September creeps in through the course of what some think is endless summer. Days can still be hot but if we look more closely the first clues of autumn are appearing. The mist is more enduring, days are shorter, a few leaves are turning and a preponderance of yellow flowers appear. Even the wildlife takes note that things are changing. The produce of late summer continues: green corn, tomatoes, squash, beans, peaches, plums, grapes, and early apples. We are always thankful at the end of the month that we have survived another hot summer.
Monotropa hypopitys, misplaced, misspelled by experts, Herbaceous plant not fed by light, which other has 80 synonyms?
Ideal September traffic light: yellow in summer, red in autumn, Temperate but confused with others in California; Still a Delight!
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Emerging seeds of the Ozark milkweed, Asclepias viridis.
September 1, 2017 Labor: Rights and Responsibilities
Labor Day weekend reminds us that we need to work, we are fulfilled by working, and we find a social aspect to an occupation no matter where we like it or not. Labor can be seen as our creative expression of self, our prayer through our hands, the way we leave our mark on the world around us, our gift to future generations, our sense of meaning and dignity, our sacrifice for others, and our use of gifts given with our unique mark attached. Those unable to labor can offer their sufferings in the crucible of global labor -- a spiritually communal enterprise of our working with the Lord. On the other hand, for the lazy, working may be a burden, which they would prefer to avoid -- or just tolerate until retirement. But energetic people prefer to talk about a "right to meaningful labor," which is part of the right to live, to breathe unpolluted air, to eat wholesome food, to raise one's kids, and to have peace and prosperity to which everyone is entitled by birth.
A capitalistic society, which expects to maintain a pool of the unemployed from which to draw, is cruel to say the least. In such a system people vie with each other for scarce jobs and are willing to take fewer benefits. Dog is supposed to eat dog. In China the surplus of labor has been so abundant that stories exist of enticing rural immigrants to work without written contracts and then dismissing them when the paycheck is due. Closer to home are examples of runaway industries that flee to nations with poorer work conditions, and thus allowing lower wages, more pollution, and no or little social security. Furthermore experts project that a 1% rise in unemployment is accompanied by a 5% rise in violent crime and family discord.
Rights include responsibilities: laborers must do a proper day's work; employers must furnish decent working conditions; and governments must become the ultimate employers (even if it takes a constitutional amendment). If citizens are expected to help defend their country, they have the right to a livelihood through honest labor that is guaranteed by that country. A healthy nation should provide jobs and arrange that immense private resources be redistributed to enable the unemployed to work. Self-employment ought to be safeguarded by governmental policies of incentives.
Our nation could transfer some of the immense amount of money on the military to environmental and conservation measures, rebuilding the national infrastructure, constructing affordable housing for all, developing a crash program for wind and solar energy applications, undertaking public works programs to expand public transportation systems, parks, medical facilities, and recreational areas (the WPA projects stand as architectural gems and enduring public works monuments), and enhancing AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, VISTA and private overseas voluntary agencies. Work opportunities and workers abound; they must be utilized.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see how brief is our time to do meaningful things, and how valuable are our work opportunities.
Animal companion, sleeping. (*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
September 2, 2017 Consolation: Kind Words and Deeds
As we advance in years, we need to spend additional time at hospitals, senior citizen centers and funeral parlors. The deceased is a relative or friend, and we need to be present and pay our respects. Duty at difficult moments means expressing those condolences that do not come easily; we are self-conscious because sympathetic words seem to fail us. That is a common experience, for we sometimes find it difficult to be at wakes or visiting someone in a hospital room, or addressing letters of condolence. However, we always find that kind words and deeds are deeply appreciated, and that moves us to act accordingly.
A little effort means a lot to those who grieve. The hospital visit or conversation or message ought to be mercifully short in most circumstances. In cultures with prolonged wakes, some folks are satisfied with just sitting in silence. More than spoken words is the act of just being present and showing loving concern, a hug or a warm handshake or just a demonstration of compassion through silence or weeping whichever comes more freely. The awareness of our own powerlessness is itself a sign of comfort; we are not masters of our fate. "I am with you at this moment and that is all I can do." This precious moment of thoughtfulness is really the spice of life. Let's keep seasoning flowing even when it takes some effort. We can grow in the virtue of compassion.
Part of giving consolation is also a willingness on our part to receive acts of kindness from others. All of us have to give and all of us sooner or later must receive from other well wishers when our loved ones pass on or we are sick. At those unexpected or awaited moments we ought to be gracious, to show appreciation that the other party has taken the time and effort, and even to be sensitive enough to assist them in giving their self-conscious or awkward condolences with good will and true acceptance.
Words of support refresh the parched soul like cool, bubbling water from a hillside spring.
They are all the more welcome when unexpected, and arriving just when I'm down and out, and have nowhere to turn.
They awaken within me a sense of renewed hope that I'll speak consoling words to refresh another.
Prayer: Lord, let us give and receive consolation gracefully.
If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)
No one likes to renounce anything personal and that includes all the stuff we collect to improve our persona -- if that is possible. We live in a world of fiction, make believe, self improvement gimmicks, and ultimate consumerism, where profit-making corporations make every effort to entice consumers to buy, buy, buy. Electronic gadgets manufacturers stumble over each other with one new improved device for greater convenience that the consumer is expected to panic in keeping up with peers. On the other hand, a stance of self-denial is regarded as unpatriotic, for 70% of our American economy is based on consumption. However, self denial is the truly Christian thing to practice.
Being Christian in a consumption-oriented world requires several points for reflection: Christ gave of himself totally for us; we also have crosses in our lives; and we must consider self- denial as a proper Christian practice. None of us can remotely equal the cross that Christ accepted and his total gift of himself for us. He emptied himself and became one of us. St. Paul says that even while we were sinners Christ died for us on a cross, the extraordinary sacrifice for those who do not deserve this act.
Our own accepting of a cross includes recognizing that I am imitating Christ through a more generous sacrifice. My cross may be accepting limited talents, inability to gain a desired position, certain charges in physical condition beyond my control, lack of resources to do what needs to be done, or an illness or disability of some sort, which at times make me feel depressed and undeserved. When we recognize and accept this cross with a sense of gratitude then we can become shining examples to a world that shuns crosses and become angry that such even exist.
In order to accept a cross more readily, we have to turn from the allurements of this world that confuse us and force us to overlook who we really are. The Lord expects more of us and we must respond. Self-denial is the Christian way to go. In the past the traditional practice included abstaining from eating meat on Fridays and fast days. This practice was not difficult for those with many food choices and certainly not much of an option for those who could only afford meat a few times a week. Each of us are able to understand what denial means in our own life: those who compulsively need to be connected by phone ought to consider allowing it to be turned off for a period of time; those who enjoy shopping ought to take a break; drivers can become occasional walkers; eat less or fewer times; give some of our surplus for the benefit of needy neighbors.
Prayer: Lord, shape us into being good followers, to recognize the cross that you give us, to accept this in gratitude for all the good gifts that have come our way. Teach us to be self-deniers.
Crimson clover, Trifolium incarnatum, along stone fence.
September 4, 2017 Curb Soft Drink Use
With summer heat still with us we can honestly ask: how many times during the summer am I tempted to get a soft drink? Maybe our excuse is a soft drink tastes better than water, or the place I am has no readily available water fountain. We are told Kentucky has a high rate of soft drink consumption. Other states are now taxing soft drinks but they face corporate opposition. But in too many places soft drink dispensers are prominent -- and the drink is expensive but satisfying. Or maybe you hear the refrigerator door open, close and the hiss of the escaping carbonation as a thirsty soul opens a can. And then there is that inevitable question when ordering a lunch, "What will you have to drink?" Along with fries, the drinks are real moneymakers for fast food restaurants.
Some health experts say emerging obesity problems among American youth (and adults) are due in no small part to the sugar in soft drinks. And this excess sugar is why the beverage industry has spent time converting to diet beverages or flavored and carbonated water, which some people find less tasteful than sugar-filled drink. A major portion of our over-one-hundred pounds of sugar per person per year is in the beverages consumed. This adds pounds and overall health problems, especially for youth, about a quarter are overweight. Counter-measures are being called for.
Along with rising health concerns we witness the invasion of our public schools by the soft drink vendors. Why is there a Coca Cola/Pepsi commercial war directed to school boards across the nation, over the issue of which vendor has a right to set up machines in particular schools? Why should students who wear Pepsi tee-shirts be sent home on Coca Cola appreciation days? These turf wars, while yielding money for cash-strapped school board coffers, are giving the wrong product selection to students. Since the turn of the century youthful milk consumption has fallen significantly, while consumption of soft drinks (with their empty calories and excessive caffeine) has doubled. Recall that youth need the calcium and other healthy nutrients found in milk.
In addition, consider the problem of dealing with soft drink containers. The label says to dispose of properly, but that is not always possible. Roadsides are inundated with soft drink bottles and cans, causing neighborhood visual pollution. We are surprised to find out that more resources go into making the beverage container than the contents, and that applies to bottled water as well. Soft drink containers are in the billions and even with major recycling programs some billions go unaccounted for each year. Making one's own lemonade, fruit drink, herbal tea or other drinks is better from an economic, resource and environmental standpoint. We made our own root beer during the Second World War, and I make mint teas today. Are we Americans willing to remove soft drinks from food stamp coverage?
Prayer: Lord, you are the fountain of living water; help us to drink deeply from the source of your refreshment.
Sunset glow on honey locust, Gleditsia triacanthos.
September 5, 2017 Ozone: Friend or Foe?
When ozone accumulates near the surface of our Earth as in congested motor vehicle areas, it adds to the air pollution that affects the health of many residents. The internal combustion engine is one culprit along with the owner who wants to drive excessively. The solution requires better controls of air pollution and equipment, and many places do not meet optimum standards for the first, and many drivers possess polluting vehicles. So ozone as foe continues to haunt us.
Ozone the foe may be on the loose, but ozone the friend (the same substance) is another environmental story that confuses many people. Whether ozone is good or bad depends on where the substance is located. About 1970 detector units located in Antarctica indicated that declines were occurring in the stratospheric layer of ozone needed to protect humans and Earth's plants and animals from harmful ultraviolet radiation. Scientists became masterful detectives and found much but not all of the destruction of this friendly ozone was due to certain commercial Freons used as aerosol propellants and in other applications. Thinning of the layer and actual holes in the ozone shield of the Northern frigid zones were detected soon after. Scientists documented possible damage to skin and eyes in the affected regions, especially southern Chile and Argentina, nearer the depleted Antarctica zones as well as Finland and areas of the frigid northern zone.
But it is not all bad news. In the past decade, countries have imposed restrictions and non-polluting forms of Freons and other substitutes have been developed and made commercially available for most applications. It is a United Nations environmental success story. Certainly some dangerous Freons are still used, but the upper ozone layer is recovering in a marked degree. The United Nations-sponsored Montreal Protocol of 1992 has followed this pattern with happy results. Former UN secretary Kofi Annan called that Montreal treaty the single most successful international agreement to date; additional banning of successor chemicals have also received international agreement.
The ozone as foe at ground levels and in more concentrated amounts has contributed to breathing problems for people in many urban areas both in American and other lands especially in China. We in America are facing the relaxation of fuel regulations and EPA oversight by the current Administration, all to the detriment of human health. Other air pollutants are also culprits and so the mix must be addressed. We have to realize many times in this age of chemical use and misuse that much depends on amounts and where located as to being friend or foe. As in the tale of Freon-use it all boils down to human responsibility.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see dangers early, to take collective steps because our environment requires international cooperative action. And we are thankful that the problems can be controlled.
Watching an approaching September thunderstorm.
September 6, 2017 Celebrate the Labyrinth
In recent decades, more environmentally conscious religious communities have returned to a Middle Age instrument for furnishing a virtual pilgrimage route for local residents. This is a "Labyrinth,” a form of maze, which entails walking deliberately and prayerfully over a designed pattern on the ground or a building's floor. The person moves on a trail to the pattern's center and then back out to the outer edge. The movement in and out is regarded as a metaphor for life's journey done with concentration and reflection. Labyrinths were a popular form of spiritual exercise and prayer when long trips to the Holy Land were unsafe or financially impossible. The labyrinths in cathedrals such as Chartres in France made it possible for people to make these substitutes for Holy Land journeys with the accompanying appreciation and spiritual satisfaction.
Today's return of the labyrinth's popularity may be a desire for symbolic action through moderate physical exertion on one's personal spiritual journey. Maybe it is a good conservation measure, for the person does not have to undertake a long distance pilgrimage, which takes some travel costs. Labyrinths of about fifty or so feet across are sprouting up at retreat centers, church yards, religious retirement communities and numerous other places, especially at mainline Christian institutions. Strolling through a labyrinth appeals across the board to women and men and to young and old. Some participants consider it as preparation for reflection rather than a prayer itself.
While not inclined to this particular spiritual exercise, I see its value for many people and especially retreatants. It fits into a growing category of such exercises: gesture, dance, hiking, yoga, and other forms of physical/spiritual exercise. The walking about in a systematic pattern affirms that prayer requires concentration and posture/stance/movement of the whole person. Consider that when engaged in an outdoor labyrinth experience through walking or wheel chair, participants benefit from full-spectrum sunlight and fresh air -- ingredients of a healthy life. Indoor labyrinths can be used as well, especially in inclement weather as a form of exercise.
Labyrinths come in various designs, but usually involve a pathway that moves from the outside to the center and then back out. Various labyrinth patterns are available in large plastic sheets, which are laid out on a flat surface. Locating a labyrinth in a place with limited privacy is suggested. Some labyrinth installers paint designs on tennis courts or parking lots, which are not heavily used. Others run a lawn mower over a meadow to build the design into the landscape, but that requires periodic summer maintenance. Other labyrinths are laid out with more elaborate flagstone, concrete, blacktop, gravel or mosaic designs.
Prayer: Lord, direct us on a road that we can easily follow even when we choose to do this on or in a labyrinth.
Labor Day Weekend is history and we return to routines, but should we forget the summer travel just undertaken? Travel mobility gives us a sense of freedom and contentment; some experiences are worth recording for future recall and enjoyment.
In the past, travel involved a journey (the Latin word "diurnata" for day's work); getting somewhere took time and effort. Modern travel, by train, plane or automobile, is easier than walking or going by horseback, cramped sailing vessels or stagecoach -- but it can be tiresome and frustrating at times. Travel overcomes isolated communities and allows us to know different peoples and cultures; it is a unique educational opportunity for eager students; it provides an experience for pilgrims; it allows wanderers to reacquaint with their home or roots; and it may be an escape from oppressive conditions.
However, travel has its toll and risks; the travel vehicle can be a source of air pollution; the travel facilities require airports, roads, lodging and recreation areas; pristine areas can be overrun by visitors; and noise and congestion accompany many tourist activities. Travel may also help spread diseases from one isolated place to a more populated one. In the past, contagious diseases usually only ravaged limited areas because few people entered and left infected locations. Even so, the fourteenth century Black Plague traveled over trade routes at quite rapid speeds. If true then, what about jet travel? Reference: The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett.
Though recording the happenings can prove inconvenient to the traveler, do consider keeping a record. Once I had hiked to the top of the Kentucky Natural Bridge when an arriving tourist asked where he could get the best picture. I said "At the souvenir shop. It's too difficult without a helicopter ride by a professional." When a team traveled to Peru on a solar project in 1993, one of our party had his camera stolen from his backpack at the Lima Airport. Modern digital cameras and audio equipment can record events quite well, but they still need extra care and protection.
Consider a handy notebook for recording proper names, places, new friends, addresses and road directions -- and few want to steal notebooks. Our memories fade but review of written records triggers happy memories. Another recording hint is to trace on a map the exact route taken and add abbreviated notes on the map's edges. Maps also help us to familiarize ourselves with the countryside. Acquire maps as early as possible and spend some time looking them over and knowing the basic directions. Modern auto GPS guides leave no record. Generally, we forget salient points and most likely will forget many of the minor ones, unless we make records with the camera, audiotape, notebooks or maps.
Prayer: Lord, make us mindful that our travels are really part of and highlights on our faith journey through life.
September 8, 2017 Solar Greenhouses and Cold Frames
Solar greenhouses retain solar heat that is used to grow plants during the cooler portions of the year. They work better in milder climates and need to be well-insulated with a heat-retaining system such as a water tank or stone heat storage. Ample literature is available on where to buy or how to construct free-standing or attached solar greenhouses. The free-standing ones are somewhat harder to heat, because they have more exterior surface, but this can be compensated for by excavating and sinking the structure at a lower level than surrounding surface, with the soil serving as low-cost insulation. Lexan and other good plastic and glass glazings enhance the insulating quality by retaining critical heat to sustain greenhouse plants. All structures should face south.
With good planning and proper choice of plants, a solar greenhouse becomes a producing garden without using high-priced fossil fuels. The greenhouse acts like a large permanent cold frame, which provides greens and fresh vegetables and herbs throughout the cooler months of the year. For proper growth of spring seedlings some auxiliary heating may be required. When attached to a building and properly constructed, a solar greenhouse has the added advantage of providing a substantial amount of space heating. A 120-square foot solar greenhouse at Mount Vernon, which we added, supplied a 2,000 square feet environmental office with nearly 40% of space heating on sunny winter days.
We can use solar greenhouses as storage places during the hot summer months even though the temptation is to abandon the building for this period. We shaded the exterior of our solar greenhouse with Jerusalem artichokes, which is a natural shade protection; this vegetable grows well in summer and dies back in autumn when we need the solar energy for growing plants. Hot weather plants, like tomatoes and peppers, can grow indoors in warmer weather, where they take less watering in dry seasons but need adequate ventilation on hot days. We would transfer late summer tomato crops for fall production, as well as Swiss chard, dill, parsley and certain greens for winter yields. Also greenhouse can serve in summer as effective solar food dryers.
An attached solar greenhouse can be used as a sunny atrium with flowers, a seating space, a social gathering place, or a meditation area and chapel space, and in a water backup tank can even be used to raise fish. Non-permanent, low-cost cold frames can be easily built using natural or synthetic fabric covers; these can be useful for protecting plants both in spring and autumn. To build the "caterpillar" variety of cold frame, measure the garden plot; make hoops by bending quarter-inch rib bar and rust-proof the edges (or use American bamboo hoops of bent stems); insert hoops every three feet along the length of the bed with about a two-foot air space above; cover with Reemay or other cloth fabric; and tie the cover down with pegs like a tent. Air out on sunny days.
Prayer: Help us, Lord, to treasure our Earth's green space.
1. Enter the forest with reverence. Walk softly and gingerly in the woods for it is holy ground and God's presence can be experienced here. Teach others not to see forests as wastelands that are exploitable, but as precious areas having intrinsic worth.
2. Do not trash the forest resource. Remember that the forest is worth much more than just the trees turned into timber, idols of material profit. Rather promote the forest's natural beauty.
3. Celebrate the forest. It is not enough to refrain from misuse; the trees, the understory, the wildlife, and the sheer biodiversity are all worth celebrating. These give us joy through public recognition.
4. Honor and encourage native species. The forest is our fellow creature with whom we are members of the family of beings. We need to honor this coexistence and see once more how much the family of all beings must be appreciated.
5. Walk lightly in the forest. We can easily harm or kill the understory by use of heavy equipment, by driving motorized recreational vehicles or by allowing certain species to proliferate for hunting purposes. Forests can be seriously harmed by human activity or through introducing exotic and invasive species.
6. Do not rape the forest. To take a little of a resource is acceptable; to take too much endangers the target species and may threaten its very existence. The habit of taking just enough of a species to satisfy personal needs allows for continued vitality.
7. Do not make excessive commercial gain at the expense of the forest. Our woodland harvests should be for our own immediate needs and not be stolen from future generations. We need to think ahead, for future generations own some of the things under our immediate care.
8. Do not bear witness against the forest. The forest is not almighty with guaranteed replenishment. Rather, the forest is a vulnerable resource that must be protected from exploitation.
9. Do not turn the forest into an economic commodity. Realize that the forest's value goes beyond mere economic designation, for just seeing the forest for what it is without trying to make demands on it is a better approach to respecting the forest.
10. Do not covet the Commons. The forests of the world are the lungs of our planet, a gift to all, and for the benefit of all; let us preserve and enhance them for future generations.
Prayer: Lord, give us a sense of loving, honoring, preserving, protecting, enhancing and promoting our forests.
September 10, 2017Networking with those in Trouble
If your brother or sister listens to you, you have won them over. (Matthew 18:15-20)
Taking corrective measures is part of our journey together in faith. If we are not able to meet and connect with others, then correction cannot be initiated and wrongdoing continues. In our age, wrongful acts of polluting the environment or wasting resources require corrective measures either at an individual (one to one), small group or broad level. Such personal corrective measures done in private trigger the least embarrassment or social disruption. When these corrective measures fail, the wrongdoing ought to be brought to the "church," or larger believing community. We cannot remain silent; we must speak when wrongdoing occurs. All in all Earthhealing intrinsically involves fraternal correction.
Such corrective measures require a form of networking, a connecting of correcting agents with wrongdoers. Networking means getting involved, a first step to specifying the wrongdoing and addressing the problem. We live in an age of instant communication -- phones, e-mail, radio, television, all of which can help us in public interest activism. However, the relatively low price of these connections means that information overload has crept into our lives and the amount of material scatters our focus on important issues. We may try to focus by avoiding being placed on mailing lists; we want regulatory agencies to stop spam or unwanted phone calls. But we cannot remain silent when we know about wrongdoing in our midst -- and yet we most often cannot effect corrective measures alone and thus must reach out for assistance. Driven by a sense of responsibility we want to take effective action and that means joining with others. Discerning what to network requires prayer to God for assistance.
Decide to network, use every letter you write, every conversation you have, every meeting you attend, to express your fundamental beliefs and dreams. Robert Muller.
The Internet has brought the networking process into our office and home and even our private recreational space. At virtually no expense except time we are able to converse with people in very distant places -- and some may give us the help we need in the arena of fraternal correction. We may initiate a more than social contact; through the Internet and the cell phone we can go out to people who otherwise were outside of our purview. Actually our ability to initiate fraternal correction can be through modern communications but still require the face to face interchange -- emails do not work here. Corrective matters require the gentle and caring touch that cannot come from distant approaches -- and there are also the records that invade the privacy of one-to-one undertakings.
Prayer: Lord, make us networkers of the Good News and through these efforts may we be those who help bring about fraternal correction in a gentle and inviting manner.
Button bush, Cephalanthus occidentalis. Anderson Co., KY.
September 11, 2017 In Defense of Wilderness
Wilderness is that part of the world that has not been changed by human activity and remains in an undeveloped condition. Forestlands or drylands minus trees can be wilderness as can mountains and polar regions -- though presence of wildlife is considered a component of the designation. Though some of us are convinced that human activity can enhance wilderness, we still must understand that leaving some areas in a natural state may be better. After reading the book 1491 I was impressed by the argument that what we regard as "wilderness" was what the first European settlers found in the Americas. Actually lands cultivated by Native Americans were lapsing back into uncultivated states due to high mortality rates among indigenous populations from smallpox and other introduced diseases.
Today American wilderness is under assault from those seeking mineral, petroleum, logging or development interests and the use of their modern equipment (bulldozers and chainsaws in place of oxen and broadaxes). When a piece of land is seen to have commercial value as a resort, a growing area for an agricultural commodity, a shopping mall, or a housing development, it can be ripped up in a wink. However, the wilderness has value in an unexploited state, e.g., its natural beauty, its nests and havens, its biodiversity and regenerating potential, and as a source of future medicines.
Concerned conservation-oriented public and private agencies acquire land that is threatened by development; they seek to create larger habitat space and to establish wildlife corridors for wildlife migration unhindered by transportation routes. A number of states are constructing wildlife tunnels along traditional migratory routes. Preserving wilderness is a noble enterprise, but this may require donors with deep pockets. Threatened places can be purchased by the private or the public conservation agencies and protected by a regulator umbrella. The concept of preservation is good, provided insensitive proponents do not seek to expel long- time human residents for the sake of expanded wilderness.
Colonizing Americans often regarded wilderness as a danger zone that could not be tolerated but needed to be developed or conquered for the sake of civilization. Holmes Rolston, III asks, "Can or ought we to follow nature?" and answers in a number of interesting ways. Activists champion biodiversity. In truth, activism involves confronting developers, exposing damage and defending the worth of wilderness amid a climate of favoritism to corporate exploitation. Furthermore, activism also involves creating wildscape in yards, artificial wetlands, and conservation areas. The federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service must redouble protective programs in the face of a sea of exploiters lobbying for state controls and privatization of public lands. See Philosophy Gone Wild, Holmes Rolston, III.
Prayer: Lord, teach us that sabbatical rest includes leaving some land uncultivated and recognizing wilderness as your gift.
An assortment of heirloom strawflowers and marigolds.
September 12, 2017 Promote and Enjoy Home Hobbies
As the first chill of autumn appears, we think of the warm, snug domestic environment, where winter time hobbies flourish. Which ones can be entertainment and which may contain hidden dangers? Emphasize those that are sociable, fulfilling, attention-catching and healthy for all parties.
Prayer: Lord, help us to promote wholesome home entertainment and to champion the hobbies that give us greater fulfillment.
September 13, 2017 Christians, Genesis and Earthhealing
Some critics fault Christian philosophy/theology as the root cause of the environmental crisis due to the misinterpreted mandate in the Genesis account of creation on the sixth day -- God blessed them, saying to them, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and conquer it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, and all living animals on the earth" (Genesis 1:28).
Could it have been misinterpretation or cultural limitation that was involved? Lynn White, Jr. in "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis" (Science, Vol. 155 (Number 3767), March 1967, pp. 1203-1207), regarded as the most requested reprint in scientific literature, said that Christians found in Genesis a certain mandate to subdue our Earth. He added that "wilderness" occurs approximately three hundred times in the Bible, and all its appearances are derogatory. To his credit, White mentioned St. Francis as a model of good environmentalism. However, does theological understanding need a new interpretation in the light of modern science -- and technology or can we keep the Bible open?
Conquest by a primitive people meant living in harmony with a hostile world of natural disasters and unknown diseases challenging conquest. An eco-spirituality as seen by a people who barely could keep alive and flourish was relative to that particular time and place. With the growth in understanding and practical application, science and technology offered immense benefits but these opened the way for exploitative conquest by neo-colonial capture of other peoples and a lack of respect. What was a commons as the Creator's gift was turned into an exploitable resource. Was Scripture at fault or misused for a sinister purpose? Some justified enslavement by far-fetched interpretations of Scripture; so do they justify mistreatment of Earth herself. While White focused on the justification by Western explorers/ exploiters (same word in some European languages) for conquests, what was lacking was an exegesis of the words "mastery" and "conquest." Conquest or subjugation required some degree of mastery; so does protecting and caring for all creation. The Genesis account was highly nuanced, and "control" meant responsibility over what was entrusted by the creator to imperfect human beings. When lacking reverence for God and creation, control and mastery lead to misuse.
Jesus does not come as a worldly conqueror, for he plainly disappoints his disciples in his lack of military and political ambitions. Jesus transforms "mastery" from control over another, through his washing the feet of the disciples, to one of loving service to those looking on him as master. This interpretation of Jesus has endured through two millennia. As Earth healers, we must give loving service to fish, birds and animals living on Earth. Farmers know the difference between those who mistreat and those who care for their domestic livestock; it takes no understanding of biblical hermeneutics for the farmer to treat livestock properly.
Prayer: Lord, help us take responsibility for caring for all creatures and for confronting exploiters in our midst.
Gray caterpillar with black diamond decoration, Spodoptera.
September 14, 2017The Sign of the Cross
So the Son of Man must be lifted up. (John 3: 13-17)
Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. We Catholic Christians (and also Orthodox and Anglicans) publicly sign ourselves with the sign of the cross even at times when the eyes of others seem critical to the practice. This action says much, both in the words and in the moving sign about our central belief: it is a creative blessing in the signing person when reverently calling on the name of the Lord; it is a public witness to the redeeming act of Jesus on Calvary through the sign of the cross itself; it is a blessing in words that does not rest on me alone but is the going out by the Spirit to all the world to which I am a witness.
Creatively, we find that we enter through the sign of the cross into the Mystery of the Godhead. We say that we are part of God's family and that this is a blessing that we glory in all our lives. Blessings are from God, a pure gift, which we do not deserve and yet they are given by the graciousness of the Almighty. Our recognition of this in a public manner is a sign of gratitude as a blessing with holy water when one enters the Church. The cross is the sign of our redemption and can be fixed atop a sacred building or as a crucifix in a room, or as a cross worn as a medal to signify our belief. While this is an opportunity to profess our faith, this public sign could trigger ridicule by non-Christians who want to deny any public expression of religion. They may regard any exaltation in a cross as a meaningless sign of torture and death. However, as signers we affirm that the sting of death has been transformed into an instrument of risen life.
The cross is not just fixed to places or the sign performed at individual periods of time. Christians carry the cross to other parts of the world through spreading the Good News; some defy civil authorities by wearing a cross even in prisons; and some sign themselves as witnesses at the moment of martyrdom. Some identify this as the cross of suffering they carry in their own bodies, or they assume and help carry the cross for others as caregivers to those who suffer.
The words of the "sign of the cross" were first spoken over us at baptism and the final words and sign will be given as we are placed in the grave. All have a Trinitarian character when performed properly and is honored throughout life. The paradox is that a sign of ignominy becomes Good News for it involves entering into others' suffering and inviting them to participate in ours. Compassion is love and is witness to the love God shows us. Through the eyes of faith we can perceive our individual crosses as joined with others in a universal Calvary event stretching through the centuries. It is the "now" of the cross when we sign ourselves more thoughtfully. Also it is the sign of eternal glory.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to exalt in the sign of the cross with a sense of reverence for all the mysteries that it signifies.
Bluegrass "rock fence" at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.
September 15, 2017 Let's Try Organizing
Many of us do not like the way things are going politically and we want to do something about it. Regulations we hold dear are being abandoned; climate change curbing is being left unattended; the rich seem to be getting richer at the expense of the poor. In so many ways with terrorism continuing and the Middle East conflict still unresolved, we are drawn to consider methods of becoming more active. Are there allied groups to join, causes to focus on, and ways of becoming effective as individuals and among compatriots?
To be successful in organizing requires effort and resources that may mean forming coalitions in order to work to a final goal. Saul Alinsky, a Vietnam War era community organizer, became the guru of this approach to public interest work. He stressed choosing good issues, obtaining results through the use of community resources, making the results known through confrontational tactics, and learning to move from minor to broader successes. Certainly, not every issue is worth use of our limited resources. If the chosen issue cannot be handled in a traditional individual manner, join with like-minded people on the issue.
Being focused on the particular issue requires learning facts, facing the demands for change and compromise, and seeing the need to make the issue all the more public. Some require meetings, planning, letter-writing, e-mails, phone calls to legislators, face-to-face persuasion, local participation in political events, lobbying or marches, petitions, financial support, and direct confrontation with the powers to be.
Crystal balls simply reveal no future. Still we can plan and estimate what can be achieved if we limit ourselves to what is practical. Often, the best approach is one of public demonstration or practices that encourage others to join in cooperative action. Some organizers dream of far-reaching results, far beyond what is reasonable. We always stand amazed that our founding parents were able to envision a great nation during the dark years of the American Revolution. They found the organizing of the republic was tricky and exhausting, but they were able to find it rewarding in the longer run even with its wrinkles. They were faithful to the cause and did not stop until victory was won.
Citizen groups have a mixed record of achieving success. Some wane in enthusiasm or lack resources; others are over-dependence or leave dirty work to a few; still others do not see the power of continuing the fight. The issues mentioned are urgent for solution and there are still people who know that victory is possible. A form of pessimism is self-defeating, so remain with those with courage to continue the fight. Say a prayer for continued stamina, and do not let the power of the status quo cast a cloud over your efforts. Success is possible if we believe it.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, enliven our hearts and quicken our nerves for the work to bring all things to you.
Mid-September and expected costly fuel bills make this a perfect time to think ahead to further winterizing the home. It pays to search for possible leaks at sole plates, wall outlets, external doors and windows, fireplaces, and kitchen and bath vents.
* Weatherstrip with commercial metal strip, wood or adhesive-backed foam rubber, rolled vinyl with aluminum channel backing, rubber or neoprene strips, or felt strips (cheap, but not very durable). Local hardware or home building supply dealers will help in what you need to weatherize. Remember to look between door and window frames and other places. Where weatherstripping is not suitable, consider caulking for foundation sills, corners formed by siding, along outside water faucets and electrical outlets, at wire and pipe penetration of ceilings, between porches and main parts of the house, where chimney or masonry connects with siding, and where the wall meets the eave at attic gable end.
* Caulking, like weatherstripping, is a good low-cost way to enhance the winterizing of home or office. Caulking comes in all types of cartridges, fillers, rope caulking or glazing compounds. Don't caulk in cold weather, and apply the caulk on clean surfaces. Cut the plastic cover at a slant to allow for better "bead" control in the application. Oil-based caulking materials are the least expensive, but last for several years. On the other hand, caulking of small and medium cracks with more expensive polysulfide, polyurethane, or silicone will last for two decades. Fillers made from hemp treated with tar, glass fiber, caulking cotton or sponge rubber are used for larger cracks (more than a quarter of an inch), and then the cartridge caulking is used. Rope caulking is good for temporary jobs around AC units and storm windows.
* Insulation is a good investment, with rapid payback along with immense long-term savings. Determine needs depending on your heating zone location and the "R" value (measure of resistance of insulation to heat flow) listed on each package. When shopping, consider price, ease of application, area needing insulation, and availability. Some rock wool, glass fiber and cellulose fiber must be blown into spaces with special equipment by a professional contractor. This is the method of choice when retrofitting insulation of wall and some ceiling space. An unfinished attic floor can be insulated by loose fill which is poured in (rock wool, glass fiber, cellulose, vermiculite or perlite), or by batts (foil side down for barrier effects between insulation and attic floor). Don't hand- pack loose insulation; keep it fluffy. Use protective clothing in application. Cellulose insulation is made from old newsprint using a chopping machine and a fire-retardant chemical such as boric acid (don't use corrosive retardant chemicals). When buying cellulose insulating materials, look for third party testing such as Underwriters Laboratory for fire safety and corrosion.
Prayer: Lord teach us to think ahead in all that we do and to be practical in conserving the precious fuel resources at hand.
September 17, 2017 Citizenship Day: A Forgiving America
On Citizenship Day we Americans should realize that our day in the sun as the world's sole superpower may be quite brief, for empires since ancient times have had definite time spans. A growth of our American indebtedness at ten thousand dollars/second and a trillion dollars a year could shorten that duration in the U.S. case. We cannot continue to build the largest military in the world (greater than the next seven military powers combined) and constantly omit taxing the rich fairly. In this age of terrorism we sense that nations with larger accumulations of power and wealth have become targets of terrorists who threaten our quality of life.
On Citizenship Day we recall the struggles to establish a sense of equality and tolerance in what it took to make our nation great. Consider forms of retribution for the descendants of the original slaves when this nation came to be;
* A crass materialism leads to insensitivity to the needs of others especially the destitute both in this country and abroad. Teaching others to break from the throwaway culture and become more sensitive to basic needs also requires a forgiving heart;
* Unsustainable affluent lifestyles include overuse of resources, obtaining fuel and food from distant rather than local places, expanding space requirements for buildings of all sorts, and using inefficient vehicles, heating and cooling devices and electric appliances. We need to confront the consumer culture and inform the culprits that it seeks to entice -- a balancing act;
* Corporate scandals have eroded democracy, and multinational companies have become the oligarchs of the nation and the world through unique power-grabbing techniques. We should not forget that Rome had its highest military expenditures just before its collapse in the fifth century;
* Finding employment for those who are ex-prisoners and have mental or physical difficulties is an ongoing challenge;
* The value of a forgiving culture that is not sue-happy must be emphasized along with solidifying family values;
* The sacred web involving the human, animal and plant life is under attack in many ways (destruction of the physical environment, invasion of exotic species, mistreatment of animals, abortion, and continuation of the death penalty); and
* Excessive incarceration of many non-violent prisoners who can contribute to society through released time service projects must be curbed at the local, state and national levels.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to guard our nation's health and sustainability, to exercise citizenship by forgiving others, and to find new ways to practice forgiveness.
The last of summer's oxeye daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare.
September 18, 2017 American Foreign Aid and Charity
Budgets proposed this year for the State Department has included steep foreign assistance cuts. This occurs with the first famine in six years along with the beginning of climate change damage as well as massive stress from wars and refugee problems. How could one talk about cuts except with an adverse selfishness that only the pampered rich could dream up? Our destitute brothers and sisters in other lands and even some in America need charity. A billion people suffer from food insecurity. We ought to continue to debunk persistent myths about international charity first enunciated a decade ago by Bread for the World:
* Foreign aid doesn't work. Answer: A sizable portion of
American foreign aid goes to Israel, not the poorest countries. However, when aid is directed to poor areas with low corruption, it works and allows for declines in illiteracy and infant mortality as well as gets food and temporary shelter to the needy. Records show that charity can be generally properly distributed -- and is.
* Most foreign aid is wasted by corrupt bureaucracies. Answer: With time, experienced aid workers recognize the signs of corrupt governments and are able to raise a signal of alarm that allows avoidance and the taking of remedial steps for the needy.
* Foreign aid is a major federal expenditure. Answer: Not so! Only a fraction of one percent of our budget is foreign aid, and only a third of that is slated for development. The U.S. ranks last of twenty-two industrialized countries in percentage of national income given away in development aid, generally less than 0.1%.
* Americans want to cut foreign aid. Answer: This has not been true, for Americans are willing to assist others as is witnessed in giving to natural disaster victims in many lands year after year.
* We should take care of problems at home rather than devote resources to helping others. Answer: Our country usually ranks low in the international giving, but here we seek to attack the poverty at a more comprehensive level. Our world is one family and all of its citizens are brothers and sisters. We Americans, and others who have much, need to radically share until it hurts.
* Private charities help poor people around the world. Answer: When the natural disasters occur, private charities do great work and yet in these times the amount of relief for such suffering nations as South Sudan, the newest nation, is in short supply.
* Foreign aid isn't important. Answer: Foreign aid fills a critical need when other resources are not easily accessible. Often this becomes a matter of life and death for the destitute; it becomes breathing room needed for people to get back on their feet.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to share radically from our surpluses.
A field of September grasses as autumn approaches.
September 19, 2017Use Caution with Household Chemicals
Chemistry has been used to duplicate nature's ways but it is not always fully successful. There are over a million commercial synthetic chemicals. Some are manufactured in large amounts, possibly properly tested, and found suitable to be made by the tons or thousands of tons. In large concentrations many of these chemicals are toxic and must be handled with care; some do not decompose easily; they can bioaccumulate in the higher-level members of the food chain.
Red flags go up when these are used as domestic agents and around individuals who are unskilled or lack protective gear. For instance, highly versatile chlorinated compounds are used in the production of organic and inorganic commercial chemicals; one of these, vinyl chloride, is a primary chemical building block used in making a multitude of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products. Without proper safeguards the processing of most chlorinated compounds can involve severe health effects on chemical workers at processing plants or those in the path of escaped transported chemicals.
Caution! Respect extends to end use as commercial household chemicals for few can successfully handle toxic chemicals without spillage or inhalation. Some of these classes of chemicals that deserve proper storage and protection from children include:
* Household pest control agents;
* Garden and lawn herbicides and other chemicals;
* Batteries and the acids associated with them;
* Automotive and other motor liquids and lubricants;
* Paint solvents and thinners and other volatile liquids;
* Oven and other strong kitchen and bathroom cleaners;
* Detergents that are dangerous in the mouth of infants;
* Water softening and purification agents;
* Prescription and many over-the-counter medicines;
* Hobby chemicals (see September 12);
* Inks and other office supplies especially super glues;
* Aerosol sprays of various types that look like toys;
* Many types of air fresheners;
* Certain older building materials containing formaldehyde;
* Combustion materials and lighter fluid; and
* Recreational drugs and smoking materials.
Be on the alert! More than proper storage of these classes is to leave many totally outside the domestic scene. The storage compartments should be safely locked and apart from the home living space for those classes tolerated by the homemaker. Get rid of chemical containers that have corroded or lost labels by finding the local services that collect these dangerous items. An ideal general rule is to show the deepest respect for all chemicals used.
Prayer: Lord, teach us caution in all matters, especially when it comes to substances that could harm ourselves or others. Help us to respect chemicals for their benefits and risks.
Community garden with pawpaws, Asimina triloba.
September 20, 2017 Gardening as a Social Enterprise
Gardening can definitely be a social enterprise engaging the natural community of plants, animals and people of all ages. This inter-communal and intergenerational collection of creatures and community members includes the companion effects of proper vegetation and pest control agents, elder expertise and youth enthusiasm (see August 9), energy of the able-bodied, and the attentiveness of learners and part-time observers. People with various talents, skills and energy levels can learn to work together for a community success story -- and garden space is a good school for learning. In truth, some of the best results can be obtained on school property and as integrated part of a formal physical exercise program among youth and adults. Also church property and unused cemeteries are choice and overlooked locations.
Community gardens. All participants can share together the sheer delight and joy of gardening even when their working space and one in the same, adjacent to, or at a short distance from another's. All learn together that gardening experience takes time and patience, especially when the inexperienced cannot distinguish plants and may risk damaging them or regarding them as weeds. Gardening is more than socializing; there must be time to point out what each plant needs and how even footprints near the plants can be damaging. Teach the inexperienced where to stand, walk, step or pick. Carelessness and informality harm gardens, just as rigid formality can discourage gardening in general. Establish a middle ground, for people only gradually acquire gardening skills.
Family gardens. The saying that "the family that prays together stays together" can be extended to the family that gardens together. A gardening exercise can be a happy occasion when all who desire can be present though not fully participating. Be welcoming, make rules clear and simple for the protection of plants, assist the elders to garden, and reign in toddlers for the garden's sake. Excusing ourselves from involving neighbors by calling our gardening a private matter is shortsighted.
Gardening ought to be a public act that shows Earth in its bounty, that attracts learners, and that can advance them in their own skills through participation. Gardening's ripple effect can extend beyond the immediate locality; make everyone feel at ease in coming, seeing, and even helping where and when they are able.
Limits. There are limits to being overly social and that especially applies to a wholesome garden. Invasive plants should not be allowed in gardens; nor should any animal from cats and dogs to groundhog and raccoons. While neighbors can share the produce, it may be best to keep uninvited deer and rabbits out by effective protection including fencing and bordering with mustard greens.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be generous and, not only to share our garden produce, but to share the production process itself wherever and whenever possible.
Funerals are always difficult whatever time of year they occur, even after close preparation. Too many are unexpected. With deaths some issues arise that were not foreseen and these involve quick decisions that distraught loved ones find difficult. Besides, the simple and low-priced funerals of the past where folks were laid out at home and where graves were dug by friends are rarely the case today. Nevertheless, we can simplify our own final adieu by keeping it spiritually oriented; some suggestions include:
1. Make preparations well beforehand and store a record of the person's wishes in an accessible place known by a few key people (we Jesuits are required to keep and update funeral options). The notes should include the type of service, hymns, the principal persons involved, flowers, coffin type, memorials, manner of eulogy maybe even composed by the deceased, and possibly place of burial.
2. Funerals can involve excessive commercialism. Moderation is called for and could include renting a coffin for viewing and then transfer to a pine box for final burial. Perhaps viewing the pine box itself is a means of edification.
3. Preferably consider underused cemeteries. Over half of designated "cemetery" space especially in rural America is unused. Using a seemingly forsaken cemetery is a chance to renew interest in and upkeep of older family plots.
4. Be buried rather than cremated, if custom permits. Natural decomposition uses far fewer resources (energy) and permits a natural approach to composing and returning to dust. If burial space is limited then cremation may be the choice -- for it does not require an expensive coffin.
5. A cemetery is greenspace that can also be used for recreational purposes. Talk over the possibility of planting perennial flowers such as roses at the burial site.
6. Request charitable donations instead of additional flowers for memorials -- or consider using seasonal wildflowers. A memorial action may prove a fitting tribute.
7. Have a coffin built by friends and family, if this is possible and time permits. Some might prefer building it themselves and used for a storage before its final destination.
8. De-emphasize the viewing. "She (or he) looks so natural." That is a fib; except for the door sign many may be unable to recognize the corpse. How about a closed casket with a photo?
Prayer: Lord, help us to have funerals in a meaningful manner so that all learn something new at bereavement time. Change our death from an earthly lamp to an eternal light.
Ripening persimmons, Diospyros virginiana, a sure sign of autum in Kentucky.
September 22, 2017 Celebrate Autumn Time
Today is the Autumnal Equinox, the time in September when day and night are of equal duration. Fall starts especially for people with this as a seasonal favorite. In aging, some of us change our choice of favorite seasons; I used to prefer summer because of distance from formal schooling, but now I like both spring and fall better than the harshness and extremes of summer and winter. No matter what our seasonal preferences, autumn offers a time to say no more hot weather, no more mosquitoes, no more sunscreen. Autumn people often await changing leaves, cooler days, football games and parties.
My favorite aunt would take each season in stride; she liked to celebrate the seasonal changes rather than think one is better than another. She was happy to be among temperate zone folks who experience noticeable seasonal changes, something lacking in certain tropical areas of the planet where change is measured at best in rainfall or its lack and not by temperature change. For us in the temperate zones, solstices and equinoxes mark distinct weather differences; they give us fresh starts and conclusive finishes. Summer foliage and flowers turn to autumn colors.
Activists often become too serious, seniors fret, youth dream and all of us too busy to celebrate the seasons. Smile, laugh, say a good word, walk out in nature, strike a balance between the serious and the whimsical, and give quality time to sorting out the light from the heavy side of life. Solving problems requires both thinking and doing, reflection and action, laughing and serious talk. Autumn foreshadows our own demise; for me an Indian Summer of life.
Times are Changing
Labor Day and all's quiet after summer play, blooming ironweed, goldenrod in colored array; Good smells at garden harvest time, farmers' markets at their prime; First autumn chill, longer cool nights, foggy valleys, misty lakes, cloudy heights; Flocking birds in the evening breeze, seeming to overwhelm the roosting trees.
Tomatoes get that late season taste, and peppers appear as though post-haste; Elderberries are not eaten raw, but why? They're destined for a steaming pie. Root cellars with butternut and winter squash, and all sorts of apples, not just McIntosh. Prepare the greenhouse for the frosty fall, we all know well the autumn call.
Prayer: Lord, may each season give us ever greater hope that still better things are soon to come.
Water droplet on green brassica leaf for salad.
September 23, 2017Spice Your Meals with Variety
At the end of one year I bought some black-eyed peas, following the Appalachian tradition of fixing these on New Year's Day. The grocery clerk looked surprised and asked what I was going to do with the package, and I said, "Cook them." She asked in astonishment, "You, a man? My husband can't boil water!" So much for the general consideration of male culinary arts -- and I'm no gourmet cook. I like food that is locally accessible, at low-cost, nutritious, and capable of being prepared in multiple ways. Variety combined with convenience is a good culinary goal:
"12 variety soups" -- This is a really easy crock pot or solar oven mainstay for we often have veggies around in small or large amounts. Noodles or rice may be added to give body, and a large batch is made to last for several meals; add other leftovers as the week progresses giving different flavored compositions.
"12 variety salads"-- We can fix these virtually every month of the year. Once I even made a January 12-variety using my own garden produce, but so many veggies available at once at that time of the year is rare. It takes some time to trim, wash, and mix, but the salad excels commercial mixes in freshness -- and we can guarantee our own organic produce.
"240 types of Crockpot meals" -- It takes little more time to fix most Crockpot or solar cooker prepared meals than to buy, unwrap and prepare a TV dinner, and the home-made meals are far more nutritious. In place of soup beans, one could have a wide variety of combinations of different types of dried beans, peas and lentils with a host of spices singly or in combination. Now be bold and move to stews, chili and local dishes.
Desserts -- Some of us like to avoid the sugary final treats of the meal and can only suggest fruit, nuts and berries. For many, out-of-season fruit is expensive. For others the dessert is the high point of the meal and thus deserves more attention. My suggestion is to eat more of the main portion and skip this arena.
Added snacks -- Besides the regular soup, salad and main dish make sure variety is a main concern. See 365 oatmeal selections, 730 peanuts and other suggestions on this website. For snacks between meals consider raw veggies, fruit, spiced popcorn and other low salt, fat and sugar varieties of snacks.
Note the absence of animal products. Certainly meat, eggs and dairy products are healthy and nutritious but their absence is because we ought to consider ways of curbing their overuse so our food resources can be more equally shared on a global scale. These animal products take more resources (feed, pasture) to produce -- and so more limited use is recommended.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to prepare various dishes for our own health and well being, and to encourage others to do the same.
A maze of "stick-tights" (cleavers), Galium aparine.
September 24, 2017 Coming to Realize Our Gifts
The last shall be first and the first shall be last. (Matthew 20:16)
This story was always one that I had difficulties with when young, for it seemed that the workers who worked the entire day certainly deserved more pay than those who came at mid-day or only an hour or so before quitting time. Commentators will hasten to tell us that this is not a lesson in labor relations but one in God's gift of life (shown here by a job of harvesting grapes). This divine gift is not something that we deserve, but is given to us by the generosity of the divine creator. We cannot make demands; we realize that the gift of faith is so precious that if it comes early or late we should feel equally privileged in having received it. It is a blessing to live a long life for the Lord, but some allow that precious gift to go unused or be misused.
The parable reminds me of the heart-broken minister who lost several close family members in a terrible auto accident; people kept coming to him at the funeral and saying that this loving family did not deserve such a tragedy. After working through his grief, the survivor finally came to the spiritual insight that he did not deserve the loved ones, for they were God's gifts and were now taken from him -- a return of the gift to the Giver.
Having said all of this about God's gifts, I have come to recognize the insight of an Appalachian activist, Rev. Jim Wyker, who offered an insight with a labor relations aspect, namely, the laborers were all family people and eagerly awaiting some form of daily work and pay to help with their livelihood. For the unemployed to stand idle all day hoping for work was stressful; it was a source of concern that actually grew as the day progressed. For them, daily work in the heat of day was far more preferable over unemployment and all the stress attached.
In this second view, who is responsible for furnishing jobs? One can argue that the onus is not on the hit and miss policies of a capitalistic system, but ultimately on our nation state (see Labor Day reflections on September first). If one has the duty to vote, support or defend our nation, so we as citizens must bear the responsibility to see that employment is available to all willing workers who need a livelihood for self and family. Not all people are self-employable. Still, workers need not be a pool accessible to the whims of corporations. There is plenty of work to be done in this world -- and creative socially conscious people can easily list needed activities. There are plenty of resources if fair taxes were obtained from ten million millionaires and over a thousand billionaires. Connecting needs and resources is our spiritual mission; so is confronting unjust systems that have so much power of the purse these days.
Prayer: Lord, you are the one who gives us the precious life we do not deserve; help us to show gratitude by defending the livelihood of our fellow human beings.
Security often is as much a concern for the moderately well off as for the very poor. Like others, Americans too often seek security in insurance policies rather than in trust in God. Yes, we all know that insurance policies are inherently limited and this creates an uneasy feeling; we respond by adding more and more types of insurance -- automobile, health, life, fire, homeowners and other property, hail, earthquake, accident liability, non-profit board liability, mail insurance, travel insurance, and on and on. Today many insurance rates are so high that this factor becomes a detriment to our quality of life and peace of soul. In fact, insurance determines whether one works or retires, where one lives, and whether one's actions could precipitate possible litigation.
Community insurance is one answer -- in the style of some close communities such as Amish groups; these folks all chip in and rebuild when there is a fire, or take care of their own or their neighbors when a disaster strikes. This may work well if all the people will assemble when needed, if they are willing to restore the loss according to a commonly accepted design, if the neighbors are all willing to pitch in at time of need, and if there are no major community divisions. Such community insurance may work on a level of pre-existing relationships, but does it work in an amorphous geographic local community? Through mobility, American community life is not always geographically based but today is more is based on economic similarity. In our competitive culture, victims may expect more than what the community is willing to give.
Community self-insurance has great advantages: mutual sharing is developed; joint planning is expected; insurance money stays in the local community instead of hemorrhaging to outside insurance companies. However, the community efforts work best if a rare disaster is localized. A Katrina or a major flood event can easily overpower local resources. In such circumstances one asks: who deserves first treatment while limited funds are available? One way of addressing fairness problems would be a governmental back-up program, a FEMA or disaster relief fund, which insures the community self-insurers in times of large scale catastrophe.
Seeking security is part of being human, is not ever totally satisfied, and is behind a certain restlessness -- for we can only be satisfied spiritually in eternal life. A reasonable insurance by a community can work to alleviate many needs. Major health needs can only be fair and proper through a single payer system, which accepts that every citizen has a right to reasonable health care. A rampant materialism does not provide for growth in security, since it is inherently insecure in itself. The basic foundation for community insurance is the people's faith in a common future of respect for the Creator. This involves trust that others will help in time of need -- a national priority.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to seek and find a more spiritual security that rests in you and within the community of believers.
September 26, 2017 Natural Sounds All Around
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.
Nature's sounds are all around and if we listen we can hear some of them. Paradoxically, when our hearing is attuned to nature, we become sensitized to the cries of pain from our suffering Earth. Both the harmony and the human-caused disharmony found in the universe are evident to the ears listening to and feeling natural vibrations. When we hear both concordant and discordant sounds, we soon crave the silent pause in between. We thank God for nature's sounds, for the sounds of anguish and for the silence that refreshes us -- all make us more human and all three punctuate Earth's symphony around us. When we do not make distinctions or when we strive to avoid silence, we are caught in confusion, like captives in a vibrating steel drum unable to exit.
Americans are being overcome by noise pollution. In some places the level of noise is rising at a dramatic rate, a condition that affects the psychic health of those subjected to such a discord or lack of silence. An involved life includes the various sounds and we accept this; but we also come to value underrated silence when the one beside us does not have to talk on a cell phone compulsively. The harmony of periods of sounds and silence is an ideal environment -- one with distant church bells, playing children and cow bells in the meadow; to this add the baby's cry and the auto noise. On the other hand, noise mixed in various forms places a heavy burden on ordinary people in congested areas and subjects too many to lawn mowers and motorcycles. People who like to be where the action is often deny these harmful situations.
We hardly aspire to the silence of the abandoned home or that of the deaf person. We seek a rhythm of sounds and silence; and, because modern sound is so intrusive, we strive to create times and places of silence: mountain coves, a distant farm, an accessible seashore, places where artificial sounds are reduced to background noise and nature speaks to us deep within. When unable to get away from too many sounds, we retreat to our den or silent space or a chapel or library nook. We insulate our homes with acoustical materials. On a noisy airplane or motel we install ear plugs or, when all else fails, we seek to create our silent space in the recesses of our hearts -- a place where the harmony of God returns in a grace-filled mysterious manner. Silence is precious; silence is treasured; silence is a drink of cool water for the thirsty. Silence is best found where nature's sounds prevail, where God's perfect harmony floods our soul.
Prayer: Lord, teach us that to listen well we must be able to distinguish sounds, to go away from them at times and find the silence where we can hear you speak to us, many times in whispers demanding us to truly listen well -- with your help.
Ripe berries of the American poke weed, Phytolacca decandra.
September 27, 2017 Road Blocks to Renewable Energy
It is increasingly true that there are no technical, financial or economic reasons why the nations of the world cannot enjoy the benefits of a high level of energy services and a better environment. It is simply a question of making the right choices.
2001 UN Environmental Programme Report
The United Nations report just quoted projected that nine to fifteen trillion dollars will be invested by 2020 on new power projects -- and hopefully on using greener renewable energy sources (biomass, solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, and tidal energy). At the time the report was written it was projected that energy needs would rise at 2% per year -- and some rises have occurred as predicted. These rises have not proved inevitable in many countries that have grown in economy and yet done so using less that predicted energy. The world has become conscious that health deteriorates with expanded non-renewable energy sources (coal, oil and natural gas) along with acidification of ecosystems, soil and water contamination, reduced biodiversity, and more global warming. Every effort is being made by the concerned to replace the fossil fuel sources by renewable ones
Why are there delays in implementing renewable energy applications? The oil, gas, coal and nuclear conglomerates have influence and make billions of dollars in profits; as long as these companies supply much of the energy of the world, profit-motivated forces will work for continuation of current practices and in denying that human induced climate change is occurring -- and that includes the current American Administration. How can we successfully confront climate change deniers? An atmosphere of denial likewise affects the attitudes of other world national leaders who may be reluctant to launch solar or wind programs.
Goals of reaching a 25% renewable energy goal by 2025 are still in the cards for a number of American states with heavy investment in wind and solar power. Wind energy, the world's fastest growing energy source, has far exceeded optimistic 1990 projections, and prices have dropped sevenfold. With the fossil fuel hidden subsidies and tax breaks removed, wind would be more highly competitive today both in the interior Plains states but also in coastal (off-shore) areas near large metropolitan centers. The public is unaware just how fast wind and solar is growing -- and the lack of the public's awareness holds these two renewable sources by to some degree. Solar advocates must press for tax incentives on almost a year-by-year basis. Even when actualized these incentives favor centralized solar thermal electric plants in contrast to current solar photovoltaic panels. Also hydro and geothermal electricity generation have high growth potential in the coming years.
Prayer: Lord, help us overcome the barriers to renewable energy so that our planet may be a healthier place. Give us the creative enthusiasm as concerned citizens to help bring this about.
September 28, 2017 Mold, the Asbestos of the 2000s
Mold, that most common of living kingdoms, comprising a quarter of the biomass of the Earth, comes in about 20,000 varieties. Mold helps in the recycling process by breaking down organic matter; otherwise the globe would be overwhelmed by dead matter. Mold is useful in flavoring, such as in blue cheese, and the filtrates of mold are used to make the penicillin that keeps us healthy. However, by 1991, microbial growth was rated as the number one indoor air quality problem. The American Hotel and Motel Association estimated that mold and mildew caused several hundred million dollars worth of damage each year. The environmental consciousness has expanded in the mold frontier.
Mold, while highly beneficial, can become problematic when it attaches to our homes, especially the indoor portions. Gradually residents and their care providers determine that mold causes headaches, skin irritation, chronic sinusitis, breathing problems including asthma attacks, and a variety of allergic reactions. Mold can make some homes unbearable for certain residents. Affected people are often moved to abandon the dwelling rather than spend thousands of dollars in trying to combat the contamination and to attempt permanent restoration. Modern tenant sufferers are party to billions of dollars in lawsuits again home owners for personal injuries caused by living in these contaminated buildings.
Several causes for the increased mold problems in modern buildings can be given. Older homes with their high ceilings, airy corridors and their native building materials simply did not have the conditions of high humidity and other features that mold loves to feast on. The increased use of home insulation, the prevalence of air conditioning and the closed home, and the use of paper-faced gypsum board are considered some of the causes of the increased mold problems. Excessive moisture and improperly installed HVAC equipment may be the more proximate cause. Often vapor barriers do not work or are improperly designed. All of these factors have created problems for allergy sufferers and gold mines for the trial lawyers. In addition, private dwellings are generally unregulated.
Remedies may be helpful, though indoor air sampling can be expensive and is not always totally effective. Visual inspection along with ample ventilation is a first step. Reducing moisture leaks and controlling the humidity are others. Since the mold may go far beyond the evident dark spots on the walls, take precautions to eliminate all the contamination and strive to contain it in the affected parts of the building. Professionals may be needed to help solve the problem.
See: <http://epa.gov/mold/brief-guide-mold-moisture-and-your-home>. If you are a building manager consider reading "Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings."
Prayer: Lord, help us keep our homes free of contamination and assist others to do the same thing.
Fresh blueberries, Estill Co., KY.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
September 29, 2017Learning to Eat Lower on the Food Chain
Even in my mid-eighties I find that one never stops learning -- and good eating habits are the most difficult things to learn. Most of us vary our diet at different times on our journey of life. The current local and global food shortages cause all of us to rethink our practices. We need to be lower feeders on the food resource chain and add this to such meal characteristics as low-cost, nutrition, local sources and convenience. Can we apply Pope Paul VI's dictum to eat (live) more simply so others may simply eat (live)? Recent culinary insights include:
1. Eat less meat -- The UN's Food and Agricultural Organization expects that global meat production will double by 2050 growing at two and a half times the rate of increase in population. Meat consumption has already increased threefold since 1980 as Asians have become bigger meat eaters. We recall that farm livestock take up 70% of the global farm/pasture land and one-third of all grain consumption. As residents in endowed fertile lands, Americans consume three times as much meat and four times as much milk as people in developing lands. In order to radically share Americans must eat less meat and more fruits, vegetables and whole grain dishes. Vegetarians can sustain a balanced diet and remain healthy. I try to consume one fish meal a week, but even here some seed and nut oils can supply the essential omega-3 fatty acids that are essential to human beings.
2. Buy lower-priced foods -- Omitting purchased baked goods has allowed me to stretch my annual food budget. This also applies to many snacks and drinks that prove expensive. A sensitivity to what we purchase allows us to radically share with people in less fortunate lands. Homemakers can make their own soups, use homegrown veggies for salads, buy bulk dried beans, peas and lentils instead of canned goods and vary mixtures and flavorings to compensate for purchases of exotic materials. Herbs give variety.
3. Eat home-grown and seasonal foods -- The cost of shipping (even sometimes air-lifting) fruit and vegetables from distant parts of the world can mount up in an energy scarce world. I always grow some items to assist in living lower on the food chain. With higher food prices I eat more wild greens, especially dandelions and poke leaves and stalks that furnish tasty spinach and asparagus equivalents. My small garden plot produces home-grown tomatoes, various greens, onions, peas, radishes, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, parsley, mint for drinks, garlic and various herbs. Fruit trees on our church property furnish apples, peaches, cherries, and mulberries, and I gather nearby wild persimmons and berries. Fresh corn and melons demand larger growing area and thus the need to patronize local growers. Let us learn to enjoy the taste of locally grown seasonal produce and encourage others to do the same.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to share by eating nutritious, locally-grown, low-priced foods from lower on the food chain.
Lovely autumn color of the poison-ivy plant.
September 30, 2017 Traveling on U.S. Route 68
Today I turn eighty four and need to give a review of my road practices, because my age should not indicate my average driving speed. Actually roads should be treated with respect.
U.S. Route 68 stretches across Kentucky and beyond like a string tying Ohio to our state through a crossing at the old ford in the Ohio River where buffalo (bison) made their twisted journey to the salt water springs at Bluelicks -- an annual trip to satisfy salt needs. Local folks say that the crooks and turns in U.S. 68 were made when bison dodged a cow pie. Still it is a historic span passing such places as Findlay in northern Ohio and going through Paris, Lexington, Shakertown and Jeff Davis' Birthplace. It passes one mile from my birthplace in Mason County.
U.S. Route 68 has a way of haunting us who live or have lived near it. My folks told me to avoid riding my bike on it, and I stretched the command to allow myself to ride across 68 from our home road to the golf club. A car popped over the hill and swerved to avoid my unsteady bike. That was a haunting close call. So it was a year or so later down near Smokey Hollow where U.S. 68 starts its scenic curves up the Maysville hill. I was hitching home from school and the driver of an approaching truck loaded with railroad ties started blowing his horn wildly. Something or Someone made me lean back against the guard cable and the ends of the tiles shaved off some of my peach fuzz. That too left a haunting sensation.
Years later, Bob McDonald and I drove his girlfriend and later wife, Joan, back from college to her home in Winston Salem, North Carolina. We left that town early in a summer morning to make my home near Maysville, Kentucky, by night. In those pre-Interstate days one had to drive right through the heart of Asheville, North Carolina, Knoxville, Tennessee, and Lexington. Knowing the road better and bone-tired, I drove the last leg on U.S. 68. We cleared the curves at Bluelicks with my old green 1950 Oldsmobile jumping around the bends for, if it were elastic, the car's front end might have touched its tail pipe. We made it in one piece but with a warning: don't press it too much, if you want to live to experience old age.
A few years back, I was stopped on a foggy Monday morning for speeding on U.S. 68 and I pleaded with the cop, "Sir, I was on my way home to see my aging mother on her birthday." He replied, "That's the dam...," cut short his words, scratched his head, gave me a warning ticket, and waved me through. Speeding tickets are things one does not want to accumulate, for the insurance rates could climb at older age. As I carefully glided away from the parked police cruiser with the flashing blue light, I said to myself, “Amen."
Prayer: Lord, thanks for being with me on life's journey and help me to see past warnings as the grounds for fresh beginnings. Let me continue to learn lessons from travel on Route 68.