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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.

A series of written meditations and reflections

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April, 2017

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Copyright © 2017 by Al Fritsch

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Rue anemone
(*Photo credit)

April Reflections, 2017

     April's buds, showers, and emerging greenery freshen the tired and sleeping landscape and renew us in the joy of Easter and springtime.  April is daffodils, lilacs, blooming wisteria, wild geraniums, returning whippoorwills and 120 other bird species, of wildlife scampering about, and young folks running around.  It's time to turn compost piles and spreading contents on garden plots.  It's the season for sowing spinach, beets, carrots, lettuce, radishes, endive, and of planting broccoli, Chinese cabbage and other seedlings from greenhouse or hotbed.  Protect the freshly planted with temporary covers.  For us more temperate residents, the last half of April is generally frost-free and time for planting corn, beans and squash -- Native American "three sisters."

                                 Rue anemone

                      White harbinger of buttercups,
                        Easily overlooked in woods,
                        Simple flower when discovered,
                        Grateful find in blooming glory,
                        God's gift as springtime's finest.

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Delicate flowers of the Kentucky native squirrel corn, Dicentra canadensis.
(*photo credit)

April 1, 2017      Smoking: A Cruel April Fool's Joke
    The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one hundred million people died of smoking related illnesses in the twentieth century and that one billion will do so in the twenty-first century at the current rates of tobacco consumption.  Many of these victims will be in the developing nations such as China, India, Indonesia and other parts of the Pacific Rim.  In order to combat this tobacco epidemic the WHO has sponsored the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which has been ratified by 150 countries and includes international norms for banning smoking in public places.  WHO is now moving towards forming a protocol on tobacco smuggling. 

     Smokers throughout the world and especially in developing countries respond to peer and advertizing pressure.  They could be termed the true butt of an April fool’s joke.  Unfortunately, this tobacco habit could cost these smokers precious years of quality life through emphysema, lung cancer, and increased risk of heart attack.  The joke of the smoking habit is a cruel one which goes deep in our society and includes about one-quarter of the population (not counting those who are affected environmentally b y the smoking of others).  Unfortunately, anti-smoking campaigns are often half-hearted and so emerging middle class Chinese (28% of the world's smokers) and others find contentment in lighting up together or alone in much the way that the previous deceased victims did in the last century.

     Looking back on the history of tobacco use, we find that there was little  addiction when a peace pipe was passed around among elders in a Native American circle on a special occasion, little contamination of the airy environment, little cost since tobacco came from a beautiful flowering plant growing throughout the western hemisphere.  However, with the arrival of Columbus, the white folks took tobacco far more addictively and made it a daily habit. Pipe smoking caught on with sixteenth-century Sir Walter Raleigh but was far more universal by the Civil War.  Tobacco was a commodity of illicit exchange for coffee by Confederates with Union soldiers.  Tobacco use was regarded as something to tide soldiers through difficult times.  Cigarettes were born and got the boost in the First World War and were even more popular in the Second World War two decades later; free cigarettes were distributed by manufacturers by the billions and, by the end of the conflict, millions of hooked veterans continued the practice.

    I look back on growing tobacco on our Kentucky farm with surprisingly fond memories -- until I recall that I helped shorten the life of 65 people through the tonnage of tobacco I handled in my lifetime.  Using tobacco was not frowned upon in my family; just don't smoke in the barn for fear of accidental fire.  But we had no idea that tobacco was not healthy before the 1960s.

     Prayer: Lord, help us to assist smokers to name, claim and tame their smoking addictions, for their own sake and that of the loved ones who live with them.   

Perverse Anti-Environmental Actions of the Week    

     With deep sadness we found in the tenth week of the new Administration the promised executive order to unravel the Obama clean energy agenda has finally occurred.  Why pretend that many jobs were at stake and to give unfounded hopes to displaced miners gathered around DT in DC?  However, my depth of sadness springs from awareness of squandering an opportunity for true leadership in a troubled world: i.e., taking positive steps in a global effort to stem climate change in this shrinking window of time.  Instead, this executive action is a step backwards by DT's abandoning clean air standards (still subject to years of legal wrangling) and rescinding a moratorium on coal mining on federal lands. 

     Will these actions make coal competitive again?  Of course not, for the culprit is cheaper natural gas through fracking along with the upsurge in rapid price drops in new wind and solar equipment used to produce electricity.   Will this bring back coal trains to our Ravenna switching yards (not a single one this year while there were seven 110-car trains per day when I came here in 2004)?  Let's be realistic!  If the President forsakes his tweeting for a spell, he might discover the real cause of coal's fall -- and all the king's reduced regulations will not put it together again.

     Why is this lost opportunity so hurtful?  For one thing, it reduces America's leadership in curbing climate change; this will not be lost on nations reluctant to furnish resources to meet the requirements to curb climate change.  Obama's administration had delivered one-third of the three billion dollars promised to developing nations to help them through renewable energy transition.  The current attitudes can now kiss the rest of the slated money goodbye as it is transferred to America's increased military hardware budget.  These executive orders are tantamount to taking no leadership role at all, and to sanctify the "climate change hoax" myth to the world's amazement and disgust.

     To a lesser degree promoting fossil fuels at this time is to abrogate a leadership in renewable energy development; this is handing a free ride to China (now the world's most energy-consuming nation) to assume leadership with added sales and jobs.  The entire "jobs creation" excuse by these orders show a complete failure by this Administration to realize that renewables are creating more jobs than are lost by reduced fossil fuel use.  These U.S. actions bent on short-term popularity at home will simply shift renewable energy equipment production to other nations and especially China. 

    The American presidential office lost respect this week.  In fact, polls in this country with a DT approval rating of 36% are the lowest ever recorded for an American president at this period.  Some suggest these presidential actions were actually evil.  It would be more charitable to say the perpetrator is misdirected and not evil.  It's easier to redirect a battleship than to reverse its course.  And even that takes time.










Yellow trout lily, Erythronium americanum. Mercer Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

April 2, 2017         "I Am the Resurrection"

     Jesus wept.  (John 11:35)  Scripture's shortest verse!

     On successive Sundays during the middle of Lent we have the stories of faith in John's Gospel (woman at the well, Ch. 4; blind man, Ch. 9, and the raising of Lazarus, Ch. 11).  The woman is ostracized by her society; the blind man with new sight is tossed from the synagogue; and now Lazarus is in the tomb because of Jesus' late arrival.  But in all three cases the conclusion is that they find a connection with Jesus, and for them there comes to a happy ending.  All three are unique journeys of faith and include the anguish and struggles of those around them (community, family and close friends) as well as of the individuals just mentioned.  The last case, of Lazarus, really pertains to the greatest act of faith for all of us -- not ostracizing or being persecuted but rather to our anticipated great moment of dying.

     When this reflection was first constructed, National Public Radio related the passing of Marie Smith, the last native speaker of the Eyak language in southeastern Alaska.  Every two weeks another language dies in this world and here was the latest.  The report mentioned that the deceased left a dictionary so that the language could be revived.  But who is kidding whom?  No one of that land or anywhere will want to become a speaker of a dead language.  However, it struck me that the hope of reviving that language is found in the fact that it could happen.  However, our faith in the resurrection is that it will happen. 

     Death is a definite happening.  We know that we start dying the day we are born and, no matter how remote death is for a young person, that remoteness fades through aging and with parting relatives and friends who leave us in some cases quite unexpectedly and without forewarning.  Dying occurs; we have to make the best of the passing time.  The story of Lazarus is that of rebirth, and Jesus is there at the scene.  What we find in the interactions that are so human -- weeping, frustration, hesitancy, and other human emotions -- is that here are present the most natural reactions and yet also the most supernatural; Lazarus comes back to life. 

     We are caught at each funeral with the growing reality of our own mortality, and know that we too must approach that great moment of final testimony of faith -- that we will pass from this world to the next; we are confident that Jesus is our way to new life.  Thus the story of Lazarus is our story as well, without the drama of coming from a tomb back to our habitat here.  "Life is changed and not ended" is the sure utterance of the Liturgy of Resurrection at funerals.  As we come closer to the solemnity of Holy Week we prepare ourselves for the definitive events in Jesus' life, knowing we are to imitate him as our life's journey comes to completion.

     Prayer: Lord, give to us the grace of a happy death, something we need to pray and hope for.  In hope we believe that
You are the Resurrection and the life.










Cordwood home, Appalachia - Science in the Public Interest. Rockcastle Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

April 3, 2017        Confront Television Addiction  

      Some of us deliberately have no TV and that allows us to refrain from the temptation -- and there is some freedom involved.  If you don't have the appliance or have no cable setup, all that appears on a screen is a snow storm.  Most find TV-free homesteads to be such an anomaly that the statistics do not count them.  How dare they not be commercialized?  For the hooked, remember that there are other sources of news and entertainment that are just as good if not far better; second, Internet and radio do just fine; and third TV-free means plenty of extra time to read and write.

     There are some TV benefits: television could be called an "appropriate technology," for it links one visibly with cultural, informational and international events; the viewing audience can observe and hear and yet do not have to expend fuel, time and admission cost to go to the event itself; TV is a vista to the outside world for shut-ins who cannot travel and those who find it difficult to negotiate airport searches and Interstates; and finally TV enables the viewer to study the expressions of notable people and potential leaders, providing a far better understanding than written word or voice alone on radio can give.  Other TV technology benefits include television screens used to detect shoplifters, televised interviews with people, the ability to peer into the heart at a surgery operation, TV protection for bank tellers, and the help given to help catch America's "most wanted." 

     Nothing is perfect, and television certainly has its minuses.  This means of communication is a dumbing-down of America through an average of six hours per day of household operation (hopefully not always watched) -- the present day "bread-and-circuses" for the multitudes.  TV encourages a watching addiction in couch potatoes and infringes on home life through a drying up of interpersonal communication.  Socially and intellectually something becomes lost.  TV is expensive (electric bills, cable costs and the price of new digital equipment); TV is time consuming and weans people away from reading and makes them virtually illiterate.  Furthermore, advertisements are heavily medicine-related thus adding to the drug addiction of our country.  TV watchers can become zombies feeling an inability to do what the performers do, or realizing that their own expressions are cheap imitations.  Except for public TV programming the normal content is at best mediocre and at worse filled with views contrary to an authentic spiritual life.

     With an activated TV I would most likely not read a book a week.  I would consider myself too exhausted and thus would be tempted to expend less energy by tube gazing.  Do others suffer from taking the easier route?  Are they like problem drinkers in a wine cellar?   Should we not have airport and other waiting rooms TV-free zones?  What about a television anonymous?   

     Prayer: Teach us, Lord, to discipline our leisure time to some degree and to weigh the benefits and disadvantages of TV watching; help us reserve time to daily reflection and reading.











Ant visits star chickweed, Stellaria pubera.
(*photo credit)

April 4, 2017       Review Types of Safe Walkways

      Walkways are needed by those who find it difficult to hike "cross country" on lawns, city streets, parks and pastures, or just to reach a place to sit and observe the great outdoors.  People on a safe walkway do not have to attend to their steps when viewing flowers or buildings or conversing with a walking partner.  Too much muck was associated with the sidewalk-less ages of yesteryear.  We say "yes" to safe walkways.  How do we make a suitable walkway for our immediate purposes?  Much depends on the physical condition of those wishing to use a particular walkway, local ordinances of the place, natural setting, cost of materials and installment costs, accessibility of paving materials, as well as the need for year-round versus temporary walkway use at given periods of time.  The sheer variety of walkway materials makes choices imperative:

Dirt or mowed lawn -- natural and easy to walk on in dry times but harder to maintain and negotiate during the rainy weather or growing season;
Sawdust trail -- a clean look and can recycle in time  into the surroundings, but can invite moles or  termites;
Chips -- longer lasting and can be serviceable but  difficult for those with wheelchairs to maneuver on;
Stone -- (such as flagstones) laid in somewhat random fashion with grass in between can be aesthetically pleasing, but can be slippery in wet weather;
Gravel -- a more manufactured look, but good for all-weather traversing for those who can walk steadily;
Split logs --difficult to build without the proper skills or  equipment, but good for traversing damp places;
Pressure-treated wood -- good for all-weather walkways in soggy  and wetland areas;
Brick or tile -- very pleasing surfaces made by pressing them in sand and leveling them;
Concrete -- a durable but resource-intensive and costly surface throughout the year, especially good for  those with wheelchairs.  These walkways should be  constructed only as wide as necessary for the chair. Consider retaining part of the total path as natural  surface for the more physically able walkers;
Blacktop -- same as above, but could allow for snow or ice melt more quickly due to dark surface; and
Plastic materials -- new materials on the market can be mixed  with earth to make a natural looking hardened path. While quite expensive, these plastic covered pathways
allow all-weather use.  Recycled plastic may be in the future as well.

     Prayer: O God, You furnish us with so very much in our journey in life.  We too must think about the little ways we can assist others so that their journeys may be safer as they traverse the space they must travel.  Please help us to serve the unsteady better.










Spring rains bring sorrel blossoms.
(*photo credit)

April 5, 2017            Start Thinking Solar

       We are now enjoying longer days as we observe thirteen hours of daylight.  Our lengthening days and the gradually warming landscape make us all aware of God's gift of the sun and its energizing rays.  Yes, that sun is burning away with an energy supply that will only last a limited time -- maybe a billion years.  Let's make hay while that sun shines.  The sun's rays do more than give us daylight and warm our globe.  Solar energy is a renewable energy source that is waiting for full utilization; it is essentially environmentally benign (no pollutants in fuel extraction or energy generation); it can work wonderfully in a decentralized manner, in contrast to large powerplants (though there can be centralized solar-powered establishments). 

     What is more, new developments in solar generating materials will allow roofing and wall panels to be the solar collectors.  Thus solar power can render individual homes, institutions or communities self-reliant in energy needs without the need of central power plants.  Solar power does not have to depend on large amounts of capital or the functioning of large utilities with their extensive power grids.  Lastly, solar power is readily available in varying degrees throughout the planet, a free energy source.  Even in places with less solar radiation than Florida or Arizona, such as the Netherlands and northern Europe, buildings are solarized.

     Until recently, solar, with its many obvious benefits, has taken a back seat to fossil fuels and nuclear power.  However, “the times they are a-changin’."  A host of tax breaks, incentives, research dollars and other pay-outs have kept these non-renewables in the forefront, even though they are highly polluting, and the extraction, transport and processing of the fuels have caused environmental problems from everything from surface mines to oil spills.  And don't forget the resulting climate change problem.  As renewables compete on a level playing field with non-renewable energy sources, renewables are found to have more benefits for all citizens -- and promise to be competitive on a market level as well.  Wind has become our fastest expanding current energy source but solar energy is just a little behind.  This means for generating electricity, heating water, warming greenhouses, cooking and drying foods, pumping and purifying water and running automobiles (see Table of Contents of these Daily Reflections).

     The future is with solar energy and, when coupled with other forms that are not dependent on sunlight periods (hydropower, geothermal, etc.) it will have its day.  Friendly legislation that equalizes the playing field with fossil fuels will help make this happen.  Solar energy is safe, dependable, and ready for use by householders who can become electricity producers.  Reliance on solar could save remaining petroleum for use as raw material for making future plastics and synthetic materials. 

     Prayer: Lord, help us to think solar for the benefit of all. Your gift of the sun is your free offer for our benefit.









April bloom of Eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis.
(*photo credit)

April 6, 2017       Organize an Arbor Day Event

     In the coming weeks many of the states in this country will celebrate Arbor Day, a day for focus on trees through plantings and through highlighting their benefits (just listed on March 8) as well as for general tree maintenance.  The focus on trees is important in this age of massive deforestation, when we are coming to understand the obligation to help reforest this wounded Earth.  We need to spread the word and organize events where possible. It may be important to focus on Arbor Day organizational details.

     Arbor Day promoters should include: the environmentally concerned (about global warming and deforestation practices); those educating youth (all from kindergarten to adults could plant a tree or assist someone who is unable to do it alone); those interested in growing some of their own food on their lawn space; institutionalized people who desire to get outdoors for a brief event; those who are grieving for a lost one (a tree planted in honor is a perfect closure for some); those preparing to move elsewhere and wanting to leave a fitting memorial for relatives and friends (a service person going overseas); and those who are getting married or celebrating an anniversary.  If we look hard, there is always someone who could plant or have a tree planted in his or her honor.

     The planting event could become a meaningful, even though informal, ceremony.  Make sure to choose a tree variety that will meet with general approval (all have some one or other type that is their favorite).  Avoid exotic species.  Select locations that are good for that variety of tree with enough room for it to expand when maturing (fruit trees like sunny locations).  Go to the search engine and get basic data on the type of tree chosen and make copies of information before planting.  Make a sign and label the tree along with the name of the person whom it is dedicated.  At the ceremony make sure some mention is made that the tree will most likely outlive us; thus we think for a moment of our mortality and the possible damage to a treeless Earth.  Provide the proper tools and prepare the sapling for planting with general instructions on the specific planting operation.

       Planting fruit and nut trees can be a part of an effort to make such as hospitals and academic centers more livable institutions, where employees and residents are able to eat from the produce of the land itself.  These "backyard orchards" can spring up at schools, parks, military bases and road right-of-ways (using dwarf varieties that are resistant to highway pollutants and subject only to minimum limb breakage).  This gives an opportunity for both residents and visitors to taste the land's produce and come closer to it.

     Prayer: Lord, give us the foresight to know that the trees we plant today will help in some way to heal our wounded Earth.  Allow us to see that the tree is an extension of ourselves.  Inspire us to assist others to experience the good in planting trees.









Verdant green on forest floor, featuring purple deadnettle, Lamium purpureum.
(*photo credit)

April 7, 2008     Consider Public Service Announcements

     If you are seeking to reach a broader audience, consider some novel approaches.  Perhaps the initial news-worthiness has been tarnished by prior reporting, and you despair about breaking into the crowded radio and other media.  Take heart!  There's an excellent way to serve the public interest and get the message to others, namely, through mandated Public Service Announcements or PSAs.   The airwaves belong to the "commons" and that means all of us.  The media use these air waves, but are supposed to nod occasionally to the needs of the community; you can take advantage of this window to the public as a media opportunity.

    Be realistic about your own resources.  Try to mobilize volunteer editing, announcing, and reproduction of your PSA.  Remember, it takes considerably more resources (planning, editing, filming, light effects, etc.) to complete a videotape than an audiotape.  Buck for buck, the radio PSA can be a very good route for a cash-strapped public interest group with a message needing to be communicated to a broader audience. 

     Determine the content.  What do you want to say?  Is it a clear message?  Are there several nuggets of thought that deserve sequential PSAs?   Can you get the message across clearly and without confusion?  If it has possible political content, make sure you keep it educational rather than espousing a single position.  Of course, PSAs are developed by advocates, but the point is that all sides including yours deserve to be heard.  Write your own first draft, even if you are fortunate enough to have the volunteer services of media people.  You need to make sure the information is crisp, accurate and not easily misunderstood.  Be upbeat in text and tone.  Make every word count.  Try to be quite practical and hope that some form of action will result.  Thus be specific and tell where to go for further information.  Give a web site location, or name local contacts in the listening or viewing area. 

    Make the message short and adjust it to local or standard format.  A good rule of thumb for words and sizes of messages is: 10 second spot = 20 words, 20 seconds = 50 words, 30 seconds = 75 words, 40 seconds = 110 words, 60 seconds = 150 words.  Keep numbers and all data to a minimum because the listener will easily be confused.  Double check the requirements of your local station, including tape or script sizes before preparing audiotapes, hone the message to the announcer, and determine the number of copies and the amount of lead time for dated announcements.  This applies especially when reaching an audience of a particular station or network.  Some messages fit better with certain media outlets.  Send an introductory letter, even if you have made prior contact with the station.  Enclose both the text of the audio/videotape and the tape itself, along with basic descriptive material.  Try to enlist a professional radio announcer or a good volunteer reader.

     Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to spread the Good News.










Fossils in section of bluegrass limestone.
(*photo credit)

April 8, 2017        Travel Lightly                     

     The suggestion to travel lightly risks going to deaf ears.  The budding traveler needs this or that item just in case of an emergency, a turn in weather, a possibility of not being able to wash clothes, and on and on.  Eventually we are talking about much more of our wardrobe -- and more and more luggage.  I once saw an extra-large mobile home/camper that could not make a sharp turn and was hung up in the parking lot with two wheels suspended over the curb.  It's hard to commiserate with those who bring their house.

Take less rather than more.  I like to pack super light when taking public transportation, so I do not have to check extra bags at the airport.  Can I carry the bag with my little finger?  That way I have everything at arm's reach.  I would rather be without than travel with unneeded items -- but once it did get cool in England in June.  However, the purchased wool sweater proved to be a good buy, even though not once needed on the European continent. 

    Think ahead.  In order not to be short of items, it is wise to keep a standard packing or hiking list that can be modified with time and circumstances.  Eye drops were never needed on my middle-age listing but is now prominent.  A solution to forgetting important items is to pack for a trip some time before departure and then go over the items again right before leaving.  Generally, any omitted item will be remembered during the time from the first to the final packing.  Consider the number of travel days and whether washing opportunities are available.  Think also about special personal items that may not be easily obtained.

    Ship or give away to lighten the basic load.  Some argue that everyone should move at least every decade; this keeps the junk from accumulating to such a degree that one becomes weighed down.  If items are absolutely necessary and cannot be carried by hand, ship ahead of time; that is a helpful option when prep time is of a longer duration.  Also it may be useful to ship back acquired items, which you do not want to lug around or carry back.

    Pack for comfort and not for style.  One traveler suggestion often heard is to pack clothes that match with all other clothing carried.  Unmatched clothing is the bane of the fashion-conscious traveler.  Put heavier items such as shoes at the bottom.  Use their empty spaces for socks and other small articles.  Remember that well-packed items do not wrinkle.  For rugged travel consider some older items, which can be discarded before returning.  Wear or carry outside of the packing case the bulkier coat or jacket.  Consider light weight underwear and shirts.  Consider a "fanny pack" with necessary items and passports.  Upon returning, review how the travel went and what was unused and unnecessary.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to travel lightly in life so that we carry only our love with us when we cross the great divide to your presence.

What's Revolting Could Lead to Revolution

     Our hope is that the U.S. will go along with 195 other nations in promoting the 2015 Paris Conference Climate Change Agreements.  Or is this the other shoe that the Administration will drop?  Let's pray someone can convince DT that the good of the world and even additional jobs are at stake.  Some tell me my optimism is ill placed and so let's move on to a longer range solution.  Three scenarios are suggested here:

     1. Counter Big Oil propaganda.  The captivity of the president is evident with the mantra that jobs are lost by environmental regs -- but jobs are being gained by renewable energy applications.  Billionaires like DT only talk to their own 0.1% of American types.  We must confront the powerful climate change deniers; press for alternative investments and forsaking of fossil fuel finances.  Read Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, (Bloomsbury Press, 2010).  The Big Oil status quo is a vast conspiracy to thwart efforts to transition to a renewable energy economy.

     2. Continue traditional environmental endeavors.  Contest legally and litigate, challenge executive actions, phone and write legislators.  For DT to undo these years of regulations for curbing carbon dioxide and coal-burning pollutants will take some time, and thus the promised legal actions by environmental groups can be working.  What took so painstakingly long to build up takes time to tear down; changes cannot happen in a day.  Prepare for and encourage others to partake in the April 22 Earth Day and the April 29th marches whether in DC or in regional locations. 

     3. Proclaim a radically new economy.  The 2011 "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations faded but the embryo was there for change.  Any lasting effect requires changes both at local and national levels.  Environment has never been solely a single-party issue nor a local versus national or global issue; all need to work together.  At the First Earth Day the non-partisan nature of needed laws resulted in bipartisan support throughout the 1970s; even today, many from all political persuasions have given approval to cleaning up the damaged landscape along with air and water.  Read Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate.

     Concerned citizens are calling for a new commons where all have a right to health care (single payer), and a right to secure food and proper housing and education; these are inherent rights and must be defended as such.  Vast inequalities are no longer tolerable.  The most just and merciful way of achieving these rights are through fair taxes on all, including all wealthy individuals and corporations.  We in America pay the least tax of any wealthy nation -- and through exemptions some of the affluent do not pay taxes.  The calling is for a new political system; the old political concepts must be radically changed.








A couple of sparrows bathes in vernal pond.
(*photo credit)

April 9, 2017          A Journey to Faith
     We start our solemn Holy Week observance with a procession of palms, a symbolic reenactment of the triumphant entry by Jesus into Jerusalem.  We are aware that the mood during this symbolic journey will change from "hosanna" to one of utter rejection.  In some way, this week is a condensed version of our journey of faith, beginning in the exuberance of spring and ending with death but still with the promise of immediate resurrection.  In the course of the week we go down with Jesus to his suffering and death; we will rise with him on Easter to the glory of victory.  Believers see Lent and Easter as a continuity, a journey of faith in its full. 

     During the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent, St. John's Gospel (Chapters 4, 9, and 11) gives us three examples of this journey of faith: the Samaritan woman coming to the well to draw water, the blind man wanting to see, and the raising of Lazarus and his sister Martha's journey of faith.  These are people of faith from vastly different circumstances drawn to proclaim Christ divine, but they all come to know him more deeply.  Our individual faith journeys involve communities of faith similar and yet different from those in Christ's time (e.g., the local community of Samaritans, the non-believing religious community in Jerusalem along with fearful parents of the blind man, and the bystanders and mourners of Lazarus' family). 

     Until recent years, baptisms were conducted in the recesses of the Church and outside of major public services.  Now the sacrament is conducted before the whole assembly to express the communal character of our Faith being received by each new member.  Archbishop Romero (the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador) took a more dramatic step; he reintroduced this more communal celebration in his territory, even though wealthy parishioners did not want to be required to stand in line at church with peons awaiting their children's baptism.  However, the Archbishop insisted on it, emphasizing that all are God's children with no segregation.

     For the Christian, each of us must come to Christ in his or her own way.  This unique travel experience shows both our differences and the communality of that experience.  Jesus is living water, the light of the world, and the resurrection.  Each journey is a step-by-step process, for we don't arrive in an instant, except in rare circumstances of martyrdom.  In today's Gospel passage, Jesus is the one traveling into his city of Jerusalem, a solemn entrance of a humble king.  What is he thinking about?  How is he preparing for the last terrible week of life?  Fear of what is to come is part of our own Journey of Faith.  Are we willing to suffer with Jesus by serving our fellow human beings? 

     Prayer: Today, Lord, we see you riding a simple donkey and wonder again where we stand.  Help us to sing "hosanna" on this occasion, and also to stand with the faithful few at Calvary rather than with the mobs shouting "crucify him."  Help us to suffer and die so that we can rise with you on Easter Sunday.








Closeup of cordwood home at Appalachia - Science in the Public Interest.

April 10, 2017       Learn about a Cordwood Building

     At the Habitat Exposition in Vancouver, Canada, in 1976 one of the major attractions was a model cordwood dwelling used in the bitter cold of the Prairie Provinces.  It was supposed to keep residents snug and warm and required little fuel to heat, even in the characteristic sub-zero winter temperatures of Saskatchewan.  Besides having good insulating walls, such a building is cheap to build, easy to construct even by one person without assistance, and beautiful.  The cordwood building doesn't need extra supports or indoor walls (cordwood about sixteen inches thick serves as both inner and outer surface as well as support), is easy to preserve, can be built without the need to lug heavy logs and, with proper care, can last a long time.  One needs a supply of forest timber, with evergreens (especially red cedar) preferred. 

     ASPI's first cordwood building, which has served well for some 34 years, was built with white oak that was "recycled": and the trees had been cut on neighboring tornado-damaged U.S. Forest Service land -- and allowed to dry.  Fairly well preserved logs were available, and so with permission, we hauled them out, debarked them and cut them into sixteen-inch lengths.  We built the entire one thousand square foot building with an ample loft of equal area, for about six thousand dollars, including dry composting toilet; this price was for extra materials and some labor, though the construction was through volunteer labor (I laid all the logs myself).  Later on, ASPI converted a mobile home into a second cordwood building by using scrap ends of pine posts, which we cut to twelve-inch lengths.  Details are found in Cordwood Building: The State of the Art by Rob Roy.

     Most who have lived or worked in cordwood buildings testify that they are wonderful places to gather, live, and work.   There is something special in a building that is quite warm in winter and quite cool in much of the hot summer months.  In our long hot summers some dehumidifying may be needed.  The building holds heat with its ample insulation in the walls and ceiling and with the energy mass of the concrete slab floor.  Some protective measures must be taken to discourage wood bees from laying their eggs in the wood walls.  However, even without bee protection it would take a century or more for structural damage to occur.  A natural wood preservative (half and half mixture of turpentine and linseed oil with a little paraffin added) applied every three years deters these pesky insects.  When considering building a cordwood structure note the simplicity and beauty; also consider the ability to generate a good forest feeling for those wishing to go for a vacation or a retreat in the woods.  It is an exciting place for both youth and adults to enjoy a nature experience.  However, when planning for size remember that the thick walls take up much space and so there is a certain relative economy of space when the structure size is expanded to a moderate degree.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to find the materials to make model buildings for people to copy when constructing their lodgings.








An old tree stump serves as nurturing foundation for spring wildflowers.
(*photo credit)

April 11, 2017        Always Plan before You Build

     "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us." 
Winston Churchill, Time, Sept. 12, 1960

     Construction planning becomes a challenge for many people.  It puts our dreams in permanent print and shows us our limitations in financial resources, imagination, and motives.  People spend much time planning their dream house or their business establishment.  Some do this on solid grounds through observation of what exists and by consulting professional folks.  Others plan their future buildings on the quicksand of unrealistic mental dreams.  We are what we build, just as much as we are what we eat.  While all eat, some never venture to build, and there are right and wrong reasons for not building on our own.

     Take a middle course.  Good planners who are aware of their own needs and those of the planet should consider a middle ground in construction size and shape -- as in all their lifestyle decisions -- between limits on construction for the homeless on the lower end of the quantitative resource scale and excessive affluence on the other end.  We must be constantly reminded that spatial "needs" have become inflated during recent decades, with people desiring more space than they need.  Recall: excessive structure is not good for occupants or for the Earth itself. 

      Should one build small or large, of limited or long-range duration?   We need not follow the person who was a voluntary "pro-bono" architectural advisor for my first nature center building; he wanted to build a structure about five hundred feet high so all would know where appropriate technology is being practiced and what it is.  However, this was much beyond the little means we could muster and, while it would be nice if it lasted a thousand years as he wished, that was just beyond my limited capacities.  Besides, it was simply not appropriate ways of thinking.

     My approach to building only what is needed, and building it in the smallest possible space, needs an added modification: build small but adequately enough to satisfy immediate needs.  Once we built a building for interns with recycled materials on a hillside.  Everything had to be carried several hundred feet uphill to a beautiful wooded site, but we did not have long timbers to tie in the building's frame.  Sometime later in the mid-1990s we had a terrible wind storm and the intern building twisted and shifted to such a degree that it became unsafe to continue using it.  We thought the cost of rebuilding foundations of reinforced concrete would be too expensive and thus tore down the building.  Looking back, we realized that it was simply under-constructed, and thus did not resist the wind.  In the long run, it did not waste materials (donated and recycled), but it did take resources to construct and then tear down the building after that windstorm.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to plan our lives and not to build on quicksand or in ways that make reconstruction too costly.









Alpine wildflowers, assorted asters. Centennial, WY.
(*photo credit)

April 12, 2017      Teach-in Tips for Global Warming Day

     Teachers tell us that teach-ins on Global Warming Day are nothing like the emotion-laden events of the Vietnam conflict three decades ago.  How come?  There is a great difference: the 1960s war issue directed criticism towards outside sources -- Viet Cong, American military, the president, etc.; global climate change has unpleasant aspects pointing directly at us, what we have done (in misuse of resources) and what we are now doing as consumers.  Resolution demands more than demonstration against someone.  Who wants to take blame and change a lifestyle that is so sacrosanct? 

     Some who neglect the teach-in mentality say we can do little; others know that we can make a difference through change of living practices such as:  

1. Consider and install renewable energy (solar or wind) applications when and where possible;

2. Recycle waste materials and practice resource conservation  such as saving water, reducing spatial needs and using
LEDs energy efficient light bulbs;

3. Start to grow a backyard garden in an organic manner using composted materials from kitchen and yard wastes and strive to attain surpluses to be shared with others;

4. Drive less, take vacations closer to home, car pool, and use public transportation when possible;

5. Watch what is eaten by using less meat and resource  intensive processed foods, prepare meals from local produce and conserve cooking energy;

6. Practice good personal health habits, use moderation in all things, refrain from overuse of chemical pain killers, and avoid substance abuse;

7. Champion green recreation practices and do physical exercise on a daily basis;

8. Engage in civic and communities activities such as voting, supporting recycling programs and fighting  environmental pollution;

9. Observe, monitor and promote native wildlife of all types.

     Every category of items listed here becomes a good subject for an extensive teach-in, for the information is not always self-evident, and teaching could become a learning experience for teacher as well as student.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to become involved in healing our wounded Earth by looking into our own personal lifestyle practices in regard to resource use.









A cluster of primrose to brighten the indoors.
(*photo credit)

April 13, 2017     Holy Thursday: Called to be Caregivers

     Holy week is also Passover when we commemorate with our Jewish brothers and sisters the passing over of the first-born and the delivery of the people from Egyptian slavery.  For Christians we also remember the passing of Jesus from this life to the next.  It is a solemn time with a story that is retold after the full moon, the first after the Vernal Equinox, thus the "Passover Moon."  We return to our roots and respect the traditions of our ancestors in the faith.  The Gospel of John retells this beautiful story within the context of the last supper.  

     The Eucharist is the memorial, a remembering of that event each time that it is performed.  Let's remember, be faithful, forgive others, be united in faith, and live as brothers and sisters.  Let's not separate ourselves from our community.  The meal gives togetherness in the unleavened bread, fellowship, and the hymns and prayers together.  We make ready the coming of the Lord in a special way this holiday season.  We wait with him, enter into his suffering, and accept the burdens of others out of the love for Christ.  Read St. John's Gospel, Chapters 15 through 17.

     People around us call out to us for assistance.  They await the coming of the kingdom of peace and justice.  We hasten that coming by being like Jesus washing the feet (or hands) of others.  We serve others with simple tasks, encourage them to go to worship, allay their fears, and are willing to be unsung heroes and heroines of people in need.  Caring for those in need anticipates their caring for us when in need.  This poem by Esther Mary Walker pays tribute to the caregiver whom we ought to imitate:


              Blessed are they who understand
                My faltering step and palsied hand,
              Blessed are they who know that my ears today
                Must strain to catch the things they say.
              Blessed are they who seem to know
                That my eyes are dim and my wits are slow.
              Blessed are they who looked away
                When coffee spilled at table today.
              Blessed are they with a cheery smile
                Who stop to chat for a little while.

              Blessed are they who never say,
                "You've told that story twice today."
              Blessed are they who know the ways
                To bring back memories of yesterdays.
              Blessed are they who make it known
                That I'm loved, respected and not alone.
              Blessed are they who know I'm at a loss
                To find the strength to carry the Cross.
              Blessed are they who ease the days
                 On my journey Home in loving ways.









Purple cress, Cardamine douglassii.
(*photo credit)

April 14, 2017      Good Friday: Death of the Forest

     Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.
(Luke 23:34)

     We are all hurt in seeing pictures of trees dying in a forest, and we know that dying forests exist in many parts of the world.  This death can be due to a variety of causes including unsustainable timbering practices, development of forested areas, invasion of opportunistic tree diseases, fire suppression and mismanagement practices, and acid rain and other pollutants.  We are becoming aware of the importance of our global forests (see March 8th for tree benefits) and so we are highly distressed when we hear of ailing or dying forests whether in the United States, Indonesia, the Amazon, or in central Europe such as the Black Forest of Germany. 

     In the quest for an optimistic outlook on life, we may find some areas of reforestation in locations where poor farming has previously occurred.  We may be pleased about the increase in deer, turkeys or wild geese (and the spread of the coyote) -- but these are adaptable wildlife species that can damage the fragile forest when they are numerous.  Other forms of wildlife, especially migratory birds, have come under immense stress due to lack of proper forest cover.  A number of frogs and other amphibians are highly stressed due to unbalanced ecosystems of which the forestlands are an integral part. 

     Besides wildlife, a number of plant species are in trouble, and we observe die-back of dramatic proportions much as our ancestors saw in the death of the American chestnut in the early twentieth century.  Trees such as several species of oak, the Fraser fir in the higher elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains, and the American elm are in trouble.  The dogwoods within the forests are dying back; certain pines in our southeast suffer immensely from the Southern pine beetle.  Hemlocks are also suffering from invasive pest species.  Some of this dying is due to non-native diseases; others are opportunistic diseases: when a forest suffers from pollution damage, this or that bug or smaller organism will be able to do more damage to the weakened tree than would have occurred in a healthy forest.

     Dr. Thomas Rooney of the University of Wisconsin says that biologists are worried about less adaptable understory forest species.  Middlesex Fells, a protected park in Boston, has lost 37% of its understory species since 1894.  Brunet Island State Park in Wisconsin has lost 36% of its species since 1950.  Heart's Content, a protected virgin forest in northwestern Pennsylvania, has lost between 60 and 80% of its species since 1929.  Rooney has looked at fifty-nine sites in northern Wisconsin, and in over fifty years 71% of all understory species declined in their average local abundance which qualifies as sustainable forest management.

     Prayer: Lord Jesus, you suffered and died for all.  Help us to extend Calvary to include this Earth's flora and fauna.









Kentucky creek after heavy spring rains.
(*photo credit)

April 15, 2017       Holy Saturday: Sorrow Turned to Joy

     We know that funerals are trying experiences.  In the gloom of the just entombed Jesus we begin this Holy Saturday -- a funeral occasion.  We are overwhelmed by sadness after leaving the hill of Calvary.  Before this day ends however, we will begin to have a new and transformed perspective, a new light of springtime, first in the rising of Jesus, and then for all of us who are to follow.  This is the light that the deceased sees in that ultimate journey of faith when glimpsing the radiance of God's Love.  Thus, for us, Holy Saturdays are more than annual celebrations; they remind us of loved ones' funerals.  What each annual Holy Saturday teaches us is that we are to be the witnesses to relatives and friends that a transformation is occurring, now seen in the eyes of faith.

     We cannot minimize the sadness of the passing of a loved one or the experiencing of Good Friday in the lives of those who are dying.  Just as we sadly and annually lay Jesus in the tomb for a very short time, we also take our departure at the death of any loved one.  Yes, we are sad, but it is not a lasting experience or one filled with despair -- for Easter resurrection is soon coming.  Sadness, while real, is transformed through God's grace in this atmosphere of faith.            

     Genuine joy suddenly transforms Holy Saturday as darkness falls this evening -- and the Easter liturgy begins.  At this liturgy we find two basic natural symbols ushering transformation: fire and water.  We come to the light of the new fire at the beginning of the Easter vigil so that we experience the happiness of the first human beings who discovered fire, and this attraction to fire is the nearest thing to a learned instinct.  We come to the experience of water because we ultimately emerged from water.  The holy water sprinkled or dipped is the reminder of our baptism, and we are now drawn again to reach out to the water.  In baptism we were saved and drawn to the new life it signifies.

     At a funeral among believers we experience both sadness and joy through the symbols of holy water and burning incense.  We know in the certainty of faith that the sadness of the passing on of a friend or relative is an event of new life, of a new gathering of people.  In faith we transform sadness to joy, truly mixed emotions.  For some people it takes more time.  On this holy night we strive to extend our new-found joy to others and to encourage them to change their sorrow into joy in the sure happiness of the Resurrection.  Sadness can fade to joy even though the rapid sequence is challenging.  The witnesses to the first Resurrection found it difficult; they underwent a period of genuine confusion and fright.  With time, we will be able to appreciate both the emotion of sadness at someone's passing and the joy that they live on in the afterlife. 

     Prayer: Lord, teach us that what we begin in sadness will always turn to joy.  Let this day be our experience of each funeral in which we find ourselves, and let us always look ahead to Easter.

Climate Change Denial: Diabolic Temptation 

     The current National Geographic issue features some of the disastrous results of climate change with photos and statistics.  How can someone deny obvious climate change and the need for curbs to be instituted immediately?  And on a deeper level is the denial and withholding of urgent remedial action the work of the Evil One?  Are deniers a naysaying few with mental troubles?  Are they under the grips of diabolic forces that could bring ruin to our fragile Earth?  What if the conviction of this condition being a "hoax" is voiced with conviction by the leader of our nation -- possibly the most powerful individual in the world?  Fiction or reality?

     We Jesuits champion the inspiration of St. Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises, a prayerful process that has proved helpful in coming to decisions involving life-changing matters.  This process is a discernment of Spirits that recognizes good spiritual movements from evil allurements that can paralyze us.  While focusing mainly on individual spiritual direction, the process can be adapted to more social discernment wherein we are able as a society to choose what are proper actions from what damages the Common Good.  Can we come to suitable applications to confront and overcome powerful climate change deniers?

     In the face of impending global catastrophe the temptation is not to listen to concerned scientific experts and others who see clearly what is happening.  Some listen to business-oriented false prophets looking to increase the most lucrative profits from fossil fuel extraction and use.  These could be the 0.1% of the population who make billions on current practices.  Their intent is to buy time, for they know that these conditions are humanly- caused.  For them there is no urgency nor any recognition that climate is changing far faster than scientists predicted a few years ago.  We must move to a renewable energy economy ASAP. 

     These would insist that this is a matter of pure partisan politics in which religious leaders should not engage.  Recall that early environmental laws were created during Republican administrations (Nixon and Ford).  When religious leaders voice an opinion, partisan politicians say in a sacrosanct manner that this goes beyond concerns of groups with tax-exempt status.  However, the lives of too many are at stake to leave this to others to make pragmatic choices based on business decisions.  Are we to deprive a half billion (mostly poor) people of their living space in crowded seashore urban cities and in soon to be swamped Pacific Islands?  Will the extremes in weather conditions multiply?  Are certain regions of the world in for greater floods or droughts?

     Many American church-goers may try to justify their silence.  During this Holy Week more is required by those who recall that Jesus confronted a perverse establishment -- and this cost him his life.  Must we confront a misguided leadership who are under the influence of the Evil One?  Comments welcome.










Easter Lily
Easter lily.
(*photo credit)

April 16, 2017        Easter Faith in 2017  

                    Christ is Risen; he is risen indeed.

     The mystery of new life greets us once again at this Easter time and we are as always filled with the joy, a sense of victory, and the peace that this event brings to our troubled world.  The joy comes with the excitement that the risen Lord has overcome the defeat of Calvary.  We join as witnesses to God's ultimate humor in turning a terrible defeat into a glorious victory.  This excitement is still communicated in each Easter -- and every Sunday as well.

     We have a victory of life over death in this the final age of the world -- the last cosmic second of time.  Death is conquered -- and that applies to despair, scandals, wars especially in the Holy Land and Middle East, and in our personal illnesses and infirmities.  Today we affirm that Jesus is the way to victory.  Spring is new life, and Easter is the supreme moment of spring.  Also on this day the Lord instituted the sacrament of peace and forgiveness, of reconciliation.  We deliberately make that peace expressive in the full joy and hope of this feast day.

     Sister Imogene, my first teacher who later lived past one hundred years, taught catechism and asked her large second grade class in 1941 for an example of a "mystery."  I volunteered to the class that my mother's chicken incubator was operating and yet all the eggs (though laid at different times) hatched on the same day.  Life's beginnings are still a mystery to me. Note: the key was the little kerosene lamp which was lit at a certain time and allowed the hatching to be uniform.  But when as a seven year old I wondered why, it became part of my search for God, to ask why, why, why Lord new life?  God's ever present love is shown clearly through the gift of new life, a story retold each succeeding Easter.  We welcome hatching our collective lives in the deeper mystery of God's love.

     On this feast of new life we bless and sprinkle the Easter water, used for Baptism or offered to bless all creatures in our midst.  Today, we rejoice with the thousands brought into the Church through the life-giving waters of baptism.  We are from water and drawn to water in so many ways.  Though we fear water, which can drown us, we also know that it is essential for life.  Take Easter water out to the fields, the lawns, the trees, the flower beds and the gardens and sprinkle all generously asking God to make them productive.  Easter reminds us that God gives life.

    Another reminder of new life is that each year we observe "Easter Egg Hunts."  Pleasure is not in just finding colored eggs but helping others find them.  Older kids could help the younger ones find their limits and then join to find their own number -- something counter to American materialistic competitiveness.  There are only a limited number of eggs and Easter means sharing new life.  God loved us first; we return that in sharing with others.

     Prayer: Christ is truly risen, alleluia!










Striped white violet, Viola striata.
(*photo credit)

April 17, 2017      Space Versus Down-to-Earth Costs

    We often hear the costs of Star Wars programs as $50 billion plus, and wonder where have our priorities gone.  Is everything with the word "space" in it supposed to be as good as motherhood and apple pie?  Is some of this space hype meant to keep high priced research labs functioning using limited tax money?  Certainly there is interest in learning whether life has ever existed on Mars; we know that probes occur on that somewhat barren planet as scientists hunt for traces of moisture.  However, it is the research cost that astounds us.  And now they are talking about Mars colonies.  Good luck!  Having been trained in science, I am supposed to favor space research, but it is so costly.

     No one has even totaled what such a colony will cost taxpayers along with their private treasures by joy-riding millionaires.  Modest efforts at stemming the tide of tropical diseases such as malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis have been quite successful in recent years, but these need billions more dollars to touch all the afflicted people counted in the millions.  Some say fund both, but thoughtful rationing of limited research funding is necessary, for the money pot is finite and some money meets more essential needs.  What's first, needs of the destitute or needs of space programs? 

     Being down-to-Earth requires a certain spirituality which challenges citizens to be more in tune with reality.  If we allow the commercial interests related to space to have their way, the rich will get richer and travel, and the poor will pay and be overlookers.  Aren't these dreamers and rocket-shooters just avoiding reality because it is so hard to look in the face of emaciated children or the twelve million orphans of AIDS?   Here rests the sin of Affluence -- the great inability to face reality and to really see people who are hungry or naked or homeless.  And this insensitivity forgets about unpleasantness and depresses compassion.  The end result is that various lofty goals may seem meaningful because the lobbying efforts are partly satisfied -- but few destitute people have the access or ability to lobby.

     A modest space program can still be reasonable, but let it be research (not military or travel privilege) determined.  Policy-makers are quite often on the affluent end of the economic spectrum and place priorities where they feel most comfortable.  Some space programs allow pampered rich folks to buy twenty-five million dollar trips on Soyuz rockets and to be funded to plan alternative abodes on distant planets.  They promote a fictionalized science that allows escape from the problems of this troubled Earth and the misery of her masses.  What about the taxpayers who have to foot the bill for all that space-programming, space defense, space travel, and alternative space living?  Let's get back down-to-Earth and stay focused on down to earth problems.

     Prayer: God, give us grace to see what must be done for those who suffer in our midst, and do not let us be blind to their needs and spacy in our thinking.








Shining clubmoss, Lycopodium lucidulum.
(*photo credit)

April 18, 2017  Celebrate Citizen Monitors: Modern Paul Reveres

     Before the Battle of Concord and the start of the Revolutionary War (April, 1775), a group of select "minutemen" were organized and willing to be on the lookout for an impending attack by British troops.  The concept of emerging interdependent colonies someday becoming the United States was being considered -- and patriots were organized to anticipate the attack and warn the local citizens about British opposition.  So much for early American history.  But we too must be willing to meet threats to the wholeness of our Earth community, and this takes vigilance and as great a commitment as was needed in 1775.

     What is a citizen monitor, a modern Paul Revere?  This is a person who has other occupations or is retired and who has a special concern about a given public interest issue.  He or she wants to make sure society or the environment is not harmed by the greed or mistakes of some individuals or corporations.  This citizen monitor fills in the cracks in our system where official guardians are not present or living up to their duties.  Citizen monitors can work on: military and general welfare (e.g., reporting drug abuse or illicit drug trade); social welfare (e.g., researching misuse of food stamps); political activities (watching at polling places), and public health (e.g., reporting cases of such threats as "Foot-and-Mouth disease").  In all these examples we see risks involved, which ought to be exposed.  Monitoring is not easy, and many will fly from the task at hand.

     Responsibility for monitoring falls upon all the citizenry and becomes a matter of individual responsibility.  This occurs when inspired people take on the task of being alert, of looking into the matter, of being prepared for the worst, and of taking public or private steps to either stop the practice or call the higher authority's attention to the misdeed or malpractice.  We are disgusted when people see but turn the other way, and fail to report matters.  Here the monitor is expected to speak up and report misdoings at a moment's notice -- the minute person.

     In the 1980s and 1990s a group called the Mountain Stream Monitors did a heroic job of keeping West Virginia rivers and streams clean for fishing and general enjoyment.  Citizens were given field experience in simple water chemistry and monitoring and testing of aquatic life.  Using basic tools the alerted folks went into the streams and traced the contamination of watersheds to the polluting source whether coal mine, processing plant or oil well.  Results were reported to the proper enforcement authorities.  Over time other water monitoring programs sprang up and furnished training usually on local or institutional levels especially with the advent of fracking in the recent decade.  Monitoring also includes forest watchers, soil conservation people, litter and illegal waste reporters and others.  May all remain vigilant.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to be watchful, today's minute folks, who do not fall asleep at their citizens' tasks.








Eastern Towhee, Pipilo erythrophthalmus, Estill Co., KY
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

April 19, 2017        National Hanging Out Day

    Since I first gave a daily reflection on hanging out clothes to dry in 2004 I have become more convinced first by Alexander Lee and the growing movement, Project Laundry List (PLL).  New England is now taking hold of the issue, especially New Hampshire and Vermont; New York Times has had three articles and the Wall Street Journal has had a front page spread.  PLL has been described in many other news outlets, written and electronic.  What looked somewhat far-fetched thirteen years ago is now accepted as a legitimate form of resource conservation that can potentially save about six percent of domestic energy use.

      Still the counties, towns, townships and housing groups that do not allow folks to dry clothes outdoors on their own property runs past a hundred thousand but is coming down.  The agencies regard it as tacky, embarrassing or old-fashioned.  However, PLL is adamant that people have the "right to dry" and has rallied freedom-loving New Englanders and many others to see that this right deserves some effort to achieve.  Besides saving energy it is a way to keep clothes fresh.  The Chinese hardly know what clothes dryers are.  Hanging things out to dry especially in the breezes of April seems so refreshing, and the dry clothes smell good besides.

     Few struggles are clearly won; most go on and on with painful compromises.  This one has a focused objective -- let the citizens hang their clothes out to dry as has been done since time immemorial.  It is an issue to regain a past freedom, a resource conservation issue, a local issue, a symbol of what we have all struggled for centuries to attain.  Why should the appliance manufacturers dictate our daily domestic practices?  Why should we be forced into the narrow constraints of mowing our lawns a certain number of inches high, or eat only choice cuts of red meat, or watch only certain sporting events occurring in arenas where the rich have choice seats and the poor are the taxpayers?  Why the strait jacket on clothes drying?  If regulators are embarrassed about what is on clothes lines, (the main reason for the regulations, let them build visual barriers).

     I use a clothes line on my back porch on bright sunny days.  Cold or threatening days like washing clothes before the sun rises are challenging.  We must all face our local conveniences and come to the realization that much of our use of electricity has to do with saving time and effort.  "Hanging out" then involves more than just laundry.  It is a way of viewing the world, of valuing our time, of arranging schedules, and of drying the imperfect articles with their stains in the secrecy of the white drying appliance.  Hanging out is a commitment to a simple lifestyle, striving to find a place in a complex world.  Yes, near Earth Day it is good to make this day worth remembering, imitating, and celebrating. 

     Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for inspiring creative people to take on what seem to be trivial issues that are found to be quite important.  And thank You for the time to hang out our things.








Intricately-constructed spider's web, highlighted with sawdust.
(*photo credit)

April 20, 2017       Green Construction Suggestions

    The following points apply to all new construction, once the decision that a building project must be commenced.  However, keep some environmental considerations in mind.

      Since 1970, Americans have doubled the amount of residential, worship, educational and commercial space per capita.  The trend towards ever more "necessary" space is a major ecological burden on our limited Earth.  Now Chinese and Indians are thinking the same way -- heavens forbid.   Extra space means extra energy and other resources for heating, cooling, building, cleaning and maintenance and repair.  There's a comfort range between destitution (chronic space shortage) and over-affluence (too much space).  A wise green construction principle is: build only needed space.  Certainly elders want quality living that is accessible and handy space, not excessive room.  Having things smaller can be more cozy and comforting, as is often discovered in underused "mcmansions."  

      Determine to construct with local building materials (brick, stone, sand, pressed earth, cordwood, etc.).  Some recycled building materials can be obtained in excellent condition virtually everywhere.  Reusing windows and frames, flooring and other components is good economy and a model practice for others to follow, at a time when most prefer higher-priced but often lower-quality new products.

      Solar, wind or geothermal energy should be considered in the final operation of green buildings.   Make a zero fossil fuel energy home.   Where possible, make use of unobstructed southern exposures in siting the building.  Consider passive solar space design, heat retaining materials, solar photovoltaic arrays, solar water heating units, and solar greenhouse additions.  Use native grasses, flowers and shrubs where possible around the grounds.  Plant native or naturalized trees with preference for deciduous shade trees on the south and southeast and evergreens on the sides from which winter winds come.  See our Healing Appalachia: Sustainable Living through Appropriate Technology

     Energy and resource conserving measures should be undertaken, especially using energy efficient double-pane windows with proper glazing.  Thermal insulation requirements should be met to reduce heating and cooling bills.  Choose appliances with their energy efficiency rating in mind.  Make LED's the primary mode of lighting for rooms, corridors, exit signs, etc., in order to achieve maximum energy efficiency.  Where possible, berm or inset new construction into hillsides to allow for the use of earth as an insulating material and as a possible heat source.  Conserve water by using low-flow devices for toilets, showers and faucets.  Consider a rainwater cistern for watering houseplants, flower beds and herbal areas.  Recycle gray water for constructed wetlands.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to do all things well, to build within our own means, and to respect our fragile planet in doing so.








Emergence of spring mushrooms on the forest floor.
(*photo credit)

April 21, 2017        Honor the Elders

     The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. - John Muir

     On this birthday of John Muir (born 1837) we consider the well worn paths of our elders. Elderhood comes far too quickly, but it comes amid golden anniversaries, reunions, address changes to warmer places, obituaries of classmates and friends, and all the activities associated with aging and retirement.  I prefer to avoid the "R" word and, like many, cling to practices that have been suitable throughout my middle years.  But the age of wisdom brings some benefits, which our more youthful-leaning society members often overlook.  What society ends up doing is expecting the same busyness for all age groups from dashing hither and thither, to meetings, to undertaking the same physical or mental exercises.  Slowing down is not in the books of everyday life, which actually should allow for time to be savored.

     Somehow the elders are expected to be like middle age people and attend the same programs, endure continuing education classes, and sit and listen attentively to the same lectures without nodding off.  Face it, conferences, workshops, and other gatherings where an old fellow is expected to act like a passive student have no attraction when one is past eighty years.  Those days are long past.  Lecturer practices date from the Middle Ages and beyond, when there was not enough writing or reading material in schools for learners, and taking notes was utterly important.  But libraries, e-mails, informational web sites and readily available periodicals and books have changed all of that.

     I say often, "Please honor my age by not making me a warm body for some event -- even though the sponsors sincerely hope for a larger audience."  Elders should know what will be profitable for them and their choices need to be honored. 

     Honor comes in different ways.  First comes respect, that is, allowing the older person to frame and express an opinion that recalls past episodes and historic precedents.  What elders bring to the current discussion is experience, which is hardly ever given its proper weight.  Second, involves the desire for all to slow down and not be in a hurry, and elders show that this is an important aspect of life -- just taking it easy and seeing some value there, for over stress is not good.  Third, be selective about what is worth taking into account and learning rather than remaining unfocused and receptive to novel attractions.  Fourth, it's time for social interchange to which elders have their unique contribution; unfortunately, sequestering elders into senior citizen villages has reduced this interchange considerably. 

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to be patient with the society in which we live.  Allow us to speak as elders having a special role in ordinary life -- not retiring but remaining untiring in an effort to bring about peace and justice to a forgetful world.







The luna moth, Actias luna.
(*photo credit)

April 22, 2017     Think Organic Green

    On the 47th Earth Day we should think "green."  And what better way is there to think green than to use food, which is free of chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers?  Our diets need to be uncontaminated and that can best be done by controlling the input -- by growing our own produce.  Today, more and more fresh produce comes from distant states and lands, and much of this slips past an overburdened food quality surveillance system.  Chemical contamination from pesticides is an ever increasing concern, as regulatory agencies are hard pressed to monitor residual chemicals on fresh produce.  Chemical pesticides are highly toxic and can be easily mishandled; they are especially harmful to people with chemical sensitivities (about one in seven people); they can harm friendly garden creatures; they are not easily stored or disposed of, and they contaminate the soil. 

     Conversely, organic (pesticide-free) gardening techniques are less costly, easier to handle, and environmentally friendly.  Organic produce may not always look perfect, but food safety is more important than the shiny and waxy appearance of chemically-contaminated food supplies.  Take note of consumers who find themselves excused from growing things?  Even the elderly and ill can grow potted plants for some produce.  However others regard growing things as too condescending for it takes time from a busy life.  Since gardening can play a role in balancing our physical and mental states with the opportunity for fresh air and full-spectrum sunlight, we discover that those who excuse themselves may need easy stimulus to get started.  The following hints may help prod the budding gardener:

* Start small -- Taking on too much garden space may prove to be a burden.  One-hundred square feet is a nice start.  Double it if you have more energy, or if you get someone with a tiller to do the original difficult task of stirring up the ground for your expanded garden;
* Keep working -- Generally seeding, planting, weeding, cultivating, and harvesting take time and one has to expect that spending a little time throughout the growing year is important as being a most healthy exercise;
* Determine variety -- Don't plant too much of a good thing unless you plan to preserve the excess produce.  How much room a plant will it take and is it a good companion to other plants all around it? 
* Extend the growing season -- Expect to cover the late growing plants in autumn at time of frost and keep them covered for much of a winter that hopefully will be mild;
* Make beds beautiful -- Interplant with flowers for color and to dissuade pests from attacking the vegetables; and
* Take notes -- This is a learning experience worth recording as part of your daybook for future reference.

     Prayer: Lord, help all to celebrate Earth Day and make it meaningful in their lives and their connections with Mother Earth.

Is Earth Day Being Trumped?

     Every year since 1970 (First Earth Day) I have tried to say optimistic things about growing awareness of our wounded Earth and various actions to improve the environment.  This year is a difficult time to continue that pattern since the march of climate change seems to be accelerating, and we have a world leadership vacuum in the U.S., a polluting leading nation now surpassed by the manufacturing power of China.  Will we assume responsibility as a nation to take remedies or rather pretend they do not exist?

     Some will answer for us to pray.  We certainly pray that our leadership is enlightened.  And what else?  What about the prayer -- that "God will take care of it;"  that is a "spoiled brat" theology that we have made a mess and God will correct it.  On the other hand, we must recall the freedom endowed by God and this is exercised by confronting polluters and doing remedial work ourselves.  The prayer is that we will act, not withdraw and dump it back on God's mercy.  Trust in God is for inspiration that we can resolve to be willing to act as a people, not the denial that climate change is a hoax.

     It is up to a democratic society to take responsibility for the mess and to expose all polluters of air, water and land: through all forms of communication, petitions, marches, town hall meetings, lobbying, influencing withdrawal of investment from fossil fuel processors, supporting legal actions, and direct confrontation at the upcoming Keystone XL pipeline battle.

     According to NASA reports since 2002, Greenland has lost an average of 287 billion metric tons of ice per year.  Add to this the Antarctic ice sheet (though losing less) and the amount of ocean rise could be six feet by 2100, with disappearance of Pacific Island nations and inundation of urban areas inhabited by some of the poorest hundreds of millions of people.   According to the National Snow and Data Center the Arctic ice surface declined in summer from 2.78 million square miles in 1979 to 1.82 million  square miles in 2016 (with a million square miles of darker surface causing energy feedback leading to increased warming effects).

    To place blame totally on Trump policies is unfair, but to allow billionaires to retard climate changing curbs is of greater culpability.  The inequality of our current economic system is much to blame for exacerbating the problem.  Truly, this is a most sobering Earth Day and yet in raw realism it calls us to a deeper spirituality, one that requires more engagement in humble ways than Earth Days of the past.  Simple remedies that tolerate injustice and inequality will not stand the test of time.  We can make radical changes if we have the ability to collaborate and do meaningful things together.  Thinkers must come out of the ivory tower; gardeners must look beyond the next growing season; activists must be willing to focus.  Yes, working together we can save our wounded Earth.  We can and we must.








Tender garden greens after rain.
(*photo credit)

April 23, 2017    God's Mercy, Faith and Showers

    The stories of Easter are those of God's gentle mercy on all of us poor suffering human beings.  The road to Emmaus finds disheartened travelers, and yet with gentle prodding Jesus accompanies them and brings them to deeper faith; their hearts burn when he explains the Scriptures; they come to know him in the breaking of the Bread.  In another Easter story Mary meets Jesus in the Garden.  In another, the disciples go fishing and not catching anything all night, Jesus directs them where to fish.  God gently confronts a doubting Thomas (John 20:19-31), the one seeking positive proof; and Jesus blesses all of us in his rising.

     On this day when we celebrate the institution of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we find God's abiding mercy towards all who have been loved even while sinners.  God's mercy comes to us who are not blessed with the experience of Thomas, but still find faith whole and intact.  Thomas is accepted even amid his doubts.  Do we tolerate doubters in our midst and show the same mercy that God shows us?  Thomas professes his deepest and most profound manner of belief, and the devout Christians of India are the direct descendants of those he evangelized 2000 years ago.  "Blessed are those who did not see but who believe."

      The word "shower" brings to mind a pre-nuptial party with gifts, a method for bathing, or a bestowal on a lucky or privileged person.  Nature's mercy is the spring rain, which gently waters the Earth and allows the seeds to swell, plants to grow, and blooms to come.  Showers are gentle, not the gully washers or downpours of rare occasions.  Showers take time to soak in and allow the forest cover to retain moisture through sponge-like litter.  A pleasant memory of my youth was getting in the cows after a spring shower when all the land seemed refreshed and had a clean smell of dripping foliage and wet grass.  The sky was broken with dark and light clouds swirling about and one could only guess where in the countryside the shower was occurring.  Yes, March mercifully leads to April showers, and these bless us with May flowers.

     The goal of our Faith journey is Jesus, and so we seek to be as merciful as God is merciful.  As divine mercy showers down upon us, so we shower blessings on others.  No one of us can ever be as merciful as God who shows mercy in every act, but at least we can try.  We poor human beings need God's mercy, and others need ours as well.  The early Christians lived in common and shared according to those in need (Acts 2:42-47).  Today, curses have their space but demand and have their place -- with our blessings.  

     Prayer: Please Lord, let our mercy and love be manifested through sharing of our abundant resources with those who are lacking.  We see others in need, whether face-to-face or at a distance over the media.  Help us to discover those who grieve, doubt, or are suffering from lack of the basic necessities of life.  In sharing with them, we come to ever deeper faith and we imitate You who are merciful and sharing with us.  








Violet wood-sorrel, Oxalis violacea.
(*photo credit)

April 24, 2017       Expose the Epidemic of Consumption

     The popularity of our current commercial consumption patterns is hard to break by mere voluntary means.  This leads to the firm conviction that voluntary actions show changes to be possible, but strict regulatory legislation is needed to actualize them.  The voluntary requires tolerance; the regulatory, a firm commitment that could be highly unpopular, but can be effective. 

     A consumer-products media underlies the consumption epidemic.  I have watched only one hour of television this year and was astounded by seeing over one dozen advertisements for medicine; yes, we live in a prescription-drugged culture.  Why all of these since it takes a doctor to do the prescribing?  Simply put, the ads soften the public to taking more and more chemical prescriptions.  Rather than being curative in approach, the media prepares a gullible public for more and more drugs and all other items as well.  Their message is to consume more and more for the economy's sake, and thus the privileged will make more profits. 

     Such consumption practices are not just concentrated in America and Western Europe; they are spreading to the Pacific Rim, to other parts of Asia and to wherever wealth accumulates among middle class individuals or those groups with any amount of spending money.  The scourge of consumerism spreads globally as an epidemic, threatening the lives of people, requiring immense amounts of resources, the processing of which emits more and more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and air and water pollutants as well.  The practices seem so innocuous taken one by one and yet the totality is something startling.  The coming decades will make or break this planet, for the practices are unsustainable even while more and more people want to enter consumer ranks -- especially air conditioning.  Our only hope for the planet is that a financial downfall will reduce the rate of consumption of goods so that the world may have the breathing time to look at things in a healthier manner. 

     What do we do about epidemics?  Several things are in order: expose the fact that over-consumption is occurring; tell the raw details about its seriousness in scooping up resources, from copper to rain forests, from petroleum to maritime fish stock; show that alternatives for a higher quality of life are more beneficial; see what you can do to avoid the epidemic so as to stay healthy through less consumption; warn others what such practices do to the human person as well as to the community and planet; try to find ways to frustrate the epidemic in any manner possible; and start a process of healing when that is possible.  This series of steps are certainly not a small order but they are doable.

     Prayer: Lord, enhance the movements of those who see that unsustainable over-consumption is a disaster to be exposed.  Give courage to those who proclaim simpler lifestyles and higher quality living and help them spread this message even when it is counter to the culture of consumption.  Make us prophets of a better world.








Ruby-throated hummingbirds, learning to share.
(*photo by Walt Para)

April 25, 2017        The Question

     Sometimes we are faced with the existential question that comes to mind as we consider our place in this passing world.  It just occurs at an unexpected time or place.  Why?  We can become quite philosophical about things -- who we are, why we are here, and what the world would be like without our being.  I suspect that more people treat the existential question(s) than want to admit it, for we are people of wondering minds and a restlessness for God.  However, that question just appears as out of nowhere and must give way to the practical pursuits that we are experiencing -- going back to work, driving the car, making the meal, answering the phone.  But it keeps coming back and never seems to strictly go away. 

                      The Question

              To be or not to be is not the question,
                  rather it is "to be or to do?"
              I find it hard to just be
                  when there is so much to do.

              I know it is more perfect to be
                   than to do, but
                    is it wrong to be a Martha
                    in this busy world?

              It is a question,
                    unless we realize that some
                   of us are called to do,
                    so that we may someday be.

     Prayer: O Creator of all things, You make us who we are -- beings in this changing world.  Change can be so disconcerting for us, for we must be and become simultaneously -- and to focus on such an existential question seems beyond us, even when it remains in the hidden recesses of our mind.  Make us aware that the constant pulls of stopping to reflect and continuing to do things are competing parts of our life in its present condition.  Help us to want to rest in You alone, and that is what draws us forward into an eternal future -- when the existential question is finally answered.






White trout lily, Erythronium albidum.
(*photo credit)

April 26, 2017       Murphy's Appalachian Law

    * In the Appalachians, if it can go wrong, it will; if it can go right, it might -- but don't count on it.

    * A person who's proud to be a "hillbilly," doesn't know a bad word from a good one.

    * Learn to tell Appalachian weather; don't listen to professionals.

    *  Don't expect to be canonized here while alive.  People don't take easily to "living saints."

    * The world's largest occupation is Monday Morning Quarter-backing -- even for those of us who don't follow football.

    *  Some outside travelers who come to Appalachia would be better off going to a zoo.  Remember, it's not nice to stare at poor folks.

     *  It's okay to be a tourist.  Just admit it, and offer to pay for an Appalachian experience.  Of course, mountain folks won't take anything, but it is proper to offer anyway. 

    * No one's dumber than those huntin' for dumb folks.  The rest of us are standing behind the "no hunting" sign.

     * In Appalachia, if you imagine something's wrong, it's worse.

    * "I don't care to" means in Appalachian "yes, I will."

    *  Caution: the one you're talking to is most likely related to the one you're talking about.

    * These hills have seen every kind of crook and buried them.

    * Molasses are, not is.

    * The three most disliked are waspers, whispers and IRSpers.

    * Appalachia is where we pronounce "tower" like "tire," and "tire" like "tar," and "tar" somewhat like "tower."

    * Like the rest of the world, Appalachians often leave their junk around, but we don't like outsiders bringing their junk here in order to get a tax write-off and avoid disposal fees.

    * The scenery is a resource; see it, but don't touch it.

    * You're welcome to a mess of wild greens, but don't make a mess in collecting them.

     Prayer: Lord, inspire us all with a sense of proper humor.








Tender willow buds. Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.
(*photo credit)

April 27, 2017     Encourage Volunteer Activity

    Springtime is an excellent time to volunteer to go out and help others.  Most of us prefer to donate some time those in need, but never get around to it.  Until my energy declined I served others for two decades as a prison chaplain, and that was recognized by the Manchester, Kentucky's two federal correction institutions; the personnel appreciated the vital role that volunteers play in the lives of those needing extra care.  To serve others proved to be truly a privilege.  Often care-receivers are double victims; they suffer both from the unfortunate circumstances of disablement and from the lack of opportunities to help others through being able to volunteer due to confinement.  However, they can assist in a voluntary fashion those hurting among their own ranks.

     To the promoter: It is unfair to invite volunteers to come to a situation without their knowing what to expect.  So often, a little preparation beforehand or during the early stages of the work periods would greatly improve the ultimate achievements of the volunteers.  They desire to give well and know that lack of experience can be a handicap.  Discourage someone who is not ready for a particular volunteer experience so no disappointment occurs.

     To the sponsor: Shortcomings can be avoided by a few simple steps: clearly define roles and expectations; provide proper and satisfactory supervision, especially at the beginning; make sure to explain that the volunteer mission is not to change policy or goals; give good preparation for cultural and economic differences between caregiver and receiver; make the main motivation the care given; tell the volunteer not to expect any special treatment; and review the work done and thank the volunteers upon their departure.

     To the volunteer: Know what you are getting into, and take any preparation seriously.  Make sure beforehand that your help is really needed and cannot be done better and more effectively by a more local or immediately available group; be aware that volunteering sometimes saves money, and so don't let this work be a substitute for paid staff while supervisors get cushy salaries; have expectations that are realistic, and welcome the added benefits that are unexpected, such as new friends or a better understanding of a situation; enter more as a learner than as a teacher, and don't refrain from asking for help.  Keep a journal of the experience, and share it with others.

     To the care-receivers.  You have a role to play in making the volunteer experience a cooperative venture.  Consider both the care giver and yourself as equally care receivers, and anticipate some experiences in which all benefit.  Give immediate feedback in a charitable manner so the volunteer sees when and where he or she is needed.  List the shared benefits and thank the volunteer for coming to help.  If possible keep some form of contact. 

     Prayer: Lord, thank you for the inspiration to be generous, especially in assisting others even if service is maybe thankless.









Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis. Franklin Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

April 28, 2017        Some Ways to Save Time

    Some speak of wanting to forget the smart phone and live without any scheduling through periods of unplanned activity or inactivity.  Certainly disconnectedness and even unplanned use of time are important whether called free time, weekends, extra space or vacations.  Rest periods make for good health and well being -- and even enhance our planned activities.  The following are a number of ways to enhance the rhythm of rest and work:

    * Tithe time for planning.  The best time saving comes through planning on a yearly, monthly, weekly and daily level.  Consider this as part of work and schedule both rest time and work periods.

    * Meditate and exercise simultaneously.  We need daily physical exercise and also meditation time.  If the exercise has an automatic component (such as walking or using an exercise machine), it may become for you a perfect time to pray.

    * Carry ample reading material.  A doctor's visit or waiting for someone is perfect for keeping up with reading.  If an unexpected storm makes an abrupt change of plans, reading material will reduce stress and make the wait more pleasant.

    * Don't watch television.  At least curb it substantially and get your news from radio early in the morning-wake-up or during driving or other periods during the day; radio allows for simultaneous activities to be performed.

    * Do chores in batches.  Buy groceries only once or twice a month, do less frequent laundry through larger clothing supply, and cook in larger batches that save both energy and time.

    * Early to rise.  Much productive work can be done in the very early hours before the world becomes busy and intrudes on your time.  While I would never say all productive people are early risers, they do have solid lengths of work time.

    * Do real puzzles.  All must keep their minds occupied.  I have found that many of my writings are the results of having a puzzle that is real life and worth solving over a work/leisure period.

    * Cut down on meetings.  I have retired from meetings, not work.  All organizers of such events find this heresy, but meetings are often excuses for those who do not want to do meaningful work.

    * Socialize intensely but infrequently.  Much can be said for partying at times -- and it's good for sanity and social life.
This even applies for compulsive Facebook viewers.

    * Let your fingers do the walking.  Phone calls save trips.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to count how few days we have and so gain wisdom of heart.   (Psalm 90:12)









Enjoying new growth of catnip in spring.
(*photo credit)

April 29, 2017         Make a Pilgrimage

    A great majority of religious believers belong to communities, which aspire to go on a pilgrimage at least once in a lifetime or even on a more frequent basis if possible.  Mecca, the Ganges River, and Lourdes are quite different places, but all are destinations for Moslems, Hindus, or Catholic Christians.  Several suggestions may be in order to be a faithful 2017 pilgrim:

   * Why?  Develop or discern a good reason -- not just that others take pilgrimages and you would like to do the same.  Decide that this is a special time for favors received, a sense of unfulfilled duty, a new start in life, a desire to cope with a life-threatening illness, a reparation for past life, or for accompanying a relative or friend who desires such a pilgrimage.

   * Where?  Determine the destination carefully after proper discernment.  Once decided, read and learn about the place, the weather at the time of year and any barriers to making the trip.

   * When and how long?  Do you have or are you willing to take the time for such travel?  Some religious traditions have set times of the year for such events, and the more seasonal liturgical groups will render certain festive occasions as ideal.  All in all, choose a time that will yield maximum spiritual reward and that is an adequate span so the trip does not have to be hurried.  If other matters are pressing, it may be best to postpone the pilgrimage to a later time when less distracted.

   * By what means?  Plan the mode of travel well in advance.  The mode should be the best to convey a spiritual benefit to you.  How luxurious do you want the travel to be?  (Many regard the journey as a time of sacrifice even in regard to accommodations.)  Pilgrims of earlier times had some very arduous options, which included foot, horse or mule, or sailing ship.  We can still choose between land vehicles (public or private), air and sea -- though some still make pilgrimages on foot or, for the final span, even on knees.

    * With whom?  Some opt to travel in a group, though they may not know fellow pilgrims personally.  In fact, they may prefer a course with few distractions, and they can give more to personal spiritual goals traveling alone.  Others want certain companions.

    * What to pack?  Travel as light as possible without causing a major inconvenience by failing to bring the clothes that are needed.  We ultra-light packers (see April 8) sometimes end up doing without or finding little time to rewash basic items.  Consider adding good reading materials to share with others.  Take along literature on the places to be traveled through and the destination.  Add a small daybook for keeping notes, and be prepared to share the religious experience with others.

     Prayer: Lord, inspire us to make a profound spiritual journey and to give ourselves totally to your service.


Letter to Evangelical Friends on Climate Change

      My evangelical friends, I seek to elicit support for saving our God-given and fragile Earth.  Today, a major march is occurring in DC and in satellite centers throughout the country and world; millions are concerned about climate change, and the slow pace of curbing it.  Furthermore, let's be honest: our current American energy policy could contribute to a looming catastrophe.

      We Christians share far more in common than in differences; we jointly proclaim Christ as savior and we respect life; we agree with being "pro-life," but I extend this to include the vitality of Earth herself, for without a living Earth there would be no humans in womb, old age, or any age.  No matter how you voted in the 2016 election, it is necessary that each and everyone reflect on policies enunciated in a non-partisan manner.  It is against our faith to promote actions that lead to misery for large numbers of people in the coming years, and this is what a policy of denying climate change as a hoax is about.  It is profoundly unchristian.

     Climate change is very real.  Since 2002 according to NASA, Greenland has lost an average of 287 billion metric tons of ice per year; and the Antarctic is losing a little less.  The oceans are rising and, if predicted six-foot increases should occur by 2010, it means the disappearance of Pacific Island nations and inundation of urban areas inhabited by a half billion of some of the poorest people on Earth.   According to the National Snow and Data Center the Arctic ice surface declined in summer from 2.78 million square miles in 1979 to 1.82 million square miles in 2016 (with a million square miles of darker surface causing energy feedback leading to increased warming effects).  Glaciers disappear, extreme weather conditions are frequent, and millions suffer from heat and drought. 

      Here is where evangelicals fit in.  The process of denying that these things are happening is to succumb to the Evil One who wants to destroy our quality of life.  To deny current happenings is to become part of the diabolic destruction of our world, to be the promoters of false prophets, and to counter the saving power of Christ in our midst.  Faithful Christians cannot continue to allow this to happen -- no matter how partisan one has been in the past.  This goes beyond mere politics; it is a moral issue, one of justice for our brothers and sisters throughout the world.  Be on the side of justice; choose life, not death!

     My appeal is in the name of Jesus.  Where would he stand? Certainly he would confront merchants of doubt from the Big Fossil Fuel industry (modern Scribes and Pharisees) who want to prolong profits from these fuels through extending the denial of climate change as though it is still a debatable issue.  Jesus tells us to watch for the signs of the time as part of our work in preparing for his Kingdom.  Let's not be deceived by forces of darkness.  Stand up for the struggles to curb destructive climate change and join those who march today. 








Dame's rocket, Hesperis matronalis, common garden companion.
(*photo credit)

April 30, 2017         Journey to Emmaus and Back

     You have shown me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.   (Acts 2:28)

     Each of us walks the road to Emmaus, carrying back to our havens of security our wounds and pains and depressions.  The hopes and dreams that the Kingdom is being completed now seem to be unfulfilled with each Calvary event in our lives.  We are unable to even recognize those who are walking along with us, that Jesus is at our side, as we walk along blinded by our self-pity and concerns.  Our minds are filled with the rumors and tales of disasters or a mix of the unexpected and overwhelming. It is the evening time of our spirit, at least that is what we sometimes think.  But the Emmaus disciples in similar circumstances teach us four things: 

     Accept and listen to those moving along with us, for these disciples experience Jesus in their midst; he tells them about how the Scriptures are being fulfilled -- and the disciples listen even to an apparent stranger.  The world around us seeks to give us new meaning if we but listen to our accompanying neighbors.

     Invite the stranger into our company.  The hospitality of the disciples should not go unnoticed.  They did not want the stranger to continue alone because he too needed some sustenance.  We need to extend our hospitality to all who want to continue on the road.

     Recognize Jesus where he is.  The Sacred Scriptures take on a fresh meaning when we become aware of Jesus' presence; the Breaking of the Bread (Eucharistic Liturgy) opens our eyes to being now part of the Body of Christ.  Although at that point Jesus vanishes from their sight, still the effects of his visit stay with them and energize them in a very special way.  Our Eucharist energizes also.

     Convey the new energy to all the world.  In the case of the Emmaus disciples, they took the message to the whole assembled church and gave the gathering the deeper meaning of what they had experienced on their journey.  Each of us is to find the Good News in our everyday activities and to bring Christ's presence to the entire assembly.  This fourth movement of proclaiming takes energy too.  The disciples returned in haste in the late hours to Jerusalem to tell what had happened in their home.  The movement of the soul takes the proclaimed Good News and applies it in our lives.  We are energized and, like the Emmaus disciples, we hasten forth and share Good News with others with whom we are associated.

     Prayer: Father in heaven, author of all truth, a people once in darkness has listened to your Word, and followed your Son as he rose from the tomb.  Hear the prayer of this newborn people and strengthen your Church to answer your call.  May we rise and come forth into the light of day to stand in your presence until eternity dawns.  (Prayer of the liturgy of the day.)

Copyright © 2017 Earth Healing, Inc. All rights reserved.

Earth Healing team:
Albert J. Fritsch, Director
Charlie Fritsch
Janet Powell
Mark Spencer

Excerpts from the JERUSALEM BIBLE, copyright © 1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd. and Doubleday & Company, Inc.  Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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