
October 11, 2012 Different Degrees of Earthhealing
We did not start this series a decade ago with a full understanding of "earthhealing," for we anticipated that it would emerge with time as a concept being clarified.
Over time, the first reality that emerged was that the healers also need healing when in the process of healing others. We do not begin from a superior position. In environmental matters, it is not the "healed" helping the sick, but those in process and needing to be healed assisting others struggling in the same process. We are healed in time and with cooperative effort; we reach out for further help because it is a difficult task to complete alone.
The second insight is that there are stages of healing both of self and others. With respect to Earth we must first see the current situation where we are located, the HERE, and through a sense of neighborliness, we determine the extent of the emergency conditions of our wounded Earth, resolve to help, and abstain from doing malpractice, which bring on these harmful conditions.
As we become more expert at healing, we size up the damage and discover the need to act with urgency; we must stem irreparable damage and help restore and reclaim our wounded Earth NOW. This requires utilizing cultural, health, and educational resources at our disposal. Time is critical lest our Earth will reach a tipping point beyond which it becomes nearly impossible to return to a prior condition. Here appropriate technologies become necessary for these are low cost, environmentally benign, and require cooperative endeavors.
The third level of healing involves going beyond damage designation, termination, and repair of damage. Healing must get at the deeper causes that spring from a system of consumerism and addiction to insatiable material goods, the extraction, production and disposal of which exacerbate the wounded conditions of our troubled Earth. In order to address the deeper causes, WE must be willing to accept our social responsibility for either causing or tolerating the destructive actions of others.
Only with time does the addictiveness of those who overuse resources become evident, and doubt and delay are deliberate goals by groups that profit from addiction to consumer goods. The entire world is drawn into the consumption rat race and we constantly think we can resolve the problem through rational measures -- but here the healing revolves into merely tweaking the system. Getting at our deeper social addictions requires divine assistance and so we look into addict recovery programs. The key is to trust in God, and that empowers us to authentic earthhealing.
Prayer: Lord, we trust in you to help us be healers by being willing to be healed with others, to see the current conditions as they exist and the urgency to take immediate action, and to look
with others for longer-term solutions.
Fruit of the passionflower, Passiflora incarnata.
October 12, 2012 Accepting Critics with a Proper Spirit
Happy Columbus Day to all who celebrate this day. As a Knight of Columbus I have attempted to marvel at the courage of the expedition that led Europeans to the New World -- even though historians have many critical points about subsequent expeditions.
Criticism does not always come easily, especially for those lacking a thick skin and desensitized to negativity. Sensitive people can be hurt by negative criticism and harbor pain for years. Certainly, it helps to know whether the criticism is positive or negative but sometimes one falsely attributes negativity to what the critic wanted to be positive. If criticism is genuinely negative, the quicker dismissed the better. If meant for positive improvement, accept this carefully and wholeheartedly. Many famous works of music and art were highly criticized by accepted public "critics" of their day, and yet this did not halt artists from their ongoing work nor change the value of the work itself.
Negative criticism for the non-masochist ought to be avoided. Granted, we can regard negativity too narrowly and thus be hurt by what others say, especially if we value their judgment on other matters. One reason this website doesn't have blogging with feedback is that we invite possible negative criticism that might hinder our work. Why should we sacrifice much through an ocean of volunteer time, energy, and scarce resources just to allow negative personalities to foist themselves in haste on carefully prepared sites? We read interactive blogging enough to know that
many topics lend themselves perfectly to others' rants -- and there are other available places for that. One current subtle form of negative criticism is to so dispirit creative writers that
they halt completion of the work -- genuine negativism at work.
Positive criticism ought to be sought. Unfortunately, we do not always get enough response because it takes far more energy and resources to response positively than negatively, and most readers are too busy to do so. A person who is eager to make our work a better product is a true friend -- and even when the critic seems at first glance to be harsh, it is meant to be for long-term improvement. If the positive folks are truly Good Samaritans, they are willing to spend additional time to see wounds they generate through cutting critique move forward to healing. Taking that time is a mark of a positive critic.
Some will say that the open forum for allowing both positive and negative critics to function is good and the sign of freedom and tolerance. As mentioned elsewhere this month, tolerance has certain nuances worth considering. To "tolerate" a path to self-destruction is not tolerance but imprudence and license. The better principle is to dismiss negativism expeditiously. In contrast, to invite positive criticism is always for the better.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be able to discern the negative from the positive, to avoid the first, and to welcome the second.
An autumn-bloomer, the great blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica.
October 13, 2012 Continue the Act of Challenging
On Modern Mythology Day it is perhaps a good opportunity to challenge myths new and old, but that is not the point of today's reflection. Instead, let us focus on challenging the act of challenging, -- and seeing this overused concept as something good. Some say that eight essays over the years challenging a number of issues exhausts the practice. I do not think so. Once I won a bet (that I had forgotten about) with a friend Rudy Villarica; he dutifully paid me decades later for continuing my radical searching when he had bet I would become more mainstream in my old age. But why change habits that we like doing -- and find challenging?
To challenge or not to challenge: that is the issue. There are many arguments for giving up on an issue, since few are listening and those that hear often fashion challenges in ways not originally intended. Negligence, forgetfulness, misunderstanding, irritation, and a host of other triggered responses or their lack can be mustered for accepting the status quo and leaving the issue alone. Many people as they mature regard earlier issues as cute but of little current importance. For them, one needs to pass on.
To continue to challenge means mustering more forceful arguments. The continued act is not to pester our hearers but to reveal more ammunition. In so doing challenging manifests our faith in the future. Perhaps some day after we are gone some inspired souls will reintroduce issues in a fresh light, and find the stated challenges of the past as part of the arsenal to fight for what is right. So we continue to make challenges with that hope that future generations are willing to tackle unsettled issues of the past in a more conclusive manner.
To challenge is to be faithful to our past and to allow the good that we have done to continue as testimony to its worth. To say that we confronted certain individuals and subjects some time ago, but the condition no longer interests us is to refute part of our past. We may be right that other issues are more important, but we risk becoming our own worst enemies for abandoning issues needed in the past and still needed today.
To challenge at the present moment is to experience the moment fully while preparing for an indefinite future ahead of us. Amazingly, we continue "challenging" in order to make the present the preparation grounds for the future as we prepare to approach God's judgment seat -- that last great challenge on our journey through life. Thus, our current continued practice of finding issues worth pondering and discussing is a remote preparation for eternal learning. Besides, if we are satisfied with the current situation, there is something wrong with us and that will make us accountable for not doing enough to help improve matters.
Prayer: Lord, keep us aware of what needs to be confronted and never allow the barriers of people or lack of time or energy to
Appearance after October rains.
October 14, 2012 Easier for a Camel to Pass through a Needle's Eye
Do we tend to forget, overlook, or find an excuse for the rest of Jesus' quote found in today's title, "than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God"? The crowd was amazed; the disciples were distraught; the followers of prosperity Christianity who take Scripture literally scramble for answers. The conclusion is that all things are possible with God, but that does not lessen the impact of the quoted phrase itself. None of us have ever seen camels slipping through needles' eyes nor do we expect to.
Do we take Jesus seriously? As with all Scripture, our major efforts ought to be to learn the context of the remark, not the act of plucking it out of context. The focus is not to enlarge needles or slim down camels; the point is to regard the hurdles coming with the wealth that hindered the serious person who approaches but could not follow Jesus due to the burden of wealth. Jesus tells us that we can do many deeds well and yet the allurement of material things can color the deeper calling to follow him. Personal wealth is when individuals think they control their lives perfectly and forget that wealth has power of greed attached to it. The holder can be fooled. Jesus reminds us that following him means taking our frailty and associated dangers seriously and seeing how easily we make wealth into gods of worship.
Is there something wrong with being rich? This answer may disturb you, but think about it! There's nothing wrong with wealth if controlled in common; much is wrong with individually held wealth, if one is fooled into thinking he can control it ALONE, namely by becoming and remaining rich. Unfortunately, the permissive regulations and enforcement procedures in our country are easy on the wealthy, even giving them tax breaks and tax rates below that of the ordinary citizen. Immense wealth is often regarded as "earned" by holders, and entire political parties and policies are purchased for such purposes. In response: there is much wrong with being individually rich in a material sense, but what is most wrong is that we fail to voice this publicly.
Is following Jesus easy? This goes to how we treat wealth within our hearts, namely, how open are our hearts to following the Lord who lived entirely for and with others as poor in spirit. When our eyes are set on the false security and glittering allurement of money we may find the answer to be quite difficult. Letting go of what we hold dear is part of the question facing the one aspiring to follow the Lord. Some construct their fool's paradise and seek to justify selfish motivations; they attend to observances of laws and customs as the rich man. However they are afraid of where the right way of acting will lead them, always to let go of their gods and to turn to the prompting of the Spirit.
Prayer: Lord, give us the grace to take material allurements seriously, to see how these allurements can lead us astray, and to
accept our individual roles in following you with all our hearts.
Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia, on goldenrods.
October 15, 2012 Hospitality, Friendliness, and Earthhealing
It was recently announced that Murray, Kentucky won the honor of being the 2012 designated "friendliest town in America." It is difficult to conceive of all that goes into determining such awards, but some judges had to do considerable traveling to come to right judgments. Kentuckians pride themselves in their hospitality as do others, but it does take effort by a community to create a welcoming atmosphere. Desert people in the Middle East are known for this practice, for unless one welcomes travelers, they may die without water. Because God has been generous and hospitable to us, we invite others into our shared lives with a special blessing. We get comfort recalling when accident occurred or we really needed something, strangers befriended us and helped us overcome our need. It was not our merits that allowed this hospitality, but rather the goodness of their hearts.
In India in 1988, two college students befriended me and acted as tour guides when I was inadvertently on a bus with Hindi pilgrims on a trip from New Delhi to Agra; they explained the shrines and even bought me a soft drink. To my protest they said that, when in America they will receive hospitality in return. Again, in the middle of West Virginia, when my truck broke down, it took several hours for roadside mechanics to finally get it going; they refused any payment, saying they would expect the same if needing help in Kentucky. Generosity and hospitality go hand-in-hand. In 2001, travelers who were stranded in Canada on flights back to the United States (when airports were closed due to the 9-11 attack) spoke of the immense hospitality of the residents of the Maritime Provinces.
General hospitality should be part of our trademark as a locality, a church community, a nation, and our Earth herself. To welcome another takes some effort, and yet it is most deeply appreciated. One minister puts barrels of water on the illegal migrant routes from Mexico through hot Arizona and is credited with saving numerous lives during the height of such trafficking a few years ago. Hospitality is ideal for immigrants, tourists, hard-luck travelers, wildlife, and anyone in a foreign place. It is in the depths of our religious commitment that we understand this demand to welcome others. When hospitality is refused to us, it hurts; when hospitality is offered, it is deeply appreciated.
Welcoming takes a little sensitivity knowing that the person is a stranger and in need of something. Anticipating this is seeing another who is hungry and the Lord judges our growth in sensitivity. "When Lord did I feed you when you were hungry?" In one way we were all strangers and guests and have been welcomed by the Lord. We are called to do godly deeds, even if we must go the extra minute or mile to do it. A friendly face means so much to others; we need to make this a habit of mind, heart and composure.
Prayer: Lord, you opened your heart to each of us while we
were still sinners. Help us to open ourselves to those in need.
Leftovers of the field corn harvest.
October 16, 2012 World Food Day and High-Priced Food
We watch the price of food very carefully in order to live within limited food budgets. The prices of even low-cost home prepared foods have risen in our local grocery stores dramatically in the last two years. Since 2010, a 32-cent can of peas now costs 68 cents; a $1.50 jar of peanut butter is now double. True, there are shortages of some foods due to fluctuating crop yields of specialty items, but some rises are now due to 40% of the American corn crop going to production of biofuels -- an abomination! Many buyers do not have the luxury to vary their foods, for these must live within limited means both in America and elsewhere. Food purchasing is difficult for people in countries where the staples of rice, flour, or cooking oil are no longer subsidized by governments.
Rising food prices are partly due to fuel costs, but when these go down it does not necessarily mean drops in food prices. A series of hidden causes need exposure so that at least all people can have adequate essential foods. The speculation by traders in food supplies is to be exposed and controlled at a global level. Subsidies by the world community must be allotted for unfortunate people such as those in West Africa who are suffering from drought and famine. In this world of rapid and accessible transportation and with a generous world supply of food, redistribution to those in dire need is a necessity -- and careless disregard is a crime against humanity. Hunger is not tolerable.
Nationally, there ought to be no hunger in this country in which high food costs threatens adequate nutrition for some. Worries occurred this past hot summer when during school vacation periods youth were denied snacks and lunches. Food surplus programs have been particularly hard hit by reduction in funding from those who have no true sense of what tax dollars ought to buy -- so the poor are often hit harder. Food stamps are now given to about fifty million Americans and are one answer to food shortages and higher prices. All in all, food stamps ought to be limited to foods of nutritional value and not for soft drinks and junk food.
Locally, we have our food problems. People come to our door mainly at the end of the month begging for food -- and they look like they need nutritious food. Only so much help can be given because of our limited funds. Expensive commercially prepared foods and fast foods cut into anyone's food budget and especially those of limited means. Wise purchases in quantity and types of foods that can be prepared at home (soups, salads and home-cooked main dishes) are ways to stretch the food budget. One of my parishes sponsors a weekly "Moms in the Morning" program -- and people learn to be wise purchasers and cooks. All Americans need to return to economic ways and learn from survivors of the Great Depression.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to budget food wisely and
teach others to do the same for their own nutritional wellbeing.
Ripened berries of the pokeweed, Phytolacca americana.
October 17, 2012 Obesity and Limiting Food Intake
This is not my favorite subject, because this calls my own eating habits into question. For me, the problem is not the type of food but the incessant quantity consumed over a span of time. This is a special temptation in localities where food is celebrated, well cooked with good aroma, and relatively plentiful and available. Add to this the problem of being around people who enjoy indulging in our regional food delights and live through times when local produce is plentiful even in drought years.
Overcoming the temptation to eat too much of good things takes will power and that is sometimes difficult for active people. However, the combination of good available food and a generated legitimate desire for enough food to do one's work and there develops a perfect "food storm" situation. We can exceed what we need and in doing so gain weight. Some weight gain may be tolerated, but not all, for almost half of the vulnerable American population is overweight. In fact, with current obesity so pervasive in our country, domestic airlines have been obliged to recalculate average weight of a passenger load.
Obesity is a plague of our nation and parts of our world affecting its sufferers with reduced mobility and associated heart conditions, diabetes, gout, and a variety of digestive and allergy problems. When corn and soybean crops are harmed by drought, Americans could respond by curbing food intake, but ours is a land where food is a relative lower portion of our total budget. Perhaps we ought to conserve for the sake of a hungry world, and especially with the frightening statistic that about one-and-a-half million Americans go to bed hungry for lack of available food. While the tendency to overeat is a plague, it can be handled successfully with sensitivity and cooperation by individual victims and their associates and with prodding from doctors and others.
The difficulty with eating disorders is that a good appetite in among a healthy supply of good foods is salutary. Lingering too long amid such plenty and with less than perfect self-control can be a hurdle that requires will power. I note that when at potlucks and feasts some cooks watch to see that I take some of their specialties, and so to oblige I take a little of everything to make everyone happy. Good as far as it goes, but in short order I can exceed normal limits and that is a concern of weight watchers.
One solution to regain will power is to fast at least some period each month, and try to live on only liquids for a day at a time. This is a helpful resolution that can be kept if well planned in advance and without available tempting foods to entice the fasting person. Fasting has many salutary effects, but done for the good of a hungry world can make us more global in our food outlook, and more sensitive to those who cannot afford good food.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see and enjoy the good things of
life such as food, but to do so respectfully and with temperance.
Among the oldest rocks in Kentucky, with travertine. Clays Ferry, KY.
October 18, 2012 Non-Partisan Politics versus Fierce Partisanship
In this election year, traditional by-partisanship concerning environmental issues since Nixon Administration days has been fractured. This is partly due to strong anti-environmental legislation by a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. In fact, as reported by Congressmen Waxman and Markey the House has voted in anti-environmental measures 247 times in the last 18 months including 109 times to enrich Big Oil. This is besides the fact that most tea party members deny climate change has human causation. It is hard for someone who cherishes our Earth to stay politically neutral during this year. However, here are some principles, because no slate of candidates is perfect.
Principle One: Know your own general political policy stance.
Principle Two: Listen to what politicians and party platforms say and, when vague, ask for clarification. Be open for changes depending on the personalities and abilities of the candidates. If watching the candidate in person or even on television or Internet,
observe carefully body language and how issues are addressed.
Principle Three: Weigh matters according to Social teachings concerning protection of the Common Good, the right to life in its full and extended form, the vitality of the democratic process, and all our constitutional freedoms.*
Principle Four: In arriving at voter choice, some benefit is obtained by seeking discussion and advice from those who are trusted to be in tune with such political matters.
Principle Five: Extend the discerning process to others who are omitting or taking less time in performing their civic duty of studying the candidate positions and records.
Principle Six: Make proper choices, and determine to vote. Find means to travel or to mail in a ballot. Only in the rarest of circumstances should one cast a blank ballot.
Prayer: Lord, we ask for the wisdom to help others in choices needed to elect the best people to help govern our troubled land.
* The extraordinary impact of anonymous money that is used to disparage candidates and interweave policy with concrete advocacy is influencing the lazy and gullible to such an extent that big money buys elections and allows the super-rich to determine winners. This phenomenon that has been triggered by the 2010 Supreme Court Citizen United decision has cast a dark shadow on the entire democratic election process today. In the light of such heavy public weighing for or against specific candidates, questions must be asked in order to find where candidates fit with respect to a certain important policy issue.
Mid-October peak foliage coloration in Kentucky. Laurel Co., KY.
October 19, 2012 The Agony of a Dying Language
Thrice in the past four years we have discussed the need to address dying languages (half of the world's seven thousand in this century): "Preserve Languages" (5/16/08),"Alsatian" (9/13/10), and "Language Revitalization and the Commons" (1/27/11). All three were based on rationalistic arguments with an emphasis on our earthhealing efforts to preserve threatened and endangered species; this must be extended a fortiori to human cultural structures as well. Certainly, some efforts are being made as a June 21, 2012 headline that read "Google fights to save 3,054 languages."
"The Death of a Language" in National Geographic (July, 2012) gives a different approach worth emphasizing. This borders on a personal approach to struggling language groups and takes us into the lives of people in three endangered language groups. It involves the heroic efforts on the part of some to give these endangered languages new life and allow readers to see the agony of people facing a dying language. Perhaps this approach may enhance respect for struggling tongues; it triggers compassion for those last survivors in their utter loneliness when the culture so dear to them cannot be carried on because no one cares to do so.
Imagine the loneliness of a dying language's last speaker. Estimates are that two such occurrences happen each month on this planet. Dying is never easy, and is our ultimate battle in mortal life. However, surrounded by loved and caring persons who desire to carry forth a memory gives comfort to a dying person. However, agony is greater for a person with use of mind who recalls the richness that was expressed in younger years among family and friends in a tongue now no longer shared. This creates a terrible onus on the part of last survivors. No one will follow and laugh or express themselves in the poetic ways of that language pattern.
Comfort of the dying could occur when the person knows others are willing to regard their fading tongue as a treasure worth preserving. The threatened language expresses reality in ways that other tongues never captured -- and thus endangered culture is worth preserving. Comfort comes with effort to record the language while final remnant populations are in good health, and thus posterity has a trace to the endangered cultural past. Still, far more comfort comes from neighbors and local youth who rap in the dying language and thus revitalize it and give it new life.
Earthhealing involves more than restoration for the future.
It includes recognizing the valuable expressions of the past, even those that may not be made spontaneously again. We have ways of memorializing our past through preserved records. The agony of a dying language should not be discarded or overlooked but call our attention to the inherent value of these threatened languages. It is part of having respect for the serious sick and dying.
Prayer: Lord, teach us that nothing is lost. Help us respect
global threatened languages as treasures worth preserving.
October 20, 2012 Kateri: Lily of the Mohawks/Patroness of Ecology
Tomorrow in Rome the Mohawk drums will sound through the hallowed halls of St. Peters. The first Native American from the Northern Hemisphere, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, will be canonized, and she is one with a rare title of a flower (lily). This 17th-century maiden has been blessed by God in special ways, for her life was one of singular devotion to prayer and good works. Since her death a number of miracles have been attributed to her intercession, including a boy with hearing impairment and a man, after losing sixteen vertebrae and other complications in an accident, is able to walk again.
Kateri had a hard life. She was born in 1656 in a Mohawk village near Auriesville, New York. Her mother was an Algonquin Christian and her father was a pagan tribal chief. In 1660 a terrible smallpox epidemic swept through the area and Kateri lost both parents and was left facially scarred for life along with impaired vision. She was raised by an uncle near present day Fonda, New York. She became a Catholic at age 18 but received threats and ridicule in the village due to her vow not to marry.
In 1677 she fled to St. Francis Xavier de Sault, a Christian Indian settlement in Quebec and lived her few remaining years. Her simple life included teaching children, tending to the sick and elderly, fasting, and attending religious services. An additional ecological practice was to make little crosses and to place them in the woods among the trees, her prayer stations. She took private vows but was denied an opportunity to start a religious community. Her ill health drained her and she died in 1680 at 24 and is buried in Kalinawake near Montreal.
Like St. Theresa, the Little Flower, Kateri is a source of special favors since her death. In fact, recovery from a serious operation of one of our parishioners could be attributed to Brenda's devotion to Kateri, whose name she took at her Easter Confirmation. Special favors by God manifest the closeness of the community of saints with us here on Earth, and shows the depth of our mission as members of the Body of Christ. Amazingly, those saints who are most exemplary are often very simple illiterate folks like Kateri. God's power unfolds!
Prayer of St. Kateri Tekakwitha
God of all creation, goodness and mercy, our hearts are filled with gratitude and praise for you. In our beloved St. Kateri you have found gentleness and peace. In her you have heard once more "Jesus, I love you." In St. Kateri Tekakwitha you have given your Church a new maiden of the Gospel for your Son.
As the indigenous peoples of North America celebrate her goodness, and all the Church honors her holiness, we raise our voices in praise and joy. You have given us a gift beyond all measure, and we ask you to help us celebrate this treasure as we live holy and peace-filled lives in your name.
Prayer by Friar Mark Steed, OFM Conv.
Crossvine, Bignonia capreolata. Carter Co., KY.
October 21 2012 Comfort the Afflicted; Afflict the Comfortable
The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve.
I confess I did not make up the title of this reflection, and hope it doesn't have a trademark. In fact, it could be a motto for those who seek to follow Christ. Note that the rich man goes away disappointed because he has riches and finds them most comforting. Jesus shows mercy and love; he comforts the afflicted. Each time he encounters a blind or afflicted person, Jesus addresses the situation through healing deeds. He is sensitive because he is one with the poor and identifies with them, becoming poor like each of us in his ministry.
Comfort the afflicted. Jesus gives comfort and that is very evident, but he acts in healing ways that are beyond our powers. We, who are called to heal in less dramatic ways, regard comfort as something to give as a pastor, but always with a sense that it is never perfectly adequate. However, let us not minimize our own powers; we are empowered to comfort and must be humble about the limits of what we can do. We strive to imitate the Lord in the way we can; we regard our striving within limits of God working in and through us; we do not take pride in our achievements; we are confident that success will occur long after we are gone.
Afflict the comfortable. Last week we read about a person of great wealth who obeys the basic commandments, but he has not reached to a deeper level of solidarity with God, namely giving up his wealth and becoming poor in order to follow Jesus. He does not see that part of following the Lord is to help establish the Kingdom of God. His is a story of partial success, a story of sadness coming over the countenance of the rich man; he becomes afflicted. Jesus never uses harsh words or threats; he looks steadily at the inquiring man and loves him for goodness being manifested. The discomfort is caused by confrontation within the person, a demand to retain wealth when spiritual success is actually elsewhere. Thus, the man with all the contentment of self-righteousness and wealth suddenly finds that this does not ensure continued comfort. It is more comforting to suffer with others in this world -- to be with Jesus.
Our application of this passage can make us uneasy, upset, and discomforted. Do we not live in an age of great affluence when even some of the lower income have indoor plumbing, air conditioners, space heating, and adequate supplies of food? What about security that we take for granted, and means of travel far more comfortable than those nobles had two centuries ago? Are we willing to follow Jesus and forego the comfort of the present living standards for the glory of God? Are we willing to confront others when affluence triggers insensitivity and threatens their eternal life? Difficult question! Promising Answer!
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be of service in following Jesus.
Taking time to appreciate the intricate nature of the forest floor.
October 22, 2012 Practicing Meditation in a Busy World
October is generally a busy month doing the ordinary things of life, performing autumn tasks, and preparing for winter months. Do we have or take time to stop and reflect -- and take the daily sabbaticals that are as needed on an everyday basis?
Meditation as sacrifice. Some part of the day ought to be specifically reserved for the Lord even if we strive to "pray always" in rather informal ways. Sacrificing a period of time to the Lord shows that we are not the master of our time, but must regard all as gift from God -- and some periods of time ought to be made more holy than others as a sign of awareness of gifts.
Planned but not concretely set in time. Much depends on the way each of us sets up our day. I confess it is hard without reserving some period in the early hours for the time span of "meditation." This is true even if not rigidly assigned either as to span or a definite part of the schedule. Praying in a special manner each day is important, though some more rigid planners may actually block off meditation time on their schedule. Busy people will read a passage of Scripture at a given period of the day -- and that is good. President Lincoln would do this on a daily basis, even on the day he was shot. For some of us, rigid scheduling could be quite burdensome and repressive.
Subject matter is not rigidly set. Some may meditate in a very special way each day and have determined the manner that suits them best and the specific subject matter. A blessed peace of mind beckons. Others of us may be methodical in some portions and not in others. I like to use the Scripture passages of the day's regular liturgy, and then focus during the weekend on the Sunday themes either in anticipation on Saturday or in post-reflection on Monday. Again, this is one approach. The emphasis is on choosing what suits each person's way of meditating.
Formal posture. Formal posture is regarded by some as better suited for success than informal posture, but here again choice is left to the individual. Generally formal beginnings and endings are regarded by the masters of spiritual life as important guideposts to follow. Setting aside meditation time along with a generous heart are the major components. Over-rigidity in the way we stand, sit, stroll, kneel, or adapt a yoga position is not as important as placing ourselves before God for a time period each day. Even the placement can take on a righteous character. God gives us the space to create our heart in a special way -- and meditation is the time to do this. Placing our hearts always before the disposal of God is what is sought as the end of meditation -- not the embellishments wherein observers would regard each of us a proper performer.
Prayer: Lord, help us to reserve the time, focus our minds, and keep occupied in meditation to the best degree possible. Help
us make this as a willing sacrifice of our busy day.
Red fox family (Vulpes vulpes), Montana.
October 23, 2012 Polling Numbers: What Do They All Mean?
Many of us are skeptical about polls and yet we know they do capture a mood of a people. However, what triggers the mood is a deeper question, for polling has something to do with voting results. Have you ever been asked a question and the phrasing of the question presets the answer, though in truth we have never really given any time on this issue? How many voters preparing to vote have come to choice through polling questions either liked or despised? Yes, polls may work or being over-polled may hurt.
Polling is big business. Polls show that in large numbers, people favor environmental protection, renewable energy, good government, enlightened leaders, purchase-free elections, national security, drug-free areas, physical exercise, sportsmanship in games, and on and on. The favoring does not necessarily reflect how the polled person always behaves regarding these issues.
Disadvantages. So often we read or listen to definitive matters being commented upon by "experts" on political or economic issues; they preface their remarks by quoting polls that can be taken seriously or not. However, this gives the false impression that the opinion expressed is solidly based on fact, but what fact? Polls have their inherent disadvantage; they give the impression that what is happening is properly recorded, but it may not be. Answers may be from people wanting to satisfy pollsters. Polls do reflect changing opinion, but this may mean that many people are influenced by immediate news accounts. Polls may show current trends but these may have little long-term value -- even how the voter will cast a ballot next week.
Advantages of polls. Let's refrain from being cynical about polls, for a more neutral stance allows us to learn much from them. Sometimes the generalized opinion is transitory but polling may be a wake-up call. In some cases we are led to believe that our opinions are those of the majority, but some polling can bring on a streak of reality. We may think that elections are foregone conclusions but they are not. Shifting polls make us aware that opinions are in flux. Polls may prepare us to fit into certain categories of people, something we either welcome or despise. We may accept our status, or we may shift our own position more in line to a more socially acceptable category.
Polls are limited. Perhaps people take polls as too set in stone, and they fail to see polling limitations. A passing opinion may prove that an issue is either popular or dead, but it does not prove everything about what we think next week. Polling is scientific if the poll is collected using the canons of good questions along with proper statistical gathering. A wise person has something more to say on a subject than a million with flighty opinions based on a poorly phrased question.
Prayer: Lord, let us see what is ahead with the clarity of
faith, and not through visions dictated by shifting opinion.
Vivid red of a fresh strawberry.
October 24, 2012 Focus on Food Day, 2012
All too often we overlook our responsibility to feed the hungry -- a prime focus on Judgment Day. The hot summer day when this was first drafted two folks came to the door for food; the month was coming to an end and their food stamp supplies had run out. It strikes me that in this land of plenty no one should be without the basic food for life -- not prepared foods and not junk foods, but basic food that yields good nutrition and a filled stomach. But why stop in this country? We are brothers and sisters to hungry people throughout the world. Let's focus on basic global food needs on this Food Day:
Global food quantity. We look at food as though the stores are filled and all a person has to do is go in and buy it. But we awaken to basic economics that some folks lack money to buy high- priced foods that now adorn the grocery shelves -- and especially in this year of massive drought in our heartland. Corn for food for hungry people competes with mandated corn for fuel for our wasteful vehicles. When human needs persist and the supply to satisfy these needs dwindles, we can only expect that prices will continue to rise as people try to live on a few dollars a day.
Global food quality. It takes more than cracked corn to feed a hungry world. Some of this grain must be converted to protein to satisfy the complete nutritious needs of growing world young and old alike. Nutritional education is only as good as the availability of the foods to fill the hungry mouths. In fact, it takes a combination of research, education, proper economic conditions, and cultural sensitivity to satisfy nutritional needs. For instance, soybeans can be delivered in many ways that are in keeping with cultural traditions of hungry people, but this demands available soybeans -- another victim of the 2012 severe drought in America, the world's major exporter.
Global food policy. A world that can supply its basic needs closer to home is a safer and more secure one. Grow food locally where possible. Too many of the world's resources are put into military hardware and infrastructure for security. Only a fraction of that one-and-a-half trillion dollar military budget could be better spent in enhancing small farmer needs in Africa, Asia and Latin America. That is security! Why millionaires and billionaires when a billion people are without proper food? Why such inequality when we have the citizen's power to initiate change by voting for leaders who think globally and not just satisfying their back yard? In this age of higher food prices it is unthinkable that some want to cut food stamps while not taxing the super-wealthy far more. Our nation was at its finest when the rich people were taxed at 92% after the Second World War. We need Marshall Plan-type programs for the world's small food producers, but we must expose tax havens and bank accounts of the rich.
Prayer: Lord, give us a generous spirit as we prepare to vote. Let us remember the hungry and remind candidates to do the same.
Eumeces laticeps, broadhead skink, Woodford Co., KY.
October 25, 2012 Aurora, CO & Bearing Arms in a Permissive Society
While the movie house was packed for a premier of a somewhat violent film, a half-crazy person entered and opened fire using an arsenal of weapons and ammo that he had acquired legally. For a split moment the audience was confused by the gunfire on the screen and that of real life, as seven dozen people were killed or wounded before their eyes. Just how many in this addicted land will see the connections here is a mystery, some three months after the tragic incident at Aurora, Colorado.
All Americans find fault with a deranged individual who goes to excess because he does not know how to control himself in a semi-deranged society that permits guns and depictions of extreme violence in the media. Can we expect the entire society to exercise balance when it does not know how to balance the use of deadly weapons? We all wonder about how we are to change our conduct to meet the needs of gun-loving people. We are not allowed to say that enough guns are enough, and that a muzzle-loading previous generation had no knowledge that "bearing arms" within a community could be interpreted as an individual's right to carry automatic weapons with thousands of ammo rounds.
One solution is that the license to bear arms may be held only by law enforcement officers and professional guards who have access to such ammo. In other words, all these high-powered guns American homes could not be collected and destroyed, but the ammo would be severely limited. Even hunters would be allowed only a few bullets per year. One wise father would only allow his son to go hunting with one bullet. "Now bring us home a deer." To bear arms is one right; to be able to have limitless projectiles is another. Society controls must extend to individual practice. "No fair!" screams the Gun Lobby. A misinterpreted second amendment of our Constitution triggers them to tout the "right for individuals to bear arms" and forget that the document was written with a cooperating community in mind. The framers had no sense of automatic weapons or a selfish generation demanding all sorts of rights be permitted, even for those who are mentally unbalanced. Amazingly, in these permissive times those in the latter category are not hindered from purchasing arms or ammo on the Internet, for weak enforcement laws do not stop them. Only 844 of Kentucky's 35,461 mental cases are on the no-purchase list.
America must wake up. We do not have individual rights to automatic or high-powered weapons, no matter how much profit is in gun manufacture and sales. Our nation can have better ways to improve the economy than to invest such sizeable sums in military expenditures. People are triggered by the virtual violence to act in strange ways, and violent incidents will only increase if we do not take strong measures to control weapons and ammo within the general public. Rights do not mean license to do as one pleases.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us as a nation to come to our senses on such matters as critical as the ownership and use of guns.
Hickory, Carya ovata, Bernheim Arboretum and Forest.
October 26, 2012 Hickory Nuts and Labors of Love
Among some of the most pleasant Autumn Sunday outings that I remember in youth was that of a family trip to the mountains to gather hickory nuts. It was not just any old hickory nut, for we lived in hickory nut/oak forests and wanted the larger shag-bark variety that were easier to hull and extract the kernels. We had some hickory-nut trees near our home but they were smaller nuts or what we call "pignuts" and were difficult to extract the edible portion once cracked (a tough enough job).
This extractive facility was of deepest importance because Mama had her favorite hickory nut cakes that were baked in the autumn and apportioned to a select list of those relatives and friends who delighted in her baking finesse. Each of the recipients was fully aware of this labor of love and the amount of time it took to crack the nuts and extract the kernels. The amount of time made a pound of hickory nut meats extremely valuable and something you hardly ever found on the market. Recall that this tedious task was far more difficult than picking meats out of thin shelled English walnuts.
Mama's secret was not so much in the baking but in the economy of time needed to crack and extract the kernels. She became expert in cracking the nuts open but not crushing the compartments so that it would be impossible to extract the edible ingredients. She used a ball peen (machine's) hammer and a flat iron for the base on which to rest the nut; then followed days of work picking out the kernels from the cracked nuts.
Mama's hickory nut cake recipe is as follows:
one pound of sugar
one pound of real butter
one-half tumbler of apple brandy (five ounces)
one pound white raisins
one pound of flour
ten whole eggs
one-and-a-half pounds of hickory nut kernels
one-and-a-half teaspoon nutmeg.
Cream butter and sugar until light; add egg yolks beaten separately, then add nutmeg. Stir in apple brandy, stir in all but one-half cup of flour (to flour nuts and raisins). Add them to the batter. Beat egg whites until stiff; fold in batter. Pour in mold ten-inches in diameter and four-and-a-half inches in depth. Bake two and a half hours at 200 degrees F. Cover cake pan with brown paper sack material cut to fit in the pan; grease paper on both sides with a little lard and place in pan. Cake can be covered with caramel icing.
Prayer: Lord, teach all of us the patience required to perform labors of love, and to appreciate the work of those who do.
Leaf of the American sycamore tree, Platanus occidentalis.
October 27, 2012 When Sober News Becomes Good News
We are missioned to preach the Good News, namely that the Lord is risen and has gone before us.
We observe competing news outlets seeking our attention, for a barrage of 24-7 news is coming from North, East, West, and South through a diversity of outlets. Secular news that is beneficial and focuses our attention on our civic duties is "good news;" that which dissipates us and entices us to lower allurements is not.
Being enquiring people we seek news at times from various sources, listening, reading, and absorbing some that is worthwhile and some merely titillating at best. Some supposed secular "good" news" is directed to enlisting our support for questionable causes; some entices us to buy or subscribe for our material benefit. In due time, we decide that we limit our own access to news as to time, place, and media variety. The all-gathering format of the Internet can even calculate what we watch and for how long, and thus attempts to entice us to the insatiable search for further allurements.
We can divide both good spiritual and secular news into some that is comforting and some that is at least temporarily disturbing. In rare cases we gravitate to sobering news (the 9-11 attack) because it involves our safety and wellbeing. We prefer to talk about sober news, or that which makes us think and change our ways. While we normally turn to comforting news, we soon discover that this is not always the news in which we benefit. Sobering news beyond rare emergencies is harder to catch our attention.
Sobering news that is received with full attention and humility can be of immense benefit provided that it goes beyond being a threat or arousing guilt. We are called to take on the prompting of the Good Spirit, and that is when we make those inner discoveries that can improve our lives. Someone is persuaded to hear a good speaker and the message sinks in and changes the way that person acts and lives. It is the trigger that makes us think; it is truly good news, though perhaps discomforting when delivered.
Our nation and world needs these moments of sobering news, but are we courageous enough to deliver hard messages? Unless we change our ways, we could do irreparable damage to our fragile Earth. The call is not for a momentary change, but for all of us inspired by God to be bearers of sobering Good News. How do we do this in the limited time at our disposal? We have competition; we are limited in outlet as well as attention span in among the hawking commercial media. "Buy and save!" And consumer indebtedness grows. Only with God's help can we pause and reflect on which news outlet to select and for how long.
Prayer: Lord, we know you want us to hear and deliver Good News; give us the courage to know and deliver sobering information
and to pray that it is well received.
Spider finds rays of sun on chilly autumn day.
October 28, 2012 Faith and Begging for Divine Help
Master, I want to see! (Mark 46-52)
I stumble in the dark when I attempt to blindly move forward on my own alone and without assistance. As our eyesight fades, we realize our weaknesses and that mobility might sometimes require guidance and direction. Our individual powers of self-subsistence are simply not permanent. We become blinded physically, intellectually, emotionally, or mentally and find our mobility impaired in a fast-moving world demanding precise responses.
Like Bartimaeus in the Gospel passage today, we blurt out a prayer begging to see the road ahead, the problems challenging us, and the decisions demanding emotional and mental balance. We are in need and know it; we turn to God in our utter privation. Are we as some would say unable to lift ourselves up by our bootstraps? But isn't that physically impossible? Don't we need assistance? We need God's help and, in due time with humility, frankly admit it. This is a rather elementary article of faith, for too many in this world fool themselves amid their supposed self-sufficiency.
Scripture involves numerous travelers coming to faith and striving to do so with the help of divine grace. People need faith and strive to assemble as a people who must come together and pray with each other -- for acting alone is not only frightening but wrong-headed. The world of competition for the power to do so many individual feats, or to pretend one can, is in need of a shaking up. We are not alone, not are we supposed to be. Being with others is at the heart of congregating such as the birds that are flocking together at this time. Within community resides strength.
Grouping of animals tell us naturally what we find hints of on the spiritual level. Ours is an age of strident individualism and some candidates for office compare themselves with others as though the battle is of one individual against another, when neither are able to do much ALONE. We need to turn attention in our choices to associate with those who can be more interactive in what they do and say. We work best when working in cooperative endeavors.
Let us face our blindness, not as individuals such as poor Bartimaeus, but through prayer to attain union with the Lord. Faith then is the quest from solitary isolation to sharing and community, from isolated addictions to cooperative rehabilitation and overcoming temptation. Those enticing pathways of the evil spirit must be rejected. Bartimaeus is blunt in his prayerful plea, for in seeing he will be able to unite more fully with others. In truth, some with forms of blindness will not receive a miracle that cures eye problems, but in praying for help they will inevitably receive the assistance needed to carry on; they will gain an attitude that will allow them to inspire others.
Prayer: Lord, grant that I might see how others are assisting me in so many ways. Allow me to surrender fierce independence as
part of maturing faith journey and to unite more closely with you.
Aromatic aster, Aster oblongifolius, on rehabilitated Kentucky pasture.
October 29, 2012 Job and Acceptance of God's Will
Naked I came from my mother's womb,
naked I shall return.
YHWH gave, YHWH has taken back.
Blessed be the name of YHWH!
All life is a gift from God and we marvel that we are part of this. In receiving life, we graciously accept this gift of breath and a beating physical heart. We know life is not due to our own undertaking, for we are naked at the beginning and will leave this mortal life in the same condition. What we have all the while is both a vital spirit of gratitude and an opportunity to create a new heart. Job gives us the words that are worth repeating so often in that rugged span of time when we enjoy good times and endure bad ones, all part of that creative process.
Control freaks are sadly mistaken. We undoubtedly meet people who are supposedly in command of all aspects of their own lives: their family affairs, commercial transactions, plans for the year, and professional advancement. Then suddenly something happens and they are visibly shaken by the unexpected. One such Christmas letter of family achievement abruptly ended the year a son of a success-oriented family committed suicide. Foremost in the minds of those who do not learn is how they can compensate and regain control, and in a non-condescending manner we must gently inform them that God is in control.
Accepting God's will appears at first to be an easy task, for words flow easily and no one will publicly object. However, gladly accepting God's will can be difficult. Suddenly prayers seem hard to fashion and we wonder if anyone is listening, but amid the desolation a light dawns. Easter is always empowering. The moment is often described, really a variation on our recurring current theme of "In God We Trust." The world fumbles about and is hesitant to surrender for that seems to be a sign of weakness. Once opening to God, spiritual empowerment follows.
God is in charge. To accept God's role is a lifetime's work, for only then do we begin to discover the first shadows of God's presence in our midst. Job discovered his place amid the good and the bad times; so ought we. Mishaps become opportunities for progress and thus, in seeing what these are, we discover the invitation to help establish the reign of God on this troubled Earth. Yes, God is totally in charge of the world around us, and we are his humble workers both individually and in community. We strive to work with a renewed spirit; we call this over into our upcoming election choices. We try to find others who are aware of our national motto, "In God we trust." We encourage all we meet to consider surrendering to God's will.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to find you in all things, and to reaffirm that you control our individual and collective destinies.
Seeds of the white snakeroot.
October 30, 2012 Tax Havens: Worse Than We Thought
Do vast tax havens exist? (See March 7, 2012) During July the Tax Justice Network issued a report stating that the amount of assets that the world's super-rich hold in tax havens range from $21 to up to $32 Trillion (more than the GDP of the United States). This unbelievable sum far exceeds the $13 trillion quoted earlier in writings. Information for these new estimates was taken from data available from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, United Nations, and large banks. For all intents and purposes this is not necessarily tax evasion (illegal activities), but rather more legally fashioned tax avoidance -- but it ought to be illegal. The total avoided taxes could amount to a quarter of a trillion dollars, so needed for cash-strapped governmental agencies. Donations to tax-exempt organizations could include tax avoidance but assets transferred to another group are no longer under the control of the avoider of the taxes.
Is this piracy of the commons? The tax haven is more than a slight of hand trick; it is a willful disregard for responsibility to the nation(s) where the assets were generated and the owner dwells, and thus returnable to the commons from which it was taken. We regard financial resources as ultimately part of the commons, and so any act that channels this for private gain needs to be justified by the steward of wealth. But when the materials obtained either legally or otherwise are turned into an excessive power-based private and privileged advantage, then the equality and common good of the world community is damaged. White-collar piracy has resulted and is allowed to go unchecked.
Why the problem? Globalization, the power of accumulating wealth and easy transfer of wealth, allows the flow of financial resources across national boundaries to areas of low or no taxes and hidden or absent accountability. The tax haven is a place of far lower or no restriction and where the money is stored or used in a controlling or irresponsible fashion by the "owner" who sequestered wealth and removed it from fair taxation. Mobility in resource-transfer allows for such imbalances, and thus taxes of billions are avoided by clever possessors and financial advisors.
What is the solution? A global government enforcement agency ought to exist to regulate the flow of finances and put a halt to tax havens. (Some may object, but it must be done to ensure global justice). The injustice of wealth accumulation and retention in such forms as tax havens could be directly challenged by a new United Nations watchdog agency. Transparency of those who frequent tax havens leads to the possibility of fair taxation. Controlled globalization is utterly necessary; the sooner the better. Yes, as stated in our March reflection, TAX HAVENS MUST BE ABOLISHED.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to address the super-wealthy privateers who take from the commons and then are legally able to hide their ill-gotten goods in out-of-reach places.
A natural bouquet of leaves.
October 31, 2012 October Ends: Sic Transit Gloria
Glory struts a moment, but like October passes on;
its fading is a fleeting night-traveler's dream,
like untried soldiers in battle parade.
Colorful glory passes as fast as green summer tones
changing before our eyes into fall's earthy rainbow:
red, yellow, crimson, and gold.
Fluttering leaves are a new season's venue,
heralding a foreboding naked-forested November
through clouds of Halloween ghosts and witches.
Halloween is before us but the way we treat it depends in part on what we profess in belief. Do we fear death as something spooky and filled with denial by frightened immature minds, or do we take a more balanced stance, a philosophical view that mortal life is transitory and only the love we generate has eternal value? Love lasts because it is godly and spiritual and far different from material values. Metals rust, garments become moth-eaten, wood rots, and middle age gives way to seniority. In looking back we discover the rapid passing of years and wonder why it went so fast? Only love remains. Foreboding has a reason: we have lost opportunities to love all the deeper, but know beyond the flutter of leaves to the ground that love lost can still be gained in the few remaining fleeting moments of life.
The saints are marching on. Today prepares us for tomorrow's All Saints Day. Today we look back to hidden depths and angst-laden missteps of yesteryear, but there is a movement we can barely detect, the marching of unnamed legions of saints in parade. Ghosts of the past and yet they are real today -- spooky ghosts or lively happy ones. We recall our acquaintances who have passed on. Their memories even when fading still give us courage, for we see that their glory of freshness of mortal life faded, but their loving acts remained. They give us courage, reminding us in their relatively short span on this planet of the shortness of our own.
Glory will return. With autumn fading, we look ahead to winter with its own glimmers of hope. Glory has passed but we are still breathing. Like the good thief on the cross, we can still call out for help. We have a few moments left and we know the power of prayer sincerely sent. We believe in that power, that firm commitment of a loving God. Faith in the Resurrection is renewed on this last day of October, for the pleasures of our past faded along with the missed opportunities. So be it! October fades with its passing color and that is natural. But the parade also has a spiritual flavor and the passing promenade parade has a joyful ring that goes beyond ghosts and goblins. Two worlds of images clash and compete for our attention. Death and decay or an invitation to eternal light. Happy Halloween!
Prayer: Glory to you, Lord, and only you. October's natural glory passes but allows us to see an invitation to eternal glory accentuated through loving deeds. Help us choose well.