Inviting warm hearth turns us homeward to loved ones, Indoor environment involves time spent indoors, Home economics is on our minds with holiday expenses, Scripture reminds us to fold our tents in cold weather, December brings us cold frames extending autumn crops: Swiss chard, kale, mint, dill, and garlic. It's evergreen season -- mistletoe, cedar boughs, holly, Hickory nut and fruit cakes in bourbon-soaked towels, Jerusalem artichokes, turnips, parsnips, other root crops, Stored winter squash, pears, apples, and pumpkins. All are made ready for the year-end feasts.
You alone bloom late at winter, Bush with fragrant brilliant flowers, Truly hardy plant in quaint ways, Balm that soothes inflamed body parts, Giving comfort to the mighty.
Follow our latest works and events! Connect with Al Fritsch &
Earth Healing at:
Promoting Harmony When
Confronting Climate Change
By Al Fritsch, SJ
Resonance: Promoting Harmony When Confronting Climate Change seeks to challenge this global problem from a spiritual perspective. A solely secular approach involving technical experts is insufficient to bring about a renewable energy economy. Rather, a spiritual outlook invites all people of good will to work together. This overlooked approach leads those who believe in the future to discover Divine Harmony as the primary focus and model for change. The mark of the Triune God is present in the entire universe, vibrating and inspiring all activity. To achieve success we explore various types of resonance, from physical, chemical, biological and social, through art, music, compassionate caregiving and international negotiation. More importantly, resonance has a divine character worthy of reflection, the Source of all resonance and harmony. Through prayer, compassionate suffering and action, believers have vital roles to play. For all to collaborate they must be motivated by a critical mass of believers – you and I. Hope breathes eternal, but we must act now.
(Note: This, my final work has been in the germination stage for a decade. It is based on the Christian insight that a Triune God is manifested throughout the physical, chemical and biological worlds, and most especially in the social, artistic, musical, caregiving, and global collaboration of human beings.)
Older folks find winter so troublesome; many flee south on I-75 and I-95 like some Canadians and some wild geese. Those wise northern dwellers know that warm seasons are best spent in cooler climes, and winter in warmer ones. In fact, the fuel to go from one place to the other and back is less than that required by summer-cooling in Florida or winter-warming in Ontario. The great majority of us do not want to tip North America into the Caribbean, and so we stay put in our homes. Can we make winter life easier? Here are a few ways:
1. Insulate the hidden places that were forgotten last year, for example, the cracks under doors or the outlets for electricity.
2. Wear warmer clothes, maybe some of the newer fabrics, which wick well and keep the body dry. A purchase at a yard sale or a used clothes place may help enhance the winter wardrobe also.
3. Exercise outdoors daily when possible. It is a mistake to stay cooped up indoors, and expect that the weather will not affect us on infrequent ventures outside. Get out except when it sleets.
4. In case the power goes off, store at least two weeks supply of food that needs no or minimal heating or cooking.
5. Automobiles should be well maintained with proper oil, tire treads, clean air and gas filters. Ensure there are a flashlight, sleeping bag, and other emergency materials.
6. Stay home and do less travel. If you must make a journey, learn the highway conditions, listen to or watch weather reports, and stay on top of the current weather maps.
7. Now is the perfect time to peruse books and reading matter that has been saved up through the more active months.
8. Bird feeding is a rare winter pleasure that is good for those permanent residing birds. Feeding wildlife may make them dependent on us but, with respect to birds, we have already so damaged their habitats that feeding is only partial compensation.
9. Auxiliary utilities need to be checked -- wood stove fuel, stored extra supplies of water, and solar units for lighting.
10. Snow removal equipment is an area of special attention -- shovels, boots, scrapers, sand, and deicing agents (use salt sparingly, for it harms vegetation). Be on guard against excessive physical exercise when deicing or removing snow.
Prayer: Lord, make us aware of the winter season and the ways we can adjust to it while retaining our own prayerful equanimity. Keep us watchful during this Advent season for those in need.
Winter in temperate zones can be problematic, if one wishes to hike in summer fashion. However, winter hiking with a few extra layers of clothes and comfortable shoes can be fun. Once engaged, we are generally happy we made the decision. Winter has no worrisome insects; the air is crisp; the sights are more visible; terrain is easier to traverse; those fearing snakes are relieved.
Exercise and nature learning. Nature walks have advantages during any one season -- and that includes winter. One gets a chance for excellent exercise, which is not too hard on the body. The chance to get some full-spectrum sunlight plus fresh air is always good and affords us some Vitamin D as well. We are able to break out of ourselves, and to see a little of the rest of the world. Each nature walk is the time to raise our spirits. We become more alert to smells, sights, tastes, sounds, and feelings in being closer to nature. Winter is when we observe topography and especially rock formations in greater detail; the shapes of trees along with quality of bark and trunk and relationship to neighboring trees are more evident without foliage; the sounds carry more distinctly whether of scampering varmints or the cawing of crows or the honking of geese. Winter's running streams give a particularly enchanting gurgling sound.
Some like to plan ahead before the walk, and winter is that perfect time. Nature-lovers may find it worthwhile to carry books on trees, birds, insects, mammals, rocks, or flowers and mushrooms. Without overburdening ourselves, let's choose a special topic and bring this book together with extra windbreaker or socks, water or juice, and a few snacks to tide us through; some add a camera or smart phone as well. Maybe it takes a light knapsack or a jacket with ample pockets. As always attempt to travel light.
Be open to new possibilities. Don't limit your space and time too much. Some of my best youthful memories are of hikes my brothers and friends took on Sunday afternoons across the countryside. Some like to follow the same routes, but for the majority, hiking a little off the beaten path makes for a chance to see the unexpected. Record those unexpected events and sights in writing soon after returning.
Some hikers prefer to travel alone and be their own boss. Others like companionship that adds spice to what is experienced. That companionship may be naturalists (having acknowledged or regarded expertise), those with about equal knowledge, or those like grandkids who may be eager learners, but know less than you the master hiker. They may be people just wanting someone to take them for a hike. Added company may adjust distance, time, mode of transport, and route of the hike -- and the hike itself.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to walk gently through the woods to show our respect for nature. Help us leave no scars, litter, deep footprints, graffiti, or campsite residue.
Grasshopper pauses on vest to catch December rays of sun.
December 3, 2017 Active Waiting
Lord, let us see your kindness and grant us your salvation.
A new church year is a new beginning; we have hopes of better times ahead with God's help and mercy. Many people hope in so many ways. They hope they can be served; they just stand (or sit) and wait -- in a doctor's office, an airport, a food line, a bureaucrat's office, or for their son's return from the War. We might be surprised that the ones who sit and wait with expectancy give testimony to a better future. I hate to wait, and yet this is part of being a believer that better things will come about -- if only we have patience. One pre-schooler when asked to be patient replied, "Well my parents are not." We are all too impatient.
We are the clay and You are the potter; we are the work of your hands (Isaiah 64:7). We are open to what comes and are prepared for how we are to change in order to accept such changes. By waiting in patience we are molded into the work of God's hands; we become a people who respect the time of maturation and accept that we are undergoing this process right now. If the prize is big enough, it is worth waiting for. But waiting in a religious sense is more than just sitting and doing nothing. Waiting becomes a preparation for the coming of the one expected, and shows us a sense of reverence needed for the one coming, preparedness on our part, and willingness to help others overcome their impatience and learn to wait actively as well.
Being watchful and waiting makes us keen observers; we can surpass those who wait in a stupor, or those who are too busy to wait. The truth is, watchful waiting involves a perfect balance of those who are willing and those who wait with great expectancy. Yes, we are restless, but it is for what is to come. Jesus tells us that we are to be vigilant at all times, and are not to be paralyzed from fright or distracted by misconduct. We have begun to participate in the building of a new Heaven and New Earth -- and that is a massive undertaking requiring our planning and activity. The time is short. We learn from geology that the Earth is about four billion years old, and that in geological time the human race has appeared and flourished in the last few seconds of that time. The act of salvation occurs in this last second of geological time, so we must seize the moment and be actively prepared.
Jesus said to his disciples: "Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake!" (Mark 13:33-37). We do not know the day or hour, and so vigilance is a permanent Christian stance. Our virtue includes specific knowledge of times and places. Some occasionally arise who think they know from some mysterious source what will happen, but these are deceptively assuming a power over the ignorant. Faith requires us to do something more; we know Jesus saves us but we are part of the saving act with our sense of expectancy.
Prayer: Lord, teach us the blessings of patience and yet to be always active in staying awake to the needs of all.
Don't say the accident will never happen to you or me. We travel too much and we can get distracted, or at least the distracted texting driver in the next vehicle can cause the unexpected to happen. Right now ensure that you have a flashlight, flares and up-to-date insurance papers in the car that you are driving. In case of that accident remember the following:
* Stay calm. Determine if anyone has been injured and requires immediate medical attention. If needed, call the emergency number for an ambulance and call the police.
* Reduce the possibility of further damage or injuries. Turn on the hazard lights and, if possible, move everyone away from traffic lanes. However, don't move seriously injured persons.
* Move cars, if operational, out of the traffic flow after marking the road to show the cars' original position. Route traffic around unmoved vehicles. Use flares or have someone signal with a flashlight or cloth. This is really a traffic cop’s work.
* Exchange basic information with anyone else involved in the accident, namely, name, address, phone, registration numbers and license plate numbers, as well as name and address of insurance companies or agents.
* Try to get names and phone numbers of witnesses for later insurance settlement.
* Avoid discussing the accident particulars, or admitting fault or answering questions about what happened. Save that for the police and insurance agent.
* While awaiting the police, assist the injured and then take down accident notes about weather and road conditions, and anything out of the ordinary about other cars and drivers. Include street names, mile marker readings, traffic signals and directions of the cars involved.
* When the police arrive, cooperate fully. Try to obtain a copy of the official accident report or the file or item number for your insurance company.
* As soon as possible, contact and report the accident to your insurance company. The agent will give instructions on filing a claim. If you later receive calls or letters from others in the accident, forward them to your agent. Also keep the agent informed of any new developments, added damage to your car, or new medical expenses related to the accident.
* Amid it all, stay calm and patient. Accidents happen.
Prayer: Lord, protect us on our busy roadways of life.
Barn quilt on rural Kentucky farm, Estill County.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
December 5, 2017 Hobbies, Crafts and Arts
Each year near the feast of St. Nicholas (tomorrow) we are reminded that craft products made by the individual crafter are ideal Christmas gifts. Furthermore, beyond gift-giving many other good reasons exist for engaging in hobbies, crafts, or arts. Productive leisure occupations should spring from the deeper reaches of the psyche and our creative urges. In his retirement years my father carved extensively, everything from statues to bookends. However, those who go beyond hobbies and practice crafting for a living as professionals have a more serious commitment and harbor immense pride and enjoyment in their art.
I have regarded both writing and gardening as fitting into these crafting/arts categories. These two practices yield produce that can be seen and shared with others, and products that both the producer and the receiver can enjoy. All who are artists and crafters anticipate making certain products that will be available in a public way. They take pride in expressing the fruits of their skill or expertise quite well. They may devote considerable extra time and resources to advertising or widely publicizing their products, or they may feel satisfied to share them with others. Artistic expression gives satisfaction whether primitive or sophisticated. See my book Resonance, Chapter Five.
By a whim or instant impulse, some people launch into a hobby or crafting venture and do not persist. They soon discover that it takes time and patience to make something presentable. They find out that the craft selection ought to be undertaken after deliberate consideration and not impulsively. A friend and well recognized professional artist, John Freda, started as an expatriate in Italy with very simple art materials because he could not afford expensive ones. He advises that, if you are creative, make a small investment in basic materials and produce something with all your heart. If you are moved to continue, then invest more. Excelling requires patient endurance.
Consider selecting a hobby or craft that makes use of locally available material whether products from native trees, local pottery clay, or wool from one's sheep; consider using professional resources close at hand -- including the expertise of those who will assist in launching the practice. For making pine cone wreaths, one needs such products as heavy cardboard, adhesive, shellac, tools (shears, pruners, pliers), heavy string, evergreen boughs, magnolia leaves, Osage oranges, cones, nuts, milk weed pods, fox grape or kudzu vines, or seed heads such as okra or thistle or other local materials. As a budding crafter you may produce some ornaments this year and more skillful ones for 2018. Think about ways to improve and be willing to ask advice from someone more advanced in the craft or art. Take courage, for with time and effort you can excel in your hidden talents.
Prayer: Teach us, Lord, to be creative in new ways or to redouble our efforts in existing arts, hobbies and crafts.
Handmade notebooks created from recycled materials and given as gifts.
December 6, 2017 Twelve Gifts Worth Considering
St. Nicholas Day is a perfect time to assemble the gifts we hope to give in the coming weeks -- and yet we find excuses to put it off since there is still time and other matters are pressing. If you are so inclined, here are a few suggestions:
* A trinket for the tree, handmade by a youngster for someone that she or he likes very much;
* A homemade delight that is your specialty -- jelly or cookies, or syrup, or chopped hot red and green peppers;
* An offering of a day of labor and toil for the good of another, especially someone suffering from illness or old age;
* A creative gift such as a poem, a piece of art, a homemade card or a hand carving. These take time to construct and reconstruct and are investments from our head, hands and heart to help make a perfect and harmonious celebration;
* A donation for the benefit of a developing world community or to a non-profit organization in the name of the gift recipient;
* A favorite previous gift now given so that your favor will be transmitted through the gift to others in your life;
* An offer to assist with the local festivities in some fashion whether within a choral group, as a cleaning assistant, as a decorator, or as a handyperson for whatever needs to be done;
* An invitation to take someone, somewhere. Make the holiday season a special service time, with some extra work of mercy for the elderly, hospitalized, imprisoned, homeless, or hungry.
* A greeting card sent to those we forgot to communicate with during the year. Some even tastefully recycle 2016 cards?
* A service that utilizes your special expertise: home repair and maintenance, cooking and baking, decorating, landscaping and lawn care, gardening and pruning, wood cutting, or insulating;
* A sharing of food that could go for the feast, but works so much better shared with some who are finding it difficult to make ends meet this Christmas season;
* If you must buy something, how about considering the ASPI Simple Lifestyle Calendar.
Prayer: Lord, teach us the delight in giving and in seeing that this feast of St. Nicholas is the perfect time to start tackling our gift list; make us creative in what the other person will appreciate during this holiday season.
A few dried leaves remain as autumn's end approaches.
December 7, 2017 Remembering Painful Events
Many of us old enough remember 9-11 (2001) or the day President Kennedy was assassinated, November 22, 1963. A thinning group of us remember today seventh-six years ago with the attack at Pearl Harbor and the American entry into the Second World War. Those few recall a patriotic song: "Remember Pearl Harbor." As an eight-year-old I stood on the church steps on December 8th, 1941, and discussed with my classmates whether the Germans would bomb New York or points closer. The war was to become part of our lives for four years, though actual fighting was in Europe and the Pacific.
Major national tragedies make indelible marks on our minds and yet time softens, embellishes, and intermixes these events with somewhat related ones. Many of us like to hold these events sacred; we show our mental control by recalling them to others as though we have a unique possession. We seem to think that to forget our history condemns us to returning to similar conditions and repeating past mistakes. But slippage occurs as our individual and collective memory fades.
We sympathize with those who endured the Holocaust of the Second World War, and who now are confronted with writers who say it did not exist. Those who endured such ordeals often fear that future generations will not learn from the painful lessons of the past. Yes, memory is fragile and the one remembering risks being considered old-fashioned and out of touch with modern reality. Are we afraid that our history will become cobwebbed space that others prefer to overlook and scoff?
Yes, memories are somewhat sacred and need preserving in oral tradition, written records, or videotapes, still some memories are painful; people regard it as mentally healthy to omit, avoid or strive to forget them. However, national memories ought to be preserved for they often tell us much about ourselves and our emerging culture. Some of these are what we are proud of and some are so very painful. No one finds delightful that struggle associated with the slavery in our early republic. However, in such a recall we find the roots of racial discrimination and racial reconciliation. What does "property" mean? How do we treat laborers who ought to own the fruits of their labor?
What we say about our nation could also be said about our families. The pain of the past is part of our being who we are. Family events are well worth remembering, and December is a perfect time to celebrate sacred memory. Encouraging the next generation to respect and revere the past is a challenge, whether that is our collective or family heritage. Such awareness generates a healthy respect for our past, and respect is needed for healing our wounded Earth as well as wounded family relations.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to remember the great events of our lives and to pass these on to the next generation, just as we are called to remember our sacred traditions.
Frosty morning covering of ice on cluster of flowers.
December 8, 2017 Eve and Mary: Choices
He went in and said to her, "Rejoice, so highly favored! The Lord is with you." (Luke 1:28)
The drama of salvation included two women who appear prominently in our Sacred Tradition and Scriptures -- and both act freely according to our human ability to make choices. Eve, the mother of the living, and Mary, the bearer of God, make monumental choices. One says "no" to God and the other "yes."
Today we celebrate the gift of God to Mary ---- a gift that makes the first moment of life so precious to us as Christians -- and even more so for Mary. Next Tuesday we celebrate another feast, Our Lady of Guadalupe. In 1531, Juan Diego, a poor Mexican, receives the apparition of Mary; he is a simple agent who passes on a message to the entire Church and the Native American people. Mary acts as agent just as in her motherhood she does something many of us are unable to do, and that is physically bear the Savior. However, all of us through baptism share some gifts with Mary: we are immaculately conceived into the Church itself; we can bring or bear Christ to others through proclaiming the Word.
St. Paul tell us that from the beginning we were all conceived in God's plan and we are people who can freely choose. God's gift is freely given and invites us to acknowledge in gratitude the ability to choose. The drama of the Eden event is retold today with the garden of abundance, a tree of good and evil, and still our first parents say a definitive "no" to God's intentions for us. We inherit that tendency to say "no" on many occasions.
Mary is conceived immaculately pure and has God's full favor from the beginning of time. Her soul is transparent; something a person can look into and find the crystal of God's light shining out. We honor Mary for her gifts freely given and freely received. We strive in our spiritual journey to see that our souls need the transparency to allow God to be seen within us. Mary as a young maiden has a unique moment in history to be instrumental in the coming of the Messiah. God gives her a special favor, and she freely responds with a "yes" in contrast to Adam and Eve's "no."
Mary is free, responds freely, but is not trouble free. She is destined to be the mother of sorrows, for a sword is to pierce her heart. She allows her son to follow his calling, for he leaves home, opens his life of mission, and endures suffering and death. And Mary stands beneath Calvary's cross. Through baptism we are called to reflect upon God's gift and to imitate the purity and activism of Mary. Just as Mary makes haste to assist her cousin Elizabeth, so we rediscover how to say "yes" to God in our own lives here and now. Just as Mary was totally open and committed through her "yes", so we seek to say "yes" in our lives.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to know the momentous gift of choice and help to stay open to do what is right within our lives.
Attack Inequality Now
Just 1% of people own 50% of the world's wealth, up from 45% at the turn of the century -- and our current American Administration is supporting measures to hasten that concentration. This inequality pains me deeply, both because it is so overlooked and because as I approach my mortal end this existential threat to our democracy only grows deeper. An emerging plutocracy has all the ingredients of a global takeover by billionaires and their associates as they support tax havens and various forms of legal tax relief. Unregulated wealth puts power and influence in the hands of a few who scoff at the words of the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965), who said the highest office in a democracy is the office of citizen. Billionaires are taking over this highest position.
Why is this condition overlooked? A primary reason for raising this issue is because so few citizens are doing so. Some practical people realize when keeping institutions afloat that they cannot bite the hand that feeds them. Part of the power of wealth is to donate enough to private groups that they are compromised and silenced for want of continued support. Too often citizens recognize that it is not illegal to retain wealth after winking at the paths taken to accumulate it. The current Administration is a strong backer of acquisition of further wealth for these privileged few. Yes, and legislators of various political persuasions are in the back pocket of the wealthy class and their lobbying lackeys.
Unfortunately, the very voices that need to challenge inequality are often the champions of prosperity religion; the mega-church leaders flash their suits, rings, cars, and planes to show their divine favor. Their message to peons in the pews is "become like me and prosperity will surely follow." Indirectly, this group adds their prophetic approval to an Administration striving for tax reform; this means cutting rates enormously for corporations and increasing burdens on a lower class of taxpayers and future generations saddled with federal indebtedness. Confronting these misguided super-rich and their prosperity religionists with the need for greater equality through taxation is not popular. A confrontational stance becomes a glimmer of hope in a world of financial and influential concentration of power.
Greater equality is a goal worth working for. Certainly any plan that adds to the debt burden at this time of immense wealth in the hands of the few is not tax reform but rather a sham. History points out that greater equality among peoples leads to a more healthy civil society (see Inequality by Anthony Atkinson). One wonders whether the many educated youth seeking meaningful employment may furnish a potential brew for ever greater global disorder. These may not remain silent as do charity seekers and prosperity folks; a new generation refuses to tolerate a thousand (people) with billions (of dollars) and a billion in stages of destitution. True prophetic witness risks censure to make this condition public. For sure this is not self-perfection by giving up all one's wealth for the salvation of one's soul. Rather, let's look at what this does to our own democracy from a more secular citizenship viewpoint.
Rugged individualism as espoused by fiction writer Ayn Rand is a dream of the disenchanted, but does little to enhance solid American values. This approach reduces citizens to increasingly selfish beings unworthy of good citizenship. Plutocracy raises its ugly head with its exclusive exercise of power through moneyed influence. For these proponents wealth may be acquired by means that are made legal and retained in rather mischievous ways, such as through tax exemptions and mobility of monetary resource to tolerated tax havens in distant places. Ever increasingly lenient governments and a form of globalization that moves financial resources rapidly out of one's country accelerates that concentration of wealth to a smaller number of capitalists, all at the expense of needed national education, health care and infrastructure.
To each according to need. To speak out against inequality in the last century made the citizen a target of name-calling such as "Marxist" or "Socialist." However, the sting of such attacks faded with the fall of the USSR. This principle of need and mutual sharing influenced the first Christian communities as described in the Acts of the Apostles: Marx borrowed from the Acts in a secular manner, certainly not as a Christian believer in sharing. Amazingly some primitive cultures are more closely able to understand and operate in this fashion of community sharing according to need. Our founding father, Ben Franklin, wanted the Pennsylvania Constitution to have restrictions on the amount of wealth a citizen could accumulate. He was far ahead of his times, even though regarded as senile by rich fellow delegates. In the 1780s no one conceived of a billionaire and how much power and influence such a person could accumulate; they did not know that legislators could be bought.
Monetary wealth in the hands of those who hoard their wealth to practice trickle-down economics or send it to unproductive tax havens is not well spent. Why two thousand billionaires and two billion destitute who never see two thousand dollars? If we are called to exercise democratic citizenship, we must unlock the mechanisms for redistribution of what is tightly grasped by a few.
A million African children could be vaccinated at as low as a dollar each; these have a far greater right to limited resources now in the hands of billionaires. More generous wealthy folks expect a "thank you" for giving where they wish and call it charity. However, a practical tool exists for addressing national and global inequality, and it is neither violent revolution nor mere random charity by the wealthy; it is meaningful and just tax reform. However, where is the willingness to implement such a change in practice? Hopefully, as citizens we can generate it
Lines and colors of central Kentucky farmland.
December 9, 2017 Hard Question: Why Billionaires?
As we hear the voice of John the Baptist calling for repentance, we wonder why we tolerate excessive wealth and destitution at the same time in this world. As I get ready to take my exit from this mortal life, I am dissatisfied that I did not become haunted with this question earlier. What will the Lord say to us; extreme poverty exists on this Earth while at the time allowed those with immense wealth to play on our leniency?
1. Why is it that such an unregulated economic system permits the most lucrative players to have their profits guaranteed and privatized and their risks socialized? Why must the lower economic classes accept personal risks in health and safety? Who gives billionaires the right to own so much and have such economic power?
2. Has the lack of regulation been due to the power of the established wealthy to dictate to legislators laws that work to their own advantage and especially immense tax advantages? Will such a continuation of privileged practices erode the democracy that we all seek to defend in some way?
3. Is it right that CEOs of the financial systems (and others as well) take any amount of salary that their greed dictates and the corporate system in which they operate allows? Or are there limits to salaries of the privileged few when people hurt so much for lack of essentials in the world in which we live?
4. Aren't the world's resources including financial resources part of a Commons that belongs to all and especially the most vulnerable? Under what law of nature or of an interpreted "divine right of the moneyed" should this unjust system of inequality continue to exist -- and ought we oppose it as God-fearing people?
5. Is there not a better economic system where gambling with the life savings of people is not part of legal practice? The question was seriously asked in a Time (October 13, 2008) article about the $700 billion American bailout package -- "What is the difference between Wall Street and a casino?" Time's answer is that on Wall Street the dealers get paid a lot more and are allowed to bet alongside of the customers. Isn't it time to stop this gambling with the wealth of our nation and our world?
6. Is it right to give money as handouts to citizens in order to stimulate the economy when what is handed out is simply an added indebtedness for a future generation of people? Should an unthinking expenditure of future funds give the wrong message that it is okay to borrow beyond the means and time when the borrower will be alive to bear the repayment responsibility?
7. Is this global capitalistic system not a perfect example of the "Emperor with no clothes? Where will this end?
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be honest with problems we face.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
We are preparing the way when we search our interior disposition and when we seek to bring balance and order to a fearfully disturbed world. We may have relatives overseas in harm’s way; we know there is no easy solution to conflicts; we experience financial conflicts and know of folks who find it hard this winter to pay for heating bills, or health bills, or college tuition. We hear a second refrain: make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! (Isaiah 40:3). Our world of conflict has become a wasteland, and by working with the Lord we can make a difference; we can straighten crooked ways by helping bring justice to all.
John the Baptist unexpectedly appears in the desert or the wasteland to preach reform, which is needed in preparation for the advent of the Messiah. John is dressed in camel's hair and eats wild honey and grasshoppers, goes into a wild area, which could hardly support anyone. John speaks plainly and his intention is to get people ready for the Messiah's advent. He harkens back to Elijah the prophet, a simple person with a mission and with evangelistic fervor. And John's simplicity is quickly observed.
Through our baptism we are called to bring the Good News to others. Scripture says that the true prophet is one who:
* is anointed by God for renewal of a people;
* is chosen from the ranks of ordinary people;
* lives simply in contrast to neighbors;
* witnesses often alone according to a unique personality;
* is willing to perform public acts;
* seeks to elicit a profound renewal from the audience;
* encounters difficulties in being heard; and
* accepts the fact of not being entirely successful.
Saint Peter (2 Peter 3:8-14) tells us to be patient and to be people who await New Heavens and a New Earth. We are to do more than be just mere spectators; we are to hasten the coming of the day of God. Thus we enter as participants in bringing about the end of the times. Like John we are to prepare the way of the Lord. We have an urgent mission, saving our threatened Earth and the inhabitants who dwell thereon. We do this by exposing the negative activities that harm our world and by affirming those activities that bring about better conservation, renewable resources, a just world system. As a prophetic people we affirm that religion is not a private matter, but rather a public social enterprise involving our whole being. Through collective encouragement we are to do our part in healing our wounded Earth.
Prayer: Lord, if we desire peace we must help establish justice through prophetic witnessing. Help us to enter into the process of saving our fragile and wounded world and overcome the threatening effects of climate change.
When traveling in South Dakota in 1955, we observed groves or lines of trees standing near the farm buildings and fences. The trees were part of the conservation wind barrier work of the 1930s, planted to allay dust storm damage that had wrought destruction during the Great Depression. The Scotch pines my dad planted in our old orchard to the northwest of our house served as windbreaks, as did the mulberry, locust and hackberry that voluntarily grew at the edges of the pine grove.
December is a good month to think of designing and planting windbreaks for next spring. Consider it either at your house, or that of people who complain about high winter fuel bills. These could use some extra trees on the side(s) of the prevailing wind; in our part of the country, this is generally the north or west side. It is wise to talk with local experienced residents or the county extension agent or to audit one's own wind conditions and by checking at various times of the winter for wind direction and speed.
Windbreaks are useful because they can create a cozy micro-climate for your homestead. Dense windbreaks provide the greatest protection when they are two to five times broader than the height of the trees used for the break. The drawback of such a dense break is that negative pressure builds downwind and can draw the air diverted by the barrier back toward the ground. A windbreak pruned to allow air to flow through it would reduce this effect. Another helpful and energy-saving idea is to place low-growing evergreens close to the foundation of the building.
By preventing wind from whipping around the foundation, evergreen shields can create insulation (air pockets) close to the base of the structure. In the winter time, these air pockets can sometimes be as much as ten degrees warmer than the ambient outdoor temperature. For decades, windbreaks have been popular among rural homesteads on the Great Plains to help lessen soil erosion and protect wind-sensitive plants. Their time has come elsewhere. Vegetative barriers for buildings provide a relatively warm environment at little cost.
The ideal barrier is planted perpendicular to the prevailing winds and is composed of parallel rows of evergreens (such as Canadian hemlock, spruce or white pines) with shorter trees at the outer perimeter, and taller trees nearest the buildings. In our cedar-growing part of the country this evergreen is ideal for wind barriers. However, white pines grow very well in our temperate climate and could be used for windbreaks as well as spruce and other evergreen species. Ideally, the final barrier should be forty to fifty feet upwind from a single-story building and include the layers of trees of desired density.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the gift of trees to help insulate our homes from the cold winter winds.
Can we share to such a degree that we see our brothers and sisters in the farthest reaches of the Earth as one Community? On this Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe can we start with a Hemispheric village and expand to a global one? Idealists can paint a picture of a global village as though already established, if we just open our eyes and see. On the other hand, realists do not deny the ideal but caution that it has not yet been reached. Pessimists may question whether such a village is even able to exist without breaking up into warring factions. Survivalists are incorrect in saying that such villages are unnecessary, since any well organized gathering can furnish its own food, housing and other essentials.
Idealism takes effort to become reality; over-pessimism is self defeating when it comes to sharing with others. Theoretical self-sufficiency is a mirage that does not exist in an interconnected world in which everyone affects others to noticeable degrees. Even isolated inhabitants of the Amazon may awaken to the destruction of the environment all around them by exploiters. Because total self-sufficiency is impossible, the ideal of a global village has merit even if it is not yet fully attained -- but is in process. We need villages integrated into larger and larger aggregates of interlocking groups because we are brothers and sisters with basic needs; collectively we need to confront the greed of others through a developing art of collaboration.
To attain that ideal of working together we must still strive to begin with our own backyard, the template of the healthier world. In this sense the "small is beautiful people" are correct, for the local has great though not total importance. Our backyard should be an ideal sight to behold, not a storage place for junk. We can enhance our dwelling space by organic gardens, composting bins for domestic waste materials, properly-labeled recycling containers, edible landscape, solar or wind energy producing units, and rainwater containers. We must also welcome immigrants into our midst and help integrate them into our local community.
The term domestic covers a broader area than the immediate individual backyard. While it is estimated that over half of Americans have yard space, others need to share or extend their "yard" to neighboring lands -- vacant lots, ornamental yards, unused portions of cemeteries, and institutional land that could be rented or leased or donated for gardening, composting, recycling, energy generation, and water storage. Infants, seniors, the mentally and physically sick add to the betterment through their good will. As social beings we need others. As our awareness of environment grows, we find that no smaller cluster of villages can survive without involving more and more -- and eventually a planet. Responsible protection and enhancement are a collaborative global enterprise that expands our tent of hospitality outward to others.
Prayer: Lord, give us the willingness to establish the harmonious global village in which we strive to do our part.
As we prepare for the year 2018, we could do well to look more broadly into ways to supplement our income by growing higher quality garden produce. Homegrown fruit, berries and all produce are fresh, can be chemical-free, and are gathered with little effort; dried mint can be used as a beverage to replace expensive coffee (5 to 10% of average food purchases). Various local and exotic greens, fresh herbs such as basil and parsley, and fresh tomatoes and cucumbers can be grown for a span of months when started early with protection and extending later into the growing year by covers to protect from chill and wind. Higher quality, commercial organic produce often costs more, and thus added savings can accrue to home-growers who follow good ecological practices.
Overall economic advantages include; the land space can be expanded by turning lawn into extra cultivated garden; higher value produce can be a major food budget savings as mentioned; shopping time is reduced; seasonal surpluses can be preserved to supplement non-seasonal food needs; the garden can produce provisions for local needy folks; the land value of the property can be enhanced through productive gardening; there is less need for personal vacations and special recreation because gardening involves exercise and reduces stressful conditions; and the potential for income from selling surplus produce at a farmer's market begins to emerge depending on amount and quality of produce.
If one calculates the number of hours spent gardening, the produce may not be regarded as paying for itself. However, gardening serves as physical exercise and has other non-economic benefits. Small-scale gardeners acknowledge that they work extra hours to make a moderate income. Their work is varied and this makes life interesting. Because so much time is required for quality gardening, we soon account it as a true labor of love and consider the joy of gardening as part of the value. Economic savings become the dessert, not the substance of the small-scale gardening operation. A good rule of thumb is to consider half of gardening as work and half as pleasure; the work includes the bonus of economic savings and the recreation gives non-monetary pleasure -- or recreation time that could be spent in expensive pursuits such as the casino or movies.
Gardeners quickly learn that non-basic paraphernalia such as small carts and compost tumblers are costly and basically unneeded. Money for seedlings can be saved by growing one's own. Other savings include using older and heavy-duty implements that can be acquired at yard sales, obtaining nitrogen from legume cover and urine, using flowers in place of biocides and other pest controls, saving non-hybrid seed from year to year, keeping economic as well as garden-produce records as well as time spent on operations, and keeping track of yields for future planning.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to see that gardening is a form of prayer that adds to the whole economy of salvation.
Rainbow on winter evening, Estill Co., KY.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
December 14, 2017 Enlightened Self-Interest, Really?
Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me -- it is the Lord Yahweh who speaks -- to break unjust fetters and undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke, to share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor, to clothe the one you see to be naked and not to turn from your own kin? Then will your light shine like the dawn and your wound be quickly healed over. (Isaiah 58:6-8)
A colleague of mine once said he was a firm believer in enlightened self-interest, a term that is as near an oxymoron as any I knew then or now. I was speechless at the time, because I never expected this from someone committed to public interest work. Since then I have had utter contempt for this concept; it seems to be the motivation behind so much of what has gone wrong within the hyper-capitalist system that plagues this nation and world.
To be enlightened is to be aware of something through insight, but to say "enlightened self-interest" really implies that the “unenlightened" self-interest is based on pure greed that is so destructive in our culture. My problem is not "enlightenment," for we need to see greater goods in our society; it is with applying that term to self advancement and improvement -- a building of an ego for the sake of fame, fortune or glorification. We find many tooting their own horn to emphasize the message or the messenger; too many horns are a racket. Self-interest bankrupts social capital and weakens our democratic process of collaborative effort. Some argue that all activities are self-interested, and enlightenment is an attempt at be honest about an imperfect human condition affecting low and high rollers alike.
It is not enlightenment to choose self-interest over the public interest. For those who do so, the pressure of self-interest closes like a noose, which strangles a fledgling public spirit. The struggles of life to obtain the bare essentials of food, shelter, health and basic education overwhelm many and become a personal, family and community interest -- and are legitimate. Self-interest soon proceeds to greed and involves the power that comes with controlling resources and other people. It stashes away the nest egg for self and excludes others in need. A complete inner focus betrays a social dysfunction of the body politic. Self-interested people surrender to the temptation to serve themselves as mini-gods, to overlook others, and ultimately to break down the social connections that bond us all in community.
Enlightened self interest is a refutation of the public interest to which we are all called, if we are to retain our democracy and public spirit. While some never abandon the self-interest of a spoiled infant, others mature into citizens who assist their fellow human beings.
Prayer: Lord, help us to become like the suffering servant, who gives all so that we might share and develop in a Commons.
British soldier lichen, Cladonia cristatella.
December 15, 2017 Lighten up: It's Divine Humor
In Advent we strive to rejoice and yet we are all too often saddened by the world filled with crises, terrorism, and many individual concerns and troubles. It is often hard to manifest and retain a sense of humor in such trying times; this is especially true when our environmental projects that we have strived for have been systematically destroyed this year. How can we stay light-hearted when conditions of catastrophe loom beyond the horizon?
Humor can be the subject matter of a homily, but you have to be an accomplished humorist to pull it off, and many of us lack that talent. Now, God has a sense of humor, or at least it appears that way in the course of the events of creation. When the barns are full and all seems perfect, then something else happens to the self-satisfied. If humor is a good, and all good comes from an all-good God, then we expect that God has a sense of humor, right?
I suspect that if any of us would write a script for the coming of the Messiah, we would change what actually occurred. It seems good in timing that when the whole world is at peace and the Roman Empire has a transportation system that would not be equaled again for 1,800 years, the Messiah would come. Okay, so far. But what about the place? Not Rome, the seat of power, or one of the major cities, but the back country in a remote rebellious province of Galilee? What about the promotion personnel and leading "advance person"? How about a fancy dresser and good talker who could get along with all kinds of people? No, the role of messenger falls to someone in camel's hair, who lives in a forbidding place, is uncertain of his place in the scheme of things, eats grasshoppers dipped in wild honey, and speaks of people of influence as a "brood of vipers." Anyone who would prepare for the Messiah's coming in such a setting must be the product of divine humor.
From the story that is transpiring we could note things in our own lives. Maybe we should see the light side of life. I can't do the task because I do not have a million dollars, or a golden voice, or an "in" with the right government leader. Maybe God continues to work wonders in the most unusual ways. Those of us who exert power will be put down, and those in low places raised up, as Mary says in the Magnificat. That is part of the humor of God. The empowering of little people is a sign that unexpected things are happening and will soon happen again. It is not necessary that we expect the incompetent and the drifters to have the last word, but we must expect the unexpected, if that mysterious will of God continues to operate in our world.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to lighten up and to see humor as good for the soul. Help us take a second look at what are regarded as the serious things of life. Today, the serious role of capitalism is being questioned -- and maybe that is a good thing to laugh at and thus change. Help us to laugh when others think things are terribly serious -- and to do so with a light heart.
December 16, 2017 The True Meaning of Christmas Gifts
I distinctly remember one of my very early Christmases when stationed in New York as a newly ordained priest. After the Midnight Mass I was invited by a local family for their gift opening event, which was for them a traditional holiday affair. In the course of the evening I got a distinct feeling that members of this family were pretending to enjoy opening the many expensive gifts given to each other. These gifts did not seem to be deeply appreciated by the young members even though the gifts were way beyond the price range I would have paid. I seemed powerless to reach out and touch their searching and lonely hearts. I came away with a bit of sadness even though they had not neglected to give me a gift as well. A lingering feeling persists: gifts ought to symbolize an act of love, not the value of materials in themselves.
In hard financial times many people buy fewer festive material things; they do some soul-searching on how to teach their children what the true meaning of Christmas is -- and what gifts of love mean. Christmas is meant to celebrate the most spiritual act of self-giving the world has ever known. Through recent times the feast has been replaced by a grand show of materialism; this is the utter defiance of God's gift of Self through the substitution of electronic gimmicks, clothes, recreational equipment, and household wares. Make 2017 a perfect opportunity to tone down the material concerns of the past -- and to explain to youth that there are gifts of spiritual value. Besides, such lessons are the best of Christian education. How about gifts to others, especially the needy, in the name of the loved one? Also consider pooling names and giving just one within a given group. See "Twelve Gifts Worth Considering" on December 6.
Special attention is given this year to the youth of our nation. Many of these have to experience the limits to giving. Even Christmas gift trees in parishes are arranged as a location for expensive purchased gifts to be distributed to those who have less. How about more essentials and less luxuries? Still the goal should be to give fewer material things and more spiritual gifts such as prayers and services. Address the charges of being stingy or uncooperative in a forthright manner. Help youth to become proud of refraining from expensive gifts, and to be willing to discuss these cut-backs with their friends and peers. Too often the expensive nature of gifts is related to the perceived status of the individuals who receive them -- and their bragging rights to others of the things they received this year. If they are able to develop a new motivation for giving and receiving, you have added a deeper meaning of Christmas to them.
Prayer: Lord, show us this perfect opportunity to teach others about the true meaning of Christmas and spiritual gifts. We can join the poor Christ child in a special way, and realize that we need to share with those more needy than we are. Lord, teach us that to be sensitized to the poor is itself a valuable gift.