December is the time of cutting back on outdoor activities. Trees are bare, grass grows very little and gardens rest, even though some fall crops remain under protective coverings. December is "horseradish month," when the bite of this root is sharp and its preparation tear-filled. Now we dig the remaining root crops -- carrots, radishes, and turnips that were covered with leaves. We gather persimmons and nuts during this month. By hilling in the celery we can have a wonderful green vegetable -- slonng with the Jerusalem artichokes and the remaining protected Brussels sprouts. Yes, December is when we tap preserves from field and storeroom.
It's not your flowers but your leaves that give us spasms of delight; A radiant beauty unfolds, beholding an ever gracious sight, Pointing ahead to a great event, fiery red on a Christmas night.
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Northern cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
December 1, 2016 Is It Christmas Card Time Again?
I entitle this entry with a question mark because the tradition of Christmas cards needs a fresh review with postage stamps and the cards themselves rising in price -- and emailing so very much more convenient for those more facile with computers and other devices. Are we going to do away with those beautiful works of art, many of which are worthy of being kept and framed? One of the great pains with cards is throwing them away at the end of the season. That is why I hang them on strings till June to be seen by me and all visitors. At least they are worthy decorations.
Looking more deeply, consider recipients who need the joy that comes from a beautiful card plus personal greeting. Christmas cards certainly serve a purpose: to tell the sick that we care, to say we are aware of the ones who think themselves forgotten, for very close relatives and friends who expect cards, for those who have just had a severe loss this past year, and for the faithful worker who needs the extra boost. I must confess that those printed cards with impersonal printed names appear to be a waste of resources, but at least we are on a mailing list. The once a year missive with the nice little attached note does touch our calloused hearts and brighten our day. An attached sheet telling the comings and goings of yearly family history makes us feel we are part of their lives along with weddings, vacations, sicknesses, garden produce and all. There is still something meaningful here.
And then there is the very special joy of hand-made cards or the special poem. Even those who recycle old and beautiful cards, and do so tastefully, merit our gratitude for their efforts. It is certainly more than the electronic mailing, for one can hang them up or set them in the special place to become the centerpiece of special celebration. Other greetings such as a home visit or phone call can also be just what the doctor ordered at a particular time, as could the homemade Christmas gift that truly shows another cares. A face to face visit means so much to the lonely; it is the greeting across the fence or street or just down the road. All have their place as the Spirit moves us to act or to send.
Let's ask again, Christmas cards? At the beginning of this month they seem to be such a chore if addressed at one intensive time; but we could pace ourselves and give a little time over a week period, thus making the task less burdensome. Special cards are worth saving, such as the last one before a loved one's passing, or because the card itself is a special work of art. Face it, a card is a good way to appreciate being remembered for just being around a little longer. And sending is more gracious than even the receiving. The Christmas card is a great addition to civilization, and the act of going two ways reminds us that sharing is at the heart of Christmas, for here God shares mercy and love. Christmas cards are our nod to a divine act of generosity.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to gather some cards, write some greetings and treasure the responses in this season of sharing.
American bittersweet and eastern redcedar berries.
December 2, 2016 The Poor: Problem or Family Affair
What is our attitude about poorer folks? Are we tempted to say they ought to work harder, save more, do more cooking and refrain from expensive fast foods and soft drinks, stop smoking, and a dozen other righteous judgments on our part? We are all God's children. So often we separate ourselves from the poor, speak of "we" and "they," and regard these others as "problems." The often heard comment is that the poor think they deserve charity; they are discontented because they do not have what the affluent have; they are sources of violence, terrorism and rebellion; they suffer from maladies and require healing at public expense, and they are forgetful of ever saying thanks.
Lest we forget, we are all God's children. A growing number of lower-income folks look upon the wealthy as stealers of the commons that belong to all the people. The key is whether they hold that common belonging should go to individuals or to communities. For these aroused lower classes, the privileged thieves strive to legitimize their holdings and even undertake repressive measures in order to retain the status quo. In democratic countries, the voices calling for redistribution are muted or ignored, and that increases their frustration and agitation. For them, only a lucky few can escape the chains of poverty and receive the promised "freedom" of the affluent.
As God's children, we are all part of a family that can be at times dysfunctional -- and we have to accept this as part of the human condition of impoverishment of which we all suffer. This dysfunctionality is shared among all levels of income and social status; it embraces all of us, whether we suffer from inaction and over-reaction or from destitution or superabundance. Thus we seek a third way, a family way to settle difficulties. Our basic insight as Christians is that a family solution is possible. Resources can be redistributed justly with proper controls.
Does a paradigm shift occur (change our way of thinking)? The affluent do not have all the answers. Some who are well endowed are blinded into thinking that a "trickle down charity" is enough. In their view, the destitute lacking basics do not have answers. But the poor demand that we are all equal partners. What emerges is a clarity of insight in the way one reaches a solution to the world's problems. Focus on dealing with basic concerns: nourishing food, affordable housing, adequate health care, quality education. To reach such a basic equilibrium requires sharing and openness.
Social justice benefits all: it reduces insecurity and tension among various groups of people and gives precious time to rebuild a social order that is needed to heal our troubled planet. The key to initiating the transformation is recognition of the poor as valuable resources for change, not hesitant recipients of the largess of the affluent.
Prayer: Lord, help us treat each other as one family.
A few years back while on sabbatical in North Carolina, I saw the same small rabbit each day. I knew it was dangerously close to where I was trying to grow a garden and wondered whether I should kill it or not. However, we developed a friendly relationship and it pleased me to see this almost tame rabbit each morning -- for the place had been designated a wildlife sanctuary. Furthermore, this rabbit had a great variety of vegetation to choose from and did not need to feast on my garden. By happy coincidence, I found that by planting spicy mustard greens around the more accessible sides of the garden plot I could dissuade bunny from interior plants (beans, peas, greens and carrots) that rabbits favor.
Some prefer to think of rabbits at Eastertime and that is fine, except they don't give colored eggs. I think of rabbits in late autumn, for that's rabbit-hunting season. I only hunted rabbit once with some college friends, and resolved never again, for the rabbit was not aggressive and never hurt any of us -- and what fun is there in hunting down an innocent creature? Perhaps the only thing less glamorous is dove hunting -- and that is simply impossible for any peaceable person. At least a rabbit can be cooked into sour rabbit stew or hasenpfeffer, which takes time and skill if it is to be done just right. We always had difficulty eating my brothers semi-pet rabbits that eventually became part of our meat supply. Raising rabbits makes eating rabbit one step above eating pet dogs.
Our most common rabbit in this part of the world is the "cottontail" (genus Sylvilagus), which just about everyone can identify, and most especially young kids are drawn to admire. These animals bound about in a playful mood and add to the wildlife complexion of the countryside. They give our place a special character. The generally larger house rabbit (white or black) is affectionate and cuddly and makes a suitable companion -- though they require care in keeping cages clean and aroma-free.
Granted, the rabbit can become quite prolific in certain parts of the world such as in Australia, where there are no natural predators. Here we eradicated many of the top feeders, until the coyote crossed the Mississippi to fill the niche left by fox and wolf. At least carnivores hold the rabbit population at bay. But rabbits can consume valuable crops and gardens. A rabbit enters the area by hopping, but then surveys the immediate area by crawling and moving its head from side to side; when confronting a plant like the spicy mustard, instead of bounding over this barrier, the rabbit is diverted to other vegetation closer at hand. Spraying plants with a pepper mix will also turn the rabbit away. Rabbits do not have the appetite of the garden-eating groundhog or raccoon. Rabbits have a life span of from four to twenty years, but certainly not a life expectancy of more than a few months, since most are killed quite early in life.
Prayer: Lord, give us respect for the treasure of wildlife.
Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 3:1)
Listen hard and you may hear this: "How dare you talk about repentance! Don't you know that this is old-fashioned and not our way of modern thinking?" "Why need I repent, for I have never done anything wrong?" Has anyone said that recently? This initial reaction may be natural to people who like to hear soft, soothing words, who hold privileged positions in consuming resources, who like to do whatever they wish, and who do not want others to dictate anything to them with a moral tint.
Listen closely to the so-called religious radio and television stations. When the message is one of pure comfort, always sugary and devoid of self-denial, it is today's equivalent of the false prophets of old. If hearers are caught up in extravagance and wasteful practices, why bring up irritating issues? Hard sayings are hard on donations when the entire audience is perfect, and only outsiders sinners. Certainly a few folks stand out and are worth noting: those who use four, twenty, or one-hundred times what others in poorer nations use. Privilege embraces two thousand billionaires, and it embraces all who live the lifestyles of many Americans and Europeans as well. And the distance from the upper 1% and the rest widens. Where to you stand?
John the Baptist preached reform needed in preparation for Christ's coming. He tried to shake the people from their individual practices. Today, the need is for plain-spoken people to expose those who waste resources and seem to absolve themselves by practicing off-setting (see December 5th), a hoax that allows some to continue in their practices without being challenged. Some landowners who know an endangered species is present will deliberately go out when others are not looking and destroy the habitat and kill the species, lest the land be declared off limits to development; then one would be saddled with new regulations. This impulse to use up what may be restricted, bodes destruction to threatened species -- and it is a product of doing what one wants with what the person thinks belongs to him or her. For such people, the one who cautions as ancient prophet needs silencing.
Hard talk? Are we tempted to speak the truth in a plain-spoken manner? To preach this brings about a risk of being ostracized. Inhabitants of this troubled planet once again need to hear the message to repent, to return to the Lord, and to give up wasteful practices. We need to be reminded to consume less resources, cut our wastes, radically share with the poor, and break the social addictions of our people. Profound transformations require governmental regulations that include increased taxes and penalties on the privileged; thus we can have a fair redistribution of the wealth and return taxable money from off-limits tax havens.
Prayer: Lord, stir our hearts to what is just and lead us to repent wayward acts -- and try to encourage others to do the same.
Farmer tending a native bamboo stand on Kentucky hillside.
December 5, 2016Off-Setting: Modern Snake Oil Sales?
The controversy over what each can do about climate change looms over heavy spenders and world travelers. One idea is to salve consciences by "off-setting," namely, to do what has been done in polluting but pay another to off-set it with a good deed or refraining from polluting. For instance, a world traveler shunts extra money to an African project to make more efficient stoves for the poor and thus compensates for the extra carbon dioxide generated by the luxury trip. Let's be honest, "do the alternative practices really work as planned?"
A more specific example of off-setting is a trip from London to Berlin and back, over by plane (0.22 tons of CO2) and back by train (0.10 tons), and the difference being the "off-set" calculated to have someone else reduce emissions. The idea seems simple enough, but opens the door to a host of snake oil salespersons -- and they are out there. The proponents of off-setting say it is a teaching tool for raising awareness of how much greenhouse emissions are released in a single practice that we undergo. All well and good if the lesson is really learned, but off-setting may be a reenforcement of the privileged position of those rich enough to continue to spend in wasteful ways.
Some liken this to the controversy 0over misunderstood medieval "indulgences," seen as permission to sin (never ever taught as such for repairing the social consequences of sin). The indulgence was to restore what had been damaged by past misdeed through good works; the offset is to allow misdeeds to continue by some substitute good work. Big difference! Environmental opponents (who are not part of the big spending group) point out that it permits extending wasteful behavior as though the offsetting really works in making the world better.
Another equally poignant point besides continued wasteful behavior, is the encouragement of more consumption. For example, the off-set pays for a wind generator in a village in India. Now the villagers watch television and one of the viewers decides to buy an advertized motorized vehicle that is not really needed. In a few years the village has increased non-renewable energy use while engaged in the benefits of the renewable source, but this secondary effect is never considered in the off-set calculations.
We need to take a serious look at this off-setting practice -- this fad. Promoters of off-setting are more to blame than the game itself, for they are snake oil salesmen (these know the added alcohol will soothe their patients to some degree, but they do not really touch the victim's health problem). We must expose and seek to limit wasteful practices in order to reduce climate change. Offsetting, with its in-built commission soothes the addicted consumer but does not address the addictive behavior.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to practice true resource conservation.
If anyone is unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.
(II Thessalonians 3:10)
The feast of St. Nicholas comes long enough before our celebration of Christmas to allow us to reflect on how much and to whom we should give charity. We have reflected in the past on the concept of justice and charity and still consider at times, especially in this season, whether we should be donating to a begger or throwing money into the charity kettle. However, should we examine this issue more deeply, to all who receive undeserving charity damage the entire enterprise and discourage givers?
I should certainly give (and have in the past) when someone is apparently in real need -- someone stranded in the rain and needing a ride, or someone who needs a coat in winter. We recognize immediate need and the decision to help comes more easily. When seeing that someone is drunk or on drugs, we may withhold charity out of love for the betterment of the person who may need help, but not a monetary handout. Between cases of real immediate need and longer-term need come a host of other cases where a person with experience or spiritual insight knows the case is sophisticated "panhandling." Many of us do not have the experience to quickly discern real need from a fraudulent case.
During this season of giving, the following simple rules have been given to help overcome my inexperience:
* Size up the situation as fast as possible and try to give in kind (food, clothing, vouchers, etc.), as opposed to money, which could be used for the wrong cause;
* Ask pertinent questions as to the condition of the person.
So often a little time will allow you to make a better decision;
* Take time to get the person the ticket for the trip that is needed in contrast to giving money on request to buy a ticket; and
* Make known to the beggar the community agency that is better suited to evaluate the request.
One of the best reasons for ensuring that the recipient is a person in real need is that if you or a close friend gets fleeced, both of you become hardened to giving -- and that is not the way the world should be. It is quite true that those in clerical attire are the target of many panhandlers. A number of times each of us, no matter who, will be approached and it is embarrassing, for we need to move on -- and yet we are blocked. Sometimes we give to the wrong cause, just to avoid taking too much time -- and some beggars know this. It is okay to be too generous at times, but we have to remember that our society is sated by material things and some "charity" just deepens the desire for more handouts. An extra point worth considering is that justice should get primary focus, not these episodes called "charity." I hope St. Nicholas agrees with this assessment.
Prayer: Lord, give us insight to know when charity is needed.
I have come to bring fire to the Earth and how I wish it were blazing already! (Luke 12:49)
Don't play with matches. Don't hold lit candles too close or place them on the Christmas tree. Don't build a mansion in the middle of a forest filled with accumulated thatch. These rather hackneyed warnings tell us that we are all afraid of uncontrolled fires and seek to prevent them. However, lit candles are mesmerizing; people like to stand close to the fireplace; kids love to strike matches and make fire; at least a million American homes are located in woods precisely where they can easily be destroyed by forest fires. "Oh, fire fighters will defend our place should lightning strike or an arsonist start something." Besides, homes are generally expensive enough for fire fighters to brave elements and save mistakenly situated structures -- and risk their lives.
We talk often about controlling smoking practices, checking chimneys, being careful during cooking, refraining from certain decorative lighting, not using malfunctioning electrical devices, and composting and not burning discarded materials. All good and well, but let's take a longer range look at sudden fires and give some respect for fire's force and unpredictability. Fire was what we human beings first conquered: for space and water heating, for cooking, for protection, for light, and for making and fashioning metal from ore. Fire became the first spark of civilization and has been humankind's companion down through the millennia. Fire has many benefits; however, uncontrolled fire is deadly.
Human beings have felt empowered with fire when cooking and smelting, uses expanded to executions, fire bombs, and fire storms that ruined cities and the lives of tens of thousands in the past century. Fire is our promise and our peril; that is what makes us all the more cautious and diverts attention to fire safety by youth and elders alike. Our empowerment extends in harsh fashion to the fire power of more and more weaponry used in twenty-first century conflicts, as well as to controlled burns of combustible forests. Fires can be cleansing; fires can be unpredictable; fires can be necessary; and all too often fire can have unexpected and serious consequences. Thus we respect the power of fire, even when we are empowered through the use of controlled fire.
And speaking of fire, we look beyond the secular issues. Christ is the light of the world, and light is associated with fire. Divinity and fire are somehow seen together, even though often misconstrued. We light the new Fire each Easter, but it is certainly not almighty; we do the lighting and we become the guardians of fire. And along with fire comes our sense of that distant moment in the dawn of historic time when our ancestors first attempted to conquer and use fire. Fire Safety Day impresses on us our God-given responsibility to control fire.
Prayer: Lord, grant us wisdom to know and use fire wisely.
Today we celebrate the Virgin Mary as patroness of our fair land under the title of the "Immaculate Conception." Our mind is turned to both St. Mary and to all Saints whose names crop up throughout the United States.
There are many place names of saints throughout the Western Hemisphere, in Latin American, and in Canada with its many Quebec and Maritime Province contributions. However, the United States has its share as well. The largest contribution is from our largest populated state of California. The Franciscan and other missionaries of the eighteenth century "besainted" many places that became large cities (San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, and many others besides Los Angeles, which could also qualify). And this does not include the counties (Santa Clara, San Bernardino, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo).
Besides California, the plethora of town and county names continues in all parts of the country with a heavy emphasis in the southwest in former Mexican territory (San Antonio, San Angela) -- as well as the Hispanic influence in Florida (St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, St. Lucie County). The second area is the great Midwest (St. Louis, St. Paul and St. Cloud, Minnesota, and St. Charles in Illinois and Missouri), with its French influence that extended to Louisiana and the Mississippi delta (St. James and St. Helena parishes and Bay St. Louis in Mississippi). Another area near Quebec, Maine, Vermont and New York, has respectively St. Francis, St. Albans and St. Regis. That brings us to a third layer of saints' names that are surprisingly found in the southeast and in various scattered states (St. Paul in Virginia and North Carolina and St. Georges in Delaware), which are partly of Anglican origin. Midwestern names are associated with missionary activity among the Native Americans (St. Ignatius, Montana, St.Francis in South Dakota and St. Stephens, Wyoming). Some are from small settlements of generally Catholic Germans and others (St. Donatus, Iowa, St. Wendel and St. Meinrad, Indiana, and St. Croix and St. Nazianz, Wisconsin).
The most popular saint is to be expected on this Marian feast day: St. Mary's appears in a number of states including Maryland, Kentucky, Ohio, and Georgia. In fact, some forty-four states have saint place names (a majority are cities, towns and even unincorporated villages, two dozen are counties, and one in Nevada is a mountain range. A search of state maps, Google and Post Office searches cannot uncover saint names in six states: Hawaii has many native named places; interestingly enough, some of the currently most heavily Catholic states (Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and New Jersey) have no saint names; this is due to their being settled by Puritans and other Protestants in the seventeenth century when much of the first naming occurred.
Prayer: Lord, give us respect for saints honored in the U.S.
December 9, 2016Fear of the Lord: Preserving Reverence
The seventh gift of the Holy Spirit fills us with sovereign respect for God, and makes us dread, above all things, to offend the Almighty in any way. Here awe is mixed with fear. We realize that our mission in life is awesome, and we are also aware of our own weaknesses in completing that mission. Piety elicits enthusiasm, but this is always overshadowed by a seriousness for the work ahead. Here the gift of fear of the Lord enters the picture. Our mission is not all fun and games, but rather involves a serious side demanding caution in respecting both God and those around us. We show respect to God in formal prayer; we respect others in the ways in which we observe their needs and serve them.
Respectful relations, courtesy and proper manners may be more a hope than a current reality. Examples, from abrupt e-mails to foul-sounding talk shows, from rude road rage to curt everyday discussion, make us wonder whether civility is eroding in our land. Do we still respect -- our past, our family life, our neighbors, our religious practice, our state and nation and the leaders, our environment, the political process, commercial and professional advice, and our elders and wise folks? Is it possible that we have allowed the erosion of respect through silence when we should have spoken, through our own haste and lack of manners, or through pranks, jokes, back-biting, unresolved disputes and cynicism? Has a past courteous respect wasted away, or was it ever there? Did it erode imperceptibly through commercialism, wars, legalizing abortion, crass exploitation of the land, and the ever expanding gulf between the rich and poor? What about MTV, ready cash through credit cards, talk about rights alone instead of rights and responsibilities, and ease of access to unprocessed information?
Our respectful practices of the past may be mere romantic hindsight. However, today we see clues of a lack of reverence for life, for country, for leaders, or for church practice. "I am for me" can play havoc to any common atmosphere of respect as, for example, to pay respect to someone who is sick or to the bereaved, to pause when the funeral passes, to welcome strangers into a community, to offer a seat to an elderly person, or to send get well cards. Does respect erode because of a decadence within our culture -- break down in marriage, family, and community? Is irreverence championed in Hollywood, political campaigns, mass media, dresses for school or church, or how we greet people?
Lack of general respect makes us search for a return to reverence in all its forms -- to God, to people, and to Earth itself with its broken down communities and broken down biosystems. Mountains are brought low, landscape fracked, and vegetative cover stripped away to satisfy distant chipmills. If we are persuaded to regard resources as cheap, then we are lulled into silence when exploitation occurs. We are soon left powerless to change the tide of events. Regaining reverence involves a fear of the Lord.
Prayer: Lord, help us to understand Fear of the Lord.
Kentucky barn quilt. (*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
December 10, 2016Green-Tinted Human Rights
Human Rights Day is a time to emphasize freedom of speech, the press and worship, freedom of assembly and right to a fair trial, and freedom from enslavement. Over the years a number of rights have been enunciated that are being developed through governmental interaction and policy-making at all levels. What would be of interest is an emerging awareness of rights that deal with ecological matters. I have a difficulty in assigning rights language exclusively to animals and plants as though they exist apart from us. The welfare of animal and plant communities affects us all and so some of these "rights" include these beings, but not separate from us human beings. To threaten or hurt them is to hurt the human community as well. The following are some of the ecologically-related human rights:
* The right to a good environment for humans, animals and plants;
* The right to clean air on the part of all and the security of the commons that is meant for all;
* The right to potable water for all and access to water without having to pay a price to privatized sources;
* The right to a safe habitat where life can prosper and be secure, and here safety includes adequate and affordable housing;
* The right to life and the ability of the species to continue in the community of all beings without being threatened;
* The right to basic nourishment (food security) that is not held back in any way by the extravagances of the overly wealthy and privileged;
* The right to express oneself in all matters dealing with one's well-being and advancement, and to do so in moral and religious terms along with traditional practices;
* The right to distant travel, though restrictions can be imposed for the common good if large numbers threaten to overwhelm a particular community;
* The right to basic information that may deal with the health and safety of all, along with medical accessibility that is not based on privileges for those of wealth;
* The right to resources sequestered by the highly affluent and used in a wasteful manner or closed off from the enjoyment of the total community (e.g. beaches, coastlines, etc.);
* The right to a fair exchange of the products of one's own industry and production along with safeguards that commercial interests can be properly controlled through just regulations;
* The right to land for farming or housing in a degree that this can be fairly apportioned among those in need. Not all land is available to all people in some possessive fashion. Much land must be held in common and regarded as green space, thus not subject to individual possession and use. Where land is scarce, governmental regulation is necessary.
Prayer: Lord, grant us an understanding of the basic rights, which are to be shared by all people and not just the privileged few.
December 11, 2016 Genuine Puzzlement for John the Baptist
Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?
(Matthew 11: 3)
John the Baptist is a good man, a person who lives most simply, who speaks forthrightly, who is not arrogant, who trusts that another (Jesus) is greater than himself, who defies authorities in the manner in which he speaks, and who does not experience first hand his cousin Jesus' ministries. The puzzlement comes through distance and lack of that one-to-one manner through which Jesus inspires the crowds that he personally contacts. Jesus eats and drinks with the people, whereas John abstains and fasts severely. And both are subject to critics who find fault in either approach. Jesus sends back the message to John: the blind regain their sight, lame walk, lepers are cleansed, deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the Good News proclaimed to them.
Today in this age of false prophets we also experience genuine puzzlement. The response to such questioning comes in the works of the Messiah, and what was of consideration in John's days also applies today. The basic message of healing the Earth must be one of appropriate technology, living simply, healing an Earth that has been ruined and bringing that Earth back to life. To say that deeds may be overlooked is erroneous. Jesus is true and known through his good deeds. Good News is proclaimed to the poor who benefit. Amazing deeds must be done for the destitute people who have their own lives cut short by lack of the basics of life -- providing food, medicine, adequate housing, and basic education.
Good News is that attention must be given at last to the poor. If these were given the basics and the privileged controlled in their use of resources, justice could again occur on this troubled planet. We bring Good News that curbing excesses and halting the waste of resources means such practices are not sanctioned by thoughtless spenders; all need to act justly. The Good News is that the poor have a right to be involved in deciding how those resources are to be spent. They certainly do not have to wait until the wealthy are willing to share with them -- for they would wait forever. Good News is that they are empowered through Baptism and Confirmation to help take what is rightly theirs, not to ask for it in charity but receive it in justice.
Good News involves a caution. To take does not mean to take violently, though drastic measures may be required as a last resort; one must defend those threatened by the lack of basic resources. Good News is that sharing what belongs to all should be done in a non-violent and gentle manner with the cooperation of all parties, and the redistribution done in a fair communal manner. Through fairness, the Kingdom of God will be advanced. But this is not an Earth-shaking message, though one that could be immensely beneficial to all. This too is an arena of puzzlement: "Can this be done in this present age, or must we look for another way?"
Prayer: Help us, Lord, bring justice to our world.
December 12, 2016 Roses, Poinsettias, Mistletoe, and Evergreens
Earthhealing includes an interest in the flora and fauna of the season. December has fewer choices than the spring and summer months because this is not normally the growing season. We must give prominence to them for other reasons than that they bloom or produce fruit in this month. Our focus is dictated by culture and other reasons, but we do have some floral candidates.
Roses -- In Washington, DC, I once found a single surviving rose blooming in December and (perhaps taking liberty) I plucked it and sent it to my mother. After her death we found this "last rose of summer" in her Bible and it gave me a certain gratification. Today is our Lady of Guadalupe's feast and the roses that fell from Juan Diego's cloak in December, 1531, were certainly not flowers of the season -- and yet flowers of all subsequent seasons. The rose could be the flower of spring or summer or even autumn, but maybe it has a prominent place among the flowers of the world and is best remembered in December when it does not normally bloom.
Poinsettias -- This is also Poinsettia Day. During the Christmas season in this hemisphere people purchase pots of poinsettias to decorate homes, stores, offices, and church altars. It has become a favorite with its beautiful red leaves that are seen to stand out above other decorations. This is a Mexican and Central American plant (Euphorbia pulcherrima) that is a member of the spurge family, and the brilliant red leaves that surround the yellow flower are considered as petals -- and certainly stand out.
Mistletoe -- The more English tradition of the season is to decorate homes and arches with the parasitic plant, with the yellow-green leaves and shiny white poisonous berries, growing on trees. In youth, we would shoot down some mistletoe with a shotgun from a half rotten oak branch and use it for general decorations -- and youngsters were always allowed to steal a kiss under mistletoe.
Evergreens -- Maybe this is the month of all the evergreens of the world -- and that is a large number. When the growing season ends in the northern half of the globe, we search around for decorations, green decorations. The poorer folks all turn to the evergreens more frequently found where they are living. At home when I was growing up, one Sunday of mid-December was given to hiking about the back fields in that limestone country where the "cedar" (an American juniper) grew profusely; we selected a sapling that was full bodied and without blemish of any kind. This became our Christmas tree. It was humble, fresh smelling, and dense enough for hanging decorations. With emphasis on Christmas delight, I now regard cedar poles that resisted rot and dense cedar sound barriers to exhibit the true friendliness of the juniper.
Prayer: Lord, we see you as Creator of all things and strive to show respect for the beauty of floral creatures that we celebrate during this special season.
We have a car and will travel. Let's hope it is an energy efficient one that we keep serviced in prime shape to save on fuel.
A person with personal use of a specific vehicle and lacking the need to log trips for some agency or superior will certainly be less careful as to how much the vehicle travels. Someone who must log trips as to mileage and purpose will treat travel time and distance differently. In this age of climate change, all of us who are drivers wonder whether we can reduce car miles traveled in one or more ways. If we bike or walk, distance and time factors need little or no listing, but fuel-burning vehicles do. Is this car trip necessary or not? Can it be combined with another? Can it be replaced by communication through phone, Internet or letter?
One way to drive less and more meaningfully is to curb excessive driving through planning ahead. How do we combine the necessary trips? If going to a town for some errand or during our driving to or from work, can other things be done on the way to or from the site? I have resolved to do grocery shopping and visits to the hospital and communion calls on the way to or from weekly trips to the neighboring parish church. It is best to anticipate what food is going to expire or when I will be heading in the direction again, so two trips can be combined into one.
All too often a meeting is in a distant place. Merely driving or taking a plane is not an either/or option. One periodical reported that larger commercial planes emit 0.06 tons of carbon dioxide per hour per passenger. Is it true? Certainly, if someone takes his or her own private plane without passengers, the amount of fuel used is higher by several magnitudes. Whatever the amount, it generally comes to more than the energy-efficient passenger car traveling seven hours (400 miles) would use. The car would burn 70 some pounds of hydrocarbon fuel and produce about 250 pounds or 0.12 tons of carbon dioxide. Much depends on the number of passengers on a particular airplane flight and the fuel it takes to perform private surface travel to and from both airports.
The third factor is whether the trip had to be made or was made for pleasure or for a particular service for others. And is the purpose directed to the individual doing the driving (medical trip, etc.) or to a clientele or individual other than the traveler? If I travel to serve a community or church, does the fuel I use get credited to my personal account or to the individual or group whom I serve? You can hardly divide the fuel for an aircraft carrier by the number of service personnel aboard; the fuel is expended for those being defended in a nation or nations. Dividing by the benefactor(s) makes the process of allocating fuel expenditures far more complex. However, the complexity should not stop us from our concern about non-renewable energy use. Yes, electric cars can be recharged with solar energy!
Prayer: Lord, give us the wisdom to become aware of the fossil fuels we use in our travel; inspire us to find new ways to travel.
Holly and berries.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
December 14, 2016 Does It Really Matter? Earth Is Lost
People with or without explicit religious belief are sometimes tempted to ask whether Earth's continuation really matters. This may be an expression of despair or a mistaken appeal to look only to an ultimate heavenly home. I am approached by such people who see no future for our terror-ridden Earth with the threats of climate change. They confess when believing in eternal life that they have enough to work for their personal salvation, and that is a full time occupation. For them, Earth is doomed to death in a natural course of events; efforts are of such little avail.
I confess that this question cannot always be satisfactorily answered in a short essay. One quick answer is authoritative: you are ordered by the Almighty to take care of all God's creation and "ours is not to reason why." However, backup reasoning says God took immense care in a universe that with only slight differences would never have allowed life to appear or thrive as ours. That answer is well presented in a dramatic fashion in The Language of Science and Faith by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins.
Another answer touches many who are compassionate: Jesus loves all, even little (overlooked) people as well as little animals and plants. Shortness of life does not mean life is valueless. Rather mortal life has deep value for as long as it lasts, and our concern and care show that we stand with the Lord on these matters including Earth herself. Even creatures with limited life spans deserve care and compassion -- and so everything we can do for them matters. All life, even Earth's, is precious.
The third approach is inclusive, for Earth enters into our glorification and eternal life -- the "New Heaven and New Earth" as Scripture says. Just as the scars from the crucifixion are on the resurrected Christ, so our resurrection to eternal life will include glorified bodies with their scars. We are part of an Earth and so our Earth is part of our eternal quest, even in ways we do not fully understand. If scars are eternal, so are the scars of an Earth that we have hurt through misdeeds -- and the marks of our glorification of Earth are to be an eternal glory.
The last approach of treating a mortal Earth is to be reflective ourselves, for such questions are not so much answered quickly as worthy of future reflection -- so that a better answer may be forthcoming. Why feed the hungry for they will die anyway -- and also be hungry tomorrow? Why give the poor better housing, for they will mess it up? Why should I have insurance or go to the doctor or get my home repaired, or just continue living? Why do anything? Of course, part of the answer is that the affirmation of life pertains to our eternal salvation, to all that we love and seek to care for in some way. But our answer is our living testimony, and we help those who suffer from an attitude of "What's the use?"
Prayer: Lord, help all people grow in faith in the future.
December 15, 2016 Nine Ways to Make Winter Endurable
Winter is coming soon. The obvious winter preparations include more home insulation, obtaining warmer clothing and blankets, and storing food and goodies in case a winter storm closes the roads. But after the hottest months on record, cold weather seems a welcome relief. Some people find the cold less hostile than the heat of summer for, as global warming makes our winters milder, winter will likely be regarded as the more favored season. Here are some ways to guarantee winter's rightful place:
* Resolve to read more books this winter and assemble a list. Visit the bookstore or Amazon and accumulae a stack of reading material or trade books with friends.
* Obtain a few movies to watch in stormy and icy weather. These can ensure a virtual vacation without the hassle of air or other forms of travel during inclement winter weather.
* Storms are memorable but the presence of extra frozen, dried or canned food, just in case, could prove helpful to tide you over without risking going to the grocery store. You may want to store a few gallons of water should the supply be curtailed as well.
* Electricity flow may be interrupted during ice storms. Obtain a supply of candles, matches, blankets, flash lights, batteries, and a battery or hand-cranked radio for use to get news. Yes, perhaps the cell phone could come in handy also. Note, that domestic photovoltaic solar panels are quite welcome when the utility electricity fails.
* Develop a phone tree or a neighborhood notifying system just in case the storm does come and others may be less aware of the upcoming harsh conditions.
* Keep the space heating temperatures down to the lowest that you can stand, assuming that you will wear heavier clothing during the day and night. Less flu and fewer colds occur when indoor temperatures are kept lower. Besides, overheated houses are uncomfortable when considering paying heating bills.
* Plan fewer trips during the winter and see whether some travel can be postponed to spring or summer. Winter or night driving is difficult for many of us, and this is the season for critical planning and use of communication rather than trips.
* Do some garden-growing in a greenhouse, with plants brought in during the winter, or through the use of seasonal extenders, if you live in a more temperate location.
* Continue indoor exercise throughout the season.
Prayer: Lord, show us how to live a higher quality winter and
persuade others to do the same.
December 16, 2016 Turn to the Scriptures in Advent
Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of Scripture we might have hope. (Roman 15:4)
During this Advent season, while we await the coming of the Savior we need to focus on hope. This means that we ought to give some extra time to prayer during this season; no form may prove better than additional mediative reading of the Scriptures, and especially the hope of Israel for a Messiah. Too often we find it hard to pray, for the distractions flood in when we try to spend time with God. A special type of prayer as old as the Scriptures themselves is for the literate and those with good eyesight to read the Bible. Both of these reading qualities are gifts from God and the reading is done in a grateful spirit.
Focusing on Scripture in Advent and especially the Old Testament will have salutary effects. We enter into the atmosphere of what the faithful of Israel awaited in preparing for the coming of the Messiah. A persistent longing swells up in the heart and we thus focus, to some degree, on the psalms and the prophets, especially on Isaiah and Jeremiah. God is certainly always near.
We must truly believe that peace can come to our troubled world, along with a growing faith in the future. Thus, we are to be hopeful people, not rigidly set in the status quo. Cooperative ventures like earthhealing practices cannot succeed without teamwork and enthusiasm. Thus, we have to develop interactive skills to help keep the team working together. It is not enough to expose the troubles; we must act. Staying awake is easier said than done; it takes effort and attention and full use of our senses. Any one of us is somewhat limited in what can be done. Thus, in enthusiasm we search for resourceful ways of certain pacing and honing our talents and opportunities.
Stewardship of resources calls for cutting away that which diverts our attention, especially from any form of selfishness and self-centeredness. Affluence and demands for autos and bigger houses and new electronic devices have a way of turning us in on ourselves. Earthhealing involves us all and all that we can give. Distractions hurt this effort and make us poor examples for others who are asked to give their all as well. We need to stay focused.
Our hope is counter-cultural. If we look more deeply into our current culture we find a sense of fumbling when computer games and social media contacts consume our free time and occupy our minds. This is all the more reason to take up the scriptures and faithfully occupy ourselves for some precious moments we set aside for this purpose alone. Let us resolve not to let other distractions turn us away from this goal. The Lord is soon coming and we prepare ourselves to meet him.
Prayer: Lord, help us turn our minds to the coming Christmas.
As the global climate change crisis mounts and policy makers scramble to make plans how they will become more renewable, it is necessary that the U.S., a consumer of five times the resources of the average world citizen, do the same. A renewable energy economy is now becoming an integral part of our national energy policy. Just how long will it take? The majority of citizens in our country agree with the need to conserve and share resources, but are realizing that all of this takes considerable individual effort. Unfortunately, some still deny a problem with fossil fuels, having swallowed the diatribe of merchants of doubt.
The Paris Conference on Climate Change in December of last year outlined how we are to take steps to do a nation's part in saving our wounded Earth through reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Would that the benchmark needing change to keep rises in climate below a 1.5 degrees Celsius rise be effective, but with national autonomy so prevalent, overall regulations on a global level are impossible. Populous nations like China and India seek to bring their citizens to a consuming status of the wealthier nations. In fact, renewable energy levels are rising, but not fast enough to offset the consumer demand for energy for more air conditioning, auto ownership and resource-intensive foods.
This nation could move to a complete fossil energy independence strategy by 2030, but this will take some effort. That is all the harder when including the closure of unsafe nuclear power facilities by that date, eliminating coal and petroleum as well as fracked natural gas. All of this is not just wishful thinking, but a strong possibility through a Manhattan-type or Apollo-style national policy to move to a renewable energy economy. To do this nations must work and apply conservation measures and restrictions on fossil fuel use. Bring on electric and hydrogen-fueled vehicles. They are not coming fast enough.
Far more possible is converting our electric grid system to using solar, wind and geothermal sources by 2030. Some would like to talk about a 2050 carbon-free energy economy and that could be done with relative ease given the rapid decline in wind power costs (now cheaper than coal) and the rapid advance in solar, whether through centralized power or domestic off-grid solar units.
To achieve the 2030 plan in the U.S. it is assumed that all states must adopt energy conservation measures, especially with reference to new housing at zero fossil fuel input. Conservation measures at a national level will hasten the day of fossil fuel demise. A second consideration is that the transfer from non-renewable to renewable economies must proceed faster in some states than in others, though all could promote lower efficiency wind and solar implementation to the degree possible.
Prayer: Lord, give our nation the will power to move quickly to a renewable energy economy and lead the world in this direction.
Approaching winter with fresh Kentucky snow.
December 18, 2016 Joseph's Dilemma
He was a righteous man... (Matthew 1:19)
As we approach Christmas we reflect on the unusual dilemma for Joseph -- to understand Mary and her condition and still do the right thing. Joseph trusts in the Lord and also has confidence in the Virgin Mary to whom he is betrothed. He is unable to understand how she has entered her condition. To expose her before the hostile public means her very honor and even possibly her life is threatened in an unforgiving society. Joseph's righteousness is a cloak covering his entire being. He must do what is right and yet that is not always so apparent even to the best of people. In a dream the angel comes and says, "Do not to be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home." Joseph responds immediately and offers her protection, even when not fully understanding the situation. It is central to the Christmas story and Joseph is a main character.
Things happen in our lives that we do not expect nor know the ultimate outcome. We get into circumstances that are not easy to resolve but we, like Joseph, must trust in the Lord. Our personal dilemmas are of great importance to us, can be quite disturbing, and may require rapid resolution. What exactly should we do with respect to actual limits on time, energy, money and talent? If we do this, something drastic will occur; if not, other consequences could result. The challenge is to discern as best we can with a prayerful trust that God will surely see us through. This is an opportunity for us to grow in faith. Through trust that all things are possible with God we can be deeply comforted.
Let's move beyond ourselves. Others have their own dilemmas, especially those caught up in civil strife or food insecurity or lack of employment. What about the innocent people who enter our ever-broadening horizon and who have the need for protection and care? At this approaching holy season it is important that we think beyond ourselves and maybe see some dilemmas happening in our neighborhood. How can we hear the cry of the poor and respond in fullness of Christian charity? Are these folks truly destitute and underprivileged, and do they need us to be their companions?
The complete Christmas story of a babe who is savior and Emmanuel involves his entry into the suffering world with its own dilemmas. Like Joseph, we must be trusting people, attentive and open to the Good Spirit telling us what must be done. How can what seems the insolvable be happily resolved? As a concerned people we must open ourselves to those who are excluded and welcome people who are without a home or employment. We must do what we can and still place trust that God helps resolve the dilemmas of so many. Like Joseph, we are eager to find solutions and, like him, we hasten to put into effect the movements of the Spirit in our lives.
Prayer: Lord, give each of us the sense of watchfulness and trust that what is coming will work for our salvation.
Warming rays of light at sunrise. Green River Lake, KY.
December 19, 2016 Wind and Solar Renewable Energy Growth
Excitement builds at the end of this year for the potential growth of a renewable energy economy with key component sources being wind and solar power. We must determine those areas with higher wind potential (greater than four of a possible seven power class) and within fifty miles of populated areas to reduce transmission losses. The focus has been on the windy Great Plains in recent years, but the population is sparse in these vast areas. East Midwest has lower wind potential, but that is now compensated by higher efficiency generating equipment that can utilize the lower quality wind. From 2014 to 2017 wind is expected to increase by 25% and reach 2,257 quadrillion Btus in the U.S. and is prepared to exceed the traditional renewable leader hydropower in two years.
Offshore high quality wind potential is now being developed off the New England, Jersey, Delaware and Virginal coasts, with future expectations in parts of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. These are near immense population centers such as Chicago, Boston, New York, and Milwaukee. Areas including about one-third of the American people are targets for this non-polluting energy source whose land-based components are already cost competitive with that of fossil fuels. Objections to offshore sites are not very convincing; wind projects, while high in initial costs, are most promising as to long-term paybacks, especially as lower-priced storage alternatives are coming on line.
The sun shines on all parts of this country and world, but the amount of "insolation" (the radiation from the sun received by a surface) varies. The duration of sunshine in given days and through given seasons may differ. We know the Southwest has the "best" solar potential, except in shadow of mountains or on foggy coastal areas. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has mapped out portions of our country where the solar potential is greater than 6.0 kilowatt hours per square meter per day. Here too, newly designed equipment allows lower potential areas to be cost effective. Solar use is predicted to double to 0.833 quadrillion Btus from 2014 to 2017 having started from a smaller base than wind. In many months solar and wind are the only new electricity source, and development exceeds expectations.
On a state-by-state basis, the region where the solar potential is highest is for the greater part in the southwest (southern California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and western Texas). Small parts of the Oklahoma panhandle, as well as sections of Wyoming and western Kansas, are included in these high potential solar areas. However, California and Texas, as well as parts of Florida have high population densities that are in high solar quality zones. Even states with lower quality such as New Jersey have made good use of solar potential in recent years, and this development is bound to increase.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to focus on those energy sources that are environmentally benign and beneficial for our people.
Paperwhites, indoor-grown for the holiday season.
December 20, 2016 Hydropower and Geothermnal Sources
Hydropower has a major renewable energy potential and has been half or more of the renewable source in this century. However, it may soon be replaced by windpower. Hydropower was the first major source of electricity and in the early 1900s accounted for 40% of the nation's supply of electricity. In the 1940s three quarters of all the electricity consumed in the West and Northwest came from hydropower. As demand for electricity continued to increase after World War II, less of the total was supplied by hydropower and more by fossil fuels. Today the various states have these contributions of Hydropower --
AL (3%), AK (5%), AR (3%), AZ (2%), CA (2%), CO (1%), GA (1%), ID (20%), KY (1%), MD (1%), MA (1%), (ME 7%), MO (1%), MT (25%), NE (1%), NV (2%), NH (3%), NY (4%), NC (2%), ND (5%), OK (2%), OR (24%), PA (1%), SC (2%), SD (6%), TN (3%), UT (1%), VA (1%), VT (1%), WA (32%), WV (2%), WI (1%), WY (3%)
Hydropower generation has no carbon dioxide emission problems that accompany fossil fuel use, but it has some inherent difficulties. The dammed streams alter the migration, spawning and habitat of marine life; actual energy contribution varies from year to year depending on favorable or adverse weather conditions; hydropower depends on water volume and sufficient elevation change to allow for the "drop" needed to run the turbines.
Typically the hydroelectric process involves channeling water through a turbine at a dam site when a river has been held in a reservoir and water is released in a controlled fashion. River current offers potential for overlooked energy source and this is being utilized in a number of places with much promise. Numerous states have dams, though the Bonneville power project on the Columbia River is a major source, as the percentages of the Northwestern states reflect. In fact the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana furnish over half of all the hydropower of the nation. Environmental pressure is now being exerted to refrain from damming free-flowing streams in parts of America.
Geothermal is a fourth renewable energy source that is more or less continuous in generation in contrast to earlier discussed sources. Geothermal can be used in electric-generating powerplants as steam or hydrothermal fluids by direct use (commercial greenhouses, food processing facilities or mining operations), or in geothermal heat pumps that are widely popular in many parts of America. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has mapped the nation as to higher geothermal potential using the following: thermal conductivity, thickness of sedimentary rock, geothermal gradient, heat flow, and surface temperature. When these factors are considered, we find most of the high potential areas to be in our western states along with western Texas, South Dakota and the lower Mississippi valley. The combination of population and potential locations is found best in coastal California.
Prayer: Teach us, Lord, to be watchful for what benefits us.
Winter solstice is here, and so we buckle down for the coming cold season. The warm hearth invites us to look inward to our home and possible greenhouse as part of the domestic scene. Good homemaking involves home economics that includes proper domestic insulation and holding temperatures down to about 60 degrees or even a little lower, and championing heavier clothing for the season. A small investment in long underwear and heavier bed cover bears a major heating bill payback -- and a lower household temperatures are far more healthy for all residents. Furthermore, we ought to consider reducing heated space by sealing off underused portions of dwellings; we should compress expanded summer tents as Scripture says, cutting off space to keep more cozy in winter.
Home economics includes preparation for the season's celebration, and this means decorating both tastefully and without any fire hazards, such as unattended candles or those placed near combutible evergreen decorations.
Wintertime is the season of soups and certainly these can be highly appetizing and yet able to utilize leftovers and slightly wilted greens from the refrigerator. Perhaps the menus can also change to have some extra sweet deserts prepared for those who have strenuous outdoor work to do. However, make sure as the season progresses that fruit and vegetables are available, for all need extra Vitamin C during the season of flue and colds. Make sure that sunlight is welcome during otherwise cloudy times, for all need the beneficial effects of full spectrum sunlight.
December brings us to garden's bottom line, when the extended cold frame preserves the late autumn crops for at least one more month. It is the time the greenhouse takes over as a fresh food provider for the next few months -- fresh Swiss chard, kale, mint, dill, and transferred celery and garlic. The freshness of the winter landscape helps us make our peace with all creation. Growing one's produce throughout the year makes economic sense; for lower income families about 20 percent of their average budget on food, whereas, middle income families spend about 10 percent of their budget on food.
Certainly garden economics can be beneficial considering that homegrown food is fresh and readily available to the grower. There's something special about winter growing. It is also the season when the seasonable produce has been well preserved for use at this time. Using dried mint as a beverage to replace expensive coffee or tea, savings can be sizeable (5% of average food purchases are for imported beverages). Besides beverage alternatives other higher priced homegrown products include -- various European and Asian greens, fresh herbs such as basil and parsley, and other herbs that grow readily in indoor pots.
Prayer: Lord, give us the stamina to make our domestic environment a cheerful place during the upcoming holidays.
The Catholic Vote
This is a response to our Supreme Knight of Columbus Carl Anderson's lead article in "Columbia" earlier this month. It is meant to show that our Catholic Faith is to be a source of unity, reconciliation and renewal. Comments are necessary because some fellow knights might regard this as automatic support of the new presidency of Donald Trump; they may be expected to be followers of whatever plan comes from his brainstorms -- hardly a socially just way of proceeding. Let's look at the five steps Knight Anderson proposes:
1. Evangelization of the Catholic family. Good, but what happens if the president follows his promise and ships undocumented workers back to Mexico, breaking families in my own parish? If we do not fight to save our families, this regime could snatch them to please hate mongers. We must establish sanctuaries in churches.
2. Renewed devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. True, but we pray every evening in her Magnificat, the most revolutionary prayer in the entire Bible -- "those in high places are to be brought low and the lowly rise." Let's be faithful followers of Mary and bring down the billionaires through fair taxes and raise up the twenty million who will soon lose their health insurance.
3. A deeper understanding of those moral principles and issues that have "absolute value." Certainly, but let's champion the right to life that includes caring for our threatened Earth; this could soon be damaged further by the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Conference. Never has that "broader right to life" been so threatened by an incoming president (if we believe what he says). We must fight for life of all from the unborn to the planet and its many plant and animal species now facing mass extinction.
4. A heightened commitment to Catholic education. Yes, our people must help reduce the burden on exorbitant tuition rates and allow the graduates a chance to start adult life without crushing debts. Maybe some of that heavy military budget now being expected to increase could go for retiring trillions of dollars in ex-student indebtedness. We need a responsible Congress to act.
5. A greater appreciation of the office of bishop as a source of unity. By all means! Appreciation means encouraging and supporting bishops who are daring enough to speak for those who are voiceless, who lack living wages, and who are overlooked by others. Our bishops must follow the Lord who drove out the moneychangers who occupied the space belonging to all the people. To follow Jesus closely means igniting the fire of justice by acting on his word and urging all to follow: "I have come to bring fire to the Earth, and how I wish it were blazing already" (Luke 12:49).
Knights must be people-of-arms with an understanding that the process takes serious effort and will lead ultimately to lasting peace. Now that means voting and acting effectively as Catholics.
Leaves and purple dead nettle as winter garden cover.
December 22, 2016 A Garden as a New Eden
Gardening can be economical. Gardeners quickly learn that non-basic paraphernalia only hinders their work. Forget small carts and compost tumblers that cost money and add little to quality gardening. Money can also be used on expensive seedlings that can be homegrown, but not everyone wants the bother. Other savings in gardening involve: acquire heavy duty instruments at yard sales or handed down; obtain soil nitrogen from legume cover and vegetable crops; use flowers in place of biocides and other pest controls; grow one's seedings and saving non-hybrid seed from year to year; keep garden produce records for the whole year; know the amount of time spent in the gardening operation; and total all results at the end of the year to assists with next year's plans.
Gardening has a ripple effect and, besides providing basic food needs, it can enhance the spirit of community. Realize that not every person can participate in food-production in the same way. Individuals generally belong to a viable community of blood, neighborhood or committed relationships, with some being able to do more physical work than others. Ideally, all members at least give moral and spiritual support to the total community enterprise -- which is very important. In rare cases, an individual survivalist may create a separate viable existence for at least some portion of his or her lifetime. Forget about being isolated road warriors or hermits. Recall that survivalists are really protected by a broader community with its government and security forces. Authentic community self-\sustainability includes provision for the needs of a larger group of people.
The attractive and inviting home includes the exterior grounds, the adjacent garden, and the immediate neighborhood. The phrase "peace be with you" includes authentic development enhancing peace in one small part of this vast world. This style of peacemaking can be replicated when gardening become contagious and infects others in a local neighborhood. We can proclaim through deed the power of gardening as a peacemaking agent and haven of rest. The garden affords an opportunity to discover and make our peace with nature, fellow human beings, and our Creator. A garden is like a healthy tree in a well-tended forest, contributing to the whole health and harmony of a system without being showy. Resolve to demonstrate that your garden will be more productive in 2017.
Make the place a new Eden. Gardening allows us to be better in tune with our time and our place. The plot may appear insignificant but it counters the thoughtlessness in damaged areas of our Earth. We take on a manageable piece of land and make it productive. The New Eden is not a single garden plot, but a collaborative gardening enterprise -- interconnected plots of hope.
Prayer: God of peace, extend the tranquility of your Presence into our hearts. Allow our gardens to become refuges from the hectic world, and havens of rest for the weary. Grant us peace.
Kentucky farmer inspecting new hive of honeybees.
December 23, 2016 Where Have All the Honey Bees Gone?
Honey bees are declining in population in North America as well as in Europe, and we first commented on this in 2007. Unfortunately an article in mid-year 2016 in "Modern Farmer" says "The Honeybee Problem is only Getting Worse." Perhaps the alarm is greater in Europe where these bees were natives. The regular honey bee was brought to North America with early colonists in order to provide honey, and these busy little creatures have been doing a good job for us for three hundred years. Prophets of doom are calling recent die-off "colony collapse disorder" (CCD), because entire colonies seem to be wiped out or nearly so. Even amid the alarm we recall that we have many other pollinators besides the honey bee. The bumble bee is many times more effective in pollinating, and entire orchards can flourish from the effects of native pollinators. However, California almond growers and others truck in honey bees to pollinate their large scale operations.
Environmental threats and disasters are handled in three stages: discovering the problem; determining the causes of the problem; and discussing and implementing solutions to the problem. However, here a problem (decline of honey bees) has been unearthed but the causes are not fully comprehended. Some organic honey-making communities say they do not have CCD problems, though other organic growers are reported to have them. Of course, this would not rule out as causes some chemical pollution, because today some chemicals have been spread so far and wide that they are essentially ubiquitous. Maybe it is a cumulative stress factor that includes moving the bee hives from place to place, plus certain opportunistic biological agents, plus some amounts of the chemicals that cause stress.
We cannot move towards a solution to the CCD problem before the causes are fully determined. Perhaps we are faced with multiple causes and do not know how the mix of them affect these honey bee hives. We find in so many areas of our natural world that tinkering with wildlife results in unexplained threats and extinction. But on second thought the honey bee is an exotic that was introduced into the North American continent by Europeans. Should we regard the disappearance as something catastrophic if other pollinators exist in sufficient numbers?
We know from growers that honey bees are fragile and have a hard time enduring some weather extremes, such as overly cold winters or long periods of wet weather. Some mention CCD causes as a weak queen, a variety of pests and parasites and, of course, those chemicals; whatever, current bees populations die at a greater rate than they regenerate. A recent rather large survey of almost 6,000 beekeepers found that while acceptable winter loss is at 17%, still the current ten-year average is 28%. Summer loss rates that are normally low are worse; for years 2010-11 and 2011-12 they hovered around 5%, but in 2016 they were over 28%.
Prayer: Lord, grant us wisdom to find causes of our alarms.
December 24, 2016 Make America Green Conscious ASAP
The year 2016 draws to a close; it is a time to renew ourselves through broad-based citizen action in an area of immense concern, namely halting climate change. This will demand both individuals becoming more conservation-conscious and exerting pressure on elected officials to promote an Apollo-type project to bring America to the totally renewable stage. Both individual and group actions must proceed simultaneously, because we must reduce increased energy use through conservation, move forward in closing down the fossil fuel economy, and institute a renewable energy economy. The following are some aspirations for 2017:
* Install LED lighting in all areas of home or work to reduce a major energy expenditure area. Expand this concern to neighbors and the local community.
* Use the automobile less and only while performing several tasks at the same time to save on trips. Plan a vacation closer to home or use less energy in the mode of the trip. Think about the possibility of an electric or hydrogen-powered auto.
* Eat lower on the resource-intensive food chain by consuming less meat and other animal products, carbonated sugar drinks and prepared foods, especially pastas, salad dressings, baked goods and frozen dinners.
* Raise temperatures in summer and cool naturally where possible, and lower temperatures in winter and use warmer clothing indoors.
* Consider installing more efficient appliances and reduce the use of unnecessary electronic devices that have become such fads in recent years.
* Reuse what is possible and recycle more often -- and refrain from buying what needs to be discarded quickly.
* Conserve water use even in rainy times of the year and be willing to store irrigation water in rain barrels or cisterns. * Acquaint yourself with the latest in renewable energy ideas and innovations and consider some new solar applications for your place (solar lighting devices, water pumps, or PV additions).
* Vote for green candidates and hold them accountable for their conservation promises. If they are climate change deniers challenge their assumptions.
* Demand that more money be given to groups that seek to develop renewable energy projects and place them on a par with those projects that focus on longer-term research.
* Ensure that production of biofuels as alternative fuels (alcohol) does not crowd out corn production for essential food needs.
* Demand that precious resources not be shunted to new nuclear
power projects as though this source of electricity is a viable alternative to carbon-based fuels. Work to shut down older nuclear facilities.
* Work for local renewable energy demonstration projects.
Prayer: Lord, even amid serious concerns, help us have a Merry Christmas.
See, the Lord proclaims to the ends of the Earth: Say to daughter Zion, your Savior comes. Here is his reward with him, his recompense before him. They shall be called the holy people, the redeemed of the Lord, And you shall be called "Frequented," a city that is not forsaken. (Isaiah 62:11-12)
In this most holy season we again seek God's special blessing and the hope for peace in our troubled world. We sometimes forget the feast is tucked in between Mary and Joseph's frantic look for a place to give birth to the child Jesus and their frantic effort to flee with that child to Egypt, thus going beyond the reaches of an autocratic and insecure king. It was a moment of time just as this Christmas is a moment of time between the horrors of the past and the expected troubles of our foreboding future, when war in the Middle East continues and terrorists are again plotting their next slaughter of the innocents.
Christmas represents one of those moments of hope in the year when we step back from those dark clouds and pause ever so briefly to hear the songs of angels in the pure light of a promised Messiah coming among his own. For one short span of time, a new born infant gives us the hope that things can be better, that the world can escape the tyranny of a divided world of haves and have-nots, and that true peace can be in the offing. Christmas is Christ, and Christ is light, and light is illuminating a more just world, and justice is promise of what lies ahead in 2017.
The promise is partly fulfilled in Christ's coming, which we celebrate today. The fulfillment cries for us to participate in our own way. We should pause but not stand too long before the innocent babe in a crib; we adore but we are more than mere spectators at a scene. Through our baptism/confirmation we are other christs to the world; we are the bearers of the promises of old to an anxious world looking for a sign of hope. Zion is to be frequented by our message of Good News. We empower others through what we receive through the graces of the sacraments. Christmas is ours to receive; it is likewise ours to give.
Christmas always dawns in new ways. In this troubled world, Christmas dawns in the town of Bethlehem, but the dawn is globalized for Christ's coming goes far beyond a particular place; it goes to all people of good will, and hope becomes the light rays of a new day. If enough of us work for it, peace will come with a clear beam of hope for all the war weary. This world is better off because that dawn comes again. Jesus Christ is among us once more in the freshness of a new-born babe in a stable with the animals all around in adoration.
Prayer: Lord, give us the enthusiasm needed to proclaim the Good News that Christ is with us.
Eastern redcedar Christmas tree in Appalachian home.
December 26, 2016Appalachian Christmas Celebration
The Christmas event has a rich variety in many cultures, especially those that respect their Christian roots and still have a tradition of honoring feast days. Thus the Catholic and Orthodox cultures, along with Lutherans and Anglicans have had a history of Christmas celebration with special activities of gift-giving and special culinary treats for the holidays. The more reformed and evangelical Protestant cultures were less Christmas-related, even through the 19th and early twentieth centuries. Gradually Appalachians acquired the celebration of the majority Christian cultures. Thus Appalachia grew into Christmas in recent times.
Appalachian Christmas now includes gift-giving around the 25th, return visits of those who moved away, and meals with ham and special cakes, candies and deserts. In some ways it is a continuation of the Thanksgiving holiday season. The local civic scene includes street decorations and stores with commercial displays much in keeping with the predominant American culture. The Appalachian culture is basically Christian but not Catholic as such. Really it does not have a strong tradition including special foods or activities.
The following are ways Appalachian Christian culture can be enhanced in more ways than Christmas celebration, so that Christians will participate together in a growing ecumenical spirit that includes praying together for common goals. We could look at four major sections from components of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
I. Profession of faith: The marks of the Church are One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic vs.
Appalachian -- Witness of the dynamics of the local church and how this particular church is
psychologically owned by the local community.
II. Celebration of all seven sacraments: vs.
Appalachian -- Born again by Spirit and intensity of
that rebirth (Humility demands that we see that our
salvation is being worked out in fear and trembling).
III. Life of Christ: Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit that are conferred in the sacrament of confirmation vs.
Appalachian -- Intense suffering from drug culture that needs remedying by cooperation of all citizens.
IV. Christian prayer: Formal prayer of the Church in all its
liturgical beauty bringing people together vs.
Appalachian -- Informal but intense prayer concentrating
on presence before God for more local needs.
Prayer: Lord, help us to work together within a total Christian community in the spirit of this Christmas season and throughout the year.
A glimpse into the past (Zoophycus trace fossil), as we think about the future.
December 27, 2016God Only Knows
Billions of years preparing for this last moment in geologic time. Out into the icy darkness of the universe beat warm hearts of living creatures. In random fashion, flora and fauna evolved, each nodding its "yes" to the Creator.
Finally came the final second of time when Adam and Eve shared forbidden fruit. They forgot that Heaven and Earth did intertwine, God walking with them among shaded vine. They, with divine gift of freedom to affirm, instead from Eden uttered a resounding "no."
Divine presence sought, and loving mercy spoke through prophets a promised Messiah. In the fullness of time God walks again our savior, healer, teacher, friend. Coming in soft-lighted liturgical setting and fulfilling the incarnate word, "Christ-mass."
God's loving mercy is in that walk with us, and we, in original form, have tasted fruit in our Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil -- Nuclear powerplant, ripe for terrorist plots. Will we say "yes" to God and dismantle these weapons of mass destruction in our midst?
God only knows!
"Mad" song sparrow.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
December 28, 2016 Holy Innocents Day
A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loudly lamenting; it was Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be
comforted because they were no more. (Matthew 2:18)
This Matthew Gospel quotation pertains to the massacre of the babes of Bethlehem that was ordered by Herod in an attempt to include Jesus in this sweep of the town. Certainly Jesus' early life got off to a rough start through an escape from a mass killing. The other infants had shortened lives -- as occurred at other times in the cruel portions of human history -- in times of war and famine and disease. And pro-life folks are quick to point out the application of the verse to the practice of abortion. Let us take this a step farther, while not dwelling further on any of the cruel incidents as such. Let us seek to make such cruelty in all its forms more rare if not non-existent.
Today innocent infants are those who die before the age of five from lack of proper nutrition or preventable health practices such as vaccination. Though we cannot determine exact global number counts, we may be talking about one million early deaths a year. According to the United Nations the global mortality totals (2015) for those up to one year of age is currently 49.4 per hundred thousand and 73.7 for those up to the age of five; the rates are far higher figures in Africa with parts of Asia second.
A concerted effort to save the children who suffer from malnutrition and preventable disease is needed today, for far too much is being spent for luxury items and unnecessary military expenditures. The failure to assist the efforts to protect human life in the early stages after conception and up to five years cheapens the quality of life itself. These little ones just do not have a chance. People who are helpless before violence done to a fetus or an infant in whatever manner that shortens life, are victims of terror and experience its effects all their mortal lives. This says nothing about a victim who has a life shortened and fails to reach fullness meant for all human life. Rather, the world of the selfish few attack the innocent and underprivileged.
This feast day (if we could call it such) reminds us once more that innocent infants suffer from our neglect and wrongdoing. We may not be cruel Herods, but we allow this suffering to exist by not exerting ourselves to help save the lives of those needing health and food security. Thus we disrespect all human life and weaken the threads of that precious web of life. If and when we feed the hungry and give those small additions of support to struggling governments in Africa to provide primary care to infants, we enhance that respect for all life, for we are all brothers and sisters of one human family. And we then hear the cries of the innocents. On this day we recall those who had their life snuffed out by deliberate actions or calloused omissions.
Prayer: Lord, help us as a people hear the cry of the poor.
December 29, 2016 Testing My Civility and Courtesy
Rule 6: Sleep not when others speak. Sit not when others stand. Speak not when you should hold your peace. Walk not on when others stop.George Washington'sRules of Civility (1744), ed. Alan Haslett (New York: Akashic Books, 2004).
As the year comes to an end with one of the most discordant political campaigns at the national level on record, it is wise to review our lives and our sense of civility both as individuals and as a collective citizenry. This is a good time within the twelve days of Christmas and before we launch into a New Year -- to look back at ourselves. How were our practices of civility and courtesy in relation to others during 2016? We spoke on the 9th of the last of the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, about preserving our general sense of reverence for God and fellow neighbors. Some of the same questions are repeated in this personal quiz:
National Government --
Do I respect our civic leaders? Those recently elected to office? Do I communicate with elected officials and do so in a civil manner? Do I talk about them in a charitable manner to fellow peers and to youth and elders? Am I knowledgeable about government programs and inform others about the contents for their possible benefits and weaknesses?
Local Neighborhood --
Do I perform my civic duties to vote and support community enterprises? Do I value an increase in social capital in the local community? Do I pause at funeral processions and offer condolences? Do I give encouragement to local leaders in what they are attempting? Do I welcome the migrant and the stranger who are coming to settle in the community? Do I offer a seat to those who are disabled or elderly? Do I assist others at times of inclement weather? Am I aware of those who have serious financial troubles?
Civic Advancement --
Do I support youth summer activities? Do I engage in local environmental programs? Do I support those who run animal shelters? What about those attempting community gardening and Farmers' markets? What about pregnancy centers? Do I attend lectures for the improvement of understanding? Do I support art activities in the community?
Personal Habits -- Do I give others the opportunity to speak? When I drive, do I attend totally to the road and not to texting or other forms of distraction? Do I exhibit road rage in any form? Do I speak to and spend time with neighbors? Do I clear away litter and clean sidewalks in winter time? Am I willing to check in on the infirm and elderly? Do I treat those waiting tables or sales personnel with courtesy? Do I greet people with a smile? Do I thank others or say "excuse me" when overstepping boundaries?
Prayer: Lord, help me keep improving my civility record.
When we read in today's Gospel from St. Matthew's Gospel about the flight into Egypt, we are reminded of the millions of people who are disassociated from their extended families through economic or political migration or through temporary emergencies. The refugee and the migrant are close to our minds and hearts on this Feast of the Holy Family, squeezed into the Christmas holidays between Christmas and New Years.
During this holiday season "family" time we give special attention to all who may wish a little better social connection with established families. First our own extended related families always need further bonding and blessings.
* Send a belated card if you learn late of the death of a close relation of one of your extended family members. Or maybe the problem is that we simply have overlooked someone in the course of the first Christmas card sending; it is still time during this second portion of the Christmas season. Better late than never.
* Email, phone or visit a distant cousin or relative that you have heard has had a major problem with health, has had one of his or her own move away, or has moved to a new place. Communications help in many ways whether in postal, verbal or electronic means.
* Extend the same concern to neighbors or friends who have lost the loved one, who have been ill, or who have had some mishap. Our thoughtfulness is highly valued in their time of sorrow.
* Invite someone who has just moved in to a social or religious event in your community, so that you may be regarded as part of their family away from home.
* Attempt the difficult task of securing reconciliation among family members. The family that does not have estranged members is rare and so rebinding these members to each other will be a happy occasion. This is always worth the risk if lack of appreciation.
* Review the folks in your own life and ask on this feast of the Holy Family who would like to be contacted. Should you think about a family reunion for 2017? Should there be some effort to develop a family tree or address listing that others in the extended family might find useful.
* This is a time to thank God for the various members of that extended family that makes each of us who we are. Review the cards and the photos that come during the holidays and decide to make a bulletin board or display on which these favorite photos will be shown. When you come home after travels, look again at the photos and say a small prayer for each family member displayed.
Prayer: Lord, give us a watchful eye during this season so that we detect those who hurt now and need special attention.
Throughout 2016 we have received countless blessings. In a spirit of continuous gratitude we count the gifts given to us. Even if some things went different from expectations and may be unresolved at this time, we feel blessed by knowing the situation. We rest that the Giver of all gifts is granting us the opportunity to see exactly where we are. But on this final day of 2016 there's more; we are called to bless others who enter our lives:
* We bless our loved ones and those closest to us, especially those suffering from ailments that cannot be easily overcome. We are willing to notify them in this season of our blessings.
* We bless our community -- the leaders, those in important decision-making positions, health caregivers, teachers, those raising their children and grandchildren, the ones who dispense charity to the needy, police and first responders.
* We bless those who are of service to us in the commercial food chain, to postal workers and service employees, to the people who maintain the infrastructure of our land, and to those serving our country in the military. Earthhealing and especially those who are working towards a renewable energy economy deserve special blessings.
* We bless the migrants and unsettled on this Earth who are now numbering nearly one percent of the human race. Never before has this planet seen such numbers, and our blessings are welcome.
* We bless our Pope and key church leaders that the spirit of the Lord will continue to shine through them.
* We bless domestic and wildlife creatures that give us so much joy and happiness. We extend the blessing in a special way to those whose habitats are being threatened at this time.
* We bless benefactors whether known or not for their generosity in keeping this website functioning. We bless those in our parishes who help us keep the residence and office warm and functioning with electricity and other utilities.
* We bless all who read these words during the year and the numerous ones who made the over 15 million hits to find this Earthhealing site. We hope you will continue coming and share with us some of your rich store of blessings as well.
* And finally we bless God for the gift of blessings, which we are moved to give. Thus all good things come and we are privileged to help be the dispensers of blessings to everyone and everything.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for life during this past year and enhance our attitude of sharing your blessing with others.