August is back-to school time; July's lazy days give way to shorter daylight. Nature is offering us clues that summer does not last forever: birds flock; cobwebs appear; mists envelop the countryside; goldenrod appears; and bush phlox beautify forest understory. Verdant gardens yield watermelons, peaches, apricots, cantaloupes, grapes, fresh green corn, cascades of ripe tomatoes, butterbeans, and a river of green, yellow and tan squash. It is the time of the mayapple fruit, teasel, spotted joe-pye weed and red clover blooms, of ripe clusters of pokeweed and tasty papaws. August is when we both harvest and plant, harvest spring plantings and plant autumn crops.
Informal yellow family daisy; Your button-like center is up front Competing in a seas of summer color, Yes, you do attract our admiring glance And that of butterflies and bees as well.
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August 1, 2017Let Us Learn Essentials from the Poor
African famine, threats from climate change, wars in the Middle East and terrorists. Reality speaks forthrightly, and becomes the atmosphere for testing our maturing spirituality and activism. When the reality of life is hidden through denial, excuse, or escape, spirituality lacks authenticity, and we are removed from the needy; we avoid opportunities to offer thanks for the blessings of the poor -- and to work together towards solidarity.
We crave models to pattern our lives. How about looking to the poor? Poor folks generally have their feet on the ground when it comes to essential needs, far more than do affluent people. Because the poor generally live closer to ravaged areas of environmental degradation, these experience the effects in the form of precarious health and lower quality of life. The affluent may be moved to voluntarily take on poverty, become sensitive to needs, and realize chasms between the haves and have-nots. To enter life in solidarity with the poor means experiencing vulnerability through compassion.
The affluent and the poor have fundamentally different ways of perceiving the same situation. That is especially true where the problem areas call for immediate and fundamental conversion and change or if one considers a new national health policy. The affluent are blessed with a greater mobility, more influential connections, and more access to material and informational resources. However, all of these privileges do not guarantee an acquired sense of justice. In part, this is due to lack of sensitivity (the sin of affluence) to the needs of others, and unwillingness to work together as equals in problem-solving so that all may share the Common Good.
In recent years we have seen the rise of "junk" science, which contains "findings" paid for by special interest groups. These hack scientists are hired to say that Earth is not undergoing climate change, or that some so-called environmental problem is overblown. Such conclusions generally work to the benefit of resource-exploiting industries, which do not want further regulations or critical oversight. These organizations and their wealthy compatriots work together with affluent profiteers to deny an impending catastrophe; they escape to less threatening locations; they excuse themselves by saying that the question should be handled by experts at a future beyond their lifetime.
Environmental justice problems call for cooperative action at all economic levels. Although the poor are handicapped by lack of resources, they (we) have certain advantages: they (we) know harm first hand; they (we) see current situations as life and death struggles; they (we) need to make a living and thus are quite practical about solutions; they (we) are confident that God is here; and, finally, they (we) know history is on their (our) side.
Prayer: Lord, alert us to be in solidarity with the poor.
Enjoying a water fountain on hot summer day.
August 2, 2017 Water Fountains Sing to Us
People long for a harmony of water and land, especially in times of drought -- for bubbly springs, showers on warm days, and clear water flowing past verdant tree-lined shores. Some are blessed with observing from their home a lake or river or even the ocean; some settle for a small farm pond or nearby creek; and still many have no naturally occurring moving water, but create an artificial substitute; they install water circulating fish tanks or ponds, interior waterfalls, or water fountains.
The gurgling water fountain gives the appearance of bubbling springs, or the life force coming from the Earth itself to refresh us. In parts of Europe, where water flows by gravity down from nearby mountains, residents treasure centuries-old town center fountains that furnish water via springs or aqueducts. The town fountain becomes a social gathering place as well as the source of domestic water. Life both focuses around and comes from water.
Interior or exterior fountains with recirculating water are designed to fulfill the same aesthetic purpose (water sound and sight), but these are not modern domestic water sources. Today, public fountains are generally located in a protected and enclosed patio where the sound reverberates from the surrounding walls; the environment stays cool by means of surrounding vegetation, the shade of which prevents water evaporation. The soothing sound along with the sight of water amid potted or in-ground plants produces the atmosphere of a cool (even tropical) forest. A well-designed fountain has a magic touch that draws people to congregate, rest, and relax in its vicinity. It is moving water; it springs as though from the Earth, giving a sense of abundance, fertility, and energy captured by poets and artists.
Operating a decorative water fountain need not be wasteful, for water can be recirculated with a small expenditure of energy or by a solar water pump. Much depends on the fountain's evaporation potential -- and that can be lessened by planting vegetation so that increased humidity and protection from a direct breeze will reduce evaporation immensely. Lower quality water can be used, provided it has no unpleasant odor. The jets for the fountain can be adjusted so that the stream flow is reduced or ultimately turned off during drought. Allowing water to flow over rocks or other surfaces may increase evaporation, especially if in a sunny location. As mentioned, the operation of the small circulating water pump and accompanying night ornamental lighting can be achieved using solar energy. The small water pump does not need much storage capacity, since circulation after dark can be suspended. Daylight is perfect with fountains though some like the atmosphere of longer night lighting, which can be achieved through storing excess solar energy through batteries.
Prayer: Lord, you are the fountain of life, our treasure. Help us to be springs of life to others so that your goodness may be better known by all.
Thorns of the honey locust, Gleditsia triacanthos.
August 3, 2017 Feeding People in Times of Food Shortages
The one who comes to me will not go away hungry. (John 6:35)
Hungry people are found this year in famine areas of South Sudan, Northeastern Nigeria, Yemen and Somalia, all victims of warfare and lack of accessible food supplies. Many are displaced and living in nearly inhuman conditions. How can a world with accessible transportation and with sufficient food resources get into such a mess? Will history be kind to us when drought conditions combine with armed conflict to exacerbate the suffering of so many millions: old and young, male and female?
Sharing food resources is a moral demand, without which there is no spiritual life. The early Church leaders said we cannot receive Communion worthily if we allow many at our doorstep to go hungry -- and through Internet the world is at our doorstep. We can do several things besides praying for those who are hungry. We can help solve such famine effects by donated to proven authentic food relief services; check the search engines for groups.
A second citizen action is to pressure federal legislators and parts of the Administration so quick to cut foreign aid programs before our eyes. During this year aid workers complain that the supplies needed for tens of millions are not as forthcoming to relieve hunger in the four nations mentioned and in other areas where refugee numbers are concentrated. At the same time, pressure our government to halt involvement in the merciless civil war in Yemen. It is morally wrong to furnish support and deadly weapons to Saudi Arabia and this senseless conflict.
Still another way is focused on us individually. Attempt to cut consumption of meat and other animal products, all of which take agricultural land and resources that could be used to grow grains and soybeans to ship to developing nations as primary foods. Today 70% of farmland is used for livestock and one-third of all grain is used as animal feed. Less grainlands devoted for staples and rising demands for resource intensive foods in newly affluent lands put essential foods beyond the financial reach of the poor. Add to this situation the turning of corn and sugar fields into producing biofuel sources when we have a growing food crisis.
Conservationists seek land use restrictions because industry and housing are sprawling over once productive farmlands. The patterns are similar throughout the world: farmland is ripe for development; its economic value escalates to the point that the farmer is encouraged or forced to sell and retire. Governments at different levels must make meaningful land use restrictions. Conservation easement programs that pay landholders for leaving land undeveloped are now in place in more states. Furthermore, returning land to food production and subsidizing small farmers with loans and equipment are alternative ways to fight famine.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to find ways to feed the hungry.
An evening stroll under canopy of frost grape, Vitis vulpina.
August 4, 2017 Mobile Homes: Good and Bad
In early March we experienced in Estill County a strong 90-100 mile wind storm; this destroyed 18 homes and damaged 175 others including my residence. Yes, it was frightening, but more so in the many mobile homes in our county. FEMA or federal assistance is helping some of our most vulnerable.
About 40% of rural Americans live in mobile or manufactured homes which in the past have been beset by worrisome amounts of outgassed toxic formaldehyde. These people find these mobile or manufactured structures more affordable and consider them "instant" homes, which can be hauled from one place to another and installed in a short time. However, mobile homes have disadvantages:
* Purchase of manufactured homes sends out of community money that would have gone to local builders. Bringing in a mobile home causes problems for local drivers, but that is minor compared to the fact the local construction company loses job opportunities, and the community has less local spending money;
* Environmental building associations make a list of certain preferred materials to be used in housing, and certain materials that are less desirable (plastics and aluminum) because of resource expenditure, distance from place of construction, instability under certain climate conditions, or flammability. Some materials require enormous amounts of energy to obtain, process, manufacture, ship and store, whereas others, especially local native materials like clay, stone, and wood have less resource cost;
* The air in new manufactured homes is perhaps somewhat better now than it was a few years past when the pronounced smell of the formaldehyde (a volatile chemical found in many fabric and plastic interior decorations) would escape from the building materials to the surrounding air. The formaldehyde has made the boxed-in effect and lack of air exchange of insulated mobile homes all the more problematic. These mobile homes ought to be aired out thoroughly, especially when plastic furnishing have been added; and
* The inherent design of mobile homes leads to their being destroyed by heavy winds far more frequently than stationary homes. Insurance companies know this, and so do those who buy and sell homes. Generally, the type of construction, the deterioration of materials, and the inability to maintain them properly, lead to rapid depreciation. Low-income rural counties experience deteriorating tax bases due to widespread depreciation of cheap mobile housing. To counter this, one solution is to convert the mobile home to a stationary one through additional foundation, siding and new roofing. A while back we covered a mobile home's outer walls with cordwood and received praise for the improved looks and for the building's stability. Such retrofitted homes do not depreciate as fast and the less susceptible to wind damage.
Prayer: Lord, help us champion affordable housing for all.
August is an ideal time for family reunions, for it is part of traditional vacation season and just before the new school term with its host of activities. Those of us from large families know that these reunions can be difficult to organize and facilitate. I went to the one-hundredth anniversary of my mother's grand-parents' coming to America from Germany, and at that occasion we found the family tree had grown to about a thousand descendants and spouses. I later went to the one hundred and fiftieth of the same group and the family had still further expanded to perhaps two thousand people. With such expanding, reunion planners must consider the following points for a successful event:
1. Have the reunion infrequently. People do not have the time for such events when competing with other activities. Maybe the bigger, the more infrequent. When it is only two or three generations the gathering is more manageable. When it goes back to five or more, many of the descendants simply don't know each other;
2. Pick a good organizer who will accept the work required to plan and call families together for a reunion. Phone calls, letters, e-mails and persuasive conversation, the determination of a gathering place, and arrangement of the schedule are necessary. Much of the work can be reduced by assigning specific duties and having everyone bring his or her own favorite potluck dish or particular lunch and sharing with others;
3. Find an adequate meeting place. Often people want to return to the small house or farm where it all began. Nice, but the place is not equipped for massive parking or with toilet facilities. A better suggestion is to go to a nearby public facility capable of handling the crowd. Some guests need air conditioning or ramps for accessibility and good parking facilities;
4. Prepare the agenda well. Some people will not like specific events: raffles, formal games, or worship services. Give enough space for variety. Included music and dancing require special attention as well. Sometimes the informal may prove the most entertaining and space ought to be allotted for it. However, some people are not natural mixers and find so many unrecognized guests intimidating. Name tags are needed even when a few know everybody; many of us have difficulty with immediate name recall. Consider prizes for the most distant traveler; and
5. Document the event. Photography is important, as is audio or video histories. The charting of the growing family tree requires a dedicated manager who works for accuracy and maintenance of current records. Consider a follow-up letter and a sharing of a web site or e-mail addresses for continued contact and family information sharing. It takes effort to stay together.
Prayer: Help us, Lord, to hold our families together even in times of great mobility and family troubles.
His face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. (Matthew 17:2b)
This is the second Sunday this year we read the Transfiguration narrative. On this summer day we focus on the feast day itself amid all its glory; on the Second Sunday of Lent the thrust is for us to experience the consolation needed to carry on through the approaching Calvary event in the upcoming Holy Week.
The Transfiguration is recorded in all three synoptic gospels and in the Letter of St. Peter as well. In the narrative Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain apart (considered by many as the most beautiful site in all of the Holy Land). His appearance with Moses harkens back to Mt. Sinai as the one delivering the Old Testament Law; he converses with him and Elijah (greatest of the prophets) but as center and more than these in ushering in a New Covenant. At this time the ultimate glory of the Messiah shines like the sun. The event becomes a consoling moment for Jesus before his impending death, just as the beauty of the consoling verdant Earth comes at the middle of the growing season in August's glory. Suffering is temporary, glory everlasting.
Peter's reaction is to say -- "It is wonderful for us to be here." In our everyday language he could have said -- let's take a picture or make a videotape; remember, he does ask to put up a memorial of stone to remember the great event. "Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." The tents allude to giving the law at the feast of Tabernacles. True to Peter's words, today memorials adorn the site of this event.
A voice from heaven tells us that the Father approves of this sacred event, a sanction by God of what is about to occur. Jesus is God's chosen one, the suffering servant. Recall Psalm 7 and Isaiah 42. The prospect of suffering and death paralyzes the disciples who are not yet strengthened through the Pentecost's grace. "Do not be afraid" is said a number of times in the Scriptures, and is meant for all of us as well. We see in our troubled world a need to be fearless in the challenges that face us. We too need God's approving word and we, in turn, must give courage to others who are fearful as well. We listen and speak.
The Transfiguration event is told with awe and wonder -- a magnificent vision of what is to come. However, as fellow Jesuit, Walt Bado, points out in his poem, this is also Hiroshima Day, a time of infamy when a single atomic bomb of blinding light caused over a hundred thousand casualties. The bombing of Hiroshima and of Nagasaki were intended to (and perhaps did) shorten World War II. The bomb-making project was called "Trinity" and the delivery plane "Little Babe." What irony -- or blasphemy.
Prayer: Lord, You revealed the true radiance of Christ in glory. Transform us into his image that we may radiate his glory.
A stately elder, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, KY.
August 7, 2017 Nuclear Power Versus Wind Energy
Nuclear power is like a phoenix (that mythical figure arising from the ashes of a previous bird). Nuclear power is a panacea of the future, harkening back to guilt-laden days of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With great fanfare, the 1950s heralded the rise of nuclear power in this country -- and from there the power fad spread throughout the world with nations such as France receiving major portions of their energy from that source. Nuclear power experienced a hiatus after rising environmental concerns in the 1970s and the Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima Daiichi (2011), along with problems related to economics, waste disposal and health and safety issues. With all talk about carbon footprints and global warming, nuclear power reappears.
Proponents of a clean renewable energy economy must resist the temptation for a "mixed energy source" profile that includes nuclear power. The most recent five to eight billion dollar nuclear plants nearing complete have had billion-dollar overruns all of which could build a host of wind farms producing far more and safer energy for the national grid. In the past year the renewable energy mix (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and others) have contributed two-thirds of the new electricity generating capacity; if it were not for cheap fracked natural gas it would be the total new electricity generating capacity.
Contrary to the propaganda, nuclear power is not carbon-free since massive amounts of coal have been used in the past to generate the electric power needed to operate nuclear enrichment facilities. Furthermore, disposal of nuclear wastes is not solved after a half century of collecting spent rods at the actual sites of the nuclear power generation. Are these sites tempting soft terrorist targets? Is this being given adequate consideration by homeland security officials? Decommissioning of nuclear reactors is costly and may require governmental subsidies. What about the health risk and toll on uranium mine workers and nearby residents?
In the 1940s nuclear proponents predicted that nuclear power would to be "too cheap to meter." The persistent difficulty with nuclear energy is that one mishap could be so massive that it could endanger large populations and areas of the world. Estimates of a major nuclear reactor accident are as high as 102,000 first-year deaths, 610,000 injuries and 40,000 long-term cancer death and $314 billion in damages (1982 estimates made by Sandia National Labs for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission). A previous, less-thorough study in 1975 called WASH-1400 estimated 3,300 early fatalities, 45,000 injuries, 45,000 latent cancer deaths and property damage of $14 billion. See our Critical Hour: Three Mile Island, The Nuclear Legacy, and National Security on this website. With all these persistent difficulties, why the nuclear option? It is time to wind down nuclear and wind up wind -- and solar and geothermal.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to discern prudently and to satisfy our energy needs by using environmentally benign energy sources.
Taking a break from summer's heat by Kentucky stream.
August 8, 2017 Solar Hot Water Systems
While we experience summer, we can at least let our mind wander to a half year hence when in January a hot water shower sounds so comforting. In fact, warm showers are refreshing this summer morning as well. Why use water heated by fossil fuel? The tried-and-true solar water heater has been around for a long time. In fact, photos of America's 1904 San Francisco earthquake show damaged house roofs equipped with solar hot water systems, the very applications we need to rediscover and popularize today.
About one-tenth of an average household's energy budget is directed to heating water for showers and kitchen uses. The cheapest way to heat domestic water, outside of growing produce using the sun's rays or drying clothes outdoors, is this cost-effective solar application. Some solar water heating systems are "active" varieties (heating with the sun an enclosed liquid which transfers heat to adjacent water pipes); these are generally more expensive, but efficiency is improving with time. Homemade "passive" systems (which heat the water directly in black glass lined metal tanks enclosed in insulated boxes) are also recommended; no pumps or extra except a pressure release valve.
Solar heaters need to be of a size adequate for your water needs. Much depends on the amount of water used, but energy conservation should always accompany solar energy use. The length and volume of showers are critical. With this in mind, a new applicant should install water-conserving showerheads and take shorter showers. The heater design should be visibly pleasing and in harmony with your building. A site and device should be near where the water is to be used, and yet accessible to those who wish to inspect the unit close at hand. In areas of severe winters the ideal is to have a non-solar back-up system that is also energy-efficient and of low environmental impact. Instant electric back-up systems work fine, if the domestic water demand is low and the water pressure sufficient to allow the flow to move smoothly.
Some do-it-yourselfers prefer to save money and make their own solar water heater. A homemade solar water heater is straight-forward and can be built by enclosing a used water tank hooked to a gravity-fed water system. Water is collected in a solar-absorbing black-painted water tank; the enclosure resembles a glass-covered open-sided snug-fitting insulated coffin (made with weather-protected wood). Six-inch fiberglass insulation batts are covered with aluminum flashing to keep solar-heated water warm through the night. This solar heater is mounted at the selected location and angled toward the sun. Some designers install an insulated door over the glassed opening to be closed after the sun goes down. If properly insulated in an average temperate climate, passive solar heaters will furnish 100 degree F water for about eight months while active systems go all year.
Prayer: Lord, help us to benefit from your solar gift and seek to popularize in order to combat climate change problems.
Young sprouts of the plum granny, Cucumis melo L. Dudaim Group.
August 9, 2017Promote Intergenerational Gardening
Over and over people mention that those who lived through the Great Depression are better experienced to help introduce younger people to the possibly permanent food crisis now besetting our planet. One way to improve our lot is to grow "freedom gardens" (see July 12th and 13th). How about elders teaching youngsters by teaming up with youth to launch their own gardening enterprise? The work, while not overly burdensome, does involve some exertion, which will demand use of muscles and exposure to the summer sun's rays unless undertaken in the early morning or evening. We have entire generations that lack some basic skills including cooking and gardening -- and while older folks have experience, they may lack physical energy to complete the tasks. Teamwork is ideal.
The art of gardening seems fairly manageable even to those with some infirmities. However, turning over the soil along with actual planting may take extra effort, and with proper instruction novice gardeners can excel quite quickly. The waning physical stamina of elders is an open invitation to seek cooperative work from more energetic and younger budding gardeners, though the networking itself may demand a youth management program. Seniors have a store of knowledge and pleasant experiences along with the patience to correct the inexperienced and still give them confidence to start their own garden plot. All can benefit.
Besides, gardening does not have to be a summer activity alone; some of the summer herbs and vegetables can be potted for indoor storage and used by either party in winter. Potted plants can be cared for even by those with unsure knees, arthritic hands, and aching backs; they contain other benefits: the potted plant gives a sense of color, purifies the air, often furnishes a good scent, can be edible when an herb, and affords the opportunity to have something to do in winter.
Older folks can garden in or out of a greenhouse with an adjustable growing table or with permanent super-raised beds or trellises (see our YouTube on "Wheelchair Gardening"). Some crops can be easily tended by people with disabilities or those who are more confined, e.g., a variety of greens, strawberries, certain vines and root crops. Corn, pumpkins, squash, watermelons, okra or pole beans may be difficult for the physically impaired to reach and harvest because of the plants' height or extensive space considerations. Experience and energy work together.
Successful gardening requires planning and proper seed variety selection. The gardener/artist designs and executes a mind's eye vision onto stone or canvas or a longer blooming landscape. The garden becomes our canvas and, through pictures taken at a definite location for each growing month, gardeners can show their artistic progress to others along with their gardening experience.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to work together, to transfer the wisdom of the senior to the younger, and be a blessing to all.
Some people are so conditioned by the glamour of formal education that they think one can only learn when in a classroom setting before a lecturer and taking copious notes -- a Medieval academic practice resulting from a lack of books and printed materials. Those who have not had or cannot afford certain advanced formal education often feel deprived. They say to me, "You can talk, with your formal education spanning from World War II to the Vietnam War." True, but the environmental aspects of my ministry were self-taught, since such programs did not begin until after my formal educational span.
Certainly formal education can teach critical thinking and discipline. However, much can be self-taught if accompanied by motivation, quality time and encouragement. Degrees from certain places are overemphasized. We should not forget about the existing amount of readily available superior educational aids at relatively low prices. Would the world be better off to invest in work experience and learning on one's free time? Is this not superior to attendance at special high-priced schools for allotted lengths of time? Doesn't learning take natural intelligence, hard work, enthusiasm, a critical outlook on what is heard and seen, and a willingness to experiment on one's own?
Are academic critics correct in saying that considerable education is glorified babysitting, and that degree-collectors are often people too hesitant to take hold of the world and work? Perhaps there is more to education, even the expensive variety, than these critics admit. Inexpensive alternatives include "colleges without walls," internships with public interest groups, Elderhostels, Internet courses, or “The Great Courses" of The Teaching Company. Yes, a do-it-yourselfer can learn much and often in a less stress-ridden manner. Ambitious people including famous lawyers such as Robert H. Jackson, presidents like Abraham Lincoln, and businessmen such as Bill Gates, were partly or completely self-taught. Generally, the liberal arts are easier to master on one's own than are the technical courses requiring laboratory exercises.
The self-taught person acquires an internal self-confidence and often projects this when in public. Today private college expenses often approaches $50,000 per year, plus the loss of work experience during that time -- and becomes part of the unfortunate community of debtors approaching a total of two trillion dollars in the U.S. alone. Some folks with ordinary jobs are able to spend twenty hours a week studying and the acquiring a degree in one decade and meanwhile have saved or earned $300,000. The self-taught and degreeless person is not saddled with college debt, and if diligent, can be successful. Formal degrees certainly have advantages and can generally reach higher salaries. But the self-taught may enjoy life, experience less stress and save money.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to always be open to learn and to do so with the resources at hand -- and to encourage others as well.
Why anticipate an autumn garden when autumn is 40 days away? There are several reasons: the late gardening success depends on early planning and work; much more depends on cooperative weather of late summer and fall; and the types of selections are based both on experience and on the normal climatic conditions of your own micro-environment. When I first considered this theme three decades ago, I listed lettuce for autumn, but over time too many hot and dry late Kentucky summers persuaded me to leave this spring delicacy off the list. However, even here, where shade by coverings reduces late summer temperatures, endive is a good replacement as it seems to be in France and elsewhere.
Another difficulty in planning for fall crops is that autumn vegetables compete for space with winter cover crops. One answer is to be attentive to what is grown. I used to follow a practice learned in my early days on the farm of broadcasting (scattering seed) turnips, kale and mustard over a given area. The crops turned out well in many growing seasons. However, in dry times autumn row cropping takes far less water to irrigate, especially if one is constrained by little space and limited water supply.
Autumns will turn to winter sooner than we think, but we prepare for this inevitability by extending the growing season using proper protection. Cold frames are coverings of cotton, Reemay or other plastic gauze, which can be stretched loosely to allow air flow and rain penetration and yet reduce the loss of heat from the sun during cooler nights -- and moderate temperatures and water conditions in daytime. Most fall crops thrive by simply being covered on frosty nights or embedded with leaves or straw to protect them. Protected spring-planted varieties include garlic, beets, carrots and onions can last through much of the winter. Some autumn crops, such as Swiss chard, collards, kale, mustard, turnip greens and broccoli (if started early), do not need protection from early frosts. The chard can be transplanted to the greenhouse together with younger tommy toes, parsley, and celery. Some summer-grown crops do not thrive in greenhouses because of transfer shock.
Besides all the vegetables just mentioned except tomatoes (which have set blooms at or below 40 Fahrenheit), other candidates for fall crops include: turnips, daikon radishes, spinach, Chinese cabbage, and pak choi. You can border autumn crops with extra straw or other mulch materials. Consider the more hearty as cover crops. Also with careful planting, space between rows can be sowed with hairy vetch or allowed to remain in clover as a winter mulch and nitrogen source. Leave winter-yielding crops such a horseradish, salsify, parsnips, and Jerusalem artichokes undisturbed for winter harvesting. Vacant hot weather crop areas can be sowed with vetch, Austrian winterpeas or winter grains.
Prayer: Lord, let us see the autumn of the year or of life as an added opportunity to share our produce with others.
August 12, 2017 Champion Local and Global Villages
When I think of an ideal village I think of Dumbach in Alsace, France, where my paternal grandparents were born -- a quaint village with church, shrine and a wood-working area perhaps just like when my folks left 140 years ago. It is the "old country." A gun emplacement of the old Maginot Line sits ten feet from the Fritsch ancestral grave; the village is "home" if ever so humble.
Let us go beyond our local home of familiar scenes and consider that a village may be considered in broader terms and even global ones. The former involves the self-sustainability of the primitive culture with its gardens and pens, its artisan and craft shops and its meeting places and worship space. The global one requires much more imagination and tolerated variety. With globalization comes a sense of our neighborhood extended and enveloping many people of different races, languages and cultures, some affluent and some in destitution. Communications through cell phones, TV and Internet make us one; auto and air travel makes distance seem shorter; we are becoming interdependent in many ways and through increased responsibility are becoming our brothers' and sisters' keepers. Unfortunately a global village also gives opportunities to the financial and manufacturing interests, and these take advantage of reduction of barriers that divided us in the past.
Other advantages arise for imitation. Residents in about two thousand localities around the world have found that they can trade in interest-free Local Autonomous Money Systems or LAMS. These communities accumulate what they need to live, work, retire, and thrive in a local credit system. This approach works successfully at select sites in the world -- each with its own money system. For instance, it is used in Guernsey, an autonomous British protectorate in the Channel Islands. By using vouchers, residents boast zero debt, inflation, and unemployment, and lower prices and taxes with a higher standard of living than in England. Granted, it may work with certain local exchanges or small tasks, but what about necessary monetary outlays for non-locally produced materials or services, e.g., auto purchases or specialized hospitalization?
Many unanswered questions arise when discussing globalization. Is the move to globalize inevitable, or is the small community or homestead approach to satisfying basic needs (food, fuel, water and building materials) a more sustainable economy? Is protectionist nationalism regaining a grasp on people? Should we tolerate lax environmental laws to produce specialty products at lower prices? Can globalized, locally sustainable and non-monetary systems co-exist and thrive to a certain degree? Do local systems that produce basic food, fuel, water and other bulk goods thrive while seeking to regulate our commons of air, water, space and wildlife?
Prayer: Lord, help us in times of rapid urbanization to still champion villages that are both interdependent and self-sustaining, and good places to thrive in a higher quality of life.
Lord, tell me to come to you across the water. (Matthew 14:28)
We know the consequences of a Perfect Storm, one where all the conditions combine to make a massive natural disaster. At the shoreline at Gloucester, Massachusetts is a monument to all the fishermen who lost their lives at sea -- some in "perfect" storms. Like early fishers, Gloucester seamen feared the storms at sea.
We Americans can be tempted to seek extraordinary security at the expense of other demands in life. One would expect that the materially endowed would find this less a problem, but the paradox is that often the greater the material possessions, the less the security -- for precious "stuff" can be more easily stolen and need more protective maintenance. Young people in affluent homes have difficulty sharing, and so do the old and the middle aged now involved in rat races to seize prestige or positions. Senior citizens are not immune, for they can grip tightly to that with which they know unconsciously they will soon part company.
Insecurity accompanies material affluence and is a warning sign: something is lacking in life. To possess much means to hold on to much and to hold on tightly; this creates an insensitivity to anything that is not worth grabbing. Of course, the less well off are not free of insecurities, but they often know how to cope with scarcity. However, some clutching to hard-earned possessions and overlooking the need to share with the less fortunate through a creeping insensitivity can infiltrate all ranks of people, economic groups, cultural bodies and even churches. What may be taken away demands a protection plan. But is material insurance sufficient?
Insecurity goes beyond the individual. Homes are often racked by dissention and back-biting and need the healing calm of Christ's presence to bring peace. Communities also must pull together and support those who need special care and attention. A spiritual security is needed in our nation and world for "In God We Trust." Our nation requires the security that does not come with increased military buildup, but with radical sharing of resources with those who are destitute, especially in a refugee- and famine-racked world. Should we rethink our domestic policy of national security? An earthquake can occur or a meteor strike us -- though highly unlikely; in such cases ultimate security cannot be secured and we must turn to God for assistance and companionship. We can only prepare so much for natural disasters, possible accidents or terrorist attacks. While over-dwelling on disasters is stressful, still impending climate change makes us look beyond secular ways and beg for the energy to confront climate change deniers who have such financial and political power today.
Prayer: Lord, draw our attention to our national motto "In God we trust." Help us pause a moment and make a deeper reflection both individually and collectively, for only in God do we find true security as we face our current major security problems.
Carduus nutans, musk thistle, on central Kentucky prairie.
August 14, 2017 Revere the Ark of the Covenant
The vigil of Mary's Assumption contains the rich liturgical symbolism associated with Mary's title of "Ark of the Covenant." In English, we use "ark" for two Hebrew words: first, Teba or Noah's ark (box, chest), and second, Aron, a coffin which measures 45 by 27 by 27 inches, made of acacia wood and later inlaid with gold, and containing the ten commandments, Aaron's rod and a golden urn of manna. The Israelite community knows that God is truly present with the people here. The ark moves with them in the desert, it stands in the middle when the Jordan River parts, it goes into battle, it is placed by David in a tent or Tabernacle-- and later in Solomon's Temple in the Holy of Holies, and it is lost when the nation goes into exile 587-586. Some say Jeremiah rescues the covenant and hides it on Mount Nebo.
Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant -- a connection with the coming of the Messiah who dwells with us. In Mary's womb is Jesus, the Messiah. The Gospel says it is not the body parts that are important but rather the person who hears the word of God and keeps it. This is St. Luke's Gospel, the Gospel of Mary, who says all generations call her "blessed." She is humble because God, not she herself or other human beings, has done great things for her -- and she recognizes God special favor.
Fiat, "let it be done to me," is powerful. Mary is the prime person of affirmation, one who hears the word of God and keeps it. It is a personal decision, a moment that counters the denials of previous generations starting with our first parents. Hearing and keeping God's words are the opposite of the words of Eve, who wanted to be like God through an act of disobedience, and who declared a sort of independence from God's will. Mary counters in trust and union with God. Hers is the ultimate pro-choice.
We must not put Mary on a pedestal as a distant object of our devotion. Rather let us come to her in an atmosphere of trust, confidence, faith and celebration that the Israelite community places in the Lord through and in the symbol of the ark; their joy and celebration are immense. No one but those of a particular sacred office are even to touch the ark. Her holy presence is awesome and shows us the need for reverence -- in the presence of Jesus and during the solemn celebration of Divine Liturgy.
We need a return to reverence, which is so lacking in our modern world -- for without it we could fail to see what God is doing for us and through us. We couple traditional reverence with the joy of tomorrow's celebration. We revere Mary's gifts and role, her assent, her life and model, and we see her as going ahead of us in a happy death, which has no sting for the faithful. Her Son has overcome death in the victory of the resurrection. She enters into his victory as first among the blessed.
Prayer: Lord, may this special feminine ark be treated with the reverence that needs to be extended to all women.
Some challenge stereotypical notions about male/female strength and weakness. Mary does this better than most. She is strong in affirmation -- a "yes" heard down through the centuries. When the male disciples fled for the most part, Mary stood beneath the cross; she is the sinless one; she is ahead of us on the eternal journey; she is the first of those fallen asleep who shares in the fruits of the resurrection of her son; she offers us opportunities to celebrate on her feast days.
We discover a young maiden who hears the magnificent words of the annunciation and wants them to sink into her heart; however, she simultaneously learns that her cousin is with child, and she does not hesitate to journey to be with her; she does not remain in a rapture in the soft light of stained glass windows as some painters portray; rather she is riding a donkey on a dusty road, alone with the God-within. She is first a caregiver who is also a contemplating activist.
Truly Mary is blessed, and her humility is in knowing that God has given her great privileges. We too are blessed people, and must recognize, not our nothingness, but our somethingness, and that we are truly blessed with gifts we do not earn by our own efforts. Mary helps us on this road, for she gives the first glimmer that salvation is very near, and so she becomes a gentle herald of this event, being present at Christmas, Calvary, Resurrection, and Pentecost. Mary is with us on major occasions. Mary is at our side even in our great event -- the hour of death.
Mary's gifts have a transparency that adds to accessibility, familiarity, and encouragement to us all. She is a prism through which her gifts radiate out to all. Her joy is contagious; her pain of being one with Christ strikes her in the heart; a great mystery unfolds in which she has a central role by God's special favor. While all is special, it is not exclusive; the blessings to Mary are those she wants to share with us. We too can be humbled in knowing God gives us favors as well; we can be enthusiastic in our mission, for God is with us as well. We too can be God bearers to others by bringing Christ, the ultimate gift, to others. Mary does not stand apart from us; rather she goes ahead of us in the Assumption, first in the fruits of the Resurrection.
Mary gives a woman's touch to the story of redemption, a compassion and a gentleness that we need in any healing operation. As mother of us all, she gives us a deeper understanding of the healing needed all around us. She encourages women to make unique contributions in healing our wounded Earth. Empirically we know that women have a unique role in healing, an intuitive grasp that incorporates compassion and personal concern. Is there something inherently womanly, without which the final task of saving our Earth cannot be achieved? The key may be found in gentle Mary.
Prayer: Mary, please go on ahead of us but not too far ahead.
Hoary puccoon, Lithospermum canescens, a species becoming rare in many habitats.
August 16, 2017 Global Population: Explosion or Decline
The twentieth century witnessed a vast increase in human population on this planet, from about two to over six billion people. Even though birth rates are falling, still in this century life expectancy is moving rapidly upward and we have 7.4 billion people (2017) and some expect ten billion people by 2050. Some developed nations have witnessed low birth rates that do not meet replacement, but others like Germany also have high immigration rates that make the total population continue to edge upward. The continent of Europe is the only one projected to see a moderate decline in population by 2050. Some 28 countries will experience declines with Eastern Europe suffering heavily. Rumania will drop from today's 20 million to about 14 million by mid-century. Others heavy losers are Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Russia.
Africa will be at the other extreme (with Asia and the Americas with moderate growth). Certainly African rates have been affected by the AIDS epidemic by bearing the brunt of the thirty some million deaths since the start in the early 1980s. However, families of five to six children are still common in the continent and nations, especially in the South Sahel such as Nigeria will double in population by 2050. Education and jobs for these increasing millions will become a major challenge even though many resources are still untapped on this vast continent.
The PRB World Population Data Sheet for 2016 project that some 42 nations are in population decline mainly in Europe but also in part of the Pacific rim (Japan, Taiwan, etc.). One quarter of Japan's population is over 65 years and thus the nation will lose tens of millions in the next three decades. China has seen its growth rate decline to below replacement, and will relinquish first place in population to India. Replacement of a Chinese working contingent due to lower incoming young people due to the past one- child policy worries policy makers in that nation. On the other hand while the U.S. does not have native birth replacement rates, our country still have high enough immigration that allows moderate population growth.
The Deep Ecology platform says that a (qualitative) flourishing of human population is compatible with a substantial (quantitative) decrease in the human population. For these people, the Earth's carrying capacity is at its limit. Their pessimism is based on selective indicators of continued decline in death rates and slower declines in birth rates, especially in the so-called developing world. The surest way for a stable population is neither heavy declines nor rapid growth rates. Social and economic stability is the most ideal situation and the surest way to meet reasonable population growth. Over-population prophets are less vocal because they often de-emphasize increasing consumption rates by richer people (a real environmental degradation indicator).
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be reasonable and ethical in all things, even our population growth and stabilization.
The home is America's most unregulated place, the space where many, especially the very young and the elderly, spend the most time; sometimes domestic space in rather airtight homes mask harmful atmospheres with levels of toxic substances and smoke exceeding those allowed in public work places. The free flow of air in drafty older homes is not the case in more modern ones with insulated space to reduce loss of heated or cooled air. Addressing the indoor domestic environment becomes one of the emerging challenges for advocates of clean environment. In addition, the general population has a growing chemical sensitivity.
Our home is our castle, a sacrosanct space that others may enter and regulate only with permission or warrant. We do not want to be subject to the invasion of this space by energy monitors, as has happened in certain European countries with "energy police" entering to check thermostats. But is domestic space beyond the pale of inspection, if all our citizens (especially youth and elderly) need to be properly protected? Should regulatory agencies (e.g., Consumer Product Safety Commission) determine what is permissible or intolerable for domestic environments? Today, we have more domestic chemicals in many homes than an average 1850s chemical laboratory -- and some of these are harmful pesticides.
Consider the following obvious and more hidden causes of indoor air pollution: home cleaners of a large number of types and varieties, and all with pungent scents to mask the chemical odors; arts and hobbies using paint solvents or firing unvented pottery kilns; kerosene heaters in winter or grills with fumes entering the house; radioactive materials in soils that infiltrate homes; pesticides and automotive products left in store rooms with fumes filtering into living space; building materials -- glues, caulks, and solvents and asbestos in older homes; and laundry soaps and cleaners with their scents.
Of all the domestic problems, the most preventable and controllable ought to be smoking -- but that is not always the case. One-fifth of American adults still smoke and many do so in their homes; spouses and children suffer from secondary smoking affects and may have asthma or other breathing problems. And it is more than tobacco smoke; wood smoke-related problems arise in developing countries that use wood fires for cooking in poorly vented kitchens, a common practice that could be eliminated by the use of solar cookers and ovens. The home occasionally needs a housecleaning, and part of this is to liberate it from air pollutants. Merely scenting the place with deodorizers exacerbates the problem, for it only anesthetizes the nose and keeps us from knowing what is really going on. Let's discover the offending materials and remove them so as to liberate the domestic space.
Prayer: Lord, protect our home and make us aware that we must do the same for our own sakes and those of others who live here or in the neighborhood.
Eastern wahoo, Euonymus atropurpureus, a member of the bittersweet family.
August 18, 2017Conflict Resolution and Ecological Concerns
As this year 2017 progresses, we who would like a quieter national and global scene are constantly struck by the unresolved conflict clamoring for resolution. We would like for terrorism to cease and the climate change impending crisis to go away. But that along with the current Administration will not melt away like awakening from a nightmare. Reality stares us in the face and calls for a spiritual stamina that seems to exceed former demands of our youth. We must resolve to address our current conflicts.
In discussing environmental threats, some emphasize the primacy of removing conflict through compromise, but is this always possible. In matters such as giving time to generate noise and time to keep silent something can be said for resolving through compromise. If the battle is whether there will be a shadow Environmental Protection Agency or a dynamic agency capable of finding sources of air and water pollution and regulating them, the differences besetting citizens and profit-making Big Oil may be irreconcilable. Powerless Earth and poor folks are not equal partners in conflict resolution -- and compensation through confrontation is necessary through advocates for the voiceless.
Unfortunately, such fabricated non-struggle among so-called opposing parties may be a license for business-as-usual and a way to reduce the effectiveness of environmental advocacy. Advocates may say they represent the Earth, but forget that no one can be a perfect Earth spokesperson. In fact, the victim is the voiceless peaceful planet, which does not shout or scream with each tear in its fabric. Our Earth may react to damage, but reaction time is generally so slow that the exploiter has time to do damage and get away without paying, long before the actual damage is verified.
Today, a spirited argument is most necessary to emphasize the seriousness of climate change. When advocates are bullied to remain silent, there is actually no conflict resolution, only a false tranquility while injustice continues. Advocacy is compromised in the name of being nice and chummy to various offending parties. This works to the advantage of exploiters and only increases the seriousness of the resulting damage.
Another and radically different method exists, which emphasizes that conflict already exists between those who assault the environment and the victim, and it is necessary to expose the actual conflict before resolving so-called differences. Lessening the discussion's heat does not reduce the problem; often it diverts attention from exploiting activities. Prophets must convince the onlookers that advocacy must be a community project so that all together speak for a silent fragile Earth as champions. Advocates cannot act alone but need the power of commoners to speak, march, petition, confront and resolve matters together in a spirited way.
Prayer: Lord, help us to confront the conflicts we face and always resolve to stand on the side of justice and the poor.
August 19, 2017 Common Lands and Private Property Rights
Our American tradition of land ownership has a long and varied history. Much of our English law tradition is based on perceiving land as something we have an absolute right to, once we possess the legal title. Other cultures and even much of the Native American understand land stewardship differently. For them, more is held in common and less is held in an individual possessive manner. Some experts like Eugene Hargrove trace the American land attitudes to our Saxon heritage and further back to the ancient Teutonic origins of land use. Unfortunately we cling tightly to such concepts of land ownership that omit respect for the Commons held by all.
Most traditions hold that environment is a Commons: e.g., air, oceans, rivers, space, uninhabited fragile zones and polar regions, air waves, and even Internet rights. Many of these traditions are still more expansive and accept common grazing land, mountains, forests, lakes, seashores and on and on. This common heritage of humankind can easily be co-opted by those who discover that through some legal mechanism, a proprietary "right" to the property or a license to perform certain acts of ownership may be allowed with a physical force to back up the legalized "theft." America has been influenced by money interests from very early times, and an individualized definition of "property" has established an opportunity to lay claim to much of the Commons.
This approach had an historic precedent by the seventeenth century when common grazing lands in England were enclosed and taken over by influential "nobles." In recent years the movement to codify a "Law of the Seas" ran into major American opposition because some saw this as an appeal to a higher authority than a government that allows some to exploit sea resources. It's a small step from absolute property attitudes, to enclosure of the Commons, and then to exploit the space seized. For those who are property absolutists, there's no need to get permission from anyone; developers make decisions on how the land is to be used. With this progression, one can see where the "right" to exploit and even damage one's owned or leased property arises -- and to hell with future owners, stewards or users. Should Commons be reaffirmed in this age of Internet, public forestlands, seashore, and the push for general resource privatization?
An ultra-conservative Administration seeks to superimpose property rights over the rights of the people to regulate land use in some fragile environmental areas. This group argues that they as "owners" ought to be repaid for lost opportunities to profit from the development of their environmentally fragile land. For instance, a requirement not to build on fragile seacoast in the south Atlantic states means that potential resort area property values are depressed. Takings (lost economic value) due to governmental environmental restrictions could become financial opportunities, if developers win lawsuits for losses.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to share in common what You give us.
Woman, you have great faith! Your wish will come to pass.
We have all experienced moments when we thought all was going well and we would win the special notice -- and then it slipped out of our hands to someone who was completely ignored and overlooked. Where did that fellow come from? The same applies when triumph seems so near at hand for our community, school or nation, and then a setback suddenly occurs and puts us down, deep down in spirit. Why? Could the good Lord be affording us an opportunity with a gentle teaching moment to see ourselves in supposed humiliation? Maybe this is like what Jesus teaches the chosen people through the example of the humble and overlooked Canaanite woman. We need to be humble for we are from and will return to dust, for humility is derived from humus or soil. God gives us precious gift of time to see ourselves for who we are. Teach us to count how few days we have and so gain wisdom of heart (Psalm 90: 12).
As we perceive the shortness of our time we find that our own dreams and great expectations somehow miss the mark. We are not able to be or to do what we thought was so easy to be or to do in our previous idle pondering. We are unable to fulfill glorious dreams, whether a good job or a lofty position or heaven knows what. The dreams are easier to conceive than reality to witness. The more and broader the unrealistic dreams, the greater the plummet when they fail to mature. On the other hand, accepting who we are is humbling. "We've done the best; what more can be done?"
Humble people have a power beyond themselves, for they tell a story in just being who they are. Humble people are approachable; they seem satisfied and thankful for what they have; they hesitate to ask for more, for that is an unearned gift.
Humble garden work is hot, tedious, demanding, and yet rewarding and truly a form of recreation. While stressful at times, still in knowing we have done our best, it is a work of human hands and a beauty in its own right. When we realize our own domestic or professional life's work is the product of honest means we can say we tried. We are like an old dog, always faithful, caring, and always serving.
Humility opens us to a spirituality that allows us to know who we are -- and that gives a certain energy to others to do the same. Through humility, there arises an emerging integrity permitting us to accept our current condition in life and to speak, through satisfied living, to the goodness of the gift Provider. Humility strengthens our psychological health and peace of soul; we thank God for helping us take comfort in knowing our limits and talents. Furthermore, humility permits an atmosphere where we thank a merciful God for the gifts that were undeserving and unearned.
Prayer: God, our protector, keep us in mind; always give strength to your people. For if we can be with you even one day, it is better than a thousand without you.
August 21, 2017 Toxic Chemicals: A Social Justice Advocacy Issue
With a weakened Environmental Protection Agency, an alerted citizen must be all the more aware that toxic chemicals can harm our unsuspecting neighbor. Poisons like hemlock have been known by people since ancient times. Some toxic substances are inaccessible to people; and some require sophisticated extractive procedures. DuPont's slogan stated, "Better things for better living through chemistry." However, the industrial chemical record is not perfect, for toxic substances found in large amounts can be used well, overused or misused, and the results can be vast improvements in health, or deterioration through rapid or slow poisoning. Modern chemical production sites offer promises of jobs and perils of pollution. A weakened EPA cannot aggressively pinpoint and halt toxic substance generators -- and many in big industry smile.
We see the value of petrochemical production, and resulting life-saving substances. However, workers, local inhabitants and consumers can bear hidden or undiscovered costs. Consumer "demand" means consumer preferences that require certain raw and processed materials, and that includes many toxic chemicals in high volume. Workers may see jobs first and never regard toxic substance dangers until it's too late. However, occupational hazards have existed from the advent of the chemical industry and many cases of lung and liver cancer and other maladies have been medically identified; others become part of an anecdotal picture, which awaits the difficult verification that EPA spent past time performing. The very poor and especially minorities have been forced to live near chemical plants such as in the Mississippi Delta and other heavily industrialized parts. The same applies in developing lands to which runaway industries have fled to escape anti-pollution measures. Recall the Bhopal tragedy of deaths in India!
Social justice considers all aspects of a balanced life. A consumer inadvertently buys a product, which does a good job in killing a pest or cleaning a sink, but it may harm the user or the environment if precautions are not taken. However, many do not read labels. Thus, consumers and laborers become guinea pigs, and injuries and deaths may result. As increasing numbers of chemicals assault our lives. Furthermore, the general population is becoming more chemically sensitive in ways never before imagined. Do we believe sufferers, especially the very young, when they complain, while others in the same household show no ill effects?
"Right-to-know" legislation has helped residents and workers to discover toxic effects of nearby chemical plants or dumps. Since the first Earth Day environmental protection agencies have reduced abuses of an earlier industrial era. Like smoking chimneys as sure signs of employment, an operating chemical plant was welcomed by unemployed workers. We are now in a deadly spiral backward as though pollution is worth enduring -- by the poor.
Prayer: Lord, help us to understand the potent materials we use; let us learn to treat them with great respect.
Photovoltaic "solar cells" have been known for decades to generate electricity directly when exposed to sunlight. These solar systems can light homes, roads and paths, power appliances, charge solar electric cars, operate traffic signals (especially in remote places), pump water, and run ventilation fans. The first generation of solar units was a single-crystal silicon variety.
We observe those beautiful arrays of shiny multi-colored (in sunlight) silicon cells on roofs of homes and commercial buildings -- and my parish church hall. These allow a solar electricity source without the need for coal-fueled powerplants and all the accompanying pollution and land disturbance. The energy can be generated where it is immediately used, or the surplus transferred to an existing electric grid, or stored over night in batteries.
A second generation of photovoltaics is using chemical coatings, which cost less and are more versatile. Researchers have developed coatings on roofing materials, which can be applied directly on new construction or retrofitted on existing buildings, and which require no additional frames like those used for holding solar arrays. The research is being conducted right now and results are just beginning to reach the commercial stages where commercial wonders are anticipated. However, solar energy systems have suffered from lack of consistent tax incentives and clear governmental policies even with such salutary efforts as the recent U.S. Department of Energy's Million Solar Roof Program.
When the August summer sun beats down on housing, air conditioners work overtime. This often means that the fossil-fueled powerplants are working at peak capacity, and at this precise time solar energy will be most able to make its maximum contribution to the utility mix of fuel sources. On the sunniest summer days, solar-powered photovoltaics are generating extra energy to feed back into the system, and thus will reduce the need for electricity generated by powerplants. This is the reasoning behind integrated utility systems with "net metering" that use decentralized solar systems. Our private solar systems will not only have enough energy for local demands, but will run a meter in reverse when producing a surplus. However, utilities prefer to buy electricity at wholesale rather than retail rates in order to meet grid maintenance costs -- and in fairness they charge a fee.
While solar energy is ready, it is not complete in itself. Cloudy days make auxiliary energy sources necessary. Solar devices do not work well in a wasteful society, for they require energy conservation measures. It takes resources to bring solar energy on line, and it takes care to maintain the solar systems. As Ken Bossong, the founder of "Sun Day," says: "A transition to a solar society will not be much of an achievement, if it is not guided by a clearly articulated set of principles and values." We agree.
Prayer: Lord, help us to value the sunlight all around us, and to use it to the benefit of all.
August 23, 2017 Local Concern Versus Globalization
Think and act locally so that we can think and act globally.
My mother's maiden name was Schumacher, but that is a common German name; whether we are distantly related to E.F. Schumacher the author of Small is Beautiful (also from the Rhineland) is still undetermined. However, EFS's philosophy resonates with me and enters into many of my works. For me, the world would be better if we de-emphasized some of the high-technology fixes and concentrated more on simple techniques, which are decentralized, lower cost, easier to maintain and conducive to community formation. No one, in our way of conceiving the world, should overlook the importance of simple, grassroots methods and the simple way of doing things. However, to think only small is not enough in our complex world.
An unrealistic decentralist would argue that all environmental problems can be solved at the local level. Some question author Kirkridge Sales for seemingly defending such an approach, but he refutes the accusation. Any form of decentralist position needs further clarification. I prefer to take a more middling position between those who champion the utter superiority of the local, and those who think all good things come from on top and filter down to the lowly peons through regulations. Maybe we need a mix of the local and global, and have these work in harmony with each other.
Numerous groups take a wider view of environmental problems, for the globe's oceans can easily be exploited and polluted, the fragile Commons (especially Antarctica) is being trashed, and outer space is being polluted with junk. How do we regulate the distant places, the unoccupied zones, the areas beyond the attention of even a hard-pressed national state? Decentralists may not have answers for these questions because they become so distracted by their local problems that they fail to see the broader picture. Thank heavens for global groups, for social justice and human rights folks, for popes and world religious leaders, for opponents of land mines and nuclear proliferation, for Greenpeace and Children's Relief and Doctors without Borders, and for the United Nations. Yes, it is good that those who think and act globally or locally can work together for a better world.
Air and water are more mobile and thus deserving of broader-ranging areas of regulation through governmental agencies. The entire world is striving to restrain climate change effects; European Union is worried about forest death due to air pollutants; and Americans are concerned about the power of Big Oil to continue in privilege when it should be phasing back and replaced by a renewable energy economy. Rigid decentralist solutions do not address global pollution problems. We need global agencies to regulate the purity and equitable distribution of water. See our Reclaiming the Commons: What Believers Can Do on Brassica Books.
Prayers: Lord, teach us to discern the needs of all and be willing to work both at local and global levels for their solution.
Sheep in pasture, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, KY.
August 24, 2017 Discuss Animal "Rights"
Animals have a right to be treated with respect. A celebrated case of road rage a while back occurred in San Jose, California. This involved an angry driver berating a woman in a fender bender incident; the irate aggrieved party reached into the woman's car, grabbed her pet dog and tossed it out into the ongoing traffic. The woman was horrified, for she said she loved the animal like a family member. At the subsequent trial, the dog-tossing angry driver got three years in prison during which he had ample time to gain respect for animals.
People cannot go out and shoot stray animals, an exercise we thought merciful for the starving pups dropped at our homestead three decades ago. Today agencies exist to handle such strays and, if necessary, to "put these away" in supposedly humane manners. Part of the changing environment is due to seeing animals as beings deserving respect, which need not be shown weeds or invasive plant species. We do not subject animals to meaningless cruelty; we respect their basic right to exist and flourish; we resolve to protect their traditional habitat. When proliferating to a high degree, these animals need to be controlled in humane ways.
The traditional understanding is that rights come along with responsibilities, and that in a strict sense non-rational creatures can't have rights because they are not "responsible" for their individual actions. Perhaps such rights language is too restricted, but it does have its proper place in legal history and our civilization. We do speak of the "right to" free speech, worship, and to basics of life. But that last area is shared with other creatures on this planet. The species' "right" to respect, a decent living, and fair treatment may extend to an individual creature, at least with larger and more complex species. The right of a pest to exist is harder to justify and needs distinctions.
More difficult questions arise: how are we to treat animals that find incarceration quite difficult? I am distressed seeing caged orangutans facing the wall because they apparently find the zoo spectators more than they can handle; equally disturbing is seeing a badger pacing back and forth almost crazed by confinement. Should we capture and confine wild animals, use them for pets or consign them to scientific research projects? Are animal parks less stressful alternatives, and can they help preserve certain endangered species? Should animals be killed for meat or raised for other animal products? Are the hog, cattle and chicken corporate farms and ultimate butchering processes forms of tolerated animal abuse? Does this give birth to a doctrinaire vegetarianism? What about those who deliberately cause endangered plants or animals to become extinct in order to avoid endangered species regulations? Should activists liberate captive mink, monkeys or mice? Should they point to bent drumsticks at fried chicken places, the mark of confinement of non-free-ranging fowl?
Prayer: Lord, teach us to extend respect to the animal kingdom.
Our wildlife feature of the month, the mockingbird, gives me pure elation upon hearing it. The Northern Mockingbird or Mimus polyglottos is quite plentiful in our Appalachian region. However, these are the last weeks before this energetic and vocal bird takes a well-earned vacation for a number of weeks in late summer. What a joy this year to go outside, especially early in the morning, and hear and then observe it perched in the higher reaches of the nearby sycamore tree, the maple on the other side of the house, or on the utility pole up near the transformer box. The mockingbird serenades the country side with enthusiasm and fills us early risers with utter joy.
In former years, I would finish my jogging early in the morning, sit outside to get my breath, and then to the best of my ability attempt to insert a bobwhite call into the mockingbird's repertoire of bird sounds. Occasionally after numerous other calls the mockingbird would mock me, and that always "made my day." This bird is the best mocker in North America, knows it, and even takes an encore after a performance by turning what looks like a somersault -- and then going back to mocking. The mocking calls are really not systematically repetitive but more at will. Birders tell us that male birds may have repertoires of one hundred or more calls -- good luck in the counting process! So much for this bird's agility and creativity, though it is known to imitate certain birds better than others.
Though called "northern," our mockingbird is only northern in relation to the Latin American lands of this hemisphere. In fact, we in the United States regard this as a southern bird. It is found most often in the U.S. Southeast and the border regions of Mexico, but the summer range extends up the Mid-Atlantic coast and even reaches to the coast of southern Maine. We are truly blessed by this not so colorful but brightly sounding specimen of wildlife.
I observe the way our local mockingbird goes along the lawn into my garden area with the wings somewhat outstretched and showing the white of its underbelly -- either to put the insect prey off guard or to mark territory. Last year one nested and raised its young in bushes near my house. What a privilege! And I have seen it aggressively attack pets and persuade them to stay away -- and it could even battle human beings too close to its nest. Give the mockingbird a respectful distance.
The amazing thing is that the mockingbird is my call to prayer, for when I feel disgruntled and distracted, this bird has a way of recalling me to the more important things in life -- God's blessings to us all. The bird seems to say, "Just stop, rest, open your ears and hear the collective sounds of all creation as a way of realizing that the face of God shines up through all creation."
Prayer: Thank you Lord, for blessing us with mockingbirds.
May they always be with us and help us protect their habitat.
Picking fresh blackberries on a hot summer day.
August 26,2017Valuing Hands-On Work Experience
Many people do not have much experience of working with their hands, or seeing the product of their labors reach fruition. This is the reason why trail-building, Habitat for Humanity work or reforestation projects are such valuable experiences for youth. Youthful volunteers have an opportunity to work with their own hands, see the fruit of their labor, know the product will endure, and are confident that their contribution will be visible.
Gardening, as a form of outdoor work, can be performed by a variety of people looking for work experience. Near Amsterdam in the Netherlands I observed an entire school class engaged in planting seedlings in a school plot -- and they were quite enthusiastic about what they were doing as they touched the soil with their own hands. Some learn cooperative outdoor projects through Eagle Scouts or through summer outdoor work. The skills gained may differ, but all have the opportunity to contribute -- and that gives a sense of self-esteem and worth. Ideally, all learners have their own individual work assignments and are held accountable for that part.
Accountability for seeing the project through to completion is a major lesson taught through work experience. Gardening is always difficult for youth, who like the planting operation but become impatient, for plants grow slowly. They must be reminded that good results come slowly and often after a painstaking process. Some see things through to completion better than others do. If we are measuring something, it has to be checked and rechecked to make sure we make no mistakes; we have to focus on what we are doing. We are judged, for better or worse, on what we do with our time. Not everyone has the patience to learn easily or to teach slow learners. Many gardeners are insensitive to the way people learn, how one must start with basic tools and learn how they are used; there is a need for experimentation where damage can be limited, and then one may progress to more complex tasks.
Experienced farm kids are quite insensitive to what city folks know and can do. The same holds for urban kids who can maneuver through urban traffic, or for those who cook meals or care for a lawn. People who seldom teach find it difficult to remember what it was like to learn. A Chicago youth minister called, wanting to come to our nature center and to bring youngsters to teach Appalachians how to garden. Think about the bias! I asked whether the kids had gardening experience and the organizer said they didn't, but could learn quickly. I assured him that so could most Appalachians, and really it takes the experienced to teach well. Work experience is highly undervalued. How many regard this as proper for a resume or a college application? They ought to.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see the nobility of working with our hands not only in skilled crafts and art, but in the everyday things of life, and to regard this as experience worth treasuring.
A U.S. Military Takeover: Really?
This country has prided itself in a separation of the citizen and the military in national administrative leadership; and the constitutional framers were wise in their reasoning. True, the U.S. has a number of military leaders, e.g., Washington, Jackson, Taylor, Grant (and several who followed him in the 19th century) as well as Eisenhower in the 20th. Yes, in times of leadership crisis the military in many lands rise to the occasion -- and so military dictatorships arise in history in shorter or longer terms. Note Alexander Haig's immediate actions upon Nixon's resignation.
Has that period of extreme crisis reached into 2017 with a compulsively tweeting president who waffles on racial and alt-right issues? Perhaps in his admiration of the military DT has engaged some close marine friends: John Kelly (Chief of Staff), James "Mad Dog" Mattis (Secretary of Defense), H.R McMaster (National Security Advisor) along with Joseph Dumford (Chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff). These think in ways of service to country that is far from the inclinations of the one who is over them as a citizen "leader." Somewhat disturbing, these military and ex-military folks have more popular appeal than a president whose poll ratings continue to decline to 35% and lower. Compound the declining popularity with an added factor: one sophomoric early morning tweet could send North Korean multi-missile splashes next to Guam -- and war.
In previous crises Congress agreed with the President somewhat reluctantly, e.g. War of 1812 and the Mexican-American Conflict in the 1840s. With foot-dragging, Congress became partners in the Civil War and the two World Wars. A sense of patriotism usually overcame grave differences in each. However, this current legislative branch is less popular than an unpopular president; strong leadership is definitely lacking even within party structures. One can only surmise that it would take a miracle to make Democrats and Republicans sit down and work in a bi-partisan fashion. Can they even barely keep the government funded in the coming month, or take up health care, infrastructure and tax reform? What chance is there for inevitable but delaying impeachment proceedings that will draw publicity? Yes, intro- and inter-party squabbling paralyzes this branch of government today.
How do military personnel react to the present administrative brinkmanship and legislative malaise? Do they feel they actually have a majority of Americans who are willing to allow them to act precipitously? Horrors of Horrors. Is not the generals' habit one of unquestioning service to country over and above personal gain? Will they take the national alarm and take over from DT? Yes, these military have feelings like the rest of us while appearing calm. Will they equate "service to country" as taking over the reins of power? Is this writing helping to spread this idea or rather to caution about such thoughts? A democratic people must follow the law and retain citizen control. This is why a legal process of impeachment is far better than military control.
Wild grazing stone sheep, Ovis dalli stonei, northern British Columbia.
August 27, 2017 Keys to the Kingdom and Responsibility
Peter is the rock, but what does this mean? Like a promontory this rock is visible and seen from a distance; it stands through the storms; it is precious in that it gives orientation and direction to the traveler; it is of service to the wandering soul. Peter stands in this stormy world; does not Francis stand in his stead today? Are not all faithful Christians like Peter in being rocks in a sea of secularity? In the light of Matthew's Gospel we realize that today's rock must be approachable, familiar, awesome but respectful, and open to what the Spirit directs. Being rock by leaders or rank-and-file today has various characteristics:
1. Visibility to the People of God -- To the broader world, the rock has a certain building-stone quality as part of the conscience of our community of nations. Pope Francis speaks for some, but more broadly he speaks for all people in our basic unity as human brothers and sisters. When one person is in dire need of the essentials of life, we must call out for helping hands, no matter what the religious belief of the destitute person is.
2. Tranquility to the People of the Book -- Here the Pope must speak in a more particular manner, for God is God to all, and Abraham is our joint father in the faith. To bring together warring factions so that all can live at peace in the Holy Land and enjoy the fruits of pilgrimage to holy sites is a common yearning in our hearts -- whether we wear different clothes or speak in Hebrew, Arabic or a Latin, Germanic or Oriental tongue.
3. Integrity to the People of the Word -- All Christians need to have a common voice in speaking for the voiceless in prisons or under persecution in various lands. With a platform on the world stage, Pope Francis speaks for those who are hindered or whose voices are muffled -- for all Christians share a common bond of Baptism in the Lord and need to speak with one voice.
4. Clarity to the People of the Creed -- Many Christians profess the common creed from the time of the Apostles and the Council of Nicea in 325. What we envision of a spokesperson is one of service like Christ in the Trinitarian image of spreading the creating, redeeming and inspiring news to an anxious world. Here the unity of ecumenism becomes paramount and every effort must be made to bring about this deepening unity in Faith, and the Pope has a special role to play by leading the effort.
5. Joy to the People of the Liturgy -- Faith involves believing that Jesus is truly present with us in our celebration, and that some effort must be made in order that all who celebrate will be of one accord. Bringing about this accord is the work of the Pope within the Catholic communion who emphasizes the need for joy. And he is bishop of Rome and the world and seems to enjoy it.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to recognize that you gave keys and not a single key. Give us the tools to profess our faith publicly.
The number of Hispanic Americans in the United States has multiplied immensely since 1980 and is now about 45 million. Every part of the nation now has Spanish speaking residents. New York has one million Puerto Ricans along with others; Florida has a heavy concentration of Cubans; Mexicans and Central Americans are well represented in the border states of California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico and extending beyond to Oregon, Nevada, Colorado and eastward to Chicago and even Georgia and North Carolina. Some note that the heaviest concentration of undocumented workers is Hispanic and that these are most often dedicated construction, service, agricultural and factory workers. Hispanics and other minorities are becoming the majority in many urban areas (San Antonio, San Diego, Houston, and Los Angeles). Does this cause alarm or hope?
De facto, Spanish is becoming the lingua franca of a large portion of the area bordering Mexico. Why not make Spanish a "second" language, rather than frown upon its presence or discourage its use outright? Hispanic radio and television stations abound; signs are now found in all commercial quarters; Spanish is spoken openly on the streets. What will the language of ascendancy at the end of this century be? Spanish-speaking American people see their future as equal partners; let's be welcoming and regard bilingualism as a blessing.
Anglos may feel threatened, but we must realize that this is another immigrant wave -- a process that has made our nation great. We certainly need new immigration legislation, and hopefully this will be completed satisfactorily during this Administration. Many Hispanics have been in the United States a long time and more and more want to stay. A far more positive approach than deportation of the undocumented is showing a way to citizenship for the eleven million undocumented. There is more. We need to welcome second languages, because so many Americans have never had the experience of speaking a new tongue. Teaching that second language to youth in early grades is far easier on the learner than later in life.
A second official language would raise Americans from our cultural isolation and allow us to converse more easily with Latin Americans. How do we expect others to learn English, when we English-speakers never learn another tongue? Requiring all public and private grade schoolers to learn Spanish would have many advantages: it would open people to new cultures; it would help us to see Hispanics as neighbors with a different culture; it would tie the continents more closely together; it would expand the speaking skills of youth at a time when learning a second language comes easily; and it would allow a growing appreciation of the wealth of the Hispanic culture.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to see what is happening in our national life, to welcome change and to see immigrants as enriching our national and individual lives.
Carolina buckthorn, Frangula caroliniana. The Arboretum, State Botanical Garden of Kentucky.
August 29, 2017 Speaking the Truth: A Prophetic Stance
John the Baptist was a man of truth; he saw things clearly and he told it exactly how it was at whatever the cost. And that cost was great, for in the end it included his own head. But for John his entire life was to prepare the way for the Messiah, and that meant that the chosen people were in truth to prepare themselves for he who was to come. John realized that he was to step aside for the Lord to come and receive proper attention. John's humility was part of a prophetic stance that was difficult to perform. Truly we would have a hard time repeating his performance, because professing honesty in areas today is hard for modern prophets:
* The world's wealth and resources do not belong to the select few; they also belong to the poor;
* Nuclear power facilities must be phased out and we move to a renewable energy economy ASAP in order to curb global warming;
* If we are to have Middle East peace, Israel must stop building houses in occupied lands and withdraw in order to achieve a two state solution -- if that is at all possible today;
* Every person on this planet has a right to the resources needed for the essentials of life;
* We need to always promote a pro-life stance whether for the fetus, the elderly, or our fragile Earth herself;
* Let us learn to live simply so others can simply live, and this means emphasizing again environmental regulations;
* Letting a hungry person die without food in Africa and being insensitive to the circumstances of the current famine will condemn our selfish people if allowed to go unchecked;
* To convert corn that could have fed hungry people to biofuels is an abomination that should be discontinued;
* Commerce in tobacco products and opiates by those with an addiction is immoral;
* Non-violent prisoners ought to have an opportunity to do service programs for the community;
* Giving charity to those who ought to work is not charity;
* Everyone have a right to health insurance; and
* Our Earth needs to be always treated as a loving but elderly mother to us all.
Prayer: Lord, teach us that awesome truth to pray always -- and especially that we pray for the courage to speak the truth.
August 30, 2017The Internet and Global Communications
All cultures and communities thrive on communication, and that applies as well to our emerging global community. In the past, long distance communication was quite difficult even though some cultures had smoke signals and the Romans a network of post roads. Not long ago a letter travelled slowly but was highly treasured for it revealed the health, lives and deaths of relatives and friends. Today e-mails give us instant news, cell phones tell a spouse when one is coming home, and TV gives news from distant lands in a matter of hours. Today some regard being "unwired" like being naked. For better or worse, instant connectedness over such long distances is a new phenomenon. David Baldwin in "Richard III" tells of his wish to get news in 1385 and shares with emailers "to receive information in the fastest possible way."(p. 219)
The privilege of such connectedness through modern communications should make the protection of planet Earth far easier. We learn threats far more quickly; we catch culprits red-handed; we can get help from the police -- well maybe. Today, most organizations have web sites to plan strategy, develop tactics, and monitor operations. Citizens can connect through e-mail or create selfies or Google sites for information in a few moments. "Instant" is the key word for the wired person in today's world. Together with readily available information, modern communication allows all of us to recognize our Commons and to realize that air, water, marine life, wildlife, space and forests are all to be shared by all. Mishaps and threats need not go unnoticed, but we must be aware of mischief, spam and fraud.
Information overload occurs when we receive too many emails, calls and periodicals. It is like the indigestion in information experienced while jogging through a world's fair. We are left with the dilemma of what to read briefly or thoroughly. Do all parties have the right to know what is being manufactured, processed, sprayed, scattered or stored in their vicinity, especially at this time of year? If yes, then when is a company permitted to retain a trade or operating secret? Maybe never. Since most substances can be detected and identified through costly analytical means, should not all citizens have access to analytical data? However, we ask whether information makes us doers or paralyzed with detail.
Tradeoffs abound. Is the current pressure to have the government regulate the Internet the result of groups trying to exert control over communications? Billions of advertising dollars are at stake, as we know when Google seeks to absorb smaller search engines. Are those who are seeking to control the content and manner of Internet delivery interested in audience protection? Are air waves and communication means part of our commons? Are the highways of communication regulated with caution? Should they remain in the public domain and not be privatized. Sure, control the irresponsible ones, but leave the throughways free.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to communicate with You at all times.
Yellow star grass,
Hypoxis hirsuta. Cedars of Lebanon, TN.
August 31, 2017 A Fresh Look at Vitality
We are to know the seasons of our lives, though some deny that these seasons are here or passing quickly. The signs of aging include an added ache in the back, an unsteady walk, overly-frequent birthdays, obits in which a majority are younger, museums featuring farm tools we used in my youth, shortness of breath and memory, and increased time to check if clothes are properly on and fastened.
Some say it is salutary to think about our mortality on occasion --but such occasions come frequently with each passing death of a loved one. What about thinking occasionally about vitality, or how we can live a better quality of life with each passing day? We certainly cannot extend the quantity of our days in any manner, but we can improve what we have left. Don't count the days, but rather make the days count no matter at what age. When we past middle years, we think about how best to conserve our waning energy levels. For seventy is, as Scripture says, the ordinary length of life, and eighty for those who are strong.
Really, survivors must capitalize on life as given until now. We can never fully calculate the seasons of our life until they are over or nearly so, but for the majority of human beings the eighties are the December of life and the advent of eternal life. I suspect half the world's young people at a given time believe that they will not taste death. That's as unhealthy as always tasting it. "Cowards die many times before their death."
What about taking on a new activity, giving more time to those in need, finding a way to make another person happy, involving oneself in civic activities and public interest work? If we prefer the word "passing" to dying, how about preferring passing from our old selves to new creatures of activity and prayer life? Vitality is part of being realists, for being more alive means giving life to others as well.
Improvement is still possible in adult years and beyond. We start to realize that quality has no limits to growth and our improving life is the best preparation for eternal life. Hospice workers encourage the terminally ill to make every day and moment count as special events, for life is to be lived to the full -- and that should improve as we near the end. All life is terminal, but not all life has quality to it. Get the most out of beautiful sunrises, chirping birds and verdant meadows, the waxing and waning of the moon, the starry skies and occasional showers. All good things become more meaningful for us, a mellowing like good cider. Most of all, by improving our own lives we improve that of others also.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to know how we can live the gift of life better through denying ourselves for the sake of others. Don't let our "cross" be personal aches, but offerings we make for others. Help us to see that giving can always be improved with more heart.
Overdosing in Appalachia and Beyond
Official reports tell us that 34,000 people died from drug overdose deaths in 2015 and perhaps 50,000 last year. I don't believe the accuracy of these frightening stats; they are most likely under-reported. A decade ago I rode in the hearse carrying a parishioner to the cemetery (which was within the KY Natural Bridge State Park); on that weekend afternoon the undertaker mentioned that this was the seventh funeral that week and only one NOT a drug overdose. My efforts to verify the epidemic's intensity were stonewalled by funeral directors' reluctance to reveal real death causes, due to insurance hurdles. Was this problem national?
Too often public attention has been on our central Appalachian counties. One of the two countries (Powell and Estill) serving as my parishes is third among Kentucky's 120 counties in per capita overdose deaths. Furthermore, these two are among only ten in the nation's over 3,000 that experienced a decline in life expectancy since 1983, though most recent surveys suggest a wholesale national decline caused by increased suicides and overdoses. I've been hesitant to discuss overdosing due to an inability to influence the local situation, much less a broader one.
Once a suffering homemaker told me "Father, on the couch where you are sitting my daughter died of an overdose -- and her loss constantly pains me." What struck me then and now is that the pain afflicted on such humble folks losing young and promising loved ones is many times greater than the pain relief of the opioid prescription medicines that were the starting point of over half of the current drug addictions. And Americans take 80% of the world's opioids, which after subsequent addiction will not be pain killers but killers inflicting pain to survivors. Yes, a real problem!
Pharmaceutical propaganda to physicians and caregivers is laden with the message 'more drugs are better.' Regrettably, some in leadership roles in our nation prefer to blame victims and, beyond the simplistic "just say no" solution, dare to speak of greater access to medications that help fight the addiction. For them, questions subtly shifted from "why take a medicine?" to "which medicine must I take?" We have become a drugged culture that is driven by a combination of corporate greed, permissiveness and human weakness. But the power of the first mentioned must not be overlooked, for these companies have hooked at least two million on their products and then regard victims as engaged in criminal activity. Lest we forget, the majority of folks become hooked on legal opioids and then on fentanyl and even stronger chemicals, all starting with legal prescription drugs. Stats on the full extent of the problem may be beyond one hundred thousand per year.
Is this a uniquely American problem, not just an Appalachian one? Certainly the blame is to be distributed, but let's not overlook social and economic conditions as well as individual hopelessness and illness. Why does our country allow the advertizing of medicines? Why does it allow exorbitant profits to drug companies, especially when much medicinal research has been government-funded in the first place? Why talk so much about opioid pain killers when these become killers inflicting many times more pain on victims' families?
Consoling victims and their loved ones is hard enough as a pastoral duty; to conceive of ways to stop the epidemic in a meaningful manner by working in the public interest is far more difficult. Our citizenry must collaborate creatively to stop the marketing and distribution of opioids and to encourage litigation by victims and families to discourage the "legal" production of these substances. To silence skeptics, though I do take some prescribed medicines I have no painkillers in my residence, even the little aspirins my physician urges me to take. But, on the other hand, I do not suffer from chronic pain and may act differently if not blessed with good health. Neighbors suffering from cancer tell me they dare not publicize their condition for fear of thieves breaking in to steal painkillers.
Certainly, there's no magic solution, for the problem is complex. Non-medicinal ways to manage pain exist and the literature is readily available to those who choose to abandon the highly expensive medicinal route. It is more than just offering it up, and yet one doesn't need to risk becoming addicted by overlooking other safer and more natural means. Regionally, we do emphasize better employment opportunities, accessible health care, and praying with and for our people. However, a national emergency declaration is helpful: stop opioids as prescription drugs; stop advertizing drugs on TV; stop allowing exorbitant drug profits; and stop pretending that the problem is localized.
On the other hand let's start working together and go beyond casting blame: let's be willing to work on a person-to-person level; let's acknowledge that even the non-addicted take too many drugs; let's start regarding Federal drug research leading to end products as the "commons," to be distributed at a federally-mandated lowest price possible; let's start thinking of people first, not profits; and let's start training caregivers in non-medicinal approaches to palliative care. Accepting that we have a national drug problem redistributes the onus to all of us and not just to a few of us working at places with acknowledged high addiction rates. There's no easy fix, but attempting a variety of solutions at the same time may prove advantageous to all. Let's work together to help overcome drug addiction.