Anemonella thalictroides, rue anemone.
April 1, 2018 We are Easter People
The Lord has indeed risen, Alleluia. (Entrance Acclamation)
This Easter morn, sunlight first appears and streaks across the skies at the international dateline and then onto the Pacific Isles, the Indonesian archipelago, the Philippines, Indo-China, the villages of China, holy Jerusalem and the Middle East, the towns and jungles of Africa, the stately cathedrals and villages of Europe and then to our Hemisphere from the glistening Arctic ice-fields to the tip of Chile and on to Hawaii and Easter Island. At many of these locations, two billion believers awake to the smell of incense and the new fire and the words on their lips, "Christ has Risen." We all greet the Easter dawn, something quite ancient -- a 2,000 year old event -- and yet it is a profoundly new day because we say in the present tense with enthusiasm, "Christ is risen." We are the Easter People. Spring has come, the season of freshness, vitality, forgiveness and openness to mystery.
Two substances we celebrated last night best symbolize this day: Easter fire and Easter water. They seem so opposite, for we quench fire with water and we use fire to boil away water. As human beings we are drawn to both these "elements" as if our primeval instincts are still at work. For that first discovery of fire made us masters of certain conditions, and fire has fascinated us as "enlightened" people ever since. Likewise we emerged from the primeval water, but harken constantly back to its sound and its feel. We find Christ in the new fire coming to life; we are washed in water and emerge out of it as new people, baptized into his body, the Church. With the fire we light our individual tapers and now this Paschal Candle; with the Easter Water we bless ourselves and all creation. We celebrate God's blessing in making us Easter People through fire and water.
A third symbol on Easter morn is the Easter Egg. It is the sign of new life, for from it the chick will emerge. I retell my Easter story each year. Sister Imogene -- my first teacher of seventy-seven years ago (but she only passed away recently) -- taught us catechism. She asked us second graders for an example of a "mystery," and I told about my mother's chicken incubator in our basement in which all the eggs, though laid at different times, hatched on the same day; new life is still a mystery to me. Note: the key was the little kerosene lamp which was lit at a certain time. But when as a seven-year-old I wondered why, my question became part of my search for God, to ask why? why? why, Lord is there new life? God's ever present love is shown clearly through in this gift of new life, a story retold each succeeding Easter. The chicks, which filled our house with sound, gave us joy; the sound of praise on this day fills us with the joy that Christ rises again in our hearts.
Prayer: Risen Lord, help us share our new life with those baptized into the Church; help us share fellowship today; inspire us to proclaim as Easter People: the Lord is risen!
Garden-grown primrose, in full bloom.
April 2, 2018 Easter Monday: Bless the Earth
The Easter liturgy always impressed me as a youth, but the most memorable event occurred the day after; it involved sprinkling Easter water, blessed at the solemn Holy Saturday liturgy. We carried a jar home to bless the fields so that God's blessings, given to us so generously, would extend to all the creatures whom we touched. We blessed dogs and cats, cattle and horses, each of the fields, the front yard, the garden, the orchard, and the tobacco plant beds. All of these were part of our livelihood. The song, "Come to the waters," expresses the longing for God's blessing. That was akin to the feeling we had as we went from field to field blessing everything. In our trek of blessings we youngsters were somewhat secretive, for our non-Catholic neighbors might not understand what we were doing.
Blessings of new life are part of our mission today, namely to proclaim the good news to all creation. The Good News is that we can enhance and not snuff out life, that we can revitalize with the help of the Creator, not be messengers of the culture of death. The blessed water is that symbol of transformation and resurrected life. If we can bless with deep faith in resurrection, we can bring the fire of faith to others who seem to be far removed from belief in any meaningful future. In bringing water to them, we baptize creation in the name of the Trinity and elevate our lowly environment to a respected status. In this simple way of sprinkling with Easter water we recommit ourselves to healing this fragile Earth. It is through this blessing that creation, so long eagerly awaiting its own salvation, now receives it through our instrumentality. We share in God's saving power.
What does this blessing do for us? First, we see the importance of our mission of proclamation of Good News; we are called by God to bring new life to a troubled world. Likewise, we become the instruments of Good News by taking from a meaningful Liturgy a blessing for others. The Easter Water is part of the blessing to people in senior citizen wards and isolated homes; it is spread to all who welcome it and to others who are puzzled. We realize the power in our hands and that is part of the faith swelling up within us; in performing the blessing, we affirm that the Earth is renewed and that we are not silent bystanders. We pause at damaged landscapes, at roadside crosses, at recently logged forestlands, and at graveyards. We bring new life.
Blessing the Earth is an ongoing activity, not something on Easter Monday alone. In blessing, we say we forgive those who have harmed the Earth in any way. At the same time we are not complacent and do not accept ongoing acts of damage. In forgiving and allowing a fresh start, we affirm that destruction can halt and reclamation can begin. By blessing we heal our wounded Earth.
Prayer: Resurrected Lord, you are a blessing that we hold not too tightly, but to share even at risk of being misunderstood. We affirm this once more: "It is better to bless than to curse."
A family of ducks, enjoying day of warm spring sun.
April 3, 2018 Jerry Waddle and Ducks
During April showers I think of ducks and I can't help but also remember a departed friend. There was no physical resemblance, just the last name, which he allowed us to remember because the last four digits of his phone number spelled "duck." Jerry was a true light-hearted mountain man and still more; he was one of the many who left Kentucky to be in the armed services. He became an Air Force recruiter and retired early from the military to devote his final dozen or so years to helping defend his native Appalachian environment that was part of him. He put his heart and soul into environmental matters, and was in some ways equal to or greater than any other person I've known in the mountains.
Jerry gave valuable assistance every time we asked his help for one of our many public interest tasks. We worked well together and I don't remember a single major disagreement. He was articulate, aggressive, and confrontational when that was required, but he always did it in a diplomatic and somewhat humorous manner. Jerry led Rockcastle River clean-ups and River Days, and regarded as a mission supporting the endangered waterway with its many fish and mussels and its valleys filled with a variety of native orchids and other wildflowers. Jerry was willing to go to and testify at local and regional environmental meetings and to take part in the federal government's Pride Program geared to protecting our fragile Appalachian environment. He ran an outreach program to describe the flora and fauna wonders of Eastern Kentucky to 15,000 school children.
Jerry died suddenly in 2002 before reaching sixty years of age. We buried him in his family cemetery in Rockcastle County on a bluff overlooking the source of the Rockcastle River. From there he acts as a sentinel and protector of what he loved and valued in that river and its natural surroundings. Jerry was bright even though he did not go beyond high school; he knew instinctively what was best for the land and our planet, and he acted accordingly. He learned from the wildlife firsthand by observation and applied his learning to conserving what was good in our fragile region. With his departure a great defender passed on. --------------
Taken from my book, Appalachia: A Meditation
Ducks are Appalachian favorites. They float and swim and bob about; they flap and honk and fly in "v" formation; they waddle about the shore with a mountain flare. They come, stay awhile, eat our grain, and slip away -- like our city kin. Maybe ducks can teach us lightheartedness. In fact, all birds and wildlife will be our teachers if we can be humble enough to learn from them. They invite us to watch them and admire them -- in ways other than through a gun sight.
Prayer: Teach us, Lord, to see the good in native defenders of their environment and who, while serious about their mission, conduct themselves in a lighthearted manner.
The fragile forest floor, with emerging groundcover.
April 4, 2018 All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs)
For three decades, some of us have made the regulation of off-road vehicles or all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) personal crusades. Such recreational joy rides are popular, allow riders to see the countryside and get fresh air; these trips are regarded by many as a form of green recreation -- but are they really? The ATV is dangerous to riders, to passersby, and to flora and fauna as well. ATVs can be very destructive when ridden cross-country, for they can ruin wildflowers and cause erosion. Their noise affects local wildlife and native residents as well. The protective cover of soil can wear off through overuse of ATVs, and the landscape is left scarred, rutted and subject to erosion.
The danger to riders includes both drivers and others who hitch a ride. ATV deaths occur with regularity (at least a half-dozen a year in our state alone) and there are hundreds of injuries, because ATVs are inherently dangerous and drivers are prone to recklessness and dare devilishness. While mishaps occur at all ages, youth generally take more chances in illegal cross-country riding; they are less experienced; and they tend to ride double on ATVs that for safety should only hold single drivers. Youth tend to show off to others and do stupid things; and they will get bored on standard off-road tracks. Recall that unlicensed drivers are not allowed on public roads.
We argue that deaths and injuries would be greatly reduced by requiring the registration of all ATVs. Those riding on public roadways should be licensed sixteen-year olds or older. Vehicles can be reported by license number, if running on non-permitted private property or in areas of public property forbidden by regulations. The government could omit or reduce the registration fees for agricultural or commercial ATVs and raise recreational fees appropriately according to the impact of the vehicles. Some additional safeguards ought to include: mandatory wearing of helmets, not allowing any additional passengers, requiring training for all who use ATVs, and enforcing laws to end the sale of adult-size vehicles to children. Youth advocate groups also would like to see the state track and register injuries caused with ATVs.
Many forms of recreation exist, some taking very little in the way of resources (equipment, fuel, or damage to land) to operate; and others such as ATVs costly in many ways. The promotion of expensive recreational items springs from with major boat, plane, auto, and ATV manufacturers hungry for profits. How do we keep the youth from coveting what the adults are attracted to? Is not the popularizing of ATVs attributable to profit-minded manufacturers and salespeople who prefer their promotion over less costly skateboards and bicycles? How can the greener recreational activities compete against such commercial promotion?
Prayer: Lord, protect us against the allurements of our age and from their promoters who seek to captivate all, especially youth. Let our recreation be environmentally sound and safe.
Sorrel in the greenhouse.
April 5, 2018 Champion Appropriate Technology
E.F Schumacher, who wrote Small is Beautiful, is the father of appropriate technology (AT). In Healing Appalachia we have used the common definition as "technology of production by the masses, making use of the best modern knowledge and experience conducive to decentralization, compatible with the laws of ecology, gentle in its use of scarce resources, and designed to serve human persons instead of making them the servant of machines."
Appropriate technology is not specific technologies per se but also includes a way of thinking, a favored set of processes, which champions smaller scale means of production. The person who practices AT is willing to learn from unlikely sources such as primitive cultures and technologies, and desires what is simple to install, operate and maintain. Such a person strives for lower costs and greater durability, seeks to use renewable resources and recycled materials, enhances self-reliance at the local level, encourages ownership of the means of production or worker coops, and challenges the inappropriate such as nuclear power and agribusiness. Such practitioners are convinced that AT promotes equity, self-reliance, stability and other values.
We need to emphasize AT during the current Administration's striving to prolong the fossil fuel economy. AT encourages renewable energy; it allows for interaction and cooperation within a financially stratified region, gives those who are less technologically astute a sense of confidence, and becomes a way to equalize differing classes while contributing as much as possible to the general well being of the community. Today, in this age of high health and living costs many may feel powerless; they must be able to regain a sense of "can do" that was so evident among early pioneers and homesteaders.
Although AT fell out of favor with the advent of social media and Internet with all the plethora of electronic devices, it is now returning to serious consideration. Consider these AT projects:
* Photovoltaics Solutions (August 22, 2017)
* Solar Food Drying (October 23, 2017)
* Solar Greenhouses (September 8, 2017)
* Solar Cookers and Ovens (February 5, 2017)
* Backyard Gardening (February 15, 2017)
* Composting Toilets (November 14, 2017)
* Solar Hot Water Systems (August 8, 2017)
* Composting Organic Materials (April 26, 2016)
* Wood Heating (January 17, 2017)
* Silent Space (May 21, 2016)
See our book Healing Appalachia: Sustainable Living through Appropriate Technology, University Press of Kentucky, 2007.
Prayer: Lord, guide us to ways that are simpler and yet are community building so we help others who are deeply in need.
Earth Day 2018: Preliminary Thoughts
Later this month we will celebrate the 49th Earth Day. Each year there has been a special focus as the environmental consciousness of the general public emerges over time. In the past we often had a spirit of optimism through an understanding that inevitable progress is being made -- and with time all will come to agree that resource conservation measures must be endorsed and undertaken for the good of planet and inhabitants. That optimism is fading as the inevitability of climate change has become more evident; now the need to curb greenhouse gases is apparent. Such changes are not always easy and require effort by the general public, for improvement is not automatic.
In the past much effort was placed on simplifying one's lifestyle through less wasteful travel or refraining from processed food or overuse of electronic devices. All such measures are very important at the individual level, not just on Earth Day but throughout the entire year. These are not special commitments for one day only, but permanent ones. Let's focus in 2018 on individual citizen action to confront climate change deniers and to support the global Paris Climate Accord. All effort must focus on keeping global warming increases within 2 degree Celsius rise and thus avoid a possible planetary catastrophe.
Since compliance among the nations is voluntary, some experts seriously doubt that the imposed global warming limit can be honored; this is especially true because developing nations seek expanded consumption and find fossil fuels more available at this time. The failure of the American Administration, even amid healthy curbs in fossil fuels at many state and local levels, is countering global goals, all the while being a major cause of the current greenhouse gas burden. Big Fossil Fuel Energy and climate change deniers are trying to maximize profits for as long as possible, but their actions threaten the vitality of our planet. These are aware of the serious risk they prolong, all for profits.
The message this Earth Day is make your citizen's voice heard. Discuss the matter with family and local community; sign petitions on the Internet in solidarity with environmental advocates; support those who speak out publicly; write letters to newspapers and Internet sites, hang signs and paste bumper stickers, sound the alarm wherever possible. The public must be aroused -- and that is our civic responsibility. Become politically active.
In many ways this is a pivotal Earth Day. What we can do is more than say "yes" to good conservation measures and to further environmental regulations. The status quo is carried by the influence of billionaires who have seized the power to make their billions in profits and to retain them through lax taxation of the wealthy. For the sake of our fragile Earth and threatened inhabitants we can't allow these conditions to continue. It is time to speak!
Star chickweed, Stellaria pubera.
April 6, 2018 Salt of Our Earth
During the Easter Week we regard the foods we have for the season and these include the cured hams and sausages served -- and all that curing involves salt. We know we are "the salt of the Earth" as Scripture says, but it speaks of a heavy "brine" that really can lose its strength and is good for nothing but to be thrown into the roadway.
Salt has a long and glorious history. See Mark Kurlansky's Salt: A World History. In fact, national policies, trade routes, national revolts, battles, and alliances have been made over salt. Mohandas Gandhi led a salt-related civil disobedience that initiated freeing India from Great Britain. Some would say it is better to talk about salt in winter (preserving meat or melting snow) or in summer (pickling), but salt is any season's seasoning.
The Roman writer Cato lists his workers' provisions as being bread, olives, wine and salt. Salt works are prized possessions of certain nations and the products produced are often the glory of that country. In early pioneer days in Kentucky, the pioneers made special expeditions to the salt licks which were frequented by bison coming for hundreds of miles on their annual salt pilgrimage. Actually, history portrays the importance of salt to all human settlements. Caravans in the African desert carry salt to regions where it is scarce. The nomadic Masai cattle herders meet their salt needs by bleeding livestock and drinking the blood. Hunter tribes do not look for salt because of a meat diet. Cultivators do. People recognized that salt is essential and that its deficiency would cause headaches, weakness and eventual death.
Besides fulfilling basic nutritional requirements, common table salt or sodium chloride has been characterized in many ways. It is a sign of dependability and remaining committed (salt of the earth), of fertility (when presented at certain weddings), of being experienced especially at sea (the old salt), of flavor ("you are salt"), of permanence and longevity and the eternal nature of God's covenant with Israel (Jewish tradition views salt going from crystal to solution and back to crystal), and of truth and wisdom (Catholic rituals include Sal Sapientia or the Salt of Wisdom). Salt together with bread was regarded in Celtic lands as a blessing. Salt prevents decay (pickling) and so in the Middle Ages northern European farmers saved grain from ergot infection by soaking in salt brine.
The salt story is indeed fascinating. Although former ages often suffered from lack of salt, we Americans can now overconsume this relatively cheap substance causing high blood pressure and strokes. Too much is as critical as too little, showing how the right amount gives balance to our lives. We can limit our salt intake by purchasing fewer processed, pickled, and cured foods, using fresh or frozen vegetables, fruits or meats, and buying reduced salt foods. Spice combinations are salt substitutes.
Prayer: Lord, since we are meant to be salt of our Earth, teach us to use this substance wisely.
Sqirrel corn, Dicentra canadensis.
April 7, 2018 Observe World Health Day
Today we observe a United Nations sponsored day to draw attention to particular priorities in public health. Thousands die each year from diseases that could easily be treated with existing medicines at relatively low cost. As brothers and sisters we should demand that health access and protection is a global human right. Our own country is quite slow at seeing this, mainly because of the rugged individualism that expects all to take care of themselves and not to depend on a community to assist in meeting individual requirements of health care.
Reaching out we see that health is a right of all people even those beyond our national boundaries -- and yet their cries and anguish are sometimes heard and seen through our mass media. Is failure to address their needs equivalent to neglecting the needs of our next door neighbor? Right now we are engaged in the complex issues related to our American health system, but amid our troubling times let's not forget the basic health needs of all our citizens as well as those in poorer countries; these crave good potable drinking water, adequate human waste systems, vaccination, hydration treatments for victims of dysentery, medicines to treat AIDS, and prevention programs for malaria.
An up-to-date world health inventory could tell us what and where health needs are greatest. How can these needs be met with limited world resources? If these needs exist abroad, why do so many medical personnel come from poorer countries to staff our own health facilities, when all know that their own homelands are in such dire need of medical assistance? Can something be done to reverse the flow of such experienced personnel? How about financing teams that include international medical personnel willing to participate in short-term voluntary expeditions to health care-deprived areas of the world? An American corps of Doctors-without-borders?
No one can deny the good will intentions of super rich individuals who give sizeable donations to help solve some of the most pressing health problems of poor Africans or Latin Americans. Nevertheless, we refrain from saying, "More power to them." Doesn't charitable giving to the underserved come with a rather subtle exercise of power? Bill and Melinda Gates have a fund that is used for these underserved. But who should decide the use of those funds, a foundation staff in the rich world or the local people in the served lands? Giving to the poor in charity can hide what must be done in justice. Be fair; tax the superrich and funnel revenues through appropriate organizations screened and sponsored by the WHO. In essence, international checks and balances would be fairer than limited judgments of a few rich individuals and overworked staffs. For basic minimum health the bill may be as low as a single loan to a wealthy bank in the Great Recession bailout or 1% of the current world's military budget.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to give health care to all our brothers and sisters in this world; help us recognize that leaving some out is a form of rationing that is improper from a humane perspective.
An aged tree stump nurtures bouquet of native Kentucky wildflowers.
April 8, 2018 St. Thomas, Easter and Divine Mercy
Blessed are those who did not see but who believe. (John 20:19-31)
Thomas became the first to miss a Sunday church gathering -- first of the many who for various reasons are absent. But mercy is shown him. In today's Gospel reading we find the theme of forgiveness repeated in connection with the Easter event. The merciful power to forgive is the power to give new life -- and the Church is given this awesome power to participate in the resurrection in a special way. That is an added dimension of the power that extends in the other Sacraments including Baptism and Eucharist.
Look at St. Thomas who comes late and professes his deepest belief in the most profound manner -- and is forgiven for his absence. Thomas moves on with the other disciples to spread the Good News; Christians of India today are the direct descendants of the ones who were Thomas's disciples back 2000 years ago. We have the fidelity of these people who continued carrying on the Apostolic tradition even amid the hardships of being under the dominance of non-Christian groups for long periods of time. The Thomas Christians continue to profess their bedrock faith and continue to spread the Good News.
Easter is an ideal season for us to honor loyal believers in our midst who have professed their ancestral faith and continue traditions extending back for sometimes eighty generations of fidelity. We may take for granted the tried and true members who come every Sunday, support the church, go to special events, always speak in a positive manner, and live their faith in a quiet and meaningful way. These are the faithful ones who strive to live as the Lord wants them to, and who show their love and devotion through kindness to their neighbors.
To these faithful God shows special mercy -- and this Sunday we celebrate divine mercy. It is comforting to know that God's mercy far surpasses all the mercy that we could ever show to others. Forgiveness is the great expression of mercy and the new life received through forgiveness is the gift of mercy that God has bestowed upon us -- and we can extend to others. We put faith into the ability of others to change their lives, and show a confidence that they will do it. We encourage them to practice their faith, live sinless lives, hope for better things to come, and prepare for the coming of the Kingdom through loving deeds. We assure the discouraged that a better future is ahead. God's forgiveness and mercy extend to all creatures as well as to all our fellow human beings. This mercy touches our fragile planet, which we are called to protect. We are earth healers, the ones who discover God's mercy, of which we are strongly reminded at Easter, a mercy to be shared with others.
Prayer: Lord, accept our sincere gratitude and help us show your mercy to all the world around us. Help us look beyond the terrorism that confronts so many of our people at this time. Peace will come!
Traces of the past in Lexington limestone, Fayette Co., KY.
April 9, 2018 Baby Boomers and Senior Citizenhood
For those of us of the Great Depression generation, the advent of the "baby boomers" after the Second World War was a breath of fresh air. The ones born after that awful War were regarded as a new generation, but the title given to them has both laudatory and pejorative connotations. Time has moved on relentlessly and after seven decades these good folks are now reaching older age with all its aches and pains. Baby boomers are beyond the normal labor force and collecting Social Security from the fund they have paid into for decades. However, many consider "retirement" as leisure time, though current higher living costs make them think twice. Baby boomers are numerous and live longer than was expected at the advent of the Social Security Program.
Baby boomers are not characteristically silent; they are concerned about nutrition and food quality, with affordable housing and road safety, about tax relief and welfare benefits. They welcome restaurant and other discounts for seniors. With such swelling ranks, baby boomers become an articulate component of the growing senior population. Nevertheless, many of them now have the responsibility of caring for aging living parents in their nineties, and a million or so have grandchildren who due to addicted and absent parents must raise these young ones.
The increased responsibility of baby boomers ranges from possible fraud to less access to good medical care that is more needed today. Some must face the co-pays on health costs that are simply over-demanding for the limited savings at hand. Others want to help children and grandchildren get launched into their own careers and find the burden of college indebtedness facing part of the family. At the same time, former health and educational resources are becoming more limited. "It is not easy to get old."
Many selfish seniors, both older and newer ones, favor certain choice social and political issues: health care costs take precedence over expanded pre-kindergarten educational programs, tax relief over minimum wages, safety over climate change issues and retirement benefits over work place conditions. This natural shift in focus is occurring while many elders affirm that they champion social justice issues at all levels. We hope a sizeable portion of this aging population will expand their public interest concerns.
Honestly, grouping people into generational categories involves fuzzy boundary lines. Among my fifty-one first cousins, I have a self-professed baby boomer who talks as though I belong to a distant generation. The truth is my thinning first cousin cohort on both sides of the family ranged over a fifty year span -- I baptized one first cousin while another was at the time a grandmother. For some of us these so-called generation differences are a little overdrawn. Becoming overly set in a certain category can make us confused -- not really belonging anywhere. Perhaps we should expand our interests and omit generational stereotypes.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to realize that we are more a family than a particular interest group within the family.
Violet flower nods after spring rainstorm.
April 10, 2018 Appreciate and Support Environmental Art
Today is the 165th birthday of the impressionist, Vincent Van Gogh. Many of us are impressed by his vivid colors and scenes and even nominate him as the "father of environmental art." Van Gogh certainly experienced his environment profoundly and attempted to communicate that feeling to others. However, he would have agreed that he had no monopoly on environmental art. In fact, each one who communicates the depth of feelings about the community of plants, animals, and the world at large through artifacts, are environmental artists even while lacking the genius of a Van Gogh.
I have the privilege of a close friendship with a unique environmental artist couple, John and Sandra Freda, who live, paint and present art shows out of their Evanston, Illinois, home and studio. John was instrumental in organizing the largest environmental art show ever assembled; this occurred at the North American Conference on Christianity and the Environment at North Webster, Indiana, in August, 1987. As one could surmise, John and Sandra are both accomplished artists and environmental activists, who are committed to work for the betterment of our battered Earth and its less-privileged inhabitants.
I learn from environmental artists that they seek to express a deep human respect for all that comprises our community of beings; they portray that respect in ways that lead us to conserve resources as precious and fragile gifts. Within the atmosphere of reverence for creation springs the desire to engage in beneficial lifestyles and practices. Recently, one Eastern Kentucky artist produced artistic scenes to show the terrible toll taken by mountaintop removal (for stripping land for coal) on our Appalachian landscape. Another painter in Pennsylvania strives to show what abandoned factories do in blighting a community. These people make their environmental art become a social message.
One side of me says that this crusade is beyond the mission of art, which is to communicate what is within the artist. However, when artists are part of a total community torn by the destruction all around, is it wrong to portray their efforts as totally internal or a passing fashion or marginal to the issues at hand? As committed citizens their efforts are to arouse the public in a dynamic political atmosphere where people still have a voice in saving our Earth. We can make important differences, and artists, who are both environmentally inclined and who have a grasp on what needs to be communicated, have a role to contribute.
Environmental art does something more; it invites the general public to participate in art- or craft-making. We are on this planet together, and a few regard themselves as earthhealers. We are all called to work according to our own talents and inclinations. If we know some, whether young or old, who are inclined to express themselves in an art form, encourage and support them to develop their abilities to the full.
Prayer: Lord, help us to communicate what is within us in ways that others can imitate according to their talents.
Freshly-harvested black and raspberries, summer memories.
April 11, 2018 Promote Fresh Vegetables and Fruit
In spring during pioneer times people hurried out quickly into the pastures and woodlands in search of wild greens. The craving for Vitamin C and other nutrients after limited winter diets was quite noticeable. This search for greens commenced as soon as the new sprouts of dandelion, poke, cress, and other greens became noticeable. The pioneers' April searching is not as urgent today because we have access to supplements and we are able to get fresh vegetables and fruits much of the year thanks to refrigerated, frequent and dependable transportation and the availability of frozen foods. Some fortified cereals and other foods also help.
However, more expensive fresh fruits and vegetables mean poor folks may be limited in their nutritional benefits.
The general awareness of a balanced diet has resulted in nutrition charts with recommended diets, which some would like to follow but find the entire produce aisle outside of their purchase range. In good times, fast food junkies get their slice of tomato and a leaf of lettuce on their hamburger. In bad times even these items cannot be afforded. Many people simply state that they don't like salads and thus won't eat fresh vegetables; they may like fruit a little more and so will have an occasional banana. Well over half of this country, which is blessed with available food, does not get proper servings of fresh produce. Breadwinners do not push because out-of-season fruits and vegetables are expensive.
One answer is to encourage use of fresh produce in creative dishes such as fruit salads, sautéed vegetables with ethnic meals, fresh fruit toppings on desserts, and sandwiches with increased use of fresh vegetables. Cooking with frozen foods is a way of getting locked-in freshness. Prepare snacks such as carrots, celery, kohlrabi, radishes and turnips (if your teeth can handle them without breaking). One way for the economy-wise family to meet fresh needs is to go to pick-your-own orchards in the fall and store apples and pears in a cellar or cool space.
For freshness, nothing beats the repetitive message of this website: grow your own garden and have fresh produce much of the year. If you have a greenhouse or protective cover, you can have an entire year with fresh produce. Even if greenhouse-less, gardens can suffice when planted early in spring, and fall crops are extended through the use of mulch and protective covers.
Some boast of avoiding fresh fruits and vegetables and eating mainly sweets, fries and meat sandwiches and dishes. They are heading for troubles ranging from diabetes to heart problems and high blood pressure. Individual culinary habits are not easily changed but ought to be subject to critical review. Fresh foods could also be more available in popular fast food outlets, if the food preparers would serve them in creative ways. Furthermore, school lunch programs should encourage fresh produce on menus even though such budgets are tight at times.
Prayer: Allow us, Lord, to know what is good for us and to learn to entertain nutritional changes for the better.
Twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla.
April 12, 2018 An Imperfect Culture: Who Are We Fooling?
At the beginning of April we normally have time to celebrate youthful tricks on others. Easter Sunday not withstanding this year, we still have time to consider the foolishness of springtime. Through time the pattern repeats itself like Lucy in the comic strip "Peanuts," snatching the football away from Charlie Brown. Sometimes adults initiate foolish tricks or always become the ones tricked by hedge funds, scams, false prize winnings retrieved for "modest sums" or the Ponzi schemers, who seem to know just who among us are the most gullible. Those with observational skills try to alert the susceptible ones, but few are listening, for good times are coming. The consensus given by the corporate-owned media is that the perpetrators look so innocent; these tricksters are highly regarded by financial "experts" who supposedly understand what is going on. However, the emperor wears no clothes and yet very few want to admit what they observe.
We fool ourselves in many ways: personal debts accumulated through easy credit cards; trade deficits of enormous amounts for long periods of time; rapidly expanding national debt that will be a burden on grandchildren; a consumer culture that drains the easily accessible world resources to the detriment of the poor; small wage earners taking mortgages they cannot afford; foreclosures on housing that can hardly sell; mounting air pollutants that will cause global warming; and stimulus packages that are neither properly thought out or properly monitored -- all of this borrowed through the credit card called Uncle Sam. Foolishness so abounds that we fail to see how often we are the recurring April Fool. Do we extend our basic trust too far?
Many of us think the high-paid bank executives know best, or why would they be high paid? Are investors taken in by pervasive foolishness and systematic financial gambling? Who would dare object? Are not many of us taken in by "free trade" dictated by corporations, by candidates beholden to their funding sources, by regulators on the dole or simply too involved in the bureaucracy to really regulate? What about limiting salaries or retention of such salaries? Give them a million dollars if need be but then redistribute it through fair taxes to the needy. As Sheldon S. Wolin the political philosopher says, "Our way of life is over; our profligate consumption is over. Our children will never have the standard of living we had." Maybe that day is fast approaching.
The heart of foolishness is the citizens of a democracy allowing some of the super-rich to gain wealth with no respect for the corporation or its investors -- for the executives will bail out before the firm falls flat. All the while uninsured victims of illness rack up enormous health bills that bankrupt them. We tax the lowly in hidden ways but the wealthy get off with their wealth virtually untouched. The greedy bankers love this day for they are always able to say, "We fooled you!" It is time for change.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to view rightly the financial foolishness that has so tricked us, to acknowledge our condition, and to help correct the faults of our past through true reform.
Trillium, trout lily, and dentaria carpet the forest floor. Woodford Co., KY.
April 13, 2018 Peace in the Holy Land: A New Resolve
O my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you on your land; thus you shall know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 37:14)
In this Easter season of renewal we are reminded of the seemingly perpetual conflicts in the Holy Land: the inch-by-inch encroachment by West Bank settlers; the killings of police and others at random against Israeli; the punishing reaction on the innocent "imprisoned" people of Gaza who are permanent inhabitants of a concentration camp. Blow for blow, and it never seems to end. As Gandhi said, an eye for an eye and everyone is blinded. Without going into more and more recriminations let's hope that now a new spirit will arise within the international community.
The Ezekiel passage could be viewed by the fundamentalist Israeli as a command to retake, settle and drive out all foreigners from all the boundaries they find in the Scripture mandate. At the same time a Palestinian could read the same passage and declare the right of return to land from which his or her parents were driven out in the late 1940s. And, unfortunately, it is the same land, the same small tract called "Holy Land." The challenge for all of us is to help make a place where peace can function and both parties can live together. One answer is mixed peaceful neighborhoods. In fact, over a million Arabs still live in Israel and are citizens of that country. However, the challenge is to overcome the Israeli fear that returning Palestinian refugees from other parts of the world would overwhelm and weaken the character of the Jewish state. Trust among parties takes a long time coming.
All three great religions pray to the same God -- Lord, YHWH, Allah. All three groups agree that our God is almighty and able to do all things. This God is loving and wants peace for all. But this comes through human responsible action. Amazingly, in time of prayer we agree that life goes beyond fiery rhetoric. We must pray that the seemingly irreconcilable conflicts of the past few decades will be removed and that people will come together in peace -- the sign of true trust. If all parties only saw that the power of our God is in the reconciliation and renewal of heart. For centuries, people did live side by side in the Holy land -- Christians, Moslems and Jews; it can and must occur again, for the benefit and prosperity of all parties.
A mixed neighborhood approach must be coupled with another proposal: declare the Holy Land a world pilgrimage area. Every member of each world community is encouraged to visit the Holy Land once in a lifetime. The business resulting from an average of one million visitors a week would benefit all parties. The market includes over three billion believers from the three major faiths -- and others as well. The goal could be to expect fifty million pilgrims a year to come and visit. Hotels, restaurants, and gift shops would boom. This is a new resolve for mutual peace.
Prayer: Lord, allow our dreams of peace to become realities whether in a single state or in a two-state solution.
Preparing for Earth Day 2018
As mentioned last week the optimism of an upcoming Earth Day celebration is wearing quite thin this year in the light of climate change denial influence in the United States. How can one be optimistic when the current American Administration is deliberately silencing Federal agencies and departments, as well as the failure by the government to cooperate with the Paris Climate Accord of 2016? We certainly ought not wring our hands and do nothing, but the annual listing of individual environmental conservation actions is simply not sufficient -- and an excuse for not doing more.
Various citizen actions are capable of being effective to change the climate of our nation. One such avenue is to focus on contacting and confronting religious leaders who are close to the President. Tell them if they are pro-life then speak to the President with the demand to reconsider the most anti-life action since the last Earth Day, namely the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord. How can evangelicals and other pro-life groups gather around him and engage in photo-opts and still be silent on the critical pro-life issue, namely vitality of Earth. The head of "Priests for Life" has a posted advertisement of him and President Trump in conversation. What hypocrisy!
The silence of these religious leaders is a form of subtle partisanship for supporting a president who is a climate change denier. He shows his being captive to Big Fossil Fuel Energy profiteers by what he says, how he acts, and the deniers who he has placed in the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy and other critical positions. More progressive political leaders such as Governor Jerry brown at the state, city and county levels have showed a determination not to let the national barriers block their own actions. Still we must concede that loss of Federal support hurts our collective efforts and can damage the chances of curbing greenhouse gases needed to stop severe planetary damage.
Thus, we individuals ought to turn our focus to do more than recycling in our home and business. We must take citizen action at various levels. Let's work to move religious leaders to put pressure on the President and Congress to act, to return to environmental stewardship, and to fire climate change deniers who hold national positions. Observers say that "Probably the only people the President has spoken to more frequently than Congress and the world's leaders are Christian leaders in this country." If this be the fact, then why do not those leaders take it on themselves and really act in a pro-life manner? Why do they not for the sake of our Earth remove themselves from being pure sycophants? Isn't it time they speak out for life in all its forms and move the President to join the rest of world leaders in supporting the Paris Climate Accord? If they can't do this on this upcoming Earth Day, then why don't they publicly affirm their hypocrisy? Ever so gently be moved to tell them that we all must speak up; we can't remain silent.
Cardamine douglassii, purple cress.
April 14, 2018 In Defense of Income Taxes
This is that ill-fated weekend for tax-paying Americans, but it may be the best time to see that taxes are certain, and even defensible. Yes, the first American Revolution had its bone of contention over taxes -- and that spirit remains. That hatred of taxes leads to a nation of "spend now; pay later." And although many readers who are of moderate income must pay dearly in mid-April, let's not forget that many wealthy individuals and corporations have manipulated their assets and incomes so that their crafty tax lawyers have manipulated their paying less than the moderate income taxpayer. The billionaire Warren Buffet pays 20% and his secretary 30% of their salaries. Remember fairness!
Fair taxes is the proper phrase, not "no taxes." So often the "no tax campaigns" are waged by those who ought to pay more, and they are getting out of what in fairness is their duty to share their wealth. They use their fortunes to tie the tax code in knots and we have observed this year how hard it is for Congress to untangle it. Yes, the federal tax code swelled to some 67,000 pages long and no one knew all the details -- even tax lawyers. Fairer income taxes could liberate those on the lower end from any payments and increase the payments of those on the upper end.
The first U.S. federal income tax in the middle of the Civil War was 3% on those making $600 and 5% on those making over $10,000. The dollar is worth much less now and we could say no taxes below ten thousand dollars, a 5-10% for those up to $150,000 and the rest of income over $150,000 (after allowing for personal health costs). Then it is not a question of how much do you make, but only how much can you keep of what you make.
This rather simple flat tax on the rich would raise more taxes than an elaborate system for the lower income people, and give all a chance to use their innovative skills at far lower income levels. In fact, there is no evidence that the wealthy are better motivated or that the drive for wealth improves performance or creativity. Greed makes people do odd things, not necessarily better things for their neighbor. A non-profit economy would be one where no profits beyond living expenses are allowed. Exemptions need not be proven only extra living expense (e.g., a family with three youth in college at one time, or the cost of an elderly dependent).
Taxes are the most just manner of equalizing global wealth, so all can now have the bare essentials of life and the very rich cannot accrue massive fortunes. Currently, with these fortunes they are able to exert power of their own purse on the well being of others or they may influence governmental policies -- including those affecting their own retention of wealth. Ultimately, taxes are a fairer way of raising the livelihood of the poor, and of controlling excesses of the affluent that have shaken the world in which we live. While some of us make too little for income taxes, we all pay many hidden taxes on fuel, goods and services.
Prayer: Lord, help us to promote taxes as a means to a fairer life for those on the bottom of the income spectrum.
Exploring an abandoned tunnel.
April 15, 2018 The Road to and from Emmaus
"The disciples recounted what had happened on the road to Emmaus." (Luke 24:35)
They have a story to tell, and even though they are tired and the road is long, they hasten back with spring-like steps to the brethren gathered in a locked room and a hidden place. They become the first generation of evangelists bringing Good News to others.
Their excitement is contagious; their sorrow turned to joy is truly overwhelming, and this is a precious Easter event. Yes, the happening is somewhat anticipated in Scriptures and this is pointed out to them, but still the reality is shocking to say the least.
The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is the story of our own lives and our journey in Faith. On our way to Emmaus we find ourselves bewildered and crushed by the Calvary events in our own lives. We walk in faith but with heavy hearts seeking the security of our homes. We are possessed by our troubles and yet we are drawn to take note of strangers who are passing by. By extending hospitality to the wandering stranger we find Jesus among us. We listen to him and experience the Scriptures with him. With burning hearts we share in the breaking of the bread. We suddenly have our eyes opened: Christ is risen!
The risen Jesus is in our midst even when we are wrapped up in our own concerns. We see him now accompanying those overwhelmed with worry, illness and financial trouble. But it is true that all of us with spiritual hunger are also wanderers, never fully satisfied, always looking and searching for the Lord. To be Christ's followers today does not mean tagging along as passive imitator, but to become an Easter event for others.
Going to Emmaus is our journey to liturgical service; rising and going forth with the Good News is our journey out to those who want to hear the word, but are isolated in their own troubles and doubts. With the excitement that we acquire in meeting the Lord we now strive to move forth and take Christ to others even when physical exhaustion seems ready to overwhelm us. We retrace our steps to tell others about our experience. Our growth in faith is a gradual process of comings and goings, of coming to the Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist and then conveying our experience with the Lord to others by going out and meeting them face to face.
Emmaus resembles our lives both as individuals in faith and as a community of believers who exude victory and hope. As a people we have experienced the Lord in showing love for our fellow human beings. We become people on a mission. The Emmaus episode is a transition -- a risen Lord extending to the disciples a mandate to share their journey of faith with others. Our community is called out of its desolation and personal pain to break loose, to exert itself, to see Christ in our midst, to feel his assuring presence, and to extend who we are to others in our midst and beyond.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to extend Emmaus to an entire planet that awaits the presence of the Easter mystery.
Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis.
April 16, 2018 Health Care A Major Issue
An American does not have to be reminded that health care for all is a major national issue -- and a global one as well, if we are willing to think outside of our borders. The horror of paying hospital bills by the under- or uninsured in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars is enough to make the patient and family doubly sick. The cost of health care has escalated to such a degree that it is out of the reach of most people -- even some with partial coverage by private insurance. The lowly have medicards; the wealthy have savings; the great middle group has great fear. High health-care costs determine how many employees a small business can afford; bad health is for many a curse and even a cause for bankruptcy or overwhelming indebtedness.
The first and foremost health consideration is to take care of ourselves, for using health facilities is stressful in itself. The old phrases seem hackneyed: eat right; get plenty of sleep; exercise daily; stop smoking and drugs. Unfortunately some who get ill do not strictly abide by these rules; yes and a few who have never smoked get lung cancer. If ever there should be rationing of medical care, one might say, "Eaters, couch potatoes, druggies and smokers to the end of the line." Yes, that is too harsh. However, good health is a gift that is not eternal and we ought to do everything to preserve it as long as we are blessed.
What about looking beyond the victims to the health industry itself? Cut health costs by reducing bureaucratic red tape that is now imposed on medical facilities and on personnel; medical records need to be further computerized to save unnecessary paperwork. This $50+ billion added expense hurdle is being lowered and hopefully minimized by cost saving at all levels. Likewise unnecessary but expensive testing is required by doctors to avoid malpractice suits. Here caps on the malpractice suits will not suit some lawyers but they would reduce both physicians' and all caregivers' fears and reduce insurance rates for both the physicians and the patients. Why should any case amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars? Greed is behind the scene.
John Abramson's book, Overdo$ed America showed how Americans were influenced by the drug companies' multi-billion annual ad campaigns; gullible TV viewers pressure their doctors to prescribe certain medicines, some of limited value; they are overdosed to the tune of a half trillion dollars a year -- a health cost. Overdosing then leads to our national drug emergency. Ours is the only nation in the world that allows medical advertising at all. Viewers beg their doctor for a given medicine to which they were attracted by a TV ad. Many expensive drugs have less costly alternatives through healthy eating and exercise programs.
Lastly, seriously consider the arguments for "single payer" health systems so common and less expensive in many other more progressive nations. The time has come for a major reform.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for good health or healthier times; guide us to always preserve this health by every means possible.
Erythronium americanum, yellow trout lily.
April 17, 2018 Pessimistic or Optimistic Ecoview
How do we approach our current environmental stance? What motivates us to further action? We could choose to paint a dark and foreboding picture of ecological collapse on this fragile planet; we could give all our attention to undisturbed pristine areas. Is it thorns or roses, or maybe a little of both? In some ways, both world views contain truths and inherent weaknesses.
We may follow the lead of writers like Thom Hartmann in The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, and launch into a list of statistics like his book introduction: within the last 24 hours 200,000 acres of rainforest were destroyed, 13 million tons of toxic chemicals were released into the environment, and 45,000 people died of starvation of which 38,000 were children. Not a rosy picture! He moves from what could be termed deep pessimism to the causes of these conditions and then to some reasonable solutions we might take. But pessimistic introductions bother me. I want to shout, "Wait a minute. Let's qualify some statistics as to destruction and release and causes of death." But to overly qualify would lose the impact and make even fewer people willing to read the arguments. Many abandon such books for peace of soul.
The opposite picture may be the scenic hike or a reading of Rand McNally's America: A Celebration of the United States; this book has exquisite photography which makes one love our land -- boaters in the Midwestern sunset, a cow resting on a Vermont farm, a view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone -- all of which bring back great memories of yesteryear. We are tempted to forget ecological dangers and affirm the goodness of what we have as a nation and planet. We need these moments of beauty to raise our spirits, and yet virtually every picture needed qualification: the lake may have been polluted; the cow may be given supplements that could enter the milk and food chain; and it takes fuel to travel to the Grand Canyon. However, over-qualification here would have ruined the impact of the coffee table book. Why be a spoiler?
Realism is a needed spiritual insight and seeks to be balanced. We must listen to the prophets who tell stories that contain unpleasant truths; we must see through a photographer's eyes a more perfect portion of an imperfect world. In fact, we attempt to do both in these "Daily Reflections." By balancing both optimistic and pessimistic views we become more realistic about our human condition. Ours is a delicate and vulnerable world requiring improved conduct; we seek a more perfect future world to which our imagination may take flights of fancy.
The key is balance. We may reserve qualifications; we may enjoy moments of beauty with peace of mind. We need motivation to make the necessary changes to heal our wounded Earth. I vacillate between the apocalyptic statements and the retreat to the still untouched hills. Isn't good spirituality a realism that accepts and balances both views? Read Pope Francis' Laudato Si.
Prayer: Lord, give me wisdom to see disasters that could beset us and future possibilities that will benefit us.
Close-up of twig, osage-orange, Maclura pomifera.
April 18, 2018 Enjoy Spring Hikes
Hiking has been a favorite sport until it became too burdensome to a far less mobile elder. Hiking proves excellent when one has stress and needs a physical break. That exercise could occur any season of the year, but it is ever so good on a bright spring day when the weather is mild and the summer insects are not yet bothersome. Some say this or that season is best for a given exercise -- but really all have advantages for hiking. Winter hiking gives a clearer picture of land formations and tree forms along with brisk air and freedom from mosquitoes and gnats. Summer does not require so many wraps and includes the sight of rich foliage and the presence of tasty berries. Autumn has its vivid sounds and colors. However, in my opinion spring hiking is so welcome that it overwhelms hiking pleasures of other seasons.
Spring hikes can be divided based on date: late March/April and May/June. The former involve the carpet of wildflowers just before full foliage, which (with some exceptions) occurs in our part of the country in late April or early May. These earlier spring hikes are most perfect in our country right after mid-April.
* Awesome sights -- We see wildlife scurrying about; these varmints tell us that life is quickening and they have work to do. The streams are generally more active at this time of year and the sights and sounds of rushing water are so very soothing. It may be a nice time to take along a camera.
* Fresh experiences -- When new leaves spring forth there is tenderness and youth to all vegetation. The season makes us young again and we acquire a springy step in our travels; like little children, we focus on the forest floor where the flowers are peeping through. Take a wildflower book with you on the hike and attempt to smell some of the delicate spring fragrances; wildflowers are only here for a short time.
* Delicate tastes -- This is the season for picking greens and mushrooms. Look for them and taste a few of the native greens to keep in touch with the land itself. Carry a bag to gather a few dandelions, water cress, young poke or any plentiful exotics.
* Exciting sounds -- Every season has its particular sounds. Those of us blessed to live on a migratory flyway know that we only hear a number of these passing birds busy going north; they will have a brief but less vibrant return trip in the fall. We hear the rustle of the ground squirrel and the field mouse. And the sound of rushing water resonates and is so refreshing just before being dampened by the fullness of late spring foliage.
* Warm Feeling -- Usually spring trips begin in the morning when it is relatively cool and continue to a warmer period in the afternoon. The extended sunlight is energizing and the weather is generally more pleasant than winter or summer. Carry a backpack to store your sloughed off morning clothing. Take a water bottle.
Prayer: Lord, give us the insight to enjoy this season.
Quaker's lady, Houstonia caerulea. Harlan Co., KY.
April 19, 2018 Faltering Empire or Something Better
Is America following the path of the Roman Empire? Rome fell: the empire of straight well-engineered roads and aqueducts, the mightiest army the world had ever known, the universal language and legal system, and the cultural influence of art and literature and academia. All seemed so invincible and yet fell away in the fifth century A.D. (some say in 476 when there was no new emperor to replace Romulus Augustulus). After a thousand years Rome crumbled. The influences and causes are many, but most scholars agree with Edward Gibbon's eighteenth century classic, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, that the barbarians had much to do with it -- and that the fifth century A.D. was definitive.
If America, the United Kingdom and its dependencies are considered one federated whole, then the "Anglo Saxon Empire" has lasted almost a thousand years since 1066. English is the dominant world language; America has well engineered road and water systems -- though really in need of upgrading; the mighty American army based in many strategic locations throughout the world is most powerful and consumes half the world's military expenditures; immigrants flood across borders (Rhine River in Roman times and various borders today). Roman military discipline did deteriorate with the addition of barbarians into the military ranks and the decline in proper drilling needed to engage in close-order combat. Cf. Arthur Ferrill's The Fall of the Roman Empire, Thames and Hudson, 1986. Is modern American military might showing signs of not being able to handle Middle East insurgents and terrorists?
Rome regarded itself as somewhat invincible throughout its rather forceful Pax Romana. But weaknesses only at times half noticed appeared. Suggested causes of Roman decline have been challenged: suspected depopulation (statistics, which are very inexact, did not show major changes in the course of the last two hundred years); decline in morality (it actually was regarded as rising in the last two hundred years of the Empire). Romans may have lost the sense of their own destiny and become bogged down in the affluence of the noble class (housing was quite spacious right before the end); original state paganism lost its power to influence others -- though Christianity actually flourished. Small landholdings gave way to larger corporate estates, as we in America witness today in corporate agriculture. The inability to obtain necessities close at hand (grain for Rome and manufactured goods for America today) reduces independence and increases the need for outside dependencies needing tight control.
For many years the US has rejected a multilateral United Nations approach: the Land Mines Treaty; Law of the Seas; Kyoto Global Warming; UN Global Program against Business Corruption; Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and on and on. The current Administration policy is calling still more cooperative ventures into question. Certainly Pax Americana proves costly and outdated. Is this America's last chance to become truly global?
Prayer: Lord, teach us to know that power passes, and that this is our opportunity to empower the rest of the world.
Make this Earth Day Meaningful
Throughout April we have made a point to encourage citizen action in its many forms as a way to celebrate this Earth Day -- for our planet is certainly being threatened. We must do more than resolve to add individual conservation measures; we need to recognize that environmental action is a global enterprise requiring citizen support. Besides acting locally and possibility of contacting religious leaders as mentioned earlier this month, we must think of collective way for responsible citizens to break the deadlock. Certainly joint actions such as petitions, meetings and demonstrations come to mind and must be encouraged.
Political action: This year has had some rude awakening to the realities of the upcoming mid-term elections. Aroused citizenry can bring back environmental issues that need global support, such as the Paris Climate Accord. Join a local political party and add influence on environmental matters, attend rallies and confront political candidates and support those committed to addressing climate change. Every little bit helps.
Educational efforts: The public can become deadened by one critical issue after another, and thus the creativity of individuals and groups is challenged when it comes to one more Earth Day. Work with others to make this a group concern at civic, cultural, social and religious events. Cooperative efforts enhance general education, and involve youth where possible.
Divest investments: While this is not my forte, it is still an effective method; if fossil fuel industries do not have the necessary capital to expand operations, then renewable resources have a greater chance. We are all connected with investments at some level of pension funds, banking, insurance and associated institutions. Divestment is a powerful weapon worth mustering.
Moral concerns: Though I have been making the connections between pro-life at the birth and death levels and that of our planet, it is time for pro-lifers to join forces with environmental groups and declare the vitality of Earth as worth joint efforts. Too often conservatives join forces with climate change deniers and fail to see the contradictions that exist. Unfortunately an unhappy liberal/conservative divide currently exists that weakens the environmental message and forces pro-lifers into hypocrisy.
Spiritual matters: This year Earth Day falls on a Sunday and that means Christians take special notice; we are called to live at this special time of global threat to be partners in the saving of our world. There's glory in being called to work with the Lord -- and that is worth celebrating. Yes, the work ahead is serious, but moments to rest and support each other is part of the joy of living today. Our faith adds to the splendor of collaborative efforts, and that makes a difference. Let's celebrate the Liturgy, the work of the people.
Streamside view, Laurel Co., KY.
April 20, 2018 Spring Rains and Resulting Storm Water
We are never sure about the frequency and abundance of spring showers, for one part will be flooded when another lacks sufficient moisture for the growing season. Yes, we hope for the seasonal gentle showers of April but we could have stormy weather as well, especially in the latter part of spring (late May and June). The best way to prepare for storms is to avoid the trees when outdoors, unplug electronic devices inside, and even get lightning rods for structures, especially when located in isolated high places. And don't build on mountaintops.
An added consideration is storm water that must go somewhere fast. This is especially troublesome in paved and roofed areas where the water accumulates rapidly and has little chance of soaking into the ground. Storm water is often not of the best quality to store in artificial lakes: it is likely to contain sediment and debris, pesticides and fertilizers from fields and lawns, droppings with harmful bacteria from livestock, wildlife and pets; and automotive petroleum byproducts. These can poison aquatic life and be harmful to potential swimmers and those who are tempted to undertake other water sports.
While we cannot control the storms of spring, we can control storm water in different ways: reduce paved areas by use of gravel; divert excess rainwater to cisterns or containers for watering greenhouse plants and other uses; go organic and avoid commercial fertilizers and pesticides; mulch areas that are tilled and temporarily barren; plant drainage and swales in aquatic plants that grow well and take up excess moisture; avoid dumping auto fluids and other contaminants through storm sewer systems; use a carwash that treats or recycles its waste water; refrain from throwing hazardous materials into sinks and toilets; compost or mulch all yard waste; and dispose of pet wastes properly.
Many construction operations are messy and storm water can lead to further disturbances. Such sites require vegetative cover, sedimentation controls, silt fences, and other precautions to avoid storm water runoff. Livestock must be kept away from stream banks and be provided with water from properly managed sources. Logging should not occur next to stream banks and should be preceded by a state harvest plan. Revegetation should be done as soon as possible in all logging disturbance operations.
When the proper steps are taken, runoff into the storm water catchments can be relatively clean and can be used for fire protection, irrigation, scenic beauty and as a haven for ducks and geese. Such catchments need to be protected from those wanting to use them in an unsupervised fashion, for they can become a neighborhood enticement to dip into the pond. When properly landscaped they may serve as small scenic lakes.
Prayer: Lord, you walked upon the stormy waters and calmed the raging sea; teach us to endure the storms of life with equanimity and to use the water from the heavens with respect.
False rue anemone, Enemion biternatum.
April 21, 2018 Earth Day Recommitment
Since that first Earth Day in 1970 an array of laws and regulations has been enacted at all levels of government to safeguard our fragile environment. While concerned Americans have become more aware of excessive consumerism, we are now faced with a well-financed denial of climate change and an effort by an Administration to weaken and destroy those hard-fought regulations. Never before in these 48 years since that First Earth Day has the need for concerted environmental action been greater. Currently a mixture of ignorance and greed works to damage our green efforts of the last half century. We must act to arouse our civic, political and religious leaders out of a stupor of silence and take an active role in changing this current anti-regulatory atmosphere.
On this date in 1970 I was a post-doctorate fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. I will ever remember one aspect of the multitude on the campus lawn under the famous Texas tower; I don't recall what the speakers said but the person sitting near me cheered wildly, but squashed his filter cigarettes in the turf of the lawn. What seemed odd then has become a festering problem ever since -- we like certain environmental messages and ignore others. How can we show that this selectivity could damage our Earth, especially if we forget personal responsibility in resource use?
The first Earth Day was filled with enthusiastic but rather naive people. We did not understand the depth of the damage and the forces against change; we did not know the effort required to repair a damage ecosystem; and we were blind to the changes needed in our economic system to overcome an emerging crisis. In 1970 our conscience was already being pricked by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, which focused on the problem of pesticides killing bird populations. Throughout the 1960s we heard disturbing reports of factory emissions polluting the air, but this issue awaited prominent media coverage. And we thought the system needed tweaking. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin was a major spokesman for the environment and modestly said that Earth Day "organized itself;" that was a little misleading, for a host of concerned citizens spent time organizing rallies for that first Earth Day. Better than just those gatherings was the hype that the events received in the mass media.
Environmental issues do not now arouse such attention, and that is what makes our tasks far harder today than in 1970. The environmental story is considered "old hat," whereas the climate change occurring has no equal in human history. A catastrophe is in the making as the use of fossil fuels shows a steady decline with coal replacement by natural gas and renewable energy sources; electric vehicles are coming but not fast enough. The transition has deliberately been slowed by the power of the status quo billions of dollars, all in order to maximize Big Energy profits. And failure to act promptly could bring on catastrophe. Those who influence Trump have the upper hand. Moral responsibility for our Earth cries out for public defense by all of us.
Prayer: Help us, Lord, to confront climate change deniers.
Late-blooming crocus emerges.
April 22, 2018 Shepherding in Times of Crises
The good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep. (John 10:11)
On this Good Shepherd Sunday our reflection pertains to shepherding, but the above title omitted the word "good." That is because we have not yet earned the Christ title of being "good," for much depends on how we act here and now. As Christians immersed in this turbulent sea of materialism and terrorism, we are to manifest loyalty, concern, and the total dedication of the shepherd to the welfare of others. However, with hundreds of thousands dying annually due to poor health and nutrition there's plenty of blame to go to those of us who are affluent. A good shepherd cannot afford to dwell on passing blame provided our silence allows culprits the opportunity to repeat misdeeds. Most likely, deeds springing from poor credit, falsified records, misdirected mortgages, and toxic assets can be and are successfully challenged. These corrective measures extend to the captains of banking and the mega-investors who act in an immoral manner?
Loyalty to our calling means that we must not be permissive. Today the return of capital as bonuses to bungling executives (rather than firing them) is frightening. The very ones who messed things up continue in their carefree practices by the use of tax-payer funds. On the other hand, loyalty ought to mean accepting our civic responsibility as citizens within a democratic society -- and to support the voices of resistance. We are voters, guardians of the liberties of our people, and responsible for the most needy among us. Responsibility includes adequate food, affordable housing and comprehensive health care programs for all the people including the still uninsured. Challenge the mega-bankers.
Personal Concern about the welfare of others is part of being Christian. St. James tells us that to say "good bye and good luck" is not the proper way to act. As people who care, we become concerned about folks who cannot afford health insurance or are evicted from their homes due to being unable to pay rent. They are our brothers and sisters -- and we are shepherds, not sheep. Our concern is for the poor, our neighbors; what can we do for them?
We must call attention to their plight and move legislators to take steps to assist those most needy.
Total Dedication. As Christians we are to speak up: the current economic system with its fossil fuel base could spell doom to our Earth and condemn hundreds of millions to lives of continued poverty. Christians cannot allow this to happen for we are dedicated to our people and our Earth as shepherds. Do we have the nerve to call for radical change (see Reclaiming the Commons on this website)? A consumption-driven economy overtaxes the ability of Earth to sustain herself and does not address long-term poverty. Bringing about change is a dedicated and focused mission, much like that of the Good Shepherd guarding his sheep.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to assist in the difficult role of Christian shepherding at this time of environmental and financial crises.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
April 23, 2018 Preservation Week and Being Realistic
We are now at the start of Preservation Week; we like to preserve our past, which contains weaknesses mixed with successes. I grew up near Washington, Kentucky, the third oldest incorporated town in our Commonwealth. It is now part of historic Maysville which has its own history. Washington takes pride in its history and its record of historic preservation. The local community has renovated many of the early log cabins and brick buildings, nearby grounds, and an herb garden. Washington was the site of the state's first municipal water system, the first Post Office serving the Northwest Territory (1789), the first bank "West of the Alleghenies,” the birthplace (1810) of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston of Shiloh fame, the Marshall Key House (1807) where Harriet Beecher Stowe observed the sale of a slave and wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and "Federal Hill" built by Thomas Marshall, brother of Chief Justice John Marshall. My dad's carving of pioneer Simon Kenton is in the shrine bearing Kenton's name.
Washington, however, has its imperfect history. The town was the home of prominent citizens who went over the Ohio River in a posse to recover slaves who escaped from Kentucky and rounded up others who were residents and not escapees; these Washingtonians were armed with weapons and federal laws that permitted their ventures. Captured Afro-Americans were then taken back across the river to Washington and jailed; these acts were featured in Ann Hagedorn's book Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad. The entire book came as a shock to me for I had always been proud of my home town and generally passed over its relationship to the "peculiar institution" as slavery was called -- even though slavery ceased to exist a decade or so before my forbearers' arrival. The jail has been long gone, but one local resident said she possessed the lock and key, which will end up in one or other of the town's museums. History contains wrinkles.
Gradually more and more former residents come back to see their past. So do an increasing number of tourists from other parts of Kentucky, neighboring Ohio, and points beyond. Visitors enjoy taking a walking tour; they inspect the buildings and gardens, the old waterwells, and the "Medfort's Fort" cabin (1787) built with planks from the flatboat that brought some of the earliest pioneers down the Ohio River. Visitors are also attracted to a given number of special events such as a Chocolate Festival, Simon Kenton Festival, Civil War Days, and Frontier Christmas. They are also impressed by the local folks; their work in part inspired our book Ecotourism in Appalachia.
Washington had no Rockefeller sugar daddy as did Williamsburg, Virginia, or any federal grants. The preservation work was performed by local people at their expense and volunteer time, a truly homesteading and pioneer venture. Even though its history was imperfect, Old Washington stands out as a model of local citizen achievement.
Prayer: Help us, Lord, see the worth of the past, whether things to be proud of or experiences we now resolve not to repeat.
Blue skies over central Kentucky.
April 24, 2018 National Screen-Free and TV-Turnoff Week
The annual TV turn off week has been expanded from that one four-hour per day exercise by the average American to add the two hours per day before a computer screen for games and social interaction. Consider this as an opportunity to discover just how hooked one can become on screens of various sorts. A neighbor thought it inconceivable that I have no "cable," but I am connected perhaps too much to the Internet screen. I'm a rare TV-less exception, but addictions can come with an Internet screen. The American Academy of Pediatrics say excess TV watching may result in poor behaviors on the part of youth (violence, obesity, etc.). However, the allurements are just as strong with adults as well.
* Move about outdoors. As the days become longer, evenings could just as easily be spent in walking around the neighborhood getting to know the people and the flora and fauna. Too many people become sedentary and are glued to TV even while on vacation.
* Read more. Television viewers often become functionally illiterate even while using their eyes, which could be used reading good, available materials. We ought to resolve to read a book a week and use TV time to do it. Reading enhances our creative powers and gives us new insight into the world around us.
* Vary information sources. We should get news in a more concentrated form and without the advertisements that consume so much of the TV news program. We can use the radio or read a periodical or use the Internet to gather far more information in a shorter period of time than when watching television.
* Interact more. People may wish to talk and share happenings and just be present to each other in a quiet way. Here is your opportunity to cultivate one-on-one and not be the passive observer of professional television personalities. Soon the silence of not having TV or computer games will feel more like a blessing.
* Communicate more. This is now the time to write letters, send an e-mail or make a phone call to a neglected soul. It may be the time to make a neighborly social visit to a shut-in.
* Reflect more. The jumble of all the images that come over the television tube can disturb us. We need to pull things together and keep the TV and social media off as a way of doing this. The same needs to apply to shutting off the radio, or text-messaging, or to staying wired to the Internet.
* Conserve energy. The average TV is said to be on six hours a day and left on even when not watched. Such operating for a length of time consumes energy, generally from non-renewable energy sources. Pull the plug, for some energy is required even when many electronic devices are not on.
Prayer: Lord, you give us the gift of free time; help us to use that gift wisely and well with a true sense of refreshment that comes with silence and quality rest time.
Scolopax minor, American woodcock.
April 25, 2018 Some Questions for Us Auto Users
The majority of Americans can and do drive an automobile. In a world of limited public transportation this is regarded as a necessity to get to work, school, shopping, social visits, civic activities, church, and recreational and voluntary opportunities. Driving takes time and resources, and we depend on the enhanced skills and attention of that great mass of people out there on the highways right now. It is good for us to review the practice as an occasional Daily Reflection even when fuel prices have leveled off and remain relatively low right now. Let's raise some questions:
Can we multitask (multi-errand) the trip? When we have a number of errands and some can be delayed, group the tasks so that a number of chores can be done in a single trip. Can we deliver or pick up items on our way to a necessary meeting?
* Can we make larger purchases to cover a longer period of time? Can we make a monthly grocery run? I now buy groceries once a month (with a rare additional supplementary trip). I used to shop for groceries every week but stocking up means fewer trips.
* Are we able to carpool on an ongoing basis or for single trips to a special meeting or event? If well planned with punctual people, this can prove a major fuel savings and hopefully allow for less driving by different members of the team. A number of metropolitan areas now have driving lanes for those carpooling, which shortens the time for the total trip.
* Can we take vacations closer to home? This is something that in our desire to save on fossil fuel is emerging as a major means of saving resources for many green-conscious families -- and the trip organizer does not spend as much time in stressful driving. Actually there are enjoyable attractions near home.
* Is the trip or meeting really necessary? Increase the number of business communications by phone, e-mail or letter or by tele-conferencing. Some trips are simply unnecessary or they resemble impulse buying; we could call it "impulse going." We could have spent our meeting time resting or working in the garden and so could others. This applies to events where people want us to be warm bodies. Delegate one to go and three to stay at home and receive a report back on the event, for it takes less time.
* Can you walk or ride a bike to the store? Many car trips are for short distances and could be replaced by other means of getting around. It is time to plan such exercising and to allow the car to rest. Persuade youngsters and others to bike to exercise classes and sporting events.
* Do you ever resolve to let the car engine cool off on days off? Many people cannot just rest -- but it is delightful.
Prayer: Lord, make us aware that we can do things in better and more conservation-directed ways even when we use the auto fewer numbers of times.
Murkey waters of Kentucky stream following spring rains.
April 26, 2018 Appalachian Floods
I hear quite plainly the sounds of bygone floods. I recall in 1937 my folks took us down to Maysville on the Ohio River (four miles away) to view the flood from an adjacent street. When I moved back to Kentucky in the 1970s after my sojourn in Washington, DC, our state experienced several major floods. I will never forget the sound of moving water as the rushing Rockcastle River surged higher and higher and then swept down the highway outside our building. Never does one feel so helpless as when rising flood tide occurs right in front of you. And in the past two years severe floods hit several portions of our Appalachian region.
Can things be done to reduce the impact of floods that plague our Appalachian mountain and other communities? Some efforts need to be made to stop people from building on the flood plains -- federal, state or local prohibitions. People are tempted to build on flood plains because land is level, lower priced, plentiful, near roads, and less populated. But when they least expect it, the water can spread quickly across the land, threaten their lives, and sweep away their life's work. Flood insurance restrictions and higher rates can and do have some effect. Awareness of past local devastation is a better caution sign for all residents.
Clearcutting and surface mining have exacerbated flooding in some of the more steep-slope areas of Appalachia by removing valuable forest vegetation. In fact, the fragile forest cover serves as a sponge to absorb storm waters so as to release them more gradually; well managed forests and vegetation are the best flood control agents. Retention of the covering does not guarantee the absence of flooding, but it can reduce its impact and severity. Floodwalls may assist certain populated areas, but these are expensive and often ugly, confining, and even claustrophobic.
As long as the rainfall is in the neighborhood of four feet or more per year, one can expect local downpours and tides to occur. Even in deserts, infrequent storms can deliver enough water to severely flood normally dry areas. Warnings by the weather service as to possible flooding are critical, and have improved in accuracy through the years. Sirens, radio and telephone alert systems are all valuable devices to make residents aware of unexpected flooding. People make evacuation plans and talk them over with family and neighbors. Even so, floods come quickly and some sleeping people are awakened only when the water has already entered their rooms. Panic sets in and the ability to get loved ones out to higher ground can be a challenge.
Some heavy rainfall areas will never be free of floods, but we can all learn and teach others to be more alert, to respect the potential harm from flooding, to judge the depths of water, and to refrain from driving on flooded highways. Many victims wait too long, and then panic or misjudge the threat of a flood.
Prayer: Lord, You promised never to flood the world as in the time of Noah; this does not extend to local flooding. Teach us to respect flood-prone areas and seek reasonable controls.
Fowler's toad, Bufo fowleri.
April 27, 2018 Listening to Nature and Beyond
The Easter Season is a good time for us both to slow up on occasion and appreciate and learn from our surrounding flora and fauna. One of the more wonderful traits that animals in the wilderness have is that they stop often and listen. We observe that rabbits and squirrels and many birds do this over and over. They know by instinct that such practices are needed because of possible life-threatening danger. They have refined their senses for detecting predators and foreign intruders.
We human beings, especially those of us who are immersed in our action-filled world, need to listen with our whole being -- not just for the disturbing threats all about, but to the word of God which comes in so many times and ways. The story of Jonah is one in which a foreign people, the people of Nineveh, listened to Jonah the prophet and all, from the king on down to the most humble subjects, changed their ways. Even the animals were involved in the reform. Listening intensely became a community exercise.
While we would find it difficult to slow up a noisy world with the power of an Old Testament prophet, still we can initiate the art of listening on an individual or small group basis. We all know people who are called good listeners; they are prized members of the community because people can go to them with their problems and know they will listen. There's an art performed by these listeners, a turning of their whole being to hearing what others tell. Their facial features and body language all say, "I have time to hear your message and allowing it to sink in."
Today is the day each of us should stop and listen to the word of others, to hear those who need a hearing, and to discover what is being said for our ears only. It is the pleading, searching, or warning of friends, relatives, caregivers, experts, or just concerned citizens. It may be the additional word spoken by God through unexpected sources -- for God speaks to us through others, even through wildlife. These may be pulpit homilies, Internet messages, health warnings, media stories; they may come from a parent or child, a leader or follower, a person of influence or a homeless person. All in all, we must listen so that God's word is received through our attentive ears. It may be a whisper or a shout, a child's cry or the rustle of a ground squirrel.
We are greeted with the sounds of nature coming to life in springtime; so this is an opportunity to practice a few moments of stopping and listening to nature. The source or instrument making the sound may not have a full awareness of being a teacher, but God still speaks through the sounding; the challenge we face is to listen and hear what nature's creatures have to say to and for us. Some call out for care and protection. We must listen and then act; what we hear comes from a variety of sources; how we respond comes from our unique gifts. Let's listen for a special message may come only once.
Prayer: Lord, guide us to become attentive to the world around us. Help us to listen, understand and act accordingly.