Five-lined skink, Eumeces fasciatus
(photo by Walter Para, Stanton, KY)
July 1, 2019 Refrain from Optimistic Budgets
For many folks, today is the start of a new budget year -- but not for everyone. Some of us construct a half-year update that readjust the second half in light of what has transpired so far this year. One thing seems certain in these troubled times: optimists should construct budgets with greater caution, for they have a way of expecting revenue when it may not be present; also they expect expenses to be far less than they will be. We suffer all too often at the federal budgetary level because all optimists are elected to office and now see money sources and expenditures through rose-colored glasses. They shun those of us who say, "In reality we are heading towards bankruptcy UNLESS changes are made." We place great emphasis on the "unless" because we see the urgency of changing our current policies. Will the optimists do the best job? Face it, in twenty years, at present rates, social entitlement funds will consume 40% of our GNP.
Budget-makers ought to be deeply realistic and, if need be, compose a pessimistic and an optimistic budget; we ought always to look in both directions at the budgetary "stop sign." At times the government optimists seem to start up and hope nothing bad is coming. If citizens had their domestic house in order, they could talk meaningfully about national and global budget policy. On the home front and at local community levels we need to distinguish the difference between needs and wants; some find this hard because over time the "wants" grow into essential needs. Our grandparents hardly knew what electricity was and yet today some talk about the essential right to electricity or at least low-priced stuff.
National wants have a way of becoming needs. We hardly had a major navy of any sort 200 years ago, and yet today we welcome having our global bases and the title of "policemen the world." It cannot continue. Realists know this; others must learn it. We have to say NO to some expenditures, to adjust retirement ages, to confront global tax havens for the super-rich, to tax large banking bonuses, and to curtail rampant military spending stemming from unreasonable Pentagon and Congressional requests.
For many of us, budgets are like going to the dentist -- a necessary but painful experience. However we seldom talk about the pain of not knowing where we are going in absence of a budget. Unfortunately, much of the fiscal conservative frustration is related to uncontrolled governmental spending with no clear understanding of how to tax all fairly and especially the super-rich. This country is being called to come to its senses. The need for infrastructure improvement means we must have sources of income -- and these must come from those with billions. Budget-making is difficult, but some will have to pay more. We need clear vision and a sense of justice to meet the proper needs.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to play real budget games wherein we know how much we have, realize those who are truly in need, and re-allocate resources according to essential requirements.
Garden columbine flower for July color.
July 2, 2019 Make a Mid-Year Review in July
We are starting the second half of 2019. Where has the first half of the year gone? We realize that we can't walk backward in history, but rather we journey into the future. New beginnings always give us hope, and July is an opportunity for that. Yes, we can look ahead but not too far ahead at the horizon lest we stumble on the rocks on our journey. We need to question the current situation:
* Information overload -- Do I watch too much television or engage too heavily in the Internet? Do I read enough of a selective listing and not just browse?
* Consumer pressure -- Do I cave in to keeping an ear to the phones and email simply in the panic to keep always connected with my peers?
* Fidelity to goals -- Do I make monthly and weekly plans and live with them? Or do I prefer to float from day to day satisfied with the ordinary routine of life?
* Psychological balance -- Do I get enough rest each day and involve myself in leisure activities? Or does the pressure of work weigh me down and contribute to stress?
* Physical health -- Am I faithful to physical exercise, especially during the hot weather of summer? Or do I succumb to relax from the routine with just any excuse?
* Personal disposition -- Has summer increased my enthusiasm and positive outlook on life? Or am I dulled by the extra activities and postpone doing what has got to be done now?
* Peace of mind -- Do I let things that I cannot handle or change get me down? Am I willing to admit that this world is not perfect and we have to ride with the tide?
* Spiritual life -- Does hot weather have a way of interfering with my time to meditate and pray? Have I adjusted my life to meet the heat and humidity of July?
* Social life -- Do I make excuses for not meeting and joining others in projects that require cooperation? Do I encourage others to do what has got to be done?
* Civic life -- Do I make the excuse that I cannot be bothered with the local community, and thus sink into inaction and silence?
What about my response to national legislation pending right now?
Does Independence Day add to my patriotic endeavors?
* Pervasive attitude -- Am I thankful for all good gifts and is this all the more proper in this productive part of the year? Do I just take time to thank God for blue skies and green forests, for flowers and wildlife, and for my own existence?
* Self-knowledge and planning -- Do I end each day with a quick review of what has happened that day and ask pardon, give thanks and resolve to make tomorrow a better day?
Prayer: Lord, help me to prepare for the promises of tomorrow by observing honestly where I am right today. Give me strength to forgive myself for past indiscretions and to resolve to make the coming days better, just when 2019's second half starts at noon.
Solar panels at the Mary E. Fritsch Center, Appalachia - Science in the Public Interest. Livingston, KY.
July 3, 2019 Champion Solar Photovoltaics
The sun shine bright in my Ole Kentucky home -- and yet the air conditions in many homes hum in using fossil fuel-generated electricity. What a shame! Solar is the perfect way to add at this moment to the heavy demand for electricity at the precise time when the utilities strain to meet summer's added demand. Certainly the renewables are coming, but just not fast enough to stave off the threat of global warming that could lead to catastrophe, if not attended to intensely at all levels.
For decades, photovoltaic "solar cells" have been known to generate electricity directly when exposed to sunlight. The first generation of solar units were a single-crystal silicon variety. The second and later generations will be chemical coatings, which cost far less and are more versatile. Coatings and roofing tiles have been developed, which can be applied directly on new construction or retrofitted on existing buildings. In recent years we have observed shiny multi-colored arrays of silicon cells on roofs of buildings. Solar-produced electricity reduces the need for fossil-fueled powerplants and all the accompanying pollution and land disturbance in extracting the fuel. Useful energy not needed in the daylight can be stored in batteries for nights and rainy days. This saves energy from the connected grid.
For years the federal government's Million Solar Roof Program recognized that this energy delivery system need not be a major technological monopoly for power generators alone. Smaller decentralized efficient solar units are possible with proven solar technology. It is just that the devices are still expensive, but are moving to where they approach being price-competitive. Solar is versatile lighting homes, roads and paths, power appliances, charge solar electric cars, operate traffic signals (especially in remote places), pump water, and run ventilation fans.
In July, when the sun beats down and air conditioners hum, let's consider the need to accelerate the transfer to a renewable energy economy ASAP. In many parts of the country fossil-fueled powerplants are working at peak capacity risking rolling brownouts or blackouts. That is precisely when solar energy makes its maximum contribution to the utility mix of fuel sources. All the while, limited solar applications makes us aware to conserve our resources even when they are directly from the sun -- for equipment is costly and application comes with some effort. In many of our states fossil-fuel billionaires fund lobby efforts to halt integrated utility systems with "net metering" for solar systems. Your solar home system should not only have enough energy for local demands, but can run your meter in reverse when having a surplus. Utilities prefer to buy this back at wholesale rather than retail rates, but we realize that at these times the surplus energy needed would be more expensive for the utilities.
Prayer: Lord, encourage us to support solar sources of energy for, like water, energy is essential for our wellbeing and life.
Nature's fireworks. Cloud formations from cabin front porch.
July 4, 2019 Enhance American Independence through Sustainability
Today, the world is becoming more interdependent; in some ways this is a good thing, and in some ways bad. The unsustainable luxury demands of wealthier nations lead to a dependence on the unequal resources we demand. These sources can only be sustained through financial and military power. In fact, sustaining our unsustainable practices is an oxymoron, and the overly affluent are without a fair vision of what is socially just in our world.
Unsustainable individual conditions affect many, for they include substance abuse and living beyond one's means. The stumbling souls are certainly dependent on the good graces of others to get them out of the financial ditch -- a persistent dysfunctionality. However, upon closer inspection we note others who through no fault of their own, still must endure similar financial conditions. They chafe under the calloused critics' comments, "Let them go bankrupt and accept consequences." Many individuals who face home foreclosure did not deliberately choose unsustainable personal practices; quite often illnesses and lack of gainful employment have resulted in where they are now.
Unsustainable group or national policies are often harder to detect, acknowledge and remedy, and yet these have more far-reaching consequences. Culpability extends to the whole citizenry. Who wants to imagine the bankruptcy of a health insurance system or a retirement fund? Even such threats are regarded as unthinkable, and yet our general American lifestyle practices are unsustainable -- and who welcomes looming long-term problems. The fiction-laden mentality of many Americans defers longer-term problems to tomorrow, "after I am gone," "after my political term expires," or "after my loved ones are in the grave." "Why bother me?"
Unsustainable global environmental practices unfortunately are being imitated today at ever-increasing rates by over one billion people (mainly Asians) who have joined the middle class since the 1990s. We face emerging unsustainable global practices; small efforts at recycling do retard the increasing pollution and resource depletion of our world -- but they do not halt these practices. As others strive to imitate our nation, they accept similar unsustainable ways and cause dire global consequences in the form of increased global warming.
Sustainable lifestyles and national and global policies can still enhance a proper interdependence in our world; those living an ordered lifestyle and according to means are able to apportion excess resources and credit to others who are striving to make ends meet. A New World Order will allow us to share with materially-dependent folks who are victims of natural disaster, and thus we can attain a just resource interdependence, far better than an affluent "independence."
Prayer: Lord, teach us to live ordered and sustainable lives; make us more willing to do so on this Independence Day.
Power, Powerlessness and Change
We can have a democracy or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. We cannot have both.
Justice Louis Brandeis
For the month of July we intend to focus on the need for effective change in our American economic system. We must address a possible catastrophe due to climate change, which is humanly caused. Our goal is to enhance our democratic process to successfully challenge the crisis before us and reduce the impact of the climate change through a renewable energy economy where all people participate in the resulting benefits. This must also address the current economic system that champions massive wealth in the hands of a privileged few.
Furthermore, this is my initial answer to the shocking book, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells. I really do not disagree with the contents and factual information, only to how we must approach the problems before us. This response must have a spiritual content that confronts the evil around us and must expose the totally insufficient secular responses that will lead to despair and lack of hope in the future. A series of basic principles need to be proposed at the start of this discussion.
The transition process cannot be delayed. We will not review the climate change problems that are well known such as rises in ocean levels and increasing extreme weather conditions, for ample evidence is supplied elsewhere including by Wallace-Wells. What we do reaffirm is the urgency to act now and not delay. One recent writer speaks of focusing on change of individual hearts needed in the light of Pope Francis' Laudato Si letter before addressing climate change from a regulatory and technical standpoint. That misinterpreted suggestion is utterly wrongheaded advice. The urgency is so great we must attack the problem at all levels public and private; nature does not hesitate or postpone its reaction to misdeeds.
Participation is called for at all levels. Not only must we act now, but we must furnish our utmost effort to the task at hand. The fact is that the global participation called for at the Paris Climate Change Accord means that all the 200 participating nations must act as a community (truly a golden opportunity for unified action). The fact that the U.S. Administration fails to cooperate is what Jeffrey Sachs calls a crime against humanity. President Trump and company must be pressed to change this terrible barrier to unified action at a global level by the number one original cause of the elevated greenhouse gas levels. Nonetheless, many American states, cities and counties are taking necessary steps in a responsible manner. So must our federal government.
The participation must be civil and not violent. Any form of violence in this critical period will only set one party against another when all are needed to collaborate. Internal friction will delay the need for a smooth transition to where and when all benefit. Some recent transitions such as the "Velvet Revolution" (going from Communist to more democratic change) have occurred with a minimum of violence and yet have been highly successful. Respect for each other even amid cultural differences is imperative for internalizing and hastening the solving of the climate change crisis at an untried but necessary global level. Will it work?
Democratic process is favored. This type of government has proven more effective for encouraging widespread participation and for promoting benefits to everyone. On the one hand the coercive efforts of autocratic regimes can only have limited short-term effects and do not prepare the rank and file for a sound conservationist ethic needed to reduce the effects of global warming. This voice of all the people penetrates to the heart of participants and eases the pain of cutbacks needed for conserving resources and moving to a renewable energy economy. True democracy challenges selfish motivation. Furthermore the best methods to share resources need trial and error efforts and a democracy allows rapid feedback for obtaining lasting results.
Excessive capitalism is confronted. The above quote by Justice Brandeis almost a century ago conveys the common sense that all concerned citizens realize today. We cannot continue to have billionaires who are not paying their share while the infrastructure of this nation fails to support the renewable energy changes that are critical. It is highly disheartening for middle and lower class folks paying their fair share and the wealthy 1% spending their excess funds to ensure their status quo is left unaddressed. The new system should be decentralized and controlled by the people in a publicly accountable fashion. Fair taxation of both income and wealth is an absolute necessity and the privileged few who have profited from the fossil fuel economy must be brought into a functioning democracy. We must confront the "wealthy" and not regard them as a co-equal class, for arriving at compromises with the "poor;" we seek economic classlessness.
Stress on positive approaches is imperative. We realize that a very real catastrophe is possible and this problem is compounded by a growing global appetite for energy (e.g., private autos, air conditioning, electronic devices and air travel). Yes, renewable energy applications are occurring but not fast enough. Some books like The Uninhabitable Earth are factually shocking; still facts can be more fearful than stimulating and people can turn to denial, excuses or escapism for their psychological health. Positive actions over the next three weeks are directed to balancing secular and sound spiritual approaches. We seek to work together on a joint non-violent journey to systematic renewal. Excessive negativism at the face of doom is paralyzing; hope must be forthcoming and this involves a spiritual component with really no secular counterpart. The question must be raised as to whether our secular world will allow an authentic spiritual dimension?
The oxeye daisy, summertime Kentucky bloomer.
July 5, 2019 Counter Corporate Funds for Political Activities
It is most fitting on during Independence Day week to consider an area where our democracy is most threatened -- namely, the use of vast corporate financing for the election of people to political office and to fund public policy. A variety of strategies are now being proposed to address this wrongful court ruling including a statement by Public Citizen:
Whereas, the First Amendment to the United State’s Constitution was designed to protect the free speech rights of people, not corporations;
Whereas, for the past three decades, a divided United States Supreme Court has transformed the First Amendment into a powerful tool for corporations seeking to evade and invalidate democratically-enacted reforms;
Whereas, the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC overturned longstanding precedent prohibiting corporations from spending their general treasury funds in our elections;
Whereas, this corporate takeover of the First Amendment has reached its extreme conclusion in the United States’ recent ruling in Citizens United v. FEC;
Whereas, the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC will now unleash a torrent of corporate money in our political process unmatched by any campaign expenditure totals in United States history;
Whereas, the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC presents a serious and direct threat to our democracy;
Whereas, the people of the United States have previously used the constitutional amendment process to correct those egregiously wrong decisions of the United States Supreme Court that go to the heart of our democracy and self-government;
Now hereby be it resolved that we the undersigned voters of the United States call upon the United States Congress to pass and send to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment to restore the First Amendment and fair elections to the people.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to discover what is broken in our land and to help us work for justice by overturning the Citizens United decision for the benefit of all our people.
Indian hemp, Apocynum cannabinum.
July 6, 2019 Question the St. Francis Pledge's Completeness
With our deepening concern about the successful fulfillment of the Paris Climate Change Accord, all of us need to ask whether we are doing our part in bringing about a global green solution. Is merely taking vaguely worded pledges sufficient, for even when we do our part, we are not addressing the bigger issues? Are we only tweaking an addictive materialistic consumer system and addressing neither our own individual difficulties nor those of the global policy of mutually assured destruction of our planet? For instance, the following popular pledge that is moving about church circles is a perfect "cultural" -- not countercultural -- product, something that the radical Jesus may not find satisfying.
The St. Francis Pledge to Protect Creation and the Poor
* Pray and reflect on the duty to care for God's creation and for the poor and vulnerable;
* Learn about and educate others on the moral dimensions of climate change
* Assess our participation -- as individuals and organizations -- in contributing to climate change;
* Act to change our choices and behaviors contributing to climate change;
* Advocate Catholic principles and priorities in climate change discussions and decisions, especially as they impact the poor and vulnerable.
Certainly we have done these five acts and more: we constantly call for prayer and reflection; we educate others on this website and in Facebook and YouTube videos; in the past we performed two hundred Environmental Resource Assessments; through books we help others assess participation in their daily life (e.g., 99 Ways to a Simple Lifestyle and Healing Appalachia: Sustainable Living through Appropriate Technology); and advocating Catholic principles and priorities as they impact the poor are important.
But are stating these enough? Doubts arise, for unless the advocacy becomes more specific, most will ignore the social demands on each citizen. A capitalist as well as communist materialistic culture (China has a combination) continues to degrade the world, and unless all the weaknesses of the "free market" and "consumer culture" economy are directly and explicitly addressed, business as usual, with tweaking of various techniques and devices, will only at best slow the steady and inevitable destruction of our planet. The part that is not addressed in the pledge is that -- Our consumer culture must be confronted and condemned -- not merely tweaked AND we must work for a new economic order. The reason most are reluctant to become full pledge-makers is that they do not want to bite hands that feed them. Instead of being countercultural, they conform and in no way confront the "economic system."
Prayer: Lord, buck up our courage; strengthen our backbone.
Prickly pear cactus, Opuntia humifusa,
native Kentucky species.
July 7, 2019 Bring Good News
At that time the Lord appointed seventy two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. (Luke 10:1)
We accompany the disciples through our call to spread Good News. We are to help in the healing of our wounded neighbors and Earth herself. We must not forget that success has already been achieved in little and often overlooked ways. A power is at work within us that is outside of us. Yes, we are among the scarce laborers in the vineyard of the Lord and yet we have the power to move and bring something to others. God provides courage and yet at times we are tempted to entertain shadows of doubt. We need the reminder that stumbling blocks may lurk but vision will persist. Our sacraments are the Lord's gift to refresh our hearts and minds.
Our mandate is to extend peace, not destructive fear. Our mission is to bring the God-given peace of heart and mind to others, and that is truly Good News. Enough stories and rumors and gossip exist to disturb people, but that is not God's way; these fake news sources spring from imperfect human beings and must be taken with a grain of salt. We must realize that not all authentic news is comforting. Yes, global hunger has been our special topic and rightly so in this world of plenty. We cannot forget that homelessness still plagues the victims of Middle East conflicts. However, amid an easily constructed world of gloom, the Good News is that God loves us and can brighten our lives. Yes, solutions are possible if we but discover and apply them with God's help.
Live simply, not elaborately. Jesus instructs his disciples to stay at one place and take what is provided. If we have to cart in all of our supposed needs, then we are not living simply, but act like outsider visitors who refuse local fare. To live simply is to obey God's will to be among those who receive the Good News. We don't have to imitate John the Baptist and live on grasshoppers and honey, but we ought to make do with local resources.
Don't stay when not welcome. This is an amazing admission of the evangelistic message, but is a major operative principle. Find out if people want what we have to offer; if not, go on to another place and others. Some of the problem today with use of church resources is that we spend too much time with petty issues and so-called "needs," and not enough to discover those really in need.
Don't take pride in success. This is a final but equally important admonition. God's power is at work, not our own. We all need to repeat this, including this writer. Tell me again! A certain measure of success is needed by those of us who are weak and need encouragement; however, we must not take credit for what comes from our God-enabled actions. Bearing Good News is a privilege, but let God be the ultimate judge of success.
Prayer: Help us, Lord, be worthy bearers of Good News.
Ephemeroptera, delicate summer beauty.
July 8, 2019 Confront Wage Theft As a Global Problem
Failure to pay for work performed can be the height of injustice, for most victims are not organized; it is their word against someone more powerful. Once someone came and told me that he had worked as an associate for a private contractor who kept promising to pay for the time spent subbing -- but payment never went beyond an introductory fee. When it came time for payment, the person kept putting this trusting soul off and off and off, all the while extracting more and more labor from him. The owed money mounted into the thousands of dollars, before the victim realized he was dealing with a clever thief. The parties had no written agreement and so there was little legal ground on which to force "blood from a turnip" who had already spent the victim's wages.
Only when I read "Faith Works," the newsletter of Interfaith Worker Justice, did I realize that what I regarded as an isolated instance perpetrated on timid people too embarrassed or powerless to complain, is a practice that is widespread. The theft occurs both in large and small operations, both in this country and abroad. This appears to be a common practice in China where workers are often denied wages for a variety of excuses. Furthermore, this is more than an American and Chinese phenomenon; it is global. People work and then they are given a small return or are denied any reimbursement for time spent. The injustice is so utterly cruel because it becomes the profit for those powerful enough to get away with it, and encourages a crime wave that no one talks about, for the many victims have so little recourse.
Ten years ago (November 20, 2009) there was a National Day of Action to Stop Wage Theft in forty locations throughout the United States. To our knowledge this has not become an annual event. Among the many injustices exposed has been that of four Polish workers in Chicago, each owed over $10,000 from a single contractor. In some states there has been a movement to correct the lack of regulations and legal means to prosecute infringements on wage payments; the absence allows the unscrupulous to extract sizeable amounts of service from temporary workers -- and then move on to selecting others within an unemployed labor force.
A weakened labor movement makes an ongoing concern about wage theft a backburner issue. The present Administration is not labor friendly as is documented by Today's Workplace: workplacefairness blog. The U.S. Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division has at various times cracked down on wage thieves but its current record is not extraordinary. The 2018 Tax Bill only benefited 4.3% of workers who received one-time bonuses or wage increases last year according to Americans for Tax Fairness. Worker rights ought to be coupled with the right of ALL the unemployed to regard our government as the employer of last resort. Please connect with Interfaith Worker Justice in Chicago <www.iwj.org>.
Prayer: Lord, help us to defend worker victims and help them receive a just return for their labors, and to expose all culprits.
The Chaplin River, Washington Co., KY.
July 9, 2019 Travel the Local Back Roads
In the past when more mobile I would take off some time and hike the hills behind my house on the macadamized public roads that are near Cottage Furnace (19th century iron smelter) and other sites within the Daniel Boone National Forest. Some prefer more challenging back country hiking trails, but for those who need modified local hiking the back roads prove satisfactory enough. Are you bogged down by summer heat? At least if possible take an occasional hike during a cooler part of the day.
Hikers tell their experiences. Jonathan Kandell (Smithsonian, May, 2010, pp. 52-59) describes traversing 216 miles of Vermont Route 100 by vehicle, and includes in the article some wonderful photographs that make a delightful virtual trip for readers. For hikers on foot, Kandell describes the parallel 160-mile "Long Trail," which merges with the Appalachian Trail in south Vermont.
People strive to connect local hiking/biking roads and trails with others in order to develop the concept of a national biking and hiking network. At the regional level we have the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. Horizonal equivalents would bring a national network closer to fruition. This coordination of regional programs could be similar to the Eisenhower era national Interstate Highway System. After such effort at roads it is little wonder that today 90% of all travel to work is done by automobile. Had the same effort been made for public rail and high speed transport, the auto culture and congestion would not be so overwhelming. Furthermore, no one is permitted to walk along, bike along or hitchhike on the sacrosanct Interstates. Fairness is long due, and biking/hiking networks have many ecological benefits.
Making these hiking/biking networks happen may take additional time and effort -- and the lobby resources are far more scarce. In the meanwhile, let us use the back roads for both shorter-ranging bike trips and hikes -- even though speeding vehicles on these routes can be dangerous. Local routes have advantages:
* Smaller carbon footprint by not having to travel great distances to get to the starting points;
* Ease at getting or keeping connected to relatives and friends, if hiking or biking locally;
* Lessons in geography, history and local culture;
* Opportunity to keep tourist dollars in the local area; and
* Less stress on travelers who are in familiar areas.
Some oppose this "stay at home" attitude and promote the benefits to longer distance travel: increased knowledge about the world; talking points about adventures elsewhere; and the chance to get far away from business as usual for a period of time. Such are true, but permit such travel only on rare occasions?
Prayer: Lord, teach us to love our local environment, but how can we do this without immersing ourselves in the vicinity to every degree possible?
A herd of cows, congregating at a pond along Route 68.
July 10, 2019 Try Route 68: The Main Street of Kentucky
Somewhere between meandering travel on America's local back roads (as mentioned in yesterday's reflection) and travel at high speeds on the Interstate is traveling by private vehicle on the medium-sized highways or the U.S. Highway (not Interstate) System -- the principal mode of auto travel six decades ago. These "U.S." numbered routes networked the entire 48 states when only that number existed; their major cross-country routes often ran parallel to the newer U.S. Interstate System being constructed. However, the U.S. highways have some very pleasant surprises for travelers.
This middle routing is possible on such routes as U.S. Highway 68 (see Daily Reflections 9/30/17). No doubt I am partial to this route having traveled on it to school for twelve years. Route 68 was formerly a buffalo trace, the gullies of which are still apparent in certain places; the animals migrated from Midwest prairies annually to the salt-rich Blue Licks area. The route was used for centuries by Indian hunting parties. Later still, the route became the "Maysville Pike" (first called Zanes Trace) that competed with the Wilderness Trail through Cumberland Gap in bringing pioneer settlers westward. In fact, on our school bus we passed a road marker installed in the 1830s with mileage to Zanesville, Ohio, listed as the northern end and that to Florence, Alabama as the southern terminus. In fact, this route became the focal point of Andrew Jackson's veto of the "Maysville Road Bill" with which political scientists are familiar. The route used tollgates until the 1890s; I remember grandpa speaking of driving cattle down that toll road as a farm boy.
Some call Route 68 the "Main Street of the Midwest." Along this route is old Washington, the first town so named, with many quaint features (see Ecotourism in Appalachia). The highway travels past Blue Licks Battlefield (last battle of the Revolutionary War), through scenic Paris, and through the heart of historic Lexington, though quiet beauty has been sacrificed by broadening the highway due to mounting traffic congestion.
Past Lexington the "Harrodsburg Pike" descends into and rises from the Kentucky River gorge with its own charm, and then it runs past Shakertown, a major tourist attraction. Route 68 trisects the heart of Kentucky and passes Lebanon and Campbellsville allowing short side excursions to Gethsemane Monastery at New Haven, Lincoln's birthplace at Hodgenville, and the Mammoth Cave National Park near Bowling Green. The highway itself moves on through Russellville and past the birthplace of Jefferson Davis at Fairview; then it traverses the Land Between the Lakes in western Kentucky and then on to Paducah on the Ohio River. If you travel the highway as a sightseer, you are on "Main Street." It is a good relaxing summer vacation diversion.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to relax by traveling and sightseeing through significant local places, and to do so with respect for the history of our familiar regions.
Sqash flowers, delicate, edible blooms.
July 11, 2019 Thank God for July's Blessings
July is at the heart of the growing season and there are many things to be thankful for in years of plentiful sun and rain.
We sometimes forget that beyond the discomfort of heat in mid-day is a world of goodness that is worth a morning or evening reflection. Thus this small list is a few of many gifts --
* For juicy fruits of mid-summer such as peaches, plums and cantaloupes.
* For farmers markets and people willing to take the time to give each of us gardening hints to improve our own skills.
* For picnics and holidays and the enjoyment these bring.
* For patriotism in its most proper form of balanced civic pride and criticism where that is due.
* For summer garden veggies such as early cucumbers, tomatoes, early corn, squash, beans, beets, early potatoes, and late peas.
* For a good sense of balance that allows us to stay indoors in hot hours and to move outdoors in cooler portions of the day.
* For the long days of sunlight that allow for less stress in morning and evening driving.
* For the peacemakers who constantly remind us that we could have a more perfect world, if we spend more time on authentic development and less on military exercises.
* For rest time in whatever way we are free to practice it during days, weeks or even the annual vacation.
* For wild blackberries, blueberries, dewberries, wineberries, raspberries, and a multitude of other berries with local and wider-known names.
* For caring friends who see when stresses become too great for us and are willing to help in gentle ways.
* For good literature that has been saved through the year for this July reading period.
* For those who remain enthusiastic even through July, especially youth at the seashore and elders in conversation.
* For Mountain Moments, a blessing in a thousand ways.
Prayer: Lord, help us endure the heat of July and still keep a smile on our faces, for there are far more blessings than we can enumerate.
Organizing for Change
It is not enough to settle on some principles for proper pathways to a democratic renewable energy economy. We ask the further question as to whether human beings have the will power to bring about meaningful change? Denial, especially among powerful superich, is a major obstacle. Can we successfully confront the economically powerful elite with their detrimental influence on a threatened democratic society? Note again that some 29 of the 2,200 world billionaires own more wealth than the 3.7 billion lower income world citizens. Such disparity plants the seeds of violent revolution and is causing ferment among all concerned citizens. How do we address the inequality problem in a democratic fashion? Powerlessness is present; it is a grave mistake to say that nothing can be done, for privileged rich spread such effective propaganda.
Political power is one manifestation of who we are as a democratic republic. We recall the words of founder Benjamin Franklin: when he emerged from Constitutional Hall during the constitutional convention he was recognized by a woman who asked him, "What kind of government are you giving us?" "A republic, Madam, if you can keep it." Keeping a system intact is an ongoing problem and one that the wise Franklin considered by proposing limits to wealth in our upcoming democracy. For all intents and purpose his perspective was simply ignored as ravings of an elderly person, but was he far, far ahead of his time? We need his wisdom today.
Super-wealthy cleverly dispense some of their treasure in perpetuating their condition. The wealthy through the court decision Citizens United pour funds into congenial candidates who when elected make sure the legislative benefits continue for the wealthy; well-funded lobbying efforts continue this corrosive influence. We may recognize this disturbing condition and seem at times to be powerless to bring about change. However, we must doubly recall that Americans in the 1770s stood up against the greatest military might in the world (the British) -- and with the help of France and Spain and God's grace won. We can do it again as part of a global collaborative effort -- with divine assistance.
Empowerment processes are historically recognized in the American Revolution in the 1770s, the French Revolution in the 1790s and the Russian Revolution in 1917. War and violence can result in changes of power structures, but that is not necessarily the only way to effect change. Whatever the method, to bring about something new involves great risks; those who led the American Revolution were quick to say they had to hang together or hang separately. In the 1770s it's amazing how the general population was awakened to common grievances related to taxes and distant governance; theirs was a determination and ability to correspond quickly over vast space differences with unified voices, and yet the U.S. was born successfully through this struggle. It certainly was not a perfect beginning, but the fundamentals of democracy were championed that needed time to unfold.
Relinquishment of power is rarely done. Ideally in a perfect world the wealthy would voluntarily relinquish their excess to the needy; however, for the greater part this will not be the case. Surely with fanfare some will donate even billions to the special selections of their choice as charity. The problem is there is not enough who do this, that what is given is not enough, and that the decision as to need requires a democratic policy not an autocratic rule by the rich person. Fair taxes coupled with a monitored governmental distributing agency for the needy are more just and universal than expecting the rich to share their resources.
Organizational empowerment comes with rallying the disenfranchised to take what belongs to them by right. This seems the proper non-violent motivation and appeals to concerned citizens in traditionally democratic lands. A goal of transfer of power from a few to the democratic masses in a more equitable manner awaits an emergence. Many cases in the past were awry with unexpected results in the midst of power transfer: the French Revolution resulted in an orgy of killings; the Russian Revolution saw the rise of the Communist state for seven decades. However, political non-violence still has a preference and possibility in a democratic society, and requires a firm resolve.
Local issues are subject to organizing efforts; some have been quite successful and the record shows it can extend even to national organizing and presidential elections such as that of the Obama 2008 and 2012 campaigns. In fact, what occurred at the local level was replicated successfully, for Obama's political group showed that he had cut his teeth in community organizing. Saul Alinsky, the founder of the modern community organizational movement, says Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have. Much depends on emerging power seekers and how well they are able to exert precise pressure at the proper place and time -- and some have been highly successful at it.
Limits to community organizing exist. How well can these proven local methods work with international groups who are more diversified? How will they work on deeper issues of systematic change -- not merely political differences in policies as in general presidential elections for Obama? Perhaps community organizing could be regarded as templates for greater change, even though we all know that the risks are higher and the powers to restrict the anticipated changes are stronger.
One critical factor is that the media may be so controlled by the power elite that the message of change is warped; the rank and file may be misled and thus enter as status quo supporters rather than advocates for change; they are hoodwinked by "no new taxes" propaganda. People fear major change and will follow the power elite; they may postpone acting through excuse. On the other hand, the American Revolution had church support and had founders who prayed and sought God's favor. Revolution today must have a spiritual component as well. Does effective empowerment have a spiritual component and what exactly is it?
Achillea millefolium (Aster family).
July 12, 2019 Make July a Good Retreat Time
We all ought to assemble reasons for an annual retreat. I like to couple them with a particular time of year that makes my own retreat more opportune -- and that is July:
* July is new beginnings, for it is the start up of the financial and budget year for many groups with which we are associated. It is the ideal time to take stock; or, for those of us on a January startup, to prepare for the rest of the year;
* July is dog days, a time to lay off excess physical activity, and stay in the shade -- a good time for retreating and refraining for external activities;
* July is daylight month in the Northern Hemisphere (along with June). This is the time to experience in visual form the many vistas of God's creation from early morning to late evening, and to give special thanks for being able to enjoy nature;
* July is "down time" or vacation and thus one is less concerned about being contacted by associates to assist with one or other project. The majority of inhabitants in the Northern Temperate Zone calls this vacation time and less work is expected;
* July is vacation time when families have an opportunity to bond together and each of us could find the time to increase our own bonding within the family of God;
* July is freedom time, for we do not need those excessive cooler-climate, restrictive clothes. We can relax and get into informal gear, a better way to consider our stance before God who is all merciful and willing to see us as we are;
* July is wildlife time, when we are more inclined to go out into nature and observe birds and wildlife at a closer proximity; we can come a little closer and realize that many animals know they are being enjoyed by non-threatening admirers;
* July is outdoor season, at least most of the time. Weather allows for outdoor exercise and movement while reflecting. The great outdoors in full leafy "raiment" conveys a sense of productivity and future fulfillment;
* July is nature's fruitful period -- when a host of berries and natural products can be harvested directly in the wild and without the processing that ruins tastes and complicates the eating process through overuse of sugar, salt and fat; and
* July is my retreat time -- the best reason. Over the years we need a period outdoors; retreat for me means being closer to nature, something best achieved in mid-year.
Prayer -- Lord, move us to find the best time for a retreat.
The Pere Marquette memorial, Marquette, MI.
July 13, 2019 Entitle Jacques Marquette "Premier Franco-American"
On tomorrow's Bastille Day those of us of French ancestry seek persons who stand out the most in exemplifying our close connection to the "Old Country" and France's very special relationship to our continent. Consider getting our little book entitled Water Sounds: Reminiscences of North American Jesuit Missionary/ Naturalist, Jacques Marquette (Marquette Univ. Press). See June 4, 2019, "How Many Sounds of Water Can You Distinguish?" Perhaps the candidacy of Pere Marquette as the "premier Franco-American" is most fitting; this is certainly not because as a Frenchman he liked fine wine or foods, for he lived a spartan life. Rather he was a --
* Missionary/Pastor -- He literally gave his whole self and even his life for his people and ministry; he took great pride in his work and labored diligently even against great odds for his people;
* Explorer -- He was the associate on the official Mississippi River Expedition, and it was his materials that became the basis of knowledge about the watershed (especially after Joliet's spill and near drowning as he and a companion approached Montreal);
* Linguist -- His ministry was to a wide array of early Native American tribes, and he devoted his linguistic skills to learning their languages for purposes of communication;
* Continental map-maker -- He created some of the first maps of the Great Lakes Region, which incorporated his knowledge of parts of what are now Canada as well as the United States;
* Naturalist -- Marquette's description of certain fish, birds and mammals shows his keen sense of observation and skill in recording (he was the first to describe the tidal changes in the Great Lakes and his hydrology was essentially correct);
* Faithful citizen -- He loved his French cultural background, his king, and the impact that his spreading what is French had on the budding empire. He was to live before the United States came into existence, but three of his family would come to these shores and fight (and two die) for America in the Revolutionary War;
* Humble worker -- Marquette was not really recognized in his own lifetime and seemed to have been overlooked in some of the important events in New France; however this did not bother him. God's power made Marquette known after his death; and
* Lone Witness -- He is the icon of all French service in North America and is buried alone in a travel center of the Great Lakes region at the Straits of Mackinac. Some of his bones ended in the Library of Marquette University in Milwaukee -- and to the best of my efforts I hope they will be returned to his grave.
Prayer: Lord, help us to spread the Good News about the work of your faithful servant, Jacques Marquette.
Canis latrans, a mother coyote,
Washington Co., KY farm.
July 14, 2019 Reflect on Being Good Samaritans
And who is my neighbor? (Luke 10: 29-37)
Global Internet makes a global neighborhood. Over the past decade earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Indonesia, Mexico and elsewhere shake and harm victims and disturb those of us on firmer ground as well. We hear the lawyer ask Jesus a searching question about commandments, after showing himself to be well versed in the law; the lawyer uses Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (loving God above all) and Leviticus 19:18 (loving our neighbor as ourselves). We also ask, Who is our neighbor? We may be prone to overlook foreigners, drunks, and distant people. However, we recall that Haiti is a neighbor while a little distant. Modern communication networks (Internet and TV) allow distant folks to come easily into our hearing and viewing zones. Our intimate neighborhood expands.
The Good Samaritan confronts a critical situation head-on. Jesus tells the inquiring lawyer about a victim who is waylaid and neglected by the passing priest and Levite (who could have been considered contaminated). Instead the victim is assisted by a Samaritan who, although part of a despised sect, gives attention, binds up wounds, and takes the victim to an inn. A "neighbor" does not hate or show bias or pre-judge another; a neighbor does not seek the causes of the accident, whether the robbers are still present, or whether he will be made unclean if the victim touches him in any way. A neighbor gets involved, and this attending takes time, ingenuity, and resources (bringing to an inn and paying for the upkeep). The Samaritan "suffers with" and shows compassion.
Parables apply to individuals and to communities. Americans are often richly endowed but are tempted to deny victims' situations such as world hunger or disease; we are tempted to excuse ourselves from our share in global climate change; we distance ourselves (escape) from unpleasant situations by busying ourselves with unnecessary tasks and allurements. Our affluence tends to desensitize us to disturbing global conditions. Rather than radically sharing with those terrorized by not having food for this coming meal, we look into other problems and turn our corn into biofuel for joy-riding. We tend to forget that a world of 850 million hungry that was supposed to be halved in this century has grown to 1,050 million hungry people.
Have we forgotten that attaining our own salvation involves seeing, coming to, and assisting the needy? Can we tolerate the excesses and luxuries when others lack necessities? The Good Samaritan makes us painfully aware of how our omissions (by ignoring, excusing, or denying a passersby) damage the concept of global neighborhood. Active concern trumps blatant disregard for victims. Jesus' words in St. Matthew's Gospel (Chapter 25) haunt us: For I was hungry and you never gave me food.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see those in need and to know when to see others and become involved in relieving their mishaps.
The basil plant, repellant for flies, mosquitoes, and
July 15, 2019 Acknowledge Drug Ubiquity
Drugs are everywhere: they are in the home, in the school, in the work place and in waterways and recreation areas; they can be overdosed and leading to the death of over 65,000 Americans each year. Ironically those drugs advertized to give pain relief cause maximum pain to sorrowing and burdened survivors. Yes, drugs have found their way into all parts of our land, urban and rural -- and their dangers have been overlooked far too long. We know here in Appalachia that meth and prescription opiates are a major problem, though the drug companies are now being sued for the misleading advertisement leading to addiction. America has a drugged culture due to widespread advertising. Just as Ancient Roman society suffered from drinking wine from lead goblets, so modern American culture suffer from taking a wide assortment of drugs that cause bodily harm and addiction. The leading cause of death in the American 50-year-old range is overdosing.
Drugs are everywhere. Americans today are using far too many manufactured drugs (legal or otherwise) in overwhelming amounts -- and some of these are spilled or pass unaltered through our water purification systems. Drugs remain after water purification; male fish become pregnant; people are getting ill from water pollution; estrogens affect the unsuspecting. It only takes minute doses to affect a variety of creatures. Standard testing methods used by drug epidemiologists have a focus on ubiquity in urban areas. The "DAWN Program" monitors drug-related visits to hospital emergency rooms and drug-related deaths reported (or underreported) by medical examiners; a second method is a voluntary survey and urinalysis of arrestees. Still all parts suffer from drugs.
To say drugs are everywhere is one thing; to prove it is another. One novel approach is to measure society's drug use by analyzing sewage. An Oregon study tested untreated wastewater for three drugs (a metabolite of Cocaine, Meth and Ecstasy) in order to spatially map drug prevalence. The drug "index load data" provided information for all people in the community and are potentially applicable to a much larger proportion of the total population than existing methods. No current general water analysis can trace the particular drug back to individuals or to certain races or genders or age groups. Critics state that using such analyses to cast suspicion on individuals within communities would be a poor application of information.
A proper conclusion of scientific studies is that drug use is quite widespread. "So it's really up to everyone to engage about it." Several solutions need be made: education leading to become a drug-free culture is one approach; taking legal action against drug-promoting companies that fail to show addictive properties of their products is another. The ultimate solution to drug ubiquity is better jobs for people lacking local opportunities.
Prayer: Lord, help us realize the ubiquity of the drug problem and discover effective ways to tackle it.
A very, very small mushroom, species
July 16, 2019 Recite Creation's Eighth Day
We sometimes forget that the forces of nature are at work and that Earth herself is undergoing a process that did not end aeons ago, but rather is still ongoing. Earthquakes and volcanoes remind us of this continual process. Sometimes people are forgetful or take risks and thus get in the way of and are hurt in just being too close to the powerful Earth forces at work. Furthermore, the process can be affected by human activity; this places an urgent demand on our part to protect our fragile but evolving planet.
These words are found among the texts of the book by Warren Brunner (photographs) and Al Fritsch (texts) entitled Mountain Moments, Acclaim Press, 2010. See links for purchasing details or through Amazon Books.
Creation's Eighth Day
Look out! Grinding rocks, drifting sands,
earthquakes, seawaves, aftershocked lands,
creeping, calving blue glacier dies,
icebergs form at our very eyes,
avalanches of roaring snow,
upturned trees in tornado's tow,
muddy debris on flooded plain,
seashore pounded by hurricane,
sleet-covered trees at bough-lost price,
boulders split by expanding ice,
rivulets on an eroding Earth --
yes, ever-yearning, giving birth.
Prayer: Lord, may we glory in the workings of your ongoing creation, and respect the role we play as stewards of our evolving Earth.
Western salsify, Tragopogon dubius.
July 17, 2019 Accept Collective Blame: Don't Point Fingers
"God made people who became sinners; God is to blame"
We do not like this quote from an unnamed cynic. Something is wrong, for why blame God for what the free-willed creatures do? Maybe there is something more than discomforting about pointing fingers whether by atheists, who point them at a Being who they do not believe exist, or by angry believers who appear to be directionless or in a state of great distress. Let's question the practice of finger-pointing. Does it involve us in this essay? Is there something that betrays self-righteousness, a bombastic character, or masochistic tendencies (through inward pointing)? Could it be a way of deflecting blame from the pointing person?
They are to blame. This is the safest form of finger-pointing and is done by everyone from liberals to conservatives, Monday- morning quarterbacks to film critics, politicians to voters. However, although safest it still has the potential power to get results, for the "they" are almost always outside of earshot and eyesight. The posturing by pointers is an appeal for support.
You are to blame. Some find accusing others to be part of their calling, and even derive pleasure, especially if the "other" is incapable of fighting back. Obviously the one to whom the finger is pointed finds it uncomfortable. The "you" can define this as a hot seat, or electric chair: whatever, it's definitive.
I am to blame. In much the same way, I find it difficult when others point fingers at me and in their own self-righteous ways want to deflect their own weaknesses by turning the civic, religious, academic, or community vultures on me. What is my response, for it is hard to ask others to share that blame?
We are to blame -- if there is blame to be distributed. Yes, we are part of an imperfect world. We say this with a wave of a hand with fingers held together. Pointing is exclusive; waving is inclusive. Accepting a collective guilt is better than saying you or I or they are guiltless or totally innocent or totally to blame. Jesus, the sinless one, took on the sins of the world when he suffered and died for us. Even though blameless he became sin for us. This redemptive act of saving our world can be achieved by imitating Jesus. The sinless Jesus enters the fray; so ought we.
We must accept the collective role of burdening ourselves, for that is our collective act of redemptive love and mercy. Finger-pointing is to distance oneself from others. A waving hand brings us all together even when we accept the consequences. Yes, we must stop the misdeed from continuing to occur, but it is the "we" and not just a few who must do this. What we accept is the power of forgiveness for past deeds so we can work to correct injustice.
Prayer: Lord, help us understand that to point fingers is to deny taking a social responsibility for the misdeeds done.
Kentucky barn quilt.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
July 18, 2019 Observe the American Barn: An Endangered Species
Barns are a major component of the American landscape; they tend to typify the countryside. In my rural area here in Appalachia, I live a short distance from a dilapidated barn barely standing though hidden in a grove of woods. I asked the owner why he allowed it to stand, since wandering children could be endangered if it were to collapse while they are trespassing. He admitted it was sentimental and that currently some does and fawns like to winter in it. Such is a final service of dying farm barns now often replaced by metal sheds or simply torn down. See "Barns: Environmental Symbols of Communities" (Nov. 20, 2014). Conditions of these noble structures are getting more precarious with age.
I spent an estimated 5,000 hours of my lifetime in our family barns; those hours consisted mainly by milking cows and putting in hay, silage, and tobacco, and taking out manure from wintering cattle. As little kids we spent time playing in the barn as well, for it was a friendly place -- a description of the major structure is found in my Tobacco Days: A Personal Journey (see Amazon Books). Like all mid-twentieth century farming families, we made the barn as much a center of our lives as was our residence. The last time we painted our major barn red became a family affair; braver souls painted the high gables and younger family members painted nearer the ground. In fact, the barn was part of the "home" much in the sense of the old rural European house/barn combination -- even though our American barns are physically separated from dwellings.
All too often family farms are under stress, and barn maintenance is one of the casualties of rural financial troubles.
Regional barns are of distinct architecture depending on crops grown, climate conditions and ethnic composition of the given locality. Some were built for hay or grain or livestock or tobacco or tool storage, or combinations of the above. However, farm methods have changed, and older barns are being abandoned. Iowa is estimated to be losing one thousand barns each year and most likely the next American agricultural census will indicate the fate of many more farm structures. Barns suffer loss of value when farms are consolidated; farm numbers decreased from 6.5 million in 1920 to 2.1 million today (of which all but 120,000 are family farms).
Can family farm barns be saved? Attitudinal change from "new is better" to "reuse the old" is occurring. New uses include: shops, storerooms, museums, theaters, and residences. The National Trust for Historic Preservation's "Barn Again!" Program advocates for the reuse and preservation of barns and older farm buildings. This is concern for preserving the heritage of picturesque barns that are too hard to maintain as family heirlooms. The program encourages about 700 barn owners each year in barn maintenance and reuse for cost-effective purposes; it gives annual awards and guides owners to tax credits. See NTHP's Restoring the Roost.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to admire our cultivated landscape and the historic artifacts that have been erected to enhance it.
Ushering in a renewable energy economy must be balanced by equal attention to reducing and eliminating the gross inequality plaguing our democracy. Breaking the grip of Big Energy and the wealthy is necessary lest a renewable economy cannot benefit all the people. Still we call for changes that respect the needs of all. Non-violence and non-elitism must go hand in hand. Greed dominates the situation even while some of the super rich value their well-publicized charitable donations. To truly understand the challenge before us we recognize that greed rests first in the system and secondly in individuals. The inherent materialism filters down to the poor who desire to be like the upper class; many dream of quick wealth through a winning lottery ticket. Unfortunately, only a rare lottery winner can do this; overlooked is the paralysis of a prevailing materialism.
Secular organizing is not sufficient. The secular motivation and experience gained in local community organizing victories is of value in modeling for change at the systematic level, but still more is required. The goal in a renewable energy economy is a long-term solution and the complexity of the situation demands leadership on many fronts over a sustained period of time. Unless deeply motivated, citizens will lose heart and fall away (as was a problem during the seven-year American Revolution). All must cooperate for success; churches that offer support in local organizing should consider national and global initiatives. A spiritual component should be welcome by all, even those within the ranks who are secularists.
The devil is at work. Let's be honest: the materialism of the super-rich has a diabolic aspect. Those who control wealth have a power over others that is not accountable -- and total power corrupts. If we say evil lurks in this economic system then there is already a "spiritual" component, albeit evil. To speak of an Evil One makes many, including secularists and some believers, somewhat disturbed. If evil is behind the systematic greed of the current system, then a counterforce is prayer for divine guidance. Our current economic system is held together through a greed that is diabolic in nature and requires an authentic spirituality to expose, confront and change for Earth's and humanity's benefit.
Faith in the future is a prerequisite for success. We can only be motivated to partake in citizen action if there is a possible future goal up ahead. Despair has no place here nor a pessimism that says nothing can be done. Believing in a future opens minds to what can be done in a realistic manner, accompanied by corrective efforts undertaken for the benefit of all participating parties. How that faith is expressed depends on the compromising nature of agents of change whose leadership is most critical. These agents need to be recognized and supported by all who participate, for encouragement is also critical. Believers seek spiritual assistance at all levels, namely, control of interior tensions, continued enthusiasm (the God within) over time, clear focus on a better horizon ahead, and divine help in exposing evil powers.
Political powerlessness of those seeking profound change is recognized if not denied, excused or escaped from through flights of omission; it is a stark reality that holds back the forces of change even in a democratic society. People realize that they are not perfect, nor are there smooth relations within and among small and large groups seeking change. The freedom that it takes to act successfully is hindered through interior struggles and lack of joint endeavors. Climate change has the potential of enhancing that mood of paralysis leading to drugs and suicides.
Addressing powerlessness is imperative. Alinsky says The greatest enemy of individual freedom is the individual himself. Organizers are quick to understand limitations within the groups that they seeking to change. Some could argue that diverting attention to self or local groups delays the revolution, but is that necessarily true? Purifying motivations and collaborative efforts are both ongoing processes requiring agents of change who have achieved degrees of compromise and acceptance; the corrective processes are reinforcing and can work in tandem.
Spiritual empowerment of change agents precedes political efforts within a democratic society, for greater long-term success. Here some will take issue with the precedence, a matter worthy of debate. We cannot get all participants to be authentically spiritually motivated, but need we? A few can act as catalyst or leaven for the entire body. Spiritual empowerment involves motivated leaders or agents of change; these can become models within an organization so that their qualities permeate the masses. A recognition that some have spiritual powers within their belief system is the prerequisite for joint association of secular and spiritual in one operation. Powerlessness is overcome by some through conversion to closeness to God; their actions can permeate the entire body including tolerant non-believers. Christians view spiritual empowerment in the name of the resurrected Christ.
Spiritual interdependence means that believers are aware of the power to act being greater than their individual undertakings; they cannot act apart from God, Source of all power. This acknowledgment of need lays bare the soul to an interdependency that shows the need for physical and spiritual solidarity. Believers seek cooperative endeavors that sees need for God's help, not on mere occasions but with constancy and endurance. Here is a core of difference with that of secularists who manifest no such need. Furthermore, believers see need for moral leadership to render justice in their actions that have spiritual undertones. Early American revolutionaries understood this fact; should not we with a planet at stake do the same? Revolutionaries should be praying folks, and intense prayer is needed to address inequality coupled with renewable energy transition. Human beings, no matter how the flights of idealism show themselves, cannot do this alone. In God we trust!
Sunset over rural Kentucky land.
July 19, 2019 Celebrate Space Week: Tidy-up Outer Space
Space Week is a fitting time to talk about our "spatial commons." The vastness of the unimaginable outer reaches of the universe should not fool us, for space is capable of being junked to a dangerous degree. We already know space hurdles: space exploration and ventures are costly and require large financial outlays; space observation is increasingly difficult due to light pollution that affects many urban areas; many do not have the immediate contact with the darkened sky and twinkling stars. Now we discover that adding to these emerging financial and observational difficulties is space junk.
Tucson, Arizona, a major academic observatory site, has taken steps to reduce light pollution through dimming and curbing street lights; reflection shields direct lighting downward where the pedestrian and driver can benefit. Some of these urban community steps for improving the quality of our viewing the heavens could be taken in other cities as well.
No other commons challenges us to think in financial terms to avoid unneeded luxury versus necessities. What about practical aspects of exploration? The useful resources from other heavenly bodies? The demand for low-gravity conditions for certain experiments? The dangers of approaching space objects? Space telescopes of further exploration? Improvement of our modern communications systems? To what degree must we be practical?
Orbiting communications satellites are key to rapid exchange of global information; such business ventures can be complex and costly. Launching, regulating, fee-collecting, monitoring and terminating such satellites are global concerns and demand a "Global Space Agency." Atmospheric scientific research using satellites and other information sources is quite necessary for the fuller understanding of climatic changes, but could involve billion-dollar bills. Scientific space probes, telescopes, space laboratories and international space programs are expensive, and cost should be borne on a cooperative basis by wealthier nations.
The current space program has many international cooperative features (e.g., International Space Station). These global space programs are more than just expensive; they can be highly risky as well. Serious accidents such as the destruction of the returning Challenger space shuttle in February, 2003, mean that safety is always a major consideration -- and calls for more unmanned missions. The 2007 shooting down of a spent space satellite by the Chinese (the U.S. and Russia have carried out comparable exploits) has resulted in dangerous space junk -- even a paint chip can be dangerous. In 2009 two satellites collided and showered debris about. "Solar sails" on satellites have been proposed in order to drop junk into the lower atmosphere where it can burn up.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to praise you in the immensity of space and to respect this as part of the "commons" meant for all.
Watering system, home-brewed.
July 20, 2019 Decide When Numbers Count
Numbers come up in our everyday world and some of us regard their significance more than do others. I for one have had a habit of counting things to idle away time -- and can count while jogging or rowing or doing daily routines without hardly adverting to it. In the Gospels counting numbers occurred in the "multiplication of the loaves." My own compulsion is to count and to look at numbers (e.g. daily temperature range or hours working at different daily tasks). We ask honestly how numbers in the near or distant future will change and affect our lives.
Individually, my mobility will decrease or come to a halt if hips or knees or back give out, or auto driving is severely restricted. Weight changes, PSA and other health numbers will tell us something as will the number of daily strokes on my rowing machine, or viewers on our various YouTube videos. The emerging mysteries are the days left for mortal life -- and that is not up to my efforts, but due to God's merciful gift of life to us.
Locally, we seek to know the numbers of people who are employed and unemployed and the number of home foreclosures and housing starts. How many overdoses occur in our county? Local statistics tell us much about the economic and social viability of our community. Church and civic growth include those coming and going and membership statistics, donations, and number of cars at church parking lots.
Nationally, the upcoming 2020 census will determine the apportionment of Federal funds according to total people in a given area. Emphasis on policies directed to transportation networks and renewable energy projects will depend on these population statistics to some degree. Even the continuation of our Ethnic Atlas Project will be based on the new Census. The daily Dow Jones market reports are given undue importance in a nation swimming in economics stats. Nationally, we listen to stock market reports.
Internationally, much rides on the ability of countries to repay debts. Within this century Greece was issued a "junk bond" status and other EU nations' credit rating was lowered. We look at data being collected on potential oil reserves and wind installations, on exports and imports, on expenditures on military hardware and satellites in space and on changes in GDP. The world's outlook is quantified and that may be needed in part for greater environmental policy collaboration.
Current and projected statistics tell something but not the total story, and that is why more in-depth study is always needed. We can be fooled by limited statistics into making or overlooking future plans. Yes, stats indicate, but are not the full story; numbers are aggregated and are not flesh and blood. We need more.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to count properly, compile accurately, and use our numbers to help in saving our wounded planet.
An evening hike, approaching sunset.
July 21, 2019 Be Satisfied in Being a Martha
Mary has chosen the better portion and she shall not be deprived of it. (Luke 10:38-42)
"Marthahood" is seeing the utter importance of our work to such detail that we belittle others in what they are doing. On the other hand, there may be a doubt about the importance of or envy of the role of another in contrast to our own. The short story of Martha and Mary inviting Jesus for a meal is one such example of conflict in roles. It is Martha who extends the hospitality and elsewhere in Scripture shows herself to be the more forward of the two sisters. Her hospitality demands planning and attention. However, Mary is also a person who is doing another hospitable act.
Martha typifies a phase in our service to and for others. We are hard pressed as was Martha in preparing for the coming of the Lord and preparing the world for this great event. We work very hard and expect others to be doing the same things that we are doing. However, they engage in other callings since their personalities are different. In some instances they are merely called to celebrate what is already present; Mary is moved to merely entertain and converse and be present with the guest and to see that this more contemplative action is enough. Jesus calls it the greater portion and we must be willing to say that celebration of his presence without our ongoing healing action is a form of healing. Perhaps for activists this is hard to justify.
We need to reduce the anxiety of reaching our goals with the lock step of others in our community. Some of them take another and often less-activist approaches (offering their daily actions for the success of others or simply doing studies for future work). Accepting others and the importance of their work creates openness on our part that enhances our own work. However, there are degrees of acceptance. We may have to point out that their work is not fully effective, an excuse for not acting, or only pretending to be busy and really it amounts to "make work."
Presence of those with a higher calling and accepting this is part of a more humble role, and thus a more realistic approach to our mission. We do not abandon what we are doing in order to take a more illustrious role. We simply accept our calling to do a service that may not be highly regarded. The hospitality of a meal is still needed to support the guest; it is not the thing to do to abandon the backup service, for feeding another is also important. Accepting the necessity of taking minor roles leads to the success of the total performance. Marthahood involves growth in understanding of our mission -- even when others do not regard it as important or worthy of continued effort. Consistency is seeing the need for the lesser role, a continual challenge, especially when our activism is misunderstood or relegated to a minor status.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be of service, even when our part is somewhat hidden or forgotten or taken for granted.
Aluminum pie plate on string, deterrent
for wild turkeys at berry patch.
July 22, 2019 Create Your Own Autumn Garden
Over the years these Daily Reflections include a monthly garden message; in July it is always to plan, prepare for, and plant the autumn garden. Over time it has become evident that our autumn gardens evolve in siting, type of veggies, protective covering and spacing (bed- or row-style sowing). The autumn planning message itself evolves. Much depends on seeds available in July; the simple fact is that our seed outlets generally do not have much demand for the autumn garden, for gardens are a "spring thing." Thus the best answer is to plan far ahead and not just make obtaining seed a July concern.
A second consideration is that less summer preservation is needed if the autumn and extended garden proves productive throughout much of the year. In the past I strived to harvest every month of the year (greens are a winter mainstay). In order to have a twelve-part salad on December 31st it will take some long-term thinking ahead along with the timing of seed sowing and planting. We need favorites that survive cold weather, often with added protection of Reemay, temporary plastic cold frame, greenhouse, sun room, or a bank of straw or leaves.
Over the years I have sowed for autumn: kale, mustard, dandelions, collards (hardy throughout winter), spinach, arugula, endive, Swiss chard, turnips, radishes, broccoli, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts, with a dash of parsley from indoors. Add to this carrots that can stay in the ground for many extra months; the same can be said for well-hilled celery. One can have some autumn peas but forget autumn beans, tomatoes, squash or peppers; dry, store, freeze and perhaps preserve the surplus from the summer produce along with some indoor herbs. You may wish to provide for fresh fall onions and garlic as well.
Placement of the vegetable varieties is utterly important, since severe weather will dry out and freeze the crop. With the effects of climate change beginning to be noticed, one may need to water more, and so plan more row rather than area sowing of seed -- rows take less water. Some veggies can be protected by others. For instance, the broccoli or collards can be planted so that the foliage can protect spinach and arugula. Look up cold weather veggies and add some that may prove to become your local champions.
The flower lovers among us who interplant the colorful delights of spring through frost may have a harder time; I am not experienced enough to make helpful suggestions. Flowers are a real challenge for the year-round gardener. Keep us posted on cold-weather flower suggestions that are more than mums and surviving marigolds. Whatever your creative skills, now is truly the time to think ahead -- for time flies for those having fun gardening.
Prayer: Lord, help us to think ahead; and, if we are successfully challenged in little matters such as autumn gardening, we may be able to tackle the bigger ones such as Earth herself.
An abandoned home, fading into history.
July 23, 2019 Promote Solar Hot Water Systems
July is a solar month and a time to recall that no application has greater versatility and economy than solar hot water systems. Photos of the 1904 San Francisco Earthquake show damaged house roofs equipped with solar water devices over a century ago.
About one-tenth of an average household's energy budget is expended on heating water for showers and kitchen uses. The cheapest way to heat domestic water is by the sun, and this is the most cost-effective solar application outside of growing produce on the land using the sun's rays. Some solar water heating systems are "active" varieties (heating with the sun an enclosed liquid which transfers heat to adjacent water pipes). These active systems are more expensive, but more efficient and improving with time. Homemade "passive" systems (which heat the water directly in black glass-lined metal tanks enclosed in insulated boxes) are also to be recommended; the latter have no pumps or extra gadgets except a pressure release valve.
Solar heaters need to be of a size adequate for your water needs. Much depends on the amount of water used, but conservation should always accompany solar energy use. Shower lengths and volumes are critical. With this in mind, install water-conserving showerheads and consider initiating "army" style showers (wet down, soap up without water running, and rinse off).
The solar heater design should be visibly pleasing and in harmony with the exterior of your building. The site should be near where water is used, and yet accessible to those who wish to inspect the unit closely. The ideal situation in areas of severe winters is to have a non-solar back-up system that is also energy-efficient and of low environmental impact. Instant heating back-up systems work well enough, if domestic water demand is low and water pressure sufficient to allow water to flow easily.
Many prefer to save money by doing their own construction. A homemade solar water heater is quite simple to construct; it can be built by enclosing a used water tank hooked to a gravity-fed water system. Water is collected in a solar absorbing water tank that is painted black. The enclosure resembles a glass-covered open-sided insulated coffin (made with weather-protected materials). Six-inch Fiberglas insulation batts are covered with aluminum flashing to preserve the solar-heated water for use after dark. Homemade solar hot water heaters may be mounted at selected locations and angled toward the sun. Slightly southeast directions are sometimes found to be adequate. An insulated door placed over the opening in the glass can be inserted to close at night to retain the heated water longer. If properly insulated in an average year, the solar heaters will furnish 100 degree F water for much of the year. However, non-protected devices should be drained in winter and used only in warmer periods.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to use the sun's rays to our benefit.
Ripened mulberries from garden tree.
July 24, 2019 Share with the Hungry and Forsaken
O Lord, teach us to say sincerely:
"Give us this day our daily bread."
You have allowed us to call you Father,
and to see all the human family as brothers and sisters.
So the "us" means all of us here on Earth:
the consumers of prime beef and junk food;
those who resort to pet food and accept it;
those in Bihar and Ethiopia and Paris and Washington.
You tell us to give also.
You tell us that when we sow bountifully,
so shall we reap.
You say that when we harvest and overlook a sheaf
not to go back,
for that is for the alien, the orphan, the widow.
You say that when we knock down the fruit from the olive
not to go over the branches a second time;
the same applies when we pick grapes.
-- for we were once slaves to allurements. --
You have given us daily bread,
and we, who have eaten our fill,
tend to be unmindful of others.
We are insensitive to the cries of the poor,
and we turn our eyes from the famished,
for they are not pleasant to behold.
You who fill the lowly with good things,
assist them in communicating with us,
and let us seek to become lowly in return.
Help us to see and be moved,
to demand justice that all receive their due,
and that justice includes our sharing deeds.
Help us to share our daily bread with all
in justice and not charity,
for our bread belongs to all.
We are spiritually hungry and blinded,
for we know how to take
but lack knowing how to give and share.
We make our prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen
Almost full moon, July 2019.
July 25, 2019 Proclaim a Planetary Ode to Joy?
Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. (Mark 16:16)
We sing while we work, and there is no better place to sing than among growing plants and natural landscape, which join in silent but joyful ways to show gratitude for being alive. Our song announces that the Good News goes out to all creation. When we sing, we add melodious words to our emotional feelings; we gladden our immediate environment; we allow the vibrations of joy to extend to others in the vicinity and to more distant living beings. Joy is contagious and thus we, as messengers, are source of Good News.
For the challenge to work successfully, we need to regard it as service to others. Sure, sing to houseplants but that is within the confines of a building. Unfortunately barriers exist dividing inside from outside. To go out to all the world means we must exit buildings and enter gardens, the "launching pad" of Good News to all of creation. The lowly garden of creation (Eden) and the re-creation (the garden of Joseph of Arimathaea) from which Jesus rose, were the sources of news of sorrow and news of joy. Gardens have a special place for they are made for human benefit and by human hands, and show participation in ongoing creation.
How do humans extend Good News to all creation including plants and animals? By accepting the sheer delight of colorful, fragrant and tasty plants we are uplifted in our quality of life. We are made better by the presence of created beings all around and find added enthusiasm to continue godly work that needs to be performed, especially repairing damages done by human misdeeds. In so far as other creatures assist us in such service, they become both the recipients and partial source of Good News, for God is working through them. Through their presence we gain insight on what the fragile planet can become; thus, they become Good News in the act of receiving and giving -- that is, communicating with us.
Vibrations of joy extending in creation become Good News, for if these beings bring us joy, we, in turn, extend that joy outward to all around us. This ripple effect of Good News allows for the receptivity of a sense of thanksgiving among those who can articulate the feelings in the heart. All creation basks in the joy of a thankful soul. In this manner, while sin abounds and does harm, joyful thanksgiving has the opposite effect of building up the crescendo of joy.
Prayer: O God, fill our eyes and hearts with the beauty that creatures give when intertwined with us and inspiring us to proclaim your praise:
Let the heavens be glad, let earth rejoice,
let the sea thunder and all that it holds,
let the fields exult and all that is in them,
let all the woodland trees cry out for joy.