June is a favorite month for young people who are free from school work for a period of time -- a time of vacation and freedom to go barefoot and absorb the summer sunlight. In June, produce arrives in ample quantity: cucumbers, cabbage, new potatoes, beets, blackcap raspberries, June apples, peas in the pod, sour cherries, and strawberries. With June comes summer, ushering in 2021 mid-life -- with hopes that the pandemic is a receding horror. Spring's bright yellow and greenery gives way to summer's reds and deep orange poppies, black-eyed Susans, roses of every hue and shade, and scarlet sage. Even the sounds of June proclaim a deeper more serious tone -- thunder's roar and the unpleasant strike of hail stones; the buzzing of mosquitoes and sound of crickets; flapping flags, roaring boats and playful shrieks.
Black Eyed Susans Nodding sentinels of summertime, Spring is spent with its delicate flowers; Deep yellow and black hearts Give us courage in the heat.
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A field of Queen Anne's lace, Daucus carota, near sunset.
June 1, 2021 Anticipating Summer's Heat
Some brave souls proclaim, "Bring on the summer!" In an age of global warming, and after a series of the warmest summers on record, we may sound a little cavalier in preparing for summer heat and anticipated climate ahead. Here are some offered suggestions made elsewhere but worth repeating:
Stay out of the mid-day sun to the degree possible;
Encourage others to do the same;
Drink plenty of liquids of a non-alcoholic variety;
Find and frequent the shade of a large leafy tree;
Physically exert yourself, but in the cooler parts of the day;
Promote watermelon in summertime;
Consider salads from the summer garden;
Do you need to take that auto trip?
Do garden work in the cool of the morning;
Water plants in late evening for maximum moisture benefits;
Mulch to protect from moisture loss;
Air out the house during cooler nighttime;
Close off the house in daytime;
Stay healthy at keep indoor temperatures about 70
(overly-cool, air-conditioned rooms are hard on health);
Use air conditioning only if absolutely necessary;
Get plenty of sleep;
You don't have to imitate the most active neighbor;
Summer reading almost always gets short-changed;
Don't forget to take in a summer festival;
Honestly, this is a good opportunity for retreat time;
Make upcoming July 4th a celebration;
Don't forget prayers of thanksgiving in summertime;
Collect jewelweed and make enough ointment for the year;
Protect the skin from sunburn;
If on an all-day hike, at least rest at midday;
Need we say, dress lightly with emphasis on cottons;
Don't let kids get overly heated in sports practices;
Protect self and computer files from lightning storms;
Follow the news forecasts before outdoor plans;
Refresh in -- shower, tub, pool, brook, ocean, puddle;
Try a moment of being barefoot in the grass;
Plan a fall garden;
Stay in touch with political discussions;
Ensure elders are cool, for summers are harder than winters;
Remember that summer is a special time for music;
Sit on a front porch if you are blessed with one;
Avoid recreational mowing;
Say a prayer for those who perished in the pandemic;
Don't forget, this is perfect time for solar collecting;
Smile in hot weather, for it uplifts everyone.
Prayer: Help us Lord to take each day as it comes, especially in summertime.
A closer look at the Fowler's toad, Bufo fowleri.
June 2, 2021 Beholding Earth as Mystery
I grew up near the town originally called Limestone (now Maysville, Kentucky); one of our farm tasks was gathering loose scattered rocks for crushing and spreading over the farmland. The rocks were really pressed layers of shells from a wide variety of marine life, yet the place is located 700 miles from the ocean. As a youth, I wondered what all of that marine life meant and how these nearly perfect creatures in their fossilized form were so far from what seemed to be their home. What is Earth trying to tell us? Is there much to learn from the movements of Earth and the marine life so far from the sea?
This brings us to ever deeper mysteries pertaining to the origin of life on this planet. How could something so rare and demanding of precise conditions come to be here and even be sustained in the proper temperature range, amount of oxygen and substance for growth? And how did this fragile life continue to be sustained and evolve into more complex forms? These searching scientific questions point to even deeper mysteries, for when solving one a deeper one surfaces. In fact, the quest for answers seems to trigger more questions, of which some would say the answers are coming with time. For believers in the Creator of all, the mysteries are expected and even invite deeper questions in our journey of faith.
Mysteries are realities, and we are expected to be comfortable in not understanding all, but to see that this is an invitation of the ever-searching soul to reach beyond the physical world around us for something eternal -- a searching into ever deeper divine Mystery. Believers refuse to stop the questioning of a child, and even rest in the restlessness of our condition. We accept that we do not have all the answers, nor can we expect them in this limited mortal period. St. Augustine says our hearts are directed to God and will not rest until we reach the Divine. Restlessness and seeking answers to mysteries go hand-in-hand and are to be accepted as part of what lies ahead for those who believe in the future.
Believers accept that part of our faith are the mysteries that are present and, in some ways, irritating; however, these trigger a sense of humility before the presence of the Almighty. There are things we do not know and we do not have all the faculties to make them known. There are some mysteries which are inviting as part of our search and even fragments of understanding give some satisfaction, for partial answers tell us that there is more in store. We are excited to travel on because the horizon beckons us beyond our mortal life to consider a true home beyond. A fossil so far from the ocean is partially answered in geological terms of continental drift and change. The mystery of the Trinity attracts us into spiritual and theological realms of eternal life.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to continue to delve in the mysteries around us, for they point to your presence in our world.
Old stone fence and graceful tree make for a pleasant reading spot.
June 3, 2021 Considering Space for Renewable Energy Facilities
A half dozen years ago an academic received notice in the British national press for a report written for a leading nuclear energy periodical. This "researcher" arranged the various renewable sources according to the amount of space taken up in production as a relationship of space versus energy generated. We will not burden readers with these somewhat unreviewed assertions. One will have to include today the promising "Run of the River" hydroflow facilities that take into account normal waterflow as an energy source; these renewable applications are now being installed in major American rivers with virtually no new space requirements. Not all who champion renewables want expansion of this source through damming free-flowing streams; in fact, many small older dams are being removed each year at urging of environmentalists.
Dual use complicates the calculations. Many renewable sources and other activities serve in double capacity. One of the largest cattle herds in Kentucky grazes on the spacious federal chemical weapons waste facility very near us here at Ravenna. Furthermore, the second greatest user of renewable energy (biofuels) does not consume the entirety of the corn feedstock, for vast amounts of spent grain are used as livestock feed -- even though some of us would prefer the corn only used purely for human consumption.
Do not overlook the dual use of windfarms on cultivated or pasture lands in the Great Plains. In fact, little of converted wind-farmland is actually taken up with wind facility access roads and turbine installations. Even solar farm arrays have been constructed in an elevated fashion so that the fertile land below the array can still be cultivated. With proper allocation for wild species, the desert and mountain locations can be used for renewable energy production. Nor ought one to count as space energy "consumption" the PV arrays being installed over existing parking lots and on roofs of many structures.
Off-shore energy operations, whether promising wind farms now being constructed, or even other offshore energy extraction facilities (such as tidal applications), do not increase much land use other than some added ports, transmission lines, and storage areas. In fact, the "study" of the land use has been touted at various times but was little more than a propaganda piece for nuclear energy in contrast to renewable sources. Opposing studies say that all renewable energy additions could be implemented (if biofuels are left out) using no new disturbance of cultivated or wildlands, especially using the roofs of existing buildings. Windfarms can have dual uses for the greater part. Renewables will certainly have an impact when fully implemented; the advantages certainly outweigh negative impacts, and space is not a major issue in replacement of fossil fuels. Don't let them say otherwise.
Prayer: Lord, help us to champion areas of greater good, so that the limited surface of our planet will be used properly in all forms of renewable energy application.
Corrosion of the Democratic Process
During the month of June, we will treat four different reasons for publicly confronting the problem of growing economic inequality in this country. This inequality involves over a thousand American billionaires, along with an equal number of the super-rich in other countries -- and this small number of unelected individuals control over half the wealth of the world. Consider also that this wealth is accompanied by massive power and influence. At the same time, at the other end of the economic spectrum, hundreds of millions (perhaps up to one billion people) do not have a full complement of the essentials of life (proper food, potable water, affordable housing, adequate health facilities and elementary education for youth). From any angle, this emerging inequality cries to heaven and must be addressed for a number of reasons: corrosion of democratic process, incitement of greed, expanding violence, and lack of available resources for managing and improving the basic infrastructure of our society.
This inequality is in one sense an emerging phenomenon, for it is exacerbated by modern globalization, which allows for shifting financial resources from one nation to another with their weak or no-tax policies, their cheaper means of production, and their lack of transparency. Among the looming problems that have already begun is the corrosion of our democratic process, wherein the principle that citizens should have a right and duty to see that God-given wealth is distributed according to need, is overlooked. Instead, through some constructed legalities, the super-rich are allowed retention of vast amounts of property and financial resources and the ability to use this wealth as they deem fit.
Proper democratic process allows for all citizens to have a voice in implementation of general policy. However, in a time of massive retention of wealth by a few who can dispense their property to those who agree with them, the power of the purse smothers the voice of the people. At present, the privileged few can shift portions of their wealth to capture the communications media and finance candidates to public office who favor them and their policies. Such influence is absent to lower income folks, unless they engage in a massive effort to obtain a comparable voice through a multitude of small contributions. And under present laws the privileges of wealth can be highly influential in a global fashion unheard of in previous ages.
In a more historic perspective, democratic process has greatly expanded its reach to the citizenry since the time of the American Revolution. Then, the propertied class had a vote and the others (women, slaves, Native Americans and unpropertied whites) were essentially voiceless. With time, and even due to a Civil War, the voice of the people expanded: non-propertied white men, then Afro-Americans, then women, then Native Americans, and finally those who were 18-year-olds received a voice. However, we now ask a rather frank question: in a practical sense, is this process being hindered in recent decades by the growing power of the wealthy?
Leadership ought to be chosen by the citizens in fair primaries and general elections; inclusiveness of all who are of age and in good mental health is a theoretical guarantee of our democracy. But all democratic process is fragile and without vigilance could be lost to autocratic individuals or groups. The choice of leadership requires proper monitoring and transparency -- and is being questioned at this very time due to growth in inequality. However, when some powerful individuals can insert strategically placed "charity" into political institutions, think-tanks, civic society and religious institutions, then democracy is damaged; when policies of low taxes and ensuring controls to the privileged wealth continues and is not confronted meaningfully, then the democratic process is threatened. Can the present corrosive process be exposed fully, understood by all, and corrected in time?
Fair taxes are one answer to this growing problem; this has in the past (especially during the Second World War) been successfully effected to the degree at one point of collecting 94% of profits -- and without major objection due to the critical times. Is not 2021 a similar critical time? With fair taxes there is a decrease in destitution and increased availability of essentials to the needy population -- and it could occur again, if citizens take matters into their own hands in a democratic fashion. However, once said, we must recall that part of the problem is that the wealthy hold on to their wealth by placing sympathetic sycophants in high administrative and legislative offices; thus, the super-rich with the legislators under their influence do not allow an opportunity for fair taxes. All the while, the greater society suffers from shortages in public services and infrastructure, while the wealthy obtain bigger yachts and more secure gated-communities apart from the hoi polloi.
When the privileged get away with gaining unusual amounts of wealth and go un- or undertaxed, then the general understanding by the duped public is that this is a correct capitalistic approach. The common libertarian thinking is that, if it is yours, you should be able to do what you want with it. Damn the potholes that can be avoided by use of helicopters. Selfishness within strident capitalism grows exponentially with lack of sharing with others. In the eyes of the privileged, what is legally obtained can be forcefully retained (by use of police and military means).
Unfortunately, the majority of the duped in this country and elsewhere accept the psychological persuasion of the super-rich, as though they were a blessing; to state otherwise, demands a radical shift in the understanding of property. However, justice raises the possibility that there ought to be limits to wealth. All need some property; no one needs too much. This was the position of our national founder Ben Franklin, but his fellow Constitutional conference members thought him to be senile. Today the principle of limited wealth is needed, even when some scream "socialism," if limits are voiced by the socially concerned. Citizens must speak now!
Kentucky native plant, the passionflower - passiflora incarnata.
June 4, 2021 Making a Social/Environmental Way of the Cross
The Way of the Cross is a devotional practice for any time of the year. Many of the stations are erected outdoors for use in this season. Consider using Scriptural narratives and include a combination of social justice and environmental themes. Take each one in turn and reflect on the journey of Christ to Calvary:
1. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Matthew 25:36-41)
Social -- People are tortured by the ravages of poverty.
Eco -- Garden areas are mistreated and become unproductive.
2. Jesus is Betrayed by Judas and Arrested (Mark 14:43-46)
Social -- People take advantage and betray friends.
Eco -- Plants and animals are mistreated and endangered.
3. Jesus is Condemned by the Sanhedrin. (Luke 22:66-7)
Social -- Caregivers give a helping hand to victims.
Eco -- Greed scars landscape through solid waste pollution.
4. Jesus is Denied by Peter. (Matthew 26:69-75)
Social -- Residents suffer from effects of foul air.
Eco -- Air pollution weakens immunity of the biosystems.
5. Jesus is Judged by Pilate. (Mark 15:1-5, 15)
Social -- People condemned to poverty in slums.
Eco -- Merchants of doubt halt climate-change regulations.
6. Jesus is Scourged and Crowned with Thorns. (John 19:1-3)
Social -- Many people suffer from mental distress.
Eco -- Unmanaged land becomes unproductive.
7. Jesus Bears the Cross. (John 19:6, 15-17)
Social -- People suffer cholera from lack of potable water.
Eco -- Rivers and lakes suffer from water pollution.
8. Jesus is Helped by Simon of Cyrene. (Mark 15:21)
Social -- Citizens take up the cross to assist migrants.
Eco -- People neglect friendly pollinators.
9. Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem. (Luke 23:27-31)
Social -- Abortion defies the right to life by and for all.
Eco -- Controlling climate change is a right to life.
10. Jesus is Crucified. (Luke 23:33-34)
Social -- Crass commercialism makes fun of virtue.
Eco -- Earth suffers from rampant visual pollution.
11. Jesus Promises His Kingdom to Good Thief. (Luke 23:39-43)
Social -- We must abolish the death penalty.
Eco -- Wounded Earth has promise of new life.
12. Jesus Speaks to His Mother and John. (John 19:25-27)
Social: Good souls assist the hungry and homeless.
Eco -- We must be willing to radically share with others.
13. Jesus Dies upon the Cross. (Luke 23:44-46)
Social -- People die without proper hospice care.
Eco -- Threatened species are extinguished from Earth.
14. Jesus is Placed in the Tomb. (Matthew 27:57-60)
Social -- Assist all who suffer loss of loved ones.
Eco -- Through our efforts Earth can become renewed.
Prayer: Lord, grant us your strength on our journey of faith and help us see the needs of both people and Earth herself, and to do something for all who are in need.
Yellow iris by water's edge. Laurel Co., KY.
June 5, 2021CelebratingWorld Environment Day
Each year on World Environment Day we seek to review the environmental situation and speak about aspirations and disappointments. Certainly after the recent pandemic crisis, 2021 is no exception, for during 2020 environmental issues of climate change have taken a back seat in media attention. The climate threat does not stop and the curbing of excesses is not triggered by economic stagnation alone. A positive approach demands that curbing fossil fuels must continue as the global economic situation returns to normal. To be fair, renewables continue to eat into fossil fuel applications; wind and other renewables have bypassed coal's lead role and even challenged that of natural gas that is plentiful due to recent fracking techniques.
The main emphasis during this period must be a redoubling of the United States' leadership role in climate change. For far too long the failure of the recent Administration to support the 2015 Paris Climate Change Accord has been viewed by environmentalists as a crime against humanity. The window of opportunity has been closing and in some way the pandemic and slowdown in economic development was an unexpected moment of reprieve that must be taken advantage of now to the fullest degree. The community of advanced nations must work together, for both the U.S. and others have been major causes of current conditions and thus have a greater part to play in curbing climate change.
Nuclear power is becoming more tarnished; coal is being phased out of many powerplants with little possibility of any change of direction. On the other hand, wind and especially off-shore development has a very bright future, as does solar energy, with the cost of both in direct competition to fossil fuel sources. Furthermore, geothermal will emerge in the near future as will expanding renewable hydropower in running streams and existing dam sites. Biofuels from corn are losing some of their luster and in the non-farm states there has been much concern about rising food prices due to heavy use of corn crops for biofuels.
Concern is rising as to the leakage of the transitional non- renewable natural gas that replaced a sizeable portion of former coal-fueled powerplants. That leakage was underestimated for the past few years and still has a far greater impact (24 times more greenhouse impacting than equal amounts of carbon dioxide). Natural gas is not "clean" and some are convinced it is dirtier than coal. The quicker this natural gas is replaced by various forms of renewable energy the better, but this will require extra subsidies to renewable applications. Also, energy efficiency and use of electric vehicles need further promotion.
Prayer: Lord, inspire our citizens to turn their attention to the various environmental issues that are now being overlooked due to dominant health and economic concerns. May we have the courage to curb climate change and protect our fragile environment.
June 6, 2021Discovering Eucharist as Our Nourishment
On the feast of Corpus Christi we are reminded that we need nourishment during our difficult journey of faith, especially as we seek to recover from the rare pandemic. Our allurements and addictions from the past drag us down from moving freely forward; the Bread of Life energizes us to overcome temptation and continue our journey unimpeded. All around us the surroundings are studded with allurements that would delay and detour us by things that seem enticing and comforting. We are tempted to be like the great numbers who have abandoned religious practice. We are not tied to difficulties of our past. Truly the Eucharist nourishes us on our journey of faith.
Second, the Heavenly Food allows us to set our sights on what is ahead, a future that is beyond the horizon that we barely see while on our journey of faith. Our hope is that ultimate success awaits the faithful no matter how uncomfortable the moment and how difficult the journey's hard knocks and ruts. Believers know the road is the right way to go; we must keep abreast of the conditions as best we can -- the temperature at a given time, the wind and its force and direction, the predicted rain and snow. We must prepare for these future eventualities. We move forward by a holy impatience, because we need to await with expectancy the coming of the Lord to guide us in the final portion of our journey. But our waiting must be that of hope and confidence and active endurance. Yes, we focus ahead and ought to encourage those who seem lost and without direction, for our journey is with others. The Eucharist nourishes us on our journey.
Last, we need Eucharistic nourishment to know the present in its fullness. The brief sunlit landscape may seem permanent, but it is not; an eternal summer is an illusion. Instead of self- gratification, we must reach out to others who are with us on the road, a looking about in a horizontal plane. We have to be alert and sensitive to co-travelers in place of being totally self-engrossed with only personal needs. By looking about, we discern when to pause; like the Good Samaritan we must pick up others who are being pulled by the temptation to stop and become wounded by allurements and addictions. These neighbors need encouragement, for we must be people of cheer and freshness and filled with divine gifts. We need the nourishment to stay alert, enthusiastic, and present for those who otherwise lack good companionship. The Eucharist nourishes us on our journey.
The Eucharist is a divine promise from out of the past and one inviting our fidelity; it is a celestial glimpse of the future that awaits us if we remain on the road to eternity; it is a godly act of love through our sharing with others who are currently in need; we all need nourishment on our journey of faith.
Prayer: Lord, you know all things; keep us nourished so that we are able to overcome allurements, impatience, and the distractions that blind us to the needs of others.
Close to the forest floor, the small clubmoss reaches for the sun.
June 7, 2021 Protecting from the Sun
Throughout the winter months we crave the sun and full-spectrum sunlight, and now the sun greets us each day with its furnace-like blast. We need to be moderate in all things; we ought to accept expert advice and take proper precautions both as healers and potential victims of the sun's rays. In earlier years, a good sunburn was expected in springtime with its pain, redness and peeling skin. However, we now know sunburn is to be avoided:
1. Wear protective clothing. This is strict advice, especially for those of us who hate to wear hats even when we did at parental insistence in younger years. However, the light but covered clothing of summer becomes more needed as we age, for now skin cancer can appear and be devastating without hardly noticing.
2. Use sunscreen. I will leave the discussion of the brand of medication to you and your own caregiver. Perhaps all are effective to some degree but some may be more so, though application of the type, timing, and degree could make a difference. Don't go outdoors without amply covering forehead, nose area, arms, and even legs -- all exposed skin areas.
3. Avoid overexposure. Much of this depends on your own activities at a given time, or if your livelihood requires much outdoor work in summer time. For many of us, we can choose the early morning or late evening hours for outdoor exercise and gardening, and thus avoid exposure during the middle of the day.
Sunstroke is dangerous and all too often overlooked.
4. Discourage excessive tanning. It always makes some of us cringe to think that people pay to lie under ultraviolet lights to bake in the rays for a suntan. Really? No wonder some states impose heavy taxes on such operations.
5. Know the signs of skin cancer. This is the hardest of the sun-protection alerts, for no one wants to see any of the scaly skin signs that could be precursors to problems -- and these seem to come to those with fair skin. Will such people suffer more through the harshness of emerging climate change?
6. Visit the skin specialist on a regular basis. Our skin is a precious layer that protects us and we must, in turn, protect it. The dermatologist is our skin protector, and so let's not delay. At the time of this first writing I again resolved to complete an annual visit to have my skin condition checked.
7. And the liquids protect as well. We think of skin but need to remember that dehydration can slip upon us, especially when exerting ourselves at this season. Let summer 2021 be a rewarding period of protection in our lives.
Prayer: Lord, you give us all good gifts, and we are to be thankful for the sunshine that is essential to life.
Ornate foliage of the little brown jug, Hexastylis arifolia.
June 8, 2021Attending UN Conference on the Environment, 1972
The discharge of toxic substances or of other substances and the release of heat, in such quantities of concentrations as to exceed the capacity of the environment to render them harmless, must be halted in order to ensure that serious or irreversible damage is not inflicted upon ecosystems. The just struggle of the peoples of all nations against pollution should be supported.
Declaration of Principles. UN Conference on the Environment #6
Time flies. Forty-nine years ago, the first UN Conference on the Environment occurred in Stockholm, Sweden. Though my memory fades, still several things stand out while attending that Conference when the springtime of the environmental movement seemed so fresh. We naively thought that a few good regulations would send us on to other needed pursuits. Little did we know that issues discussed there in Stockholm would linger, and new ones far more serious would emerge. One eloquent Brazilian spoke on saving the Amazon Rain Forest, in prescient terms from what has become a major problem of the unregulated clear-cutting of "Earth's lungs."
During the two-week conference several of us priests including the Vatican delegation concelebrated a Mass in Latin. One participant was the late fellow Jesuit, Bob Brungs, who directed the Institute for Theological Encounter with Science and Technology in St. Louis. We discussed matters and likewise I was able to speak with Rene Dubos, microbiologist, writer, enthusiast, environmental pioneer, and CSPI consultant; he motivated me to write The Contrasumers: A Citizens Guide to Resource Conservation.
At this Conference it became evident that small numbers of wasteful consumers (not sheer numbers of poor people) are the culprits causing environmental degradation. I recall a UN-NGO panel composed of five white males. During introductions, an ample-sized Kenyan presented herself with a chair, and using powerful hips, made an opening at the panel's table. She said she represented women and the non-white four-fifths of the world. Half of us cheered and half were in a state of utter dismay. Also, a Swede told me that the quiet gentleman sitting alone across the room at the NGO meeting was Olof Palme, the Swedish prime minister. I had never spoken to a head of state and so I went over and thanked the prime minister for taking time to grace the citizen's alternative meeting -- and he smiled. Later in 1986, when strolling near his home Mr. Palme was assassinated.
Over time, I have found that the inspirational value of global physical gatherings decreased. However, later ones can be even more important, for we must work together with other nations on the global problem of climate change -- and conferences of some sort aid collaboration. In fact, the pandemic has taught the value of teleconferences that take less time and less airplane fuel.
Prayer: Lord, bring us together in some fashion so as to understand and address emerging world environmental problems.
The classic porch swing.
(*photo by Baba Divy, Creative Commons)
June 9, 2021Promoting Porch Swings on Senior Citizens' Day
Porches do not have the popularity of previous times when people relaxed and invited others to come and sit down with them. Only elders still brave summer heat in shaded porches and relax by abandoning the air-conditioned interior. But the porch beckons with its gear and atmosphere; it is graced with a creaking swing on which the survivors of summer heat sit and endure the weather in a special way; the swinging motion gives a special sound; the shade offered is welcomed; a glass of ice tea or hand fans may help. It is great to discover these specimens of antiquity in our local community, for they give character to our neighborhoods. The sights and sounds remind us of yesteryear, when silence was punctuated with some one-on-one personal communication - a refutation of continuous distant phone contact or the blaring of TV. The swing user says "Stop by and visit; we welcome the lonely seeker of social contact."
I have the hooks on the ceiling of my front porch that is shaded from the afternoon sun. Some generous souls have even offered a swing, but I declined. It gave me second thoughts; however, living at the last house on a no-outlet street, there are few passersby coming this way. Better still, I have felt it important to take a needed stroll and find others who brave the swings of summer life, and they invite in quite quiet ways for people to pause on their walks. It becomes a time to exchange kind words and recall times when even the mid-aged and young had no computer games or air conditioning, and fraternized with co-sufferers of the summer heat.
Will porch swings remain a part of America's landscape? They are close relatives to the rocking chair (February 7, 2020), of which I have one to spend some evening hours. The comforting back-and-forth motion gives a sense of movement while remaining in place, a virtual substitution for the less mobile. Rocking chairs still claim their own place in modern times, but what about porches that were built for shade and protection, for comfort and neighborliness? If porches go as part of modern architecture, so will the swing on which they are located. One without the other means the death of a rare and endangered experience.
Some ask if you don't use a porch swing, why lament its demise? Porch swings are a means of communication for the elderly. The use of these comforts gives me hope that a generation long past middle age still retains a love for communication in a random fashion, chance meetings with those who drift by and small talk that is unplanned a moment before spoken. A world of such informality has its tools of delight and the porch swing is one of these. Don't give them to museums. Michael Johnathon has a song "We need a Front Porch" that has some attributes as mentioned here; we also need to sing the praises of a front porch swing.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see good things in life that need to be preserved and used even when it seems they have been supplanted.
June 10, 2021 Yelling Drill Baby Drill! Cheap Fuel or Strategy?
We have been so afflicted by corporate propaganda through advertisement and media hype that we tend to accept the fake with the real. One that has been rather consistent through decades is that of improving petroleum supplies through more drilling, but nothing like meeting an insatiable fuel demand of a hungry nation or world. "Drill, Baby, Drill!" means that if all restrictions are lifted a freed industry will be coaxed into "liberating" more petroleum and natural gas from fossil fuel-bearing rock formations. Three points are worth considering in this discussion:
First, fossil fuel extraction IS still too high. In fact, oil and gas production has been booming in the first two decades of this century in the U.S. -- a time when this country again became number one in petroleum production. Currently, not every possible off-shore or wilderness area is open season for drilling, but the vast possibilities, especially from "fracking" extracting processes has resulted in a recent abundance of natural gas with both associated benefits and risks. Utilization of Canadian tar sands is troublesome because after all extracting and cleaning and refining, this could prove a rather dirty greenhouse-producing fuel. Simply put, more reliance on fossil fuels is not a good 21st century strategy, nor even an acceptable transition state until renewables take over completely.
The second point is that bottlenecks and barriers are only partly related to lack of fuel supply in an age of rapidly expanding fuel demands from emerging nations. The growing appetite for liquid fuels is accompanied by temporary disruptions in major fields such as in Nigeria, Libya, and other parts of Africa. A key to fuel prices is relations with Iran and the resulting dangers to ship passage of 40% of transported oil via the Strait of Hormuz. Each delay or failure to return to anticipated schedule (Iraq is quite slow at coming to full former capacity) causes a greater competition for existing fuel supplies.
The third point is the return to full economic development after the pandemic of the past year. Will other unanticipated difficulties result such as unexpected terroristic actions as occurred recently in Saudi Arabia. What will the fragile relationship of fossil fuel application by an Iran/American conflict mean or another Middle East crisis. A combination of factors leading to tighter supplies and a flux in demands will certainly not be overcome in the next few years by drilling of every conceivable possible oil source. No one likes rising fossil fuel prices, but in reality fuel ought to be more heavily taxed to meet costs from climate- change effects. Failure to address all factors honestly is not a good strategy, no matter how quickly the economy returns to pre-pandemic status.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be honest in the way we use current and future energy resources and help us move to a renewable energy economy.
Motivation to Ever-Deepening Greed
Inequality left uncontrolled is the breeding ground for greed. This greed seeks ever-larger amounts of existing resources for personal or group use; the vice spreads out to people of all social and economic conditions; however, it is of greater harm when those who have much desire still more. In an uncontrolled Capitalism, both competition and individualism seek to transform the vice greed into a virtue. This captures the mentality of all classes.
We all know that material things never satisfy, and thus, the greater the material, the greater the desire for more and more; if firm limits to wealth exist, then the power of further acquisition would not burn so deeply. However, with an uncontrolled pathway to as much material goods as possible, the lower cravings of individuals take hold, and the legality of acquisition induces those of every economic class to grow in greediness -- and thus is the case of many in our culture today; they accept the myth that upper class benefits will trickle down to lower economic groups and that they will benefit, if they work hard and stay within the law.
Gambling. Clawing for the top involves strange practices; in response to hardcore reality, many average citizens are tempted to gamble a portion of their ready cash in hopes of winning big, as they become aware through the media that a few strike it rich by playing the lotteries. These budding greed-mongers hope to be of the lucky few and gain big bucks in one win. Human nature being what it is, the lawful practice in a society allowing accumulation of untold wealth will have an effect on those climbing to the top -- and on those far down the ladder. Having still more becomes the goal for billionaires and paupers alike, for no amount of wealth satisfies anyone with a materialistic viewpoint. Some justify this as providing for offspring and not for personal success.
Globalization plays into the hands of the greedy, for accumulated wealth can be shipped out of one nation with stronger controls and sent to an isolated tax haven, where it can be stored with some degree of security. The ability to withhold wealth from the clutches of tax-collectors becomes the ambition of the greedy over the entire economic scale. The world situation is left to take care of itself and the focus comes down to my situation, my retirement, and the education of my children.
Sharing takes a back seat in such a culture. Some religious leaders preach that one should not envy wealth, and this is true, but not the whole story. It is one thing to be individualistic and want some of the excess that could be redistributed from the wealthy. It is far more socially just to support resource redistribution for the greater Common Good, especially for the world's destitute. The socially concerned will apply pressure to get the wealthy to share some of their abundance in the form of "charity," and shower praise when this occurs -- and some charity comes their own way. From the super-rich standpoint, this charity can be seen as insurance, provided the status quo is not tinkered with too deeply. "Allow me to have yachts and mansions, if some of my funds are directed to the poor." However, efforts to induce the wealthy to share something lacks full social impact.
Charity. It is true that we are to share from our abundance with those who do not have enough -- and for the greater part this can be seen as charity. However, dispensing some of the wealth is a way of exercising power and influence under the guise of "charity." If civic or religious groups receive a portion of wealth, there is a reluctance to bite the hand that feeds them. Charity from the wealthy is requested and honored with respect and gratitude, but should not another practice be championed, for this approach ensures the status quo, which is unjust to start? Does the surplus belong to the many and not the few, rightly dispensed by the processes of a functioning democratic society?
Private practice. The system is unjust when some have so much and others so little. However, change of the system is called for and yet super-rich propaganda entreats the hoi polloi to agree that a small or substantial gift by the wealthy to the poor is a non-violent "voluntary" approach to distribution of surplus. In this way of thinking, the myth is that the wealthy, not the public or government, know best. For those who hold this myth, wealth obtained legally is best distributed by the holders and not others through a process of taxes and social programs. Such reasoning certainly has the blessing of the wealthy, who champion private distribution and seek to unearth waste through governmental social programs. Disparaging governmental interference allows them to be managers of their wealth -- and dutiful religious leaders say "amen!" But is this really the right approach?
Voluntarism can be a good thing and should be encouraged. However, there are only so many who will volunteer. Some will and some will not -- and that is the weakness when pressure needs to be mounted for reaching all essential needs. Some in greed hold tightly to what they have and fail to play the voluntary game -- and they retain what belongs to the people. This is why the democratic process must come effectively into play. The people have a right to take from the super-rich for basic needs, and they can effectively do this through non-violent fair taxation.
Redistribution. If this voluntary process seems fruitful and still widespread destitution remains and inequality grows, then the vice of greed needs to be confronted by radical sharing, not just among particular agents of change, but among ALL the people. All need to be part of the redistributing process, because wealth resources are really a Commons belonging to all in essential need first -- not to the ones who were fortunate enough to play the system and gained the wealth in the first place. Property rights must always give way to the right to basic essentials. Redistribution can be monitored and structured in such a way that fairness can and must prevail -- and is desperately needed today.
Brickellia eupatorioides, var. eupatorioides.
June 11, 2021Affirming thatGod Is Love
Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love. (I John 4:8)
On this Feast of the Sacred Heart, we once again consider God's love that radiates throughout the world and is focused in the loving heart of Jesus who came among us, suffered, died, and rose in glory. We celebrate this shining burst of Divine Love, which illumines the world. God gives to each of us who prays for the power to love, the blessing of sharing more in divine life. Many friends near and far seek rational explanations for the cosmos around us and happenings in life -- and we speak about God to them, for we want to share the power of togetherness. Love is so deep, so personal, and so embracing that it is hard to fashion into descriptive words. What's private seeks public expression.
In John's letters we hear that God is love, but what does this mean? LOVE is more than a four-letter word. To hold that God is love points us more to the meaning of love than about God -- for God is beyond our comprehension. On the other hand, love can be experienced to some degree in our lives with others. Those who hate have no knowledge of the dynamics of the spiritual world, for they do not experience the magnetic power of love itself. To say "we love others" is to discover a bond that binds us to them and in fact binds us to a global community. Love holds us, engulfs us, gives us meaning, and amid it all gives us openness to ever greater love if we are open to the God who calls us.
Love is at the heart of all we are and do; if one loves, then what is expressed is that love that includes compassion for others who suffer in some way. Through suffering with another we show love, and express it in a way that the suffering person understands -- heart to heart. We do this in the arena of personal relationships that bind one to others, and to the divine life of love. Our hesitancy to express in words may be compensated by a loving service that speaks louder than words -- a service of fidelity and caring and compassion. Loving service extends the love of our hearts to others, and through loving others we show that this is a person-to-person relationship that invites back their love in return. By loving others we are godly, because God IS love and the source of all our loving efforts.
Some embrace love without reflecting on it. They see love as a gift from the Creator and something that we open ourselves to with little additional thought. Those serving others find God and yet do not have the words to express it; they know without formal knowledge about seeing God in the one served. The caring may be consuming, for it is the right thing to do, and the assurance of what is right is all part of love itself. God is present, giving enthusiasm (the God within) for our services rendered. If we love, we cannot grasp, but God grasps us.
Prayer: Lord, help us see you as the totality of the ocean of infinite love in which you allow us to plunge.
On Race Unity Day we find a key to coming together in solidarity. We must concede in America that racial differences also reflect racial inequality. One answer is that our poverty must not hold us back but be a creative arena for correcting the difficulties from the past. Poverty can be enriching provided it is not destitution. When we choose to be in solidarity with the world's poor, we become party to that condition with the vast numbers - minorities, workers, ill, prisoners, ex-addicts.
When associates or friends and dear ones pass on, we hear the Lord: "These enriched you very much by their loving care, technical skills, insights, and intelligence, but you must remain poor." Yes, loved ones are not replaceable, and I truly felt impoverished --but we are able to discover Christ impoverished and yet paradoxically enriched among and with the poor:
Spiritually, our trust must always turn to God and find there the fullness of who we are. Spiritual enrichment means growing sensitivity to and with others; Ecologically, the poor are far less demanding on world resources, for there is not all that property to maintain, guard, ensure, and drain precious time that can be spent in other ways; Educationally, we learn so much more when we listen carefully to what the poor do and say. These have a divine source of inspiration and are the teachers of a new world order; Practically, poor folks teach all to do with far less and to be far more creative in using what we have; Inspirationally, we find the will of God in what we do and know that God's power is at work among the poor. The Lord tests us to meet our challenges through his empowerment to us; Psychologically, it is enriching not to have to battle the pretensions of those who think they are better than others, and that their "success" is of their own making; Economically, a just world in which resources are shared leads to a greater solidarity, especially among very poor people; Culturally, without sharing, the world cannot stay civilized but will descend into the depths of insatiable materialism; Realistically, being among and identified with the poor, allows others to discount my importance, thank heavens! The affluent tend to overlook the poor as not worthy of attention; Graciously, we are able to God's many gifts to us all. In fact, the opportunity exists for the poor to constantly find God in everything in life; Humorously, we see that God does wonders with us when poor in ways not attained by those with unlimited resources; Health-wise, downsizing is not any longer a problem, and so the stress to lower expectations is not present; and Motivationally, striving spiritually places part of the onus outside us; we are freed of the rat race to become materialists.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the poor who inspire us to move the world to a new level of social justice.
Rhinoceros beetle, almost hidden in grass pasture.
June 13, 2021 Reflecting on the Mustard Seed
It (kingdom of God) is like a mustard seed, which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds; yet once it is sown grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade. (Mark 4:31-32)
We must recall that this is a parable about the growth of the mighty kingdom of God starting from a tiny beginning; it is more than a gardening lesson interwoven into a parable by Jesus. Once I observed a humble mustard plant in my greenhouse, which normally reaches a height of two feet when flowering, continue to grow to be the tallest herb I ever experienced. I remembered this parable and marveled at the height of the plant.
The use of biological terms helps us understand how humble beginnings yield to immense endings. Jesus is telling us here to do several things. Let us reflect when we sow seed, for this is a precious moment when the potential of future fruition rests in our hands. The world is for us to behold in the tiny creatures, whether a pup, a seedling, or an infant child. In due time, these little ones will grow and that is a part of the miracle of life shown in maturation, and part of the sowers' confidence. The teachings and healing activities of Jesus would ultimately come to have a global impact; however, that would not be seen in his disciple's lifetime or maybe centuries afterwards. The power of the Resurrection includes this gradual growth to a grand future. We are to sow seed that is small but can become part of God's glory; yes, we must believe it will come to be.
Another aspect is maybe a little far-fetched, namely, our efforts at extending the reign of God allows other creatures to be able to seek and find protection through our efforts. The birds come and rest in the branches. If we sow a plant, this gives comfort to those in need whether human or the flora and fauna of our world. Our efforts may be more effective than imagined. Perhaps in building up the kingdom of God we discover something about the New Heaven and New Earth -- a structure in the making.
The last aspect really follows from sowing, having a confidence in the maturing process, and being at peace with all creation, and that is we will someday bask in the magnificence of God's reign. We will participate in bringing about God's reign not by simply standing passively by and watching in awe as the kingdom unfolds. This farming motif has a special importance, for farmers coax growth from soil through the work of human hands. We are called to participate within God's family to help build the kingdom, as builders and not as cheerleaders. We do more than sow; we tend the plants and bring them to fruition and glory.
Prayer: Lord, help us in projects in which we are involved; give us strength to help create mighty structures to the benefit of all participants in your mighty work.
June 14, 2021Waving Flag, Patriotism and World Citizenship
On this Flag Day Americans show special respect for our most precious national symbol, our flag. Millions of our fellow citizens have had tearful eyes when coming back home after a time lapse, and seeing "Old Glory" waving in the distance. There is a moment of solidarity with, just as the waving flag at the Baltimore fort being bombarded by the British inspired Francis Scott Key to write the "Star Spangled Banner." However, the stirring of some of us to the music and sight of a waving flag may make us reflect on sacrifices of those who fought for independence or sacrificed for others in the many struggles for America's security.
Heroism and sacrifice are part of the flag's red, which symbolizes the blood of those who gave their lives for our country. But did not their sacrifices have still broader dimensions worth exploring when we study American or world history? The flag's white is our willingness to share the plenty of fields white with the harvest with those less endowed with resources. The blue symbolizes the horizon of dreams to always look for ever greater destiny. Red, white, and blue decorate the banner and our own hopes and aspirations.
Sacrifices, gratitude for plentitude, and trustful foresight are only some of the American characteristics needing emphasis. Another is the self-confidence to extend freedom and goals of our country to people in other lands. It is not needed that we do this in a military manner; extending freedom can occur through radical sharing and allowing others to develop their destinies in their own way. Our responsibilities are shared because we are part of a global family; we must work together to tackle the environmental and financial problems that we share as world citizens.
The movement from independent colonies to one United States was an extraordinary moment in world history; the movement in European nations to a European Union, and further down the line in Africa to an African Union, are journeys that are similar to the way our colonies evolved over time. This evolution ought now to be celebrated in an openness to becoming an ever greater and more perfect global union. The flag's field of stars representing different states shows an accomplished fact on one level.
Flag Day is an opportunity for a minor celebration; it is an annual reminder to seriously see the flag for what it is and how it is to be shared with a needy world -- not an exclusive sign. Flags have their limits, if as symbols they distract us and lead to a selfish nationalism that could retard true globalization. Nationalism can hold us back; when we reflect on the true meaning of this emblem it can thrust us forward.
Prayer: Send your Holy Spirit upon our beloved country. Make us people of faith in times of uncertainty, people of hope in times of trouble, people of compassion with those who are less fortunate, and people of peace in our homes, communities, country, and world.
Indoor orchid cultivation, a hobby for all seasons.
June 15, 2021Enjoying Free Time as an Art
Many of us who enjoy working find that we are always trying to busy ourselves in "free time." Is there a time to simply have nothing planned and be free to do what comes and is truly unanticipated? And can it not be said that this is also within the spirit of "Keeping the Sabbath"? Should there not be time to give back to the Creator the gift of rest, showing once more that all depends on God and less on our trumped-up schemes for whatever undertaking we are engaging?
These questions lie behind the need for and the success in enjoying (not enduring) free time. I put these special free days on my calendar but must confess my dad's sense of free time (FT) was very broad; I follow him in his delight in being busy. We thought of free time with him in travel to pick nuts or fruit or visiting scenic places or relatives. However, his driving exertion was work and did not make this true "free time," except to furnish such occasions for the rest of the family. Do we consider our travels as "free," or necessary exertion in order to obtain a short unplanned period within the total vacation span? Merely exerting effort for being in a different scene or activity is not necessarily true FT. Bless those who decide that FT means staying home and resting in other ways such as in prayer, reading, reflecting, or a hobby that gives the art of freeing one from worldly cares.
Thus, reflection is directed as much for me as for others. The day I wanted FT after a series of hard work days, I put off to the following day in order to get more things done. Furthermore, the advent of FT is often subject to readjustment. Recall that Scripture tells us that Jesus took his disciples off for free time and the crowds made him change his plans. Thus FT is a hope, in fact, an eternal hope of future life that sometimes must be cancelled or changed in this world. The fact that we are not rigid in the schedule of FT means we are free to change and that, in turn, makes us freer. However, the occasional change should not be expected to be what always occurs, for then we would only give lip service to a "free time" that never is celebrated. To simply service others' FT is not counted as our free time when we drive, cook, or clean for their utter enjoyment. We need a little FT just for ourselves.
Designating unplanned free time is a salutary goal -- if we can agree to honor it. Looking back, some of the more enjoyable times in life are when things just happen because we allowed them to do so. Others also enjoy our act of freedom for they realize that we take part more fully when all participants are free and not some spending all the time serving the rest. A tour may be work for the guide but enjoyment for us. Let's give ourselves a break. God took one after creating the world -- and it might still be going on. Let's create our "break time" and respect it.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to include free time in our life in creative ways that help prepare ourselves for eternity.
June 16, 2021 Repeating the Motto "In God We Trust"
Sometimes we mumble our familiar prayers without thinking of the deeper significance. We see our national motto on every coin and bill we handle and this fits into the category of the unthinking mumbo-jumbo of daily recitation or occasional patriotic ending of a talk. All even "In God We Trust" deserves more.
First of all, we need God in American life, for we have a national duty to vocalize our domestic needs and occasion to admit guilt for wrongdoing whether individual or collective. Americans take pride in our own self-righteousness and pretend that we have achieved great successes. As a nation we are addicted to oil, autos, and all sorts of consumer products, and seek mightily to become all the more addicted through a recovering consumer economy bent on material excess. In coming to our senses, we need to see that we cannot trust in human efforts alone; a repeated trust in God is a key to the success of our people and world. The brightest economic experts do not have an alternative. We need our God.
Our motto goes back to the American Revolution or at least the Second War of Independence (War of 1812). See Flag Day on Monday's reflection about the "Star Spangled Banner," where this motto appears in the final verse. England was a powerful though somewhat distracted nation by the height of the final phases of the Napoleonic Wars in continental Europe. However, the forts occupied by the British in our American Northwest territory, the capture of the city of Washington, the Canadian campaigns, and the final southern campaign added up to be a major threat to the existence of our young nation. Americans knew that it could not win without the assistance of divine grace. We need the same insight today.
Today, we ought to return to our motto with prayerful hearts. We have to confront the existential threat to our quality of life by financial mismanagement, as well as our unwillingness to address the global climate-change issue. We must reject the materialistic economic system in which too many place their trust. Furthermore, we neglect to see this materialism as a false religion of which our country is a global proponent.
We must speak out and admit that this economic system causes the insatiable lust for more material goods. Such a quest consumes our energy, our time, and our entire psychic being. In addition, this false philosophy has a deadening effect on the vitality of Earth herself. Tens of millions in Asia, Latin America and throughout the world want to be like consuming Americans, so addicted to material things that they are fooled into thinking that they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Only by pleading to God who is our savior will we find an answer -- before it is too late for us and our world. Didn't the pandemic teach us anything?
Prayer: Lord, you have always been with us. Be again at our side and help us address our wrongdoing, and see that the life of our nation rests in the trust we give you.
June 17, 2021 Discerning Citizenship Responsibilities
The Second Vatican Council exhorts the faithful "to perform their duties faithfully in the spirit of the Gospel. It is a mistake to think that, because we have here no lasting city, but seek the city which is to come, we are entitled to shirk our earthly responsibilities; this is to forget that by our faith we are bound all the more to fulfill these responsibilities according to the vocation of each one." Pope Benedict XVI
Many American citizens have taken their responsibilities to heart during the pandemic that has come over our world; they have kept distancing as prescribed, wore masks in public, and stayed at home for the most part. This expanded over time to include voting by absentee ballot, political teleconferencing, cheering at home what could have been a face-to-face rally, and accepting that our learning had to be via TV, radio, social media or phone conversations. Some laughed at the prescriptions and have caused the rise in virus-caused deaths and afflictions, which could have been avoided by stricter controls and enforcement.
Most of us saw in the past two years that extra effort had to be made to continue the citizenship that we have inherited and to make it all the more operative through creative efforts. Otherwise, we would be left with the rule of a dictator and the surrendering of citizenship rights at a time when we could least afford it. Certainly political disagreements are possible, but order and law did not have to come with the barrel of a gun pointed at us. Wisdom has fortunately prevailed.
The citizenship discernment process should include the following when choosing and acting well:
* weighing existing materials and positions and records of candidates and taking sufficient time for monitoring how the leadership is acting in times of crisis;
* weighing all differing political positions on ways to best help those who are vulnerable;
* following the medical and scientific professions in manner of secluding individuals and refraining from gatherings that are too closely packed and lacking safe social distances;
* regard the dynamics of change from the point of view of needed climate change safeguards and supporting renewable energy sources and enhancement;
* discerning proper taxation that is fair for lower income people and proper for those who have gained untaxed fortunes during this past time of crisis; and
* consider one's gut feeling to defend those who hold contrary political positions as part of their right to express themselves in a civil and non-violent manner.
Prayer: Lord, help us to discern our citizenship responsibilities in this time of pandemic crisis and the double duty to curb climate change and save our environment.
Excessive wealth generates two forms of violence: the continued violence to people who are forced into food, potable water, health access and lodging insecurity due to maldistribution of global resources; and the threat of violence against the super-wealthy and their supporters by those who are angry and move to revolt. The first of these forms is overlooked violence that actually exists today, and the second has occurred at various times in history and is possible again. The destitute often accept their condition quietly, but some become angry and could be triggered to target resentment against those living in luxurious gated-communities or who congregate at choice locations and events.
Unfortunately, the current rise in inequality due to a few privileged individuals or groups is countered by continued and at times growing destitution by hundreds of millions in this world. Thus, there seems to be a perpetuation of the first form of violence, and increasing possibility of the second. Overlooking and denying the first form of violence is a cultural neglect by the affluent; the strengthening of military security occurs with fear of the second form of violence; this involves expanding military safeguards with funds that ought to go for essential needs.
The one solution to reduce all forms of violence is to bring a non-violent end to destitution. Certainly, efforts have been made in this 21st century to raise people above food and other forms of insecurity -- and have led to declines in poverty levels in certain countries, especially in Asia and parts of Latin America. However, both the recent pandemic and continued climate change with its extremes have only added new members to this insecure class in Africa and other parts of the world. Populations continue to grow, though at lowered rates, in many countries that have suffered severe pandemic effects. Likewise, extreme weather conditions caused by climate change have resulted in increased suffering from floods, droughts, hurricanes and other extremes. Protection for these vulnerable populations require increased financial resources to address the causes of poverty.
Current violence deniers of course want no part in redistributing private treasures for the sake of the common good. The propaganda mill of the super-rich says that such violence doesn't exist among happy poor folks. Do they forget about the mother facing a day without food for their children? When any of us experience hunger for a brief period, we begin to see how those who hunger often see deterioration in their quality of life. How do you convince those who have never experienced a lack of food? Likewise, who wants to dwell on a picture of a starving child or family? Simply convincing those who have full stomachs to consider current violence to the needy is difficult, if not impossible. Rather, let's convince concerned citizens to take matters into their own hands -- in a non-violent manner.
Violent option? People committed to peace want to reduce violence in all its forms as much as possible. Today's victims of violence are most likely not rebellious, but they sink into an immobile starving condition. Those seeking social justice for the poor have the difficult task of proving existing violence directly to those sated with plenty -- as though it is necessary for the super-rich to assent to changes in society. However, greater proof is needed for those who are social activists. Throughout history there have been many cases of local or regional groups rising up against an unjust status quo and violently overcoming that system for the sake of redistribution of essential resources. The possibility exists today, for anger swells into violent action against those perceived as oppressors. The challenge for social agents of change is to direct that anger into meaningful non-violent action for the benefit of all parties.
Patience is the plea of moderate religious leaders who confuse a temporary tranquility with true peace -- and think the poor need to exercise this virtue while awaiting a future heavenly reward. However, this is hardly the mentality of the needy or those in sympathy with these victims of current violence. A manufactured patience is not true virtue when people suffer daily from lack of essentials. Rather, the hesitancy to act is a failure in courage to stand up for those in current need. Social programs that give support to the destitute must launch an initiative to take financial resources from the hands of the super-rich. The evangelist may say, "You will get a reward for being hungry today, if you offer up your pain" -- a pitiful comment by the non-hungry.
Avoidance of violence by the oppressed is not at any cost. In fact, some could argue that those without can take from those who have, and it is not stealing in the least -- the Cardinal Frings Rule. To steal is to take from someone with proper ownership; to take morally (though illegally) for the needy from luxury sources is not stealing, but just redistribution. However, far better to advocate for fair taxes and redistribution by those who can reduce need at all levels through well-monitored governmental programs: better small farming methods, secure and accessible markets, proper transport and storage facilities, etc. Far better to use lawful means to redistribute wealth for the good of all. Hunger needs to be satisfied, not patiently endured.
Should violence ever be encouraged? There's the false premise that no violence exists today, and can only be instigated by the angry. Violence is before us now. Reducing this is justified, though it could spill over into unintended violence often resulting from military or police reaction. Avoid violence at all costs and follow examples of non-violent change agents such as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Civic disobedience and demonstration, along with legislative action for fair taxes and social programs, are beneficial approaches. Let's not be fooled into violent means when other and more effective methods of change exist. These are the subject matter of further discussion.
Every earthhealer needs a spirituality. Better yet, every earthhealer HAS a spirituality. The challenge is to see that this spirituality is adequate to meet the specific circumstances where healers find themselves at a given time. Just as an elementary eco-spirituality expresses limited awareness, a maturing spirituality reflects both the growth in awareness of a deepening environmental crisis. A "spirituality" is a character or quality that underlies our actions and includes a motivational force coming from within and through imploring of a Higher Power to assist us.
Our "eco-spirituality" pertains to our relationship to matters of ecological significance such as the motivational force that helps us appreciate the world of plants, animals and landscape. An authentic eco-spirituality was discussed three decades ago (see "Towards an Authentic Eco-Spirituality" on this website). This involved three basic principles:
* The goodness and interconnected relationship of all creation as a family;
* The sensitivity to the power of suffering, none of which is ever lost; and
* The willingness to be open to participation by all people in protecting and enhancing our environment.
Each level is a growing environmental awareness; each has a specific action-oriented spirituality emerging that points to the relationship between us as healers and the Source of our spiritual life. At the first level we see the beauty of creation being damaged by exploitation; HERE the connectedness of all creation is forgotten by exploiters and their misdeed exposed by prophets.
At the second level, the suffering of all our brothers and sisters leads to compassion NOW, and motivates agents of change to offer alternative procedures to counter the devastating effects of exploitation. The crisis takes more than exposure and remedial alternatives; for authentic renewal a new economic system, which discourages excessive consumption and curbs climate change, is necessary.
An unauthentic spirituality crops up all too often, for even the devil pushes spirituality in his own way. The relationship among all beings is denied by those who focus totally on themselves or specific human relationships, and ignore the importance of others including the flora and fauna of our lives. Also, those who take no responsibility or see no value to suffering, and prefer to regard material things as only useful in themselves fail an authenticity test. Compassion is foreign to such people, for they are insensitive to the impact of their actions on others. And those who prefer to focus on escape mechanisms fail to see the need of teamwork in repairing a damaged world through collaboration.
Prayer: Lord, help us to commit ourselves to help bring global change. and to take correct measures to confront the unjust system causing the current environmental crisis.
The Big Lie
In this year 2021, a major falsehood has been foisted on the American public. If and when such deceptions do immense damage, it is necessary to publicly denounce and do all that is possible to expose it. Such is the case of "The Big Lie," a deliberate effort of continued repetition by Ex-President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Unanimously, all forty state and federal courts in which he brought charges immediately dismissed them. Some seven million more voted for his opponent, President Biden, and every state verified the proper voting procedures -- and this was formally documented by the Electoral College vote for Biden as President.
Still, The Big Lie persists well into 2021 and is repeated over and over. On the January 6th official counting day, an aroused crowd of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol Building, leaving five dead and a hundred injured; still the formal count continued to completion. The simple fact that The Big Lie is firmly repeated time and again by its author, and that millions of his followers have come to believe it, places a moral imperative on all citizens and defenders of democracy. A lie repeated often and firmly enough will find believers among trusted followers of the party spreading the falsehood; this has happened repeatedly for the last eight months. The Big Lie repeated with conviction has caught the attention of millions who voted for Trump and has been quietly accepted by the mechanism of a major political party.
The Big Lie must be exposed for what it is; it causes grave damage to the integrity of the American voting system and weakens our democratic principle; each and every one has a right to vote and have that vote be counted. The Big Lie is to be denounced as unbecoming and doing grave damage to trust in the federal electoral system that has been in effect for over two hundred years. The reason greater numbers of partisans have not distanced themselves from this falsehood is most likely due to fear for their own political life and possibly physical safety. Lest we forget, The Big Lie proponents includes those angered by the story of thievery; they are armed and ready to join forces if need be -- a potential for severe civil strife.
I encourage all who are citizens and defenders of our threatened democracy to speak out; perform your duty and support honesty in politics and moral truth. We can no longer remain silent when more and more people are deceived by the consistent promulgation of The Big Lie. Here, a moral imperative rests also with the Church to make herself visible in rejecting falsehood in a clear fashion. We must not allow a repeat of Germany in the 1930s. In truth, Trump is no Hitler and is too old to make a big difference, though some of his henchmen could create civil strife that could damage internal peace. It is time for all to speak up.
Only rarely do I (or many people) pay special attention to the summer solstice event which will come tomorrow. The longest day for us as youth came when we considered the summer vacation time as part of something that we hoped was endless. As one who simply despised formal education and its rigor, this was my season of shoeless and long-pantsless freedom; everything in June seemed so alive and full of life. In our minds it would never end, but then that tinge of reality would set in again for those of us who never believed in fairy tales. Summer just starting would end, along with freedom. Summer is like all seasons and is fleeting.
The dream of endless life when enjoying some comfort extends to more mature people as well. We all dream of and crave endlessness or eternity -- a craving that is a proof that a merciful God wants us all renewed and believers in Resurrection. On Winter Solstice, we await the holiday period and the assurance that days will get longer -- and so hope springs eternal. Thus in some ways, even though winter comes after glorious and ever shortening daylight autumns, the promise of lengthening days fosters a sense of better times ahead. On the other hand, today's Summer Solstice speaks to the philosophy of inevitable decline and the end of mortal life as we know it, and each day of the next six months will add to this shortening process -- a bitter/sweet mode.
Those beyond summer in the autumn of life are beset by the reality of slowing down physically, of feeling aches and pains when rising and reclining, of seeing pleasure trips as journeys, of good food as fattening, and of cool breezes as threats to health. Life is not only changing; time is perceived as accelerating as we advance in age: mortal life is fleeting. Physically, our time is measured in a clock of precise duration, with increments of days and weeks and years and centuries. Psychologically, our time is measured in memory and emotions and aspirations, and past recollections are fading and no longer of importance. Just as we were powerless to slow down the youthful summer and make it endless, so in old age we cannot slow down the inevitable faster pace to the end. Good health and residual ambitions may bring back youthful dreams, but while fleeting they have elderly counterparts.
On deeper reflection, which is what this set of essays is all about, fleeting is leaving something behind and hastening to what is to come -- eternal life. The enjoyable hope can make time fly, though some may contest this point. I suspect that life may become a meaningless jumble for those who do not see eternity ahead as a promise, or who are nursing self-pity and too many unpleasant aches. They consider their pains and suffering as burdens rather than opportunities to offer their closing days for others. Yes, we are at the start of summer, but really it is the renewed promise of eternal summer without oppressive heat, mosquitoes, and tornadoes.
Prayer: Lord, give us the clear vision of what lies ahead, and make this longest day of the year a prelude to eternal life.
He spoke and raised a gale, lashing up towering waves. Flung to the sky, then plunged to the depths, they lost their nerve in the ordeal, staggering and reeling like drunkards with all their seamanship adrift. Then they called to YHWH in their trouble and he rescued them from their sufferings...
A few decades back, I was a passenger in a small boat on the Great Lakes when the wind kicked up and the surface got very choppy; it suddenly became a wall of water before us. The boat heaved and the engine struggled; we came finally to shore after my saying a few prayers in between. Visions of The Perfect Storm.
This is the season for hurricanes and extreme weather, and after our bout with the pandemic we can expect just about anything in the emerging crisis of climate change. Continued storms are rather certain and the fear they generate is part of the human condition -- and they affect certain animals as well. At this point all our experience like seamanship goes adrift and we turn to the Lord. In the midst of the storm (Mark 4: 35-41), the disciples awaken Jesus and he says to the storm "Quiet! Be still!" And he adds a question to his disciples after this powerful rebuke, "Why are you lacking in faith?"
How often we experience storms, try to avoid them, and tell of our emotional roller-coaster rides through them? Do we also see that the Lord is in charge and expects us to turn to him in times of troubles? It takes faith to believe we can live through these storms of life and more faith to live through them with complete confidence that God is in charge and is our rock of refuge. The truth is that extreme weather is only one of the stormy scenes that we must endure through our life's journeys. Some of the more severe storms include personal relations and threats to family, home, our own person, our decision-making capability, and the many ramifications resulting from our actions. Storms are quite real and demand our trust in the Lord to see us through.
How should believers react? Others look to us to find out whether we will sustain an even keel through the stormy weather of life. Will our faith bear us through? We marvel at a person in the last phases of cancer who awaits the judgment seat of God with open arms and eager anticipation. Why? Because he or she has no fear of dying and what that entails. For them the storm is real and we observe closely how they react. They call us to prepare for when inevitable storms will come our way; they give us courage to endure such episodes.
Prayer: Lord, you alone are our refuge and will calm the stormy seas of our life; we beg you to increase our trust so we will be better prepared when that time comes.
June 21, 2021 HERE: Recognizing a Down-to-Earth Spirituality
A "spirituality" is what inspires the person to act for better or worse. An "eco-spirituality" relates to matters of ecological significance such as the motivational force that moves people to focus on the well-being of our neighborhood. The concept of eco-spirituality is in a process of evolving at this time. At each level of environmental awareness, the focus is on specific actions that will make our efforts a success.
A first level, Down-to-Earth Spirituality, focuses on clarity in seeing environmental damage and some movement to saving a wounded Earth. It involves a willingness to pause and prophetically expose misdeeds, which are at the local level and may stretch beyond. Authenticity involves personal experience grounded in touching one's land, knowing one's wildlife, and coming to an appreciation of nature. This approach does not borrow spiritual insights from distant academic or erudite sources. On this level, an environmental perspective is relative to location of observer and response is unique to their current place on this planet.
Some, especially the distracted or those committed to exploiting the particular place, may dismiss the need to be deeply rooted in one's environs. Distance allows them to be heartless. However, when dedicated to our home we discover harm that hurts us deeply, we take notice, and we begin to move to doing something that is positive. We abandon the world of fiction and stare reality in the face. We know where we are, what we eat, and where the horizon out there is in relation to our location, our stance, our mood, and our ambitions. This is not grounded in an alien spirituality that defines how we are to save the environment through change of rational attitudes about creation. Rather, nature touches me as an individual where I acknowledge guilt as a primary penitential rite. Suddenly the HERE faces us in all its raw reality, and we see proximate dangers. When not an immediate culprit, I am part of a tolerant community that allows exploiters.
Being "Down-to-Earth" in a unique place is conditioned by where I am, when I live, and with whom I associate. Reality includes knowing weather conditions, wind direction, when berries and fruit ripen, length of daylight, and seasonal changes. Being down-to-Earth includes a willingness to live a sustainable life using local resources. Due to my particular time, place, and association, my spirituality is unique to me, and as I move on in time this will change. I must open my eyes and not run from the current situation nor deny that it exists. For better or worse, I was chosen from all eternity to be present in this time and place, and regard this with both trepidation and promise; both energize my response to what must be done now in this place.
Prayer: Lord, teach me to be a Good Samaritan and to pause and look upon a troubled world as victim; inspire me to stop and assist in whatever way possible. Help me to be authentic and give from my heart in whatever way possible.
June 22, 2021 NOW:Embracing aSpirituality of Compassion
The second and deeper level of eco-spirituality emphasizes that our responsibility results from the original environmental awareness and a growing sensitivity for our brothers and sisters who are victims of misdeeds. Repairing our wounded planet calls us to reclamation, resource conservation, sustainable development, and renewable energy promotion. This suffering-with-others is a spirituality of compassion that involves a growing sense of responsibility to repair environmental damage that affects people who are lowly.
A spirituality of compassion or suffering with others becomes a central motivating force. The damage hurts us, and we are sensitive to a damaged creation whose God-given beauty is marred by human misdeed and selfishness. We are pained by the plight of the fallen and seek to be a Good Samaritan. This means we must give immediate assistance to those suffering -- humans and all other wounded creatures. Our responses are not perfect and that makes us all the humbler and more willing to experiment and improve through different techniques. Compassion is a planetary experience, and our growing sensitivity moves us to do something about it right NOW. Urgency grows, and we are unwilling to excuse ourselves and expect others to dress the wounds of Earth. We are responsible.
The opposite of this spirituality of compassion is a selfish material affluence that leads to greed. Often the affluent pretends to be so privileged that their use of resources are best managed by themselves for the "good" of others. The affluent excuse themselves for one or other reason ("not my job") just like the priest and Levite who passed the victim in the Good Samaritan parable. No problem, no blame, no need for pause in the journey in pursuit of affluence. This fictional world of "classless" affluence results in being spiritually bankrupt, hesitant to look at human causes, and unwilling to involved. In truth, uncontrolled and unchallenged affluence ruins individuals and Earth herself.
The insensitivity that is counter to compassion can gain credence and followers from those hell-bent on imitating the affluent at all costs. A struggle results. We see and fight for those who suffer but who are often separated from us, because they are the victims of a dysfunctional system. Good Samaritans desire a stance that is healthy, mobile, attentive and always prepared to help others. Thus, there is a "they" who are near but not yet a "we;" victims are seen and assisted but not integrated into the actual life of the healer, who may be a technical expert or professional agent of change, or just an inquisitive visitor. These helpful folks have a role to play in changing our world, but more engagement is needed as well, and thus seek a still deeper level of awareness, an act of humility in which "they" become "WE."
Prayer: We thank you, God, for giving us the gift of being born and living in these troubled times, and the opportunity to address these conditions; Lord, give us compassion.
Rose pink, Sabatia angularis. Livingston, KY.
June 23, 2021 WE: Finding a Resurrection-Centered Spirituality
The magnitude of the problems facing us calls for teamwork and participation at a global level. Seeking renewal involves recognizing ourselves as poor and immersed in the world, and thus accepting part of the blame; we must grow in faith. Acknowledging social addiction all around us moves us to trust in God, and thus discover an empowerment found, when aware of our own powerlessness and willingness to be renewed by the Lord.
An expanded eco-spirituality must incorporate the awareness of damage done through a prophetic call (level one) and the taking of responsibility to offer compassion in a heart-felt sense (level two); however, a still deeper awareness involves confronting the dysfunctional system that is causing the environmental crisis, and our confronting the situation with others. The consumer economy entices people into the insatiable rat race of acquiring more and more material goods, with its resulting environmental pollution. This materialistic greed fuels a dysfunctional economic and individualistic political system and encourages a plague of insensitivity to the needs of others. The crisis grows along with a lack of spiritual will power to delve more deeply. However, we see signs that a new generation of environmental awareness confronts those committed to an unsustainable status quo. Partners are starting to collaborate at a global level, a WE.
In the moment of global desolation in part due to the recent pandemic crisis, we strive with divine help to find ourselves; we look about for support; we discover our individual weaknesses. If we are addicted to the materialism of our culture, then are we powerless to becoming self-corrective? In this powerlessness we may receive the grace to discover our social addiction. With God's help we feel a need for others' assistance. Acknowledging social addiction becomes a sacred moment of crossroads, a time to pause. In the entry into the Pascal mystery of a suffering Earth and the compassion sought, we discover our own weaknesses. We call out for help to one more powerful than we are.
This third approach has several elements: acknowledging our inability to solve problems alone; forming a solidarity with others (a WE) includes integrating with the poor and thinking alike, so that ex-addicts become models; seeing our inadequacy and forcing us to fall back on a Higher Power (12 step classic Alcoholic Anonymous program); reclaiming the motto "In God we Trust"; accepting all assistance at our disposal (for Christians this means sacramental nourishment); making ourselves leavens of change to bring about a new social order; and practicing a renewed spirit that furnishes the enthusiasm needed to carry on our work in rebuilding the social order. Refer to "Reclaiming the Tenth Commons, In God We Trust" in our book, Reclaiming the Commons (Brassica Books).
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see our troubled world in raw reality, and to regard the challenge that comes in being of service as believers in a New Heaven and New Earth.
I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation will reach to the ends of the Earth. Isaiah 49:6b)
The feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is halfway to next Christmas. John is the one who prepares the way to Christ and Christian life. Thus, we celebrate the feast in a special way for this great prophet and hard-to-imitate person. Virtually all of us would find it nearly impossible to live in a Judean wilderness on wild honey and grasshoppers, or to wear the coarse clothing of which he covered himself. Apart from specific culinary and lodging conditions, we look closely and discover some elements in John's life that connect with us -- and even teach us proper ways of acting:
Joy -- John leaps for joy at the arrival of Mary with Jesus in her womb. We ought to find excitement and happiness upon being acquainted with someone new. Do we try to make new arrivals comfortable with a joy-filled hospitality?
Uniqueness -- John's birth is a dramatic event on par with that of Jesus at Christmas through the narrative of his unusual arrival. John withdraws from the world and lives simply as the Spirit calls him to do. Do we follow the prompting of the Spirit?
Humility -- John realizes in the presence of Jesus that he is to fade with the rising star of the Messiah coming into full view. We need to be prepared to make ready for others to receive the Lord and yet accept the fact that our efforts may go under-appreciated or unnoticed. Are we willing to accept that the fruits of our work will come after we have departed this world and not now?
Forthrightness -- John is a free spirit and speaks plainly to the people; he lives simply through both word and deed. John is the right person at the right time and plainly tells others what will happen if they do not reform their ways.
Courage -- John does not hesitate to tell the erring King what he has done wrong in his life -- and for that reason John must take the consequences of imprisonment. Are we willing to speak honestly no matter what the truth may cost?
Light to Others -- From unusual birth to a martyr's death, John is a forerunner of what we all ought to become, and yet we do not have to imitate him in specifics, only in the qualities that can reappear in our unique time and place. Do we leap with joy at the coming of the Lord, affirm the mystery of life through reverence, live simply so others may simply live, become prophetic and speak out about the need to make changes in our world, and stand willing to witness to what God calls us to be and do?
Prayer: Lord, help us to learn from events in the life of John the Baptist; make us also heralds of Good News.