February 1, 2007 Winter Owls
We feature some wildlife each month, and owls come to mind in
the stillness of a frosty winter night. In this season when all is
preparing to come back to life, we hear the familiar winter sounds
of the hoot owl and the screech owl. Both are part of our
landscape throughout the year, but they seem to rule the roost
especially in winter -- rather non-assuming birds at the top of the
food chain. They catch mice, ground and regular squirrels, rats,
rabbits, fish, hawks and other birds, and even pups and cats. They
are termed by naturalist Barbara Hallowell and others "the tigers
of our woodlands."
We simply admire the equipment of this night hunter -- eyes as
big as those of humans, placed with depth perception at the front
of the head, and containing many rods for night vision. And
wildlife experts tell us their daytime vision is even better than
their nighttime. The owl's head can swivel over three quarters of
a complete circle, moving in one direction 135 degrees and then
rapidly back in the other the same number of degrees, without the
body's changing location. We can hardly do a 90/90 degree set of
head turns. The tracking of prey depends on both perceptive sight
and sound. The owl can fly at night among within a dense forest,
can communicate with others over surprisingly long distances, and
yet can be quite silent in its swoop (due to types of feathers) to
catch a prey. The owl's ears are holes in the side of the head
that differ from each other in size and position. This allows the
owl to determine the location of the prey. This prey can be
swallowed whole or torn apart with the beak and claws as food for
the owl's young ones. Defiantly, owls leave their little balls of
undigested fur and large bones immediately beneath their customary
nest, the leftovers of dinner after regurgitation. Owls see no
need to hide.
The great horned owl appears to be king (or queen) of our
forests in Appalachia. The usual hoot (two shorts and a long with
the conjunction in between) comes generally in the early hours
before dawn and occurs more often during the winter mating season.
These beautiful distinguished creatures have to get an early
nesting season started because it takes about three months, once
the owlets hatch, for these youngsters to be fully operational.
Nesting in such cold weather is not easy for either the brooding
mother or the food-gathering father. But they go about their
duties with diligence and cooperation.
Owls are often maligned as evil or spooky but this is unfair,
for owls hunt for basic food for themselves or their offspring.
They do not seem to be entertained by the struggling prey, for they
go about their work in a rather professional way. They must eat,
feed a busy mate, and bring in enough food to supply a perpetually
hungry set of owlets -- and this takes efficient hunting in night
and day. Really we have much for which to thank owls; without
them we would be overrun by mice. Owls give flavor to our American
forests. And they have a way of enchanting a cold winter's night.
February 2, 2007 Enlightenment and Websites
Candlemas Day is a perfect time to reflect on what global
"enlightenment" really means. Over and over, we have affirmed that
the Internet is a new and rapid means of communication; it comes
with far less effort and at very low cost and thus is an avenue for
poorer folks to express themselves to all the world. The poor can
spread the Good News. People are now able to gain attention from
those in distant lands using far fewer resources than in the years
when they depended on the postal services; the printed media took
both printing presses at the generating end, and a sophisticated
means of advertising and dissemination to attract readers. Today
search engines can find topics of special interest with ease and
allow searchers to discover what is being generated with far less
effort. Thus specialty publications can flourish over the Internet
in ways never previously conceived.
Website publication is not totally free if it is intended to
be presentable and attractive. A site does require some time in
preparation of the texts, critical design work, editing and
placement on the website in an efficient manner, and attracting
viewers through the search engines. The photographs, even when
freely permitted to be used, do take some time and effort for
presentation and embellishment. This is especially true or Earth
Healing, since we are moving from one per month (2005) to one per
week (2006), and by spring to one photograph for each daily
reflection. Special effort is being made to ensure that those with
slower modems can read the text without the associated pictures.
Due to our large number of readers, we have found our costs reduced
to less than one cent per electronic visit. Increasing the number
of photos does seem to promise an expanded readership.
We are now weighing other options: an annual concerted
funding drive; paid subscriptions with a byline that it is a
privilege to support this global enterprise; advertisements that
are pertinent to the environmental subjects being treated; a
blogging site for interactive or conversational-style
presentations; sales of materials presented such as an annual book
of selected homilies or reflections, and more effort to make
connections with related sites. Some of these seem to go counter
to the philosophy presented here and some will take an additional
investment of time. Much depends on how this year goes -- and the
enlightenment we receive.
We take this opportunity to thank the various donors who have
helped make this website possible: especially the Kentucky Jesuit
Mission, The Frank and Mary Fritsch Charitable Trust, Charles &
Kathy Fritsch, Dorothy & Bill Harmeyer, John & Sandra
Freda, Stephen Fritsch, Joe Boel, S.J., and Buddy Westbrook. We
also want to thank the various photographers who are listed under
the specific photos, because their contributions add color and
interest to the texts. Without all this help it would be
impossible to deliver these reflections. We continue to welcome
donations if you are so moved.
February 3, 2007 St. Blaise's Blessing
Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr,
may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every
other illness, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of
the Holy Spirit. Amen. (Blessing on St. Blaise's Day)
Surprisingly after three years of essays on this date I have
omitted the one Saint's day that stands out in the minds and hearts
of many faithful believers. On this day, tens of millions of times
the above blessing of St. Blaise will be given while optionally
using two unlit candles in the form of a St. Andrew's cross held
under the chin and in front of the person's throat. Saint Blaise
was a 4th century Armenian bishop, but little is known about his
life. Legend has it that Blaise saved the life of a boy with a
fish bone stuck in his throat, the son of a woman who brought food
and candles to him while he was imprisoned for his faith.
Why is this the most popular blessing in this country and in
many worldwide Christian communities? Part of this is due to the
deep-seated practice that goes back to the eighth century. People
have always had a fear of sudden diseases and life-threatening
accidents that can occur either to themselves or others when they
least expect. Choking from food is always a great fear for we know
of cases in restaurants and hear how people save others from death
through quick action. Believers desire protection from such
accidents -- and from all the diseases like bird flu that could
strike with dramatic suddenness. The blessing is not meant to be
superstitious but rather a public expression of the constant need
for divine providence and heavenly assistance. Enough people value
this that the blessing remains popular with both Catholics and
other Christians (St. Blaise's Day is celebrated by the Russian
Orthodox on February 11th).
Rather than hoping that this blessing goes by the wayside of
progress, it may be better that blessings be extended to others.
One person, a Baptist, observed that a female Catholic soldier
always blesses the Humvees in Iraq. Someone asked him why he
awaited her blessing. He said that he noted that all the blessed
vehicles returned and he knew a good thing when he saw it.
Certainly, that answer borders on the superstitious, but it also
includes the acknowledgment that blessings help us all find the
divine Providence so necessary for ordinary daily living.
Rather than forsake traditional blessings I seek to extend
them to other activities of our everyday life. It would be great
in this month of St. Blaise and Ash Wednesday to consider other
sacramentals and blessings for other times and places. People
thirst for spiritual expressions. Currently with holy water and
Easter water we bless the sick, houses, pets, crops, all buildings,
vehicles, flower gardens, wildlife, unreclaimed land, corpses,
graves, school and other books, places of prayer, trees especially
when planting them, school buses, workplaces, tools of all sorts,
and just about everything and everyone. We ought to do more.
February 4, 2007 Here I Am, Send Me
Then I heard a voice saying: "Whom shall I send? Who will be
my messenger?" (Isaiah 6:8)
The question God asks Isaiah is the question addressed to each
of us. Who will be the messenger of the Lord? Who will come
forward at this critical time in our individual, community,
national or global life? To withdraw through a diffidence as
Isaiah did initially, is a false sense of humility, of being
unworthy -- as we all are. But God gave him and gives us the grace
to overcome that temptation to withdraw from the fight, to leave
the matter to others, and to distract ourselves with something else
-- denial, excuse and escape.
We stand before God. As in Isaiah's case, a moment of grace
appears through the kindness of God who asks who is willing to be
sent. Granted, no one is really worthy, and so we need to find
here our true situation. Each is called to be responsible for some
of the world's distress. If we truly believe that God is all
powerful, the Almighty can take my weak flesh and make me into a
powerful instrument for the struggle ahead.
God calls. God gives us the grace to say "yes," if only we
are willing to do so. We need to launch into the deep and become
fishers of people because they are in need -- and we are the only
ones willing to respond. It is similar to when an accident occurs
and we look about and find that no one else is willing or able to
come forward to help. The task falls on us.
Here I am. I am located at this moment in this place. I
can't pack quickly and go to Central Asia or the slums of Haiti.
God calls us where we are just as Jesus called disciples at the
Lake of Galilee. Maybe at another time we may be asked to be
mobile and move out. But right now we are called "here" and not
elsewhere. Right now we are in church engaged in a Liturgy of the
Word and preparing soon for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In this
total liturgy the suffering and dying Christ is present to us in an
event that transcends space and time. Suddenly "here" includes
Calvary and we are part of God's mystery. God is present to us.
The critical question is, "Are we present to God who is here?"
The task is difficult. Through our baptism we are given a
special invitation to enter into God's redemptive act. If we truly
believe, the spiritual landscape is not barren nor is the net
empty. In fact, if we believe and do what we are called to do, the
specific "here" is not overly important. Yes, there are risks
involved as with any meaningful enterprise. Misunderstandings
occur; we are overlooked; success eludes us in this life. But our
presence before God is in some way as important as God's presence
is to us. Will we see our calling through to the end? That is the
question of life, and it is answered in an atmosphere of risk-
taking on a stormy sea and haunted by the possibility of an empty
net. Here I am! Take me as I am.
February 5, 2007 Weatherman's Day
The year 2006 was the hottest on record for the United States
and the 6th hottest for the entire world. Some predict that 2007
will break the records that have been kept for 150 years. Will
these ever improving "weatherpeople" be wrong? For one thing we
know that weather predictions are becoming far more accurate than
the Farmer's Almanac or the prophets at the local bar. Yes,
weather discussions have a more scientific tenor and that is ever
so needed in this age of global warming. On the day that I am
writing this essay, the BBC has had a special on storing seeds in
an Arctic polar region for future generations in case of a global
disaster. During the interview, when standing outside the storage
area, the guide mentioned how much the local glacier had receded
since 1922 (over one kilometer) and that melting was taking place
at a significantly increasing rate. None worth their salt can
refuse to see what is happening in this world -- things are getting
warmer and fast.
We have noticed the forsythia blooming in November, the robins
returning in December and the mourning doves cooing all winter.
Eastern American has had an unseasonably warm late fall and early
winter -- and this pattern may continue. We hope the insects are
reduced, and the fruit trees have sufficient cold weather. But
hopes must blend with reality, and so we prepare for the heat that
is coming. And we hear about the polar bears facing extinction
without a sufficient amount of sea ice to allow access to their
major food source -- the seals. The fact that the U.S. Department
of Interior is now proposing that they be listed as threatened
species -- and this is another sign of global warming.
I have never admitted to being able to predict weather beyond
the day on which things occur. As in our youth I do go out of
doors each morning just to sense what it will be like that day, for
this is a habit of farmers who need to know what to plan for the
day. And they are able to make fairly accurate short-term
predictions. But meteorology is able to say far more, knowing that
rising ocean temperatures could spawn hurricanes and that el nino
is occurring this year as well. What we are finding disconcerting
is not the accuracy of these predictions but that longer term
predictions are occurring at shorter intervals of time. Will
Europeans have another hot summer just as they have experienced a
lack of snow this winter? And will that mean more summer deaths of
the elderly? Will our crops be desiccated in some parts of the
nation while other regions are drenched with excessive rainfall?
Will we have the return of the 2005 heavy hurricane damage in the
vulnerable parts of the Southeast Atlantic and Gulf coasts?
On this day of the weatherman (person) we recognize the value
of both shorter and longer term weather predictions. We all need
to be prepared, and these noble folks with an ever more precise
science through computer models and measuring equipment are poised
to help us. In this time of global warming, they deserve our
respect, attention, and remedial action.
Kentucky River vista.
Anderson County, Kentucky
(Photo: Janet Powell)
February 6, 2007 Dieting to Lose Weight
While jogging for many years I never expected a weight
problem. But here it is. I have joined the half of America in
need of watching, not someone else's, but his or her own weight.
Yes, February is dieting month and I have accepted my godchild's
challenge to receive $25 for this Earthhealing program for each
pound lost by St. Patrick's day. Yes, that is certainly a very
nice incentive and I am responding with the following non-medicinal
approaches. I realize that the U.S. government just fined four
diet-promoting groups a total of $25 million for false claims.
Let's fine tune quality and quantity of food, not look for a magic
potion, keeping in mind to minimize sweets.
1. Think more fresh vegetables for the daily diet even though
I do not grow them at this time of year (only garlic and mustard).
2. Limit drinks, more or less to water, black coffee or tea
and tomato juice. I am omitting soda pop and curtailing fruit
3. Use mustard (non-calorie substitute) in place of salad
dressings which often negate the good effects of a fresh garden
salad due to the amount used to improve the taste.
4. Occasionally prepare steamed veggies (cabbage, carrots and
apples) for breakfast using Quick Eggs (fat and cholesterol free
and low calorie) along with a sprinkling of oatmeal.
5. Choose snack foods wisely. For people who prefer to eat at
irregular and more frequent times, snacks can become an important
part of the diet. Fruit, carrots and celery are good snacks along
with occasional nuts. Salty and fatty chips are no-nos. Popcorn
is somewhat problematic unless flavored with garlic and chili
powder -- and then only a few times a week.
6. Frequently prepare cabbage soup (with other veggies added)
for lunches and suppers.
7. Eat things that make the stomach feel filled. One example
is to eat a quarter of a strong onion along with cottage cheese at
one of the meals.
8. Limit intake of bread and other carbos to a reasonable
degree -- one or two slices per day. Limit pasta dishes to a few
times a week at most and pancakes to every other week.
9. Watch the meat choices (if you are a meat eater) and
realize that there is a discussion as to type and amount of meat
intake. Burgers are out and so is the fried chicken. Lean venison
is locally grown food that is regarded as good for us all.
10. Start the first meal later and end the day somewhat
hungry and with a glass of water or hot tomato juice.
February 7, 2007 Humble Prayer Goes Out to All the World
A month ago today, one of my extended parishioners (his wife
is a member) passed to the Lord. Over the year or so prior to his
death I came to regard Emerson highly as a man of faith -- and we
seemed to get along quite well. I would ask him to lead the
prayers on occasion and he was always willing. What I noted in the
manner in which he prayed is that he was familiar with prayer to
God in an honest and forthright manner -- not in a formalized
prayer only but also as a direct conversation with God. All who
knew him were convinced that Emerson was close to God, knew it, and
did not hesitate to express it. I would always come away from
visits with him feeling as though I had just participated in a
A teaching moment. The final leg of the journey of faith for
some includes the devastating effects of cancer -- the draining of
energy, body fat, and prospective length of days. That makes life
harder and makes praying more difficult for some -- and that is
only to be expected. But that difficulty is not experienced by
all, especially those who have entered into informal prayer with
God over a longer period of time. In pastoral work we find that
people who suffer debilitating illness can rise courageously to the
challenge and answer it in a forthright manner. They even go
beyond; they are willing to share their prayer life with others,
not in a self-righteous manner, but as people in a community
striving to come to a successful termination of their journey.
Without pressing the point, these sufferers become an opportunity
for all of us to learn to pray, to confide in God, and to testify
that an eternal life stretches before us. And in a gentle way they
teach us in praying well that we should follow their example.
A sensitive moment. Usually the victim's struggles include
unpleasantries that can burden caregivers and visitors alike --and
the sensitive sufferer knows this. For some, the most unpleasant
part of suffering is not the physical pain but the inability to do
things for oneself and the necessity of requiring assistance that
can be trying at times. But the test of a good person who is ill is
how well he or she accepts this assisted living condition, and
still to retains a good sense of humor all the while.
Good News. Emerson's passing included an accompaniment by
good spirits. His departed close relatives came to take him to the
Light. He would not hesitate to have me use this essay to describe
this moment of dying to all the world for his hope would be that
others would taste the same experience. In his humble mobile home
tucked away in the folds of the hills of Kentucky he engaged in his
private conversation -- but it was not heard by many here on Earth.
The same frankness that horrified his immediate officer when he
talked bluntly to a navy Admiral and invited him to come and visit
his home, is the same informal way he spoke with God -- and that
convinces me that God appreciates this manner of speaking. That is
also good news to millions who do not like too many formalities.
The end of the journey of life can be a wonderful experience.
February 8, 2007 HARBINGER OF SPRING
The dove's call is first song about,
For just a little winter time it's clear.
Soon street cacophony and migrant bird drown out
its solo sound for another year.
Today in late winter's slow moving course
I heard the first sound of the mourning dove
To others perhaps lament, no, a spirit rushing force,
Spring's morning, a name better thought of.
Through the year it has a sorrowful moan
Time to get up it seems to say;
Nest-making, eating, spring seeds are sown,
"Get going, let's start a new day."
Doves are the bearers of peace.
An olive sprig back to Noah's ark,
It bears to us a similar word at least
This growing year now has its animated spark.
Note: The mourning dove's call was first heard this year
on January first, as it was heard also through December. What we
regarded as the call of mid-winter has occurred all through the
winter season, because the weather this year has been so
unseasonably spring like. Are we witnessing the dramatic change of
seasons? If so these calls are the harbinger of a global warming
period as well.
February 9, 2007 Ultra-Early Gardening
My Great Uncle Louis was an ultra-early gardener; he would
start his hotbeds on January 2nd. Talking about gardening so early
sounds foreign to those in Wisconsin or New England, but in the
broad growing zone in which Kentucky finds itself, we start quite
early. And this and the more southern growing zones encompass over
half the American population. Think "gardening" even while it is
While my mother was still active (until her upper eighties),
she would always sow her peas in February; she said that the March
cold spells would not harm these hearty plants and it allowed for
a bountiful early harvest. She always had a good crop and I never
recall a failure. I have tried to follow her example for it has
involved a good gardening principle involved, namely, start
gardening as early as possible. Think about obtaining onion sets
and getting the brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts,
broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, etc.) into the ground as soon as possible
in March, so they will bear before the late spring worms and heat
get to them. Add radishes to that early list as well. Late
February may not prove the best time to do all these, but it is
time to look for the first opportunity in March. The secret is
early garden sowing and planting while realizing which crops do
best under late winter conditions. While autumns tend to linger,
springs move quickly in Kentucky, and many spring crops planted too
late go to seed.
Planting at the first opportunity can carry over into other
activities. I have constantly found that people who wait until the
last moment will be hurt in the long run. Under some extraordinary
circumstances one may succeed while in being late; if and when
lateness becomes a habit, it can be quite harmful in seeking to
complete a project. This certainly applies to gardening. Being
time sensitive is of the utmost importance in anything we do, and
gardening helps make us aware of the benefits of being early.
This attention to the late winter weather allows us to couple
early planting with assisting certain crops through the use of
temporary cold frames and mulch. These protective devices have
been described earlier (9/8/04 and 3/2/05) and help crops weather
some late winter episodes. The gardener realizes that the
protection is often from cold winds as much as from the low
temperature itself. If you live in a growing zone that is further
north and you never start a garden until say April or May, I will
repeat the advice. Some crops can stand the late cold weather
quite well. Think of not waiting until the tomatoes can be planted
outdoors to start your spring gardening. Become conscious of
gardening early. Who knows, it may become a fashion in this age of
global warming. By starting early you will most likely have a
better garden, and it will help cultivate a good mental attitude as
well. Replace "better late than never" with "better early than
Rural Casey County, Kentucky
(photo: Janet Powell)
February 10, 2007 The Good in Being Restless
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right;
they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)
We can change the world far faster through blessings than
through curses. We can curse injustice and those who espouse it.
But in a far different way we can spread the beatitudes or bless
those who are in need in any fashion. In an atmosphere of always
recognizing our hunger and thirst and seeking satisfaction, we come
to extend blessings throughout our world. But our constant prayer
is to break the acquiescence that paralyzes us and confront the
restlessness that is the God within.
Some rightly identify the poverty of this world as a problem -
- but they can make the fatal mistake of blaming the poor as a
major part of the problem and thus isolate themselves from the
arena of the problematic. Let them eat cake; let them be as
righteous as we are; let them take a shower every day as we do
with plenty of hot water and a warm dressing place as well. Let
them cease being restless and become as we are -- down right
A world of rapid communication and mobility does not leave the
poor in a state of acquiescence. Rather, this awakens a desire in
many of them to have the comforts enjoyed by the wealthy. And so
they are restless for material things -- and this includes the
utter determination to make every effort to rise on the ladder of
success and affluence, leaving behind those who envy them but do
not know exactly how to follow.
Restlessness can emerge from other sources. Fundamentalists
may see wrong in the present world order and seek to strike out
against the wrong in some manner. Their witnessing may be in the
form of terrorism because that appears to be the only weapon
available -- for the complex world of advanced technology is
vulnerable and can be damaged by a precise strike. These refuse to
any hint of a permanent state of poverty and yet are led by the
evil spirit to vent their restlessness through attack on the most
vulnerable -- the poor and also on the holders of sophisticated
technologies. The status quo is upset but not in a positive way.
However, neither the outward climb on the road to affluence
nor the road to terrorism is beneficial to the whole of humankind.
The restlessness of the poor is real, is valid, is not addressed by
a passivity to current conditions. Offering the sufferings of the
poor in keeping with the status quo becomes less convincing with
each passing day. We must acknowledge and bless the restlessness
of those who seek to migrate or to alleviate their own poverty in
some way. But we must look into the spiritual source of all
restlessness and find God, the Holy Spirit who inflames our hearts
so that they may not rest until they rest in God. Bless the
restlessness and do not be afraid -- for the restless spirit can be
turned onto a journey of authentic faith.
February 11, 2007 Woe to You Who are Rich
But alas for you who are rich; you are having your consolation
now. Alas for you who have your fill now; you shall go hungry.
Alas for you who laugh now; you shall mourn and weep. Alas for
you when the world speaks well of you! This is the way their
ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:24-26)
We place a blessing on the restless, but here is the opposite:
woe on those who are not restless but satisfied in their own
affluence. We may ask whether they have their fill and they will
reply in the affirmative -- but is this truly sufficient or do they
fool themselves? If we are satisfied when millions and billions
are hungry today, then there is something wrong with us.
Should the wealthy freely give up what they regard as theirs?
On the level of "should" one must say that when a person becomes
convinced that the resources do not belong to him or her alone but
to the commons, then the moral imperative to liberate the possessed
and possessions is present. Give it up freely and generously.
However, such a recognition of improper ownership by the wealthy is
an extraordinary acknowledgment, and most people set up personal
and communal reinforcements to hold the status quo. It would be
impossible to expect miracles and to await a collective inspiration
on the part of all the world's wealthy -- an extraordinary miracle.
For the wealthy may excuse themselves and say their wealth is a
temporary stewardship, but with friendly governmental statutes they
can designate "legitimate" heirs who will continue the practices of
the wealthy long beyond their passing.
A sharing of resources even in the form of massive gifts
given by multi-billionaires may not be a good sign. In some ways
these are the largest monetary gifts ever given, but then never
before have people accumulated such wealth. The time has come to
reexamine how that wealth occurs. The giving may be highly
publicized, but still ever higher percentages of economic wealth
are being concentrated in the hands of small numbers of
individuals, some of whom do not have the inclination to share in
an altruistic manner -- and though they continue in their greed
while others suffer.
A misdirection of resources occurs within a highly
materialistic society. Speaking well of someone may be the mark of
genuine acknowledgment of a benefit, but it may also be the mark of
a false prophet. We can and ought to bring liberation to all. If
we can shake people in their affluence to such a point that they
share with others, we have achieved some success. We can liberate
those in the clutches of materialism. A representative government
should have oversight procedures to allow the active citizens to
call into question resources that are being misdirected.
Amazingly, the arguments are the same as those voiced in the
eighteenth century against absolute and often despotic monarchs.
We look about for citizen participation in democratic societies
where oversight must be practiced.
February 12, 2007 Globalizing Lincoln's Insight
As mentioned in the reflection on this date in 2004, Lincoln
was a man of his time and of his moment. As a loyal Kentuckian I
respected him for his insight in composing the Emancipation
Proclamation and his gradually emerging insight that the nation
could not thrive or even exist half slave and half free. Lincoln
was thinking of moving this nation forward and much of the same
reasoning could apply to this globe one hundred and fifty years
later. We cannot exist as a world of haves and have nots. The
belief that we can continue the status quo makes me angry and that
anger must be centered on the need for emancipation of the poor.
How can we have billionaires and the destitute at the same time?
It is wrong and what is doubly wrong is that we are not angry as
hell about it. Our silence is the grounds for our own destruction.
If our nation were in the same condition as parts of Africa,
our electorate would be hopping mad and rightly so. However, what
is so important about being this side of the Atlantic Ocean rather
than in Africa? The answer may be, God forbid, that a human being
who is American has greater value than an African. Whether we say
so or not, our policy towards the poor is one of not valuing an
African's life the same as an American's -- and herein lies the
tragedy. We see Americans as people but Africans as objects of
poverty. We speak heavily of spreading democracy but how about a
sense of basic human rights for all people, even those in the
involuntary slavery of destitution? If we valued all people the
same, we would not allow vast surpluses for the few -- surpluses
that continue to accumulate at an ever more rapid rate -- and still
allow the destitute to "coexist" in their condition.
What can we do about it? Several things. We need to make
this view of implicit inequality an important part of our
reflections on an ongoing basis. Slavery exists in different forms
today and we need not take a laissez faire position that each
nation must take care of its own -- and to hell with the world's
Lazaruses. The global nature of our togetherness as a people of
God has never been so emphatic. We are one people and must take
care of each other as fellow creatures in the Lord. At times we
seem to have greater concern for the threatened snow leopard or
polar bear for people in Darfur or Zimbabwe. We care for all.
Furthermore, we need to take a more aggressive step; we
should focus on the actual racism of misappropriated resources in
this world. We must demand that systems be set up to see that
resources are extended to the destitute parts of the world with
priority given to those lands that can administer the resources
equitably. Through example they prod others to do the same. It is
not enough to airlift resources when they will be squandered; our
concern is that distribution be made correctly so that all may
receive the basic amounts needed for life. Rulers and governments
may stand in the way, and that becomes an added challenge. But we
must raise a chorus of demands to start the process of
redistribution of the world's wealth.
February 13, 2007 The Problem of Acquiescence
You are the ones who destroy the vineyard and conceal what
you have stolen from the poor. By what right do you crush my
people and grind the faces of the poor? (Isaiah 14b-15a)
A number of global social, economic and political problems
are interconnected. Some are being treated immediately and forth
rightly; some are tolerated as though that is the way the world is.
I was once at a global consciousness-raising event: ninety
percent of us were given a simple rice meal and ten percent a steak
and gravy feast. We were to reflect as though we were the poor.
So what did I do? Why the only Christian thing: we went over and
seized the steak dishes and divided them equally so none would have
too much and "pig out" and none were to go home empty bellied.
Some complained that we spoiled the event. I think we made it a
success. Why should we tolerate such differences and simply offer
ourselves up while others hurt themselves by overindulging?
Thus the emphasis here is that problems persist, but that the
major problems are not the ones that seem obvious: terrorism,
untreated poverty, unchecked militarism, over affluence. Rather
the major concern is our acquiescence, that is our consent without
protest. Yes, we persist in acting out the part of passive
observers of events as though they are inevitable. We are silent
with a deafening silence, if such could be the case. In other
words, the silence is so pervasive that if we peep or squeak we
will be ruled out of order.
Let us turn to the accusations made by Isaiah the prophet as
quoted above. Who is it who destroys world resources and conceals
this from the poor? If we allow such conditions to exist and we
could do something about them, we are the ones. Yes, the
revelation is that we are at fault through our knowledge but lack
of action -- for knowing without subsequently doing is simply not
the proper course.
A misdirected scriptural passage relates to Jesus' saying the
poor will always be with us. Taken out of context that has been
used to justify persistent poverty. The problem of poverty is
always with us, yes, but we may have to address it by looking
beyond mere charity -- and even beyond simple identification of
culprits. That is the negative approach to poverty and global
problems. We must take positive steps in working with the poor:
giving when giving is called forth in charity; identifying with the
poor when that is needed; and becoming poor with those who are the
lowly of the Earth in order to prove that the lowly can rise to
higher places. It is our silence and lack of activity that create
a condition in which the status quo goes unchallenged and we, in
turn, lose our opportunity and our soul through blatant
insensitivity. The more we are encased in affluence and the
comfortable life, the more we are immune for a short time to the
actual condition of our world.
February 14, 2007 Have a Heart Women: Register for the
I was told by readers that I misdirected the message of my
16, 2005, essay "Selective Service for Men Only?" to
young men and that this was precisely the wrong group. Men will
still think it polite to hold the door for a woman. Okay? But why
must they register for the Selective Service between ages 18 and 25
-- and never see how very sexist the legislation is? If a few were
to risk prison by deliberately not registering and then take the
matter to the Supreme Court, the law would have to be changed. But
how can we ask for the heroic?
No one wants to do this for the refusal to register would
result in a fine of up to $250,000, imprisonment for up to five
years, or both; so says the pamphlet put out by the Selective
Service System. No other blatantly sexist law in this country
incurs such penalties for one sex and none for the opposite. If
benefits of men registering include meeting the requirement for
Federal Job Training (to be an auto mechanic, electrician,
carpenter or to hold many other types of jobs) and for federal
loans, grants and scholarships, does the refusal to register deny
these to men only? And even citizenship is denied and governmental
jobs such as postal worker, computer technician, policeman, etc.
Registration is regarded as a serious matter and so it is.
What was right was the content of the original September, 2005
essay, not the special audience. What was wrong was omitting as
audience the young women who could possibly still make a great
difference. Women registering would bring the entire nation to its
senses on the importance of serving our nation in some capacity.
Perhaps military action is required by the United States at times
of crisis -- not for just a portion. Today, one percent fight and
ninety-nine percent go about their business as usual. Let us all
be in this together, for the security of our country and its
liberties are at sake. Yes, I was in the ROTC during the Korean
War and an auxiliary chaplain during the Vietnam conflict -- but I
never fought. Often we have observed just how seriously the young
men took this registration and the subsequent drafting. Some
(women too) endure death or serious injury for the sake of their
country's causes -- and that the draft will not need activating.
Women are volunteer soldiers and do a very good job. But why
should their friends be exempt from registering? The reason they
are not is because this could cause a hornets nest in sexist
America -- and maybe call into question our militaristic
adventures. This is something men must do under heavy penalty but
not "us," and it is unfair. If women took up the issue, then the
movement to engage in war would be taken far more seriously and a
movement to end the "war on terrorism" would be regarded more
seriously. Do a few bear all the costs? Women could make the
difference. Registration allows people of both sexes to see the
seriousness of the situation. When it comes to fighting we see how
privileged a few of us are. A campaign to get all to register
could effect the entire nation. And it might be a good thing!
February 15, 2007 Broadening the Field of Earthhealing
Several times we have been asked to justify the variety of
subjects treated in the course of these Daily Reflections. To
someone involves a number of things: measures to prevent further
illness, use of proper medicines and healthy food, certain
exercises during recovery, a congenial atmosphere in the home, a
quiet and peaceful surroundings, good music and freedom from
excessive noise, friendly visits, a positive set of topics, prayers
and prayerful practices on a regular basis, and avoidance of
harmful threats -- just to name a few. Personal healing includes
a range of practices and activities beyond rest and personal care.
The same variety applies to healing this troubled Earth.
Certainly environmental actions go beyond those early 1970s stages
of exposing a harmful practice (negative aspects) and talking about
legislative remedies (limited positive ones). It did not take long
to see that quality environmental conditions included the
following: appropriate technological innovations or traditional
practices; recreation of an atmosphere through visual art, music
and architecture; conveying a message through education, dramatics
and even dance; return to proper nutrition and good culinary
practices; proper religious exercises of petition, contrition,
praise and thanksgiving; periods of rest and relaxation; and
affirmation of periods of the past when the environment was of a
higher quality. Even the negative exposes took on more
sophisticated forms, as they showed the -- lack of rest time; the
dangers of smoking and chemical abuse; the misconceptions created
by advertising; the pressures to consume more and more; noise,
vibrational and light pollution; expansion of suburban sprawl; and
household pollutants. The variety of positive and negative
activities deepens environmental concern.
The first positive advance that I personally perceived was the
introduction of the "Simple Lifestyle Calendar" in 1976 in
Washington, DC and then continuation of the calendar for over two
decades in Kentucky. This is now designed and produced by ASPI's
Mark Spencer. The photography that has certainly improved from
that of the early days is the key to the success and that is why we
are now giving special attention to a variety of photographs in
among our daily reflections. Our increased number of photographs
are increasing the cost but we here at <www.earthhealing.info>
regard as utterly important in the healing process.
This brings us back to the environmental movement in which I
have lived for 37 years since the first Earth Day in 1970. One
contribution that has hopefully been brought is that of Saint
Ignatius seeing the glory of God in all creation and finding that
all forms of science and art expose this glory in some way. Thus
we look about and find that the entire range of sciences, arts,
crafts, and human labor help build the Kingdom of God. All that
benefit are to be included. That is why the range of topics for
these essays actually expands instead of reaches set limits -- and
why this is the 1142nd essay with, God willing, more to follow.
February 16, 2007 More Terrorists Than We Think
This is why the country is in mourning, and all who live in it
pine away, even the wild animals and the birds of heaven; the fish
of the sea themselves are perishing. (Hosea 4:3)
What causes all of this suffering to wild animals, birds and
fish? Is it the work of a hostile nature or is it something that
we have to deal with in a major degree? Primitive people have
lived with migrating herds of Arctic wildlife for centuries, and
then we come forth with our gas guzzlers and decide that we must
pump the oil from migration routes to keep our SUVs moving.
Inhabitants have gloried with birds of every type for millennia,
and yet we must shoot the eagle when others do not look or slay the
passenger pigeon to the very last one. Cod was so plentiful to
our fishing ancestors that they could simply dip them out of the
massive schools of the North Atlantic. No more, no more, with the
advent of modern factory ships and corporate greed. Godless
capitalism has taken its toll.
We like to speak about a war on terrorism as though the
terrorism is done by others and we who defend the status quo have
to act as preservers of the common good. But is this really the
case? Or is there a form of terrorism that we are so quick to
overlook in which we all participated long before the one percent
went to war and the ninety-nine percent continued about their
ordinary business? Let's look at another small percentage -- that
is the two percent of the world's people who own half of the
world's wealth. Awake global democrats: wealth is becoming all
the more concentrated, and with wealth comes power, and with
misplaced and unregulated power comes social destabilization -- a
form of terror against the poor and lowly.
The wealthy and affluent in North America and Europe and now
spreading to Asia, the Middle East and parts of Latin America are
demanding excessive resources such as for spacious housing,
inefficient private means of transportation, and exotic forms of
entertainment that require resources and cause pollution. The
demands made by affluent people far exceed those made by poorer
folks because the affluent do far more pleasure travel (airplanes,
boats, larger luxury vehicles), have far larger homes that take
resources to heat, cool and maintain, and make greater demands on
health and educational facilities.
Growing resource demands mean more pollution; increased air
pollution such as emissions from increased air travel result in air
pollution both from the exhaust and from the contrails that reduce
the amount of sunlight entering the atmosphere. Burning fossil
fuels leads to more carbon dioxide and subsequent global warming,
a terror to peoples whose nations will be swamped and deluged by
the rising of the seas. And who are the ones to blame? Are not
the affluent who harm innocent wild animals, birds, fish and human
beings the perpetrators of terror as much as the suicide bombers?
Terrorists are to blame, but who are they?
February 17, 2007 "Politics is Money"
The title is a familiar expression but it does not mean that
this has to be the case. Isn't it better to say that politics is
the art of making the possible into a reality using some sort of
practical means -- hopefully proper ones. Some may say that if
dirty money is well spent and the end is a good one we may be able
to overlook the source. But money can be a source of harm in a
Excessive attention is given to moneyed interests. If
politics advances through money, then those who have much money to
give possess a louder voice -- and that harms our democratic
process where theoretically all have an equal voice. The
unscrupulous politician is naturally drawn to those who will assist
him or her in some fashion -- and the one with big bucks looks ever
so good. If nothing more, the money person will be remembered in
upcoming legislation and the question asked as to whether this
person will frown on a certain policy. How do we phrase
legislation to meet the approval of "money bags"? Unfortunately,
that affluent person's opinion is more heavily weighted.
Practicality masks and restricts moral judgment. When someone
is governed by money, civic values erode. Everything becomes
dollars and cents, and is less and less a matter of right and
wrong. The moral climate can change so gradually that the
legislator does not recognize it -- but nonetheless it changes for
those who are perceptive. This becomes tragic when one of two
sides of an issue can be priced quite easily and the other cannot,
such as economics versus environment. The one takes on convincing
worth; the others is overlooked because it cannot be easily priced.
Goals are set in money terms. The cost of running for office
escalates with each passing year and what once cost thousands now
costs millions of dollars. Some shrug and say this is part of
modern life through the electronic media; others regard money as a
way in which only the rich can run for public office and thus cut
out the participation of little people. An oligarchy of the
moneyed interests seems to emerge and the agendas of the candidates
and election campaigns become who will support this or that
position. The money may come more and more from a multitude of
sources such as Internet generated political campaigns and not from
individuals. But the mass appeal can become a money matter as
well. Will the polis expect more than just bread and circuses?
Will they be satisfied in letting the wealthy take control?
During the first day of the 110th Congress last month came a
new and stricter ethics bill that limits what an elected official
can receive from lobbyists -- meals, travel and other perks are now
excluded. The obvious dangers were so apparent that the passage of
the legislation was almost unanimous. All know that lobby money
can adversely affect the political process for the worse. But do
we really believe that the moneyed interests can be controlled?
Time will tell.
February 18, 2007 Be Compassionate
Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not
judge and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and
you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be
pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you: A full measure,
pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured
into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount
you will be given back. (Luke 5:36-38)
We begin brotherhood and sisterhood week. That can be viewed
on several levels -- our immediate family, our local community of
faith, our region, our state, our nation and our world. Perhaps
this fellowship rests on all these levels but the more severe tests
concern what we do closer to home -- the place where we can
accomplish much in the way of proper testing and action.
Compassion or the act of suffering with another seems to be
one casualty in any conflict. Hardening of hearts in times of
crisis makes us cultivate our anger. As we prepare for the Lenten
season during this troubled year, we find an urgent need for
compassion. This is because the global and communal desolation
weighs heavily on our people in so many ways. We find no joy in
imprisoning or putting people to death; we feel deeply for those
who suffer from any form of dysfunctionality. We have compassion
for our own American military who have to face the failures in
concluding the Iraq War; and even more do we show compassion for
the Iraqi people who live in such threats and insecurity. Deep
compassion is called for in these difficult times.
Compassion can be combined with the power of prayer. The
compassion of Christ, shown to us on Calvary through his suffering
and death, is now extended in space and time through each Divine
Liturgy. It is not my liturgy alone or even the liturgy of those
who happen to attend. It is our Liturgy, the work of all the
people. When some do not come, we not only miss them; their
absence is sorely felt by a compassionate community and the reasons
that cause them to stay away becomes a painful event in our
collective lives. We will not look down on those who come; we
will be painfully mindful of those who are absent.
Compassion consists of specifically praying for those in need.
Some find help in a twinning or praying for each other. We are not
asking people to find a prayer partner though that can have merit.
Compassion is to see others suffering so much that we are willing
to enter into their suffering silently without judging them or
condemning them. Their current actions may be mortally harmful but
that should not stop us from directing our favor onto them. When
we combine the sense of compassion with the power of prayer we
discover an Earth-shattering combination. We can make a change in
our own life and in theirs. Our offering to God for them can be
transforming; they can change and so will we. Lent is a social
time in a spiritual way; it is when we see the needs of others as
part of our responsibility and our own calling.
February 19, 2007 National Desolation
Our country suffers at this very moment due to the current so-
called war on terrorism. We are fumbling and that is creating an
atmosphere of uncertainty and spiritual desolation. I recall back
when young during the Second World War: the goal of victory over
the Axis (Germany, Italy and Japan) was definite and clearly known
by all in our country; the means to achieve the goal was spelled
out in detail; the spirit was one of "we can all do it if we pitch
in." And the nation did pitch in and in less than four years the
war was over for better or worse with America on the victorious
side. Now after a Korean War of less clear goals and achievements
and a Vietnam affair of still less clear outcome, we are in a
middle of a longer war with far less clear goals and one that
requires very little sacrifices on the part of our people.
President Bush objects and says "No, we are sacrificing our peace
of mind." Granted, there's truth in that statement.
The reason for military action in 2001 was to eliminate the
Bin Laden group. This goal shifted with the unilateral invasion of
Iraq in March, 2003. That expanded war was to rid the Middle East
of weapons of mass destruction, but as the action progressed the
goals shifted; no WMDs were found. Later the goal seemed to shift
to establishing democracy in the Middle East and then the sectarian
violence emerged. In America and other nation disillusionment has
set in, and costs in fighting forces and resources have mounted far
beyond original expectations (estimated as of this writing at 1.2
trillion dollars) -- with no end in sight. Behind it all is the
unstated goal of securing a massive oil reserve by and for the
United States -- the third largest oil reserve in the world. This
is being pursued by major oil interests and their administration
allies. The clearest perception at this time is that we suffer
from a collective desolation, something that is affecting our
people in various ways from drug abuse to infidelity, from over
affluence to nervous despondency.
Consolation, inspired by the good spirit, occurs when one
feels buoyed up by enthusiasm and in an upbeat mood, the opposite
in the case of desolation. But sometimes God allows desolation in
order to awaken us to the needs that must be met in this world. We
are in desolation through our own faults. What must we do? The
answer is certainly unclear. We are in a national bind, for the
quagmire is getting deeper all the time. Desolation wears people
down, leads to addiction, and tempts citizens to forsake their
cherished values and devotions and retreat into themselves.
We need to make a public confession that our nation is on the wrong
track and it will not be able to get off easily. We cannot do it
all alone. We need the help of our brothers and sisters throughout
the world, for our superpower status is quite superficial.
Furthermore, we need God's help for God alone can get us out. A
national desolation is a spiritual movement by the Lord to bring us
back to our collective senses. This can only be addressed by a
true change of heart -- and the upcoming Lenten season is the ideal
time to consider this. We have sinned Lord and we need your help.
February 20, 2007 Look Again at Our Fats Intake
Today ends the time of "carnival" or farewell (vale) to meat
(carne). Maybe this is a perfect time to say good-bye to meat
derived oils. And even to give special attention to the various
plant derived ones as well.
On Mardi Gras or "Fat Tuesday" we recall that in former times
of more severe fasting the cook was to rid the kitchen on this day
of both meat products and the meat derived fats most often used for
cooking. Lard, begone! Thus the ridding or cleaning operation
caused a sensation because the food fare would be richer on this
day -- and thus the celebratory mood.
We can say "burn more fats" but that is harder to do than not
consuming them in the first place. Some people are quite
scrupulous about their food intake and then there are the rest of
us -- the great majority. On a previous Mardi Gras (2/8/05) we
mentioned Twelve Ways to Curb Fats. It is still valuable to
over high fat foods: Big Macs, high fat meats, donuts, butter and
cream, fried foods, high-fat snack foods, salad dressings, baked
goods, and eggs (Quick Eggs have no fat). But we do need some
fats in our diet and so we should become more discriminating about
what we choose. We should restrict oil intake to 30% of calories
or 65 grams per day -- and we take care where these are derived.
First of all, the U.S. government now requires the percentage
of the following be listed: (all four types have no transfats and
no cholesterol) (Serving = one tablespoon % = daily value)
olive oil -- 14g. (22%) total fat, 2g. (10%) saturated
fat, polyunsaturated fat 2g., monounsaturated 10g.
corn oil -- 14g. (22%) total fat, 2g. (10%) saturated
fat, polyunsaturated fat 8g., monounsaturated 4g.
canola oil -- 14g. (22%) total fat, 1g. (5%) saturated
fat, polyunsaturated fat 4g., monounsaturated 9g.
Smart Balance -- 9g. (14%) total fat, 2.5g. (13%) saturated
fat, polyunsaturated fat 2.5g., monounsaturated 3.5g.
The first two fats in the above category are the no-nos from
the health stand point. New York City and other places and
companies are phasing out trans oils for use in cooking. Middle
Eastern people have a history of longevity and low incidence of
heart disease, so people tend to favor their choice of olive oil or
Cholesterol, found in lard and milk fats, has come under
considerable scrutiny in recent years and especially the
cholesterol regarded as containing bad (LDL) fractions in place of
good (HDL). The key is to keep a right blend of the good and bad
portions. For instance, Smart Balance spread has no trans
acids nor any hydrogenated oil nor palm kernel oil; it is made from
a mixture of palm fruit oil, soy, canola, and olive oil.
Fresh toadstool (unidentified) on the winter forest
floor. Bernheim Forest, Clermont, KY.
(photo: Janet Powell)
February 21, 2007 Ashes as Symbols
They will throw dust on their heads, and roll in ashes.
(Ezekiel 27:30) (also Jonah 3:7)
Another Ash Wednesday and the familiar markings on foreheads
make us all aware that the Christian season of fasting has begun.
Really this reflection assumes that the reader will check out our
three previous Ash Wednesday reflections (2/25/04, 2/9/05, and
3/1/06). Here we move into looking at the powerful symbol of ashes
in a more comprehensive manner. In many ways do we speak of ashes
without regarding them as useless or a waste material?
As a sign of penitence -- In both Old Testament and New
Testament times, ashes and dust were the sign of repentance and a
humble stance before God. In fact, up to midway in the Christian
era the dying were laid on sackcloth and sprinkled with ashes as a
reminder of their condition before the Giver of all life.
As a sign of subservience -- The vanquished was adorned in
sackcloth and ashes before the conqueror in an even more emphatic
manner than is described above. Ashes were the sign that what had
existed before was no longer the case; a change had occurred.
As a sign of mortality -- Ashes remind us how fleeting is our
life. We are called to this fact during Lent with the words that
accompany the imposition of the ashes on the forehead.
As a cleansing agent -- The homesteader would percolate water
through ashes to leach out the alkaline (lye) ingredients that
would be used to make lye soap. Sometimes pure ashes were used as
a strong cleansing agent for oily materials.
As a fertilizer -- Wood ashes are scattered on the garden or
other growing location as an organic supplement that adds potassium
and trace minerals. The addition must be carefully dispensed since
the ash material is alkaline, and too much would raise the pH
beyond the range optimal for most vegetables. Since ashes were
used to fertilize, the added understanding is that through ashes
comes forth new life.
As a deicer and for safety -- Ashes are considered better
salt as a substance to put on paths and roadways for traction in
icy times. However, the ashes will be disliked for sticking to
boots and shoes and being tracked into buildings.
As a cutting agent -- In seeding an area with very small
farmers often mix the seeds with an abundant supply of dry ashes,
which affords a more even dispersal on the field or plot.
As a sign of triumph -- In the sport of cricket the
holds up a trophy that contains ashes, perhaps originally
signifying that the loser has been vanquished.
February 22, 2007 Public Acts of Piety
The archbishop of Westminister recently urged that believers
be encouraged to renew a variety of acts of piety that were
performed in the past and are no longer popular in our ever more
secular society. Perhaps this is an ideal time to discuss the
role of acts of piety and Earthhealing. An act of reverence
indicates that believers acknowledge the need of doing something
extra to show dependence on God, the Creator and ruler of all
things. This is a particular religious practice, the expression of
which depends on the cultural traditions or habits of the people.
It may be a simple body movement or attire -- bow, genuflection,
wearing a cross; it includes special devotions or ways of praying
over a period of time such as Moslems' daily prayers or Catholics
saying the rosary or making the stations of the cross, or
Protestants' period of prayer before meals with head bowed.
National piety includes salutes and times of silence during the
playing of the Star Spangled Banner.
Exercises of piety are like physical exercises for they keep
the believer healthy -- spiritually healthy that is. Today our
world suffers immensely from the lack of reverence and respect that
has been mentioned at other times in these essays (e.g., "Return to
Reverence," 3/4/04). What was lacking in these previous treatments
is mention of specific public exercises that enhance reverence. If
we make no effort in public ever to do an act of piety, we will
most likely lose all sense of care and concern for others and that
includes the environment around us. Our outward actions enhance
our interior devotion.
Piety is needed by healers lest the caregiving suffer. A good
healer is a pious person but that piety may express itself in
individual and often hidden ways. Interestingly enough, types of
piety vary much with individual caregivers. Some address others
with reverence, give them special periods of time, show concern
through hugs and special acts of kindness. Sick people come to
prize these acts of piety. The sick room becomes a sacred space
and giving special attention to spiritual conversation makes the
healer aware of his or her own limitations and need for assistance
in the work ahead. We cannot do things alone; we need help; we
need God's help in the work being done.
Once a companion asked someone who signed himself and prayed
in a public place why he did that. "Couldn't you have prayed
without making an act of piety out of it?" The reply was that
food was such a gift from God that some thanks needs to be shown.
"Yes, but why public," the friend continued. "Because in being
public I want you to know that we all need to give thanks --
including you in your own way." Granted, this answer may not have
been perfect but it came from the heart and addresses a tolerance
for public acts of piety. One should not be quizzed for doing
something or for failing to do something public. We all need to do
acts of piety, and public ones should be both tolerated and
February 23, 2007 The Darfur Crisis
The specter of genocide in Darfur (at least 200,000 violent
deaths in the last few years) makes us all uneasy and that is
particularly true in recent years with reports from the western
portion of Sudan and neighboring Chad. Some regard this as the
world's worse humanitarian crisis with as many as two million
people uprooted from their homes and living in refugee areas
(hardly camps because many are too elementary for such a
designation) in that country and spilling across the border into
Chad. These unfortunate people are the victims of a violent
conflict of ethnic cleansing that appears to be Arab leaders and
allied groups against black local inhabitants (all Moslems). Aid
agencies tell horrendous stories. Poor women who go out to gather
fire wood are raped; children are kidnapped; farmlands are
demolished and villages burnt. And besides Chad the conditions are
now spreading over to neighboring Central African Republic, a
nation far too poor to handle refugees and furnish effective border
protection for citizens.
Economically, Sudan is doing quite well with its new found oil
revenues. It started exporting the oil in 1999 and then began
having a trade surplus. Between 1994 and 2004 Sudan had the 18th
highest economic growth (6.2%) in the world. In 2004, the GDP
growth rate was 8.6% making it third in the world. Such a rosy
picture indicates that commercial trading nations are simply
overlooking the unpleasant aspects of Sudanese life. Why does a
nation allow atrocities to happen to its citizens? And this to
happen to five percent of its 40 million people (like the U.S.
writing off New England)? The world community's declaration that
the Darfur crisis is "genocide" does not do enough to alleviate the
crisis. The Sudanese leaders must be willing to protect all their
citizens and held accountable.
Sudan has enrolled in school the fifth lowest percentage of
school-age children (60%). It does not provide the best health
services even in the more peaceful regions of the country. If
Sudan can (as the government wants the world to believe) care for
the basic protection of its own people then it must; if it cannot,
then other nations should be enlisted to help. But Sudan is
rebuffing attempts by United Nations peace keepers who could prove
effective. They could replace the poorer trained and equipped
African Union forces that arrived for a part of this crisis.
We ask a fundamental earthhealing question: when must the
world community act? If the action is delayed, more people will
suffer and die. Does the action require the formal approval of the
host nation that is remiss in its own duties to its minority
population? Wishing won't make the crisis go away. Refugee
agencies have done heroic work at the sacrifice of safety and even
life. But these agencies need protection to do their work. Such
tragic conditions bring up the deeper human rights issues of what
should the community of nations do when a national government is
unable or unwilling to protect its own people.
February 24, 2007 Garlic, Plant of the Month
People swear by garlic (Allium sativum) the "stinking rose."
I won't swear, but this humble close relative of lilies and onions
is sometimes overlooked for the many good qualities possessed
therein. February is the time we detect new life among the many
wild garlic plants that are the first of the signs of new life.
When we operated a dairy in my youth, it was difficult to keep the
cows from eating these new shoots and scenting the milk.
Russians among others pick the top shoots and use these to
flavor dishes. All fall and winter I pick the blades from the new
plants sprouted from the summer garden garlic "scapes" or top
seeding bulbs of the garlic I grow. These new shoots help make the
garden a year-round producer, especially during this virtually
snowless winter. The pungent cloves are the sub-sections of the
bulb or head that can be dug up from the cultivated garlic; after
peeling the outer skin, these can be crushed and used for many
culinary delights. But a milder garlic flavoring is found in the
leaves or the shoots from the garlic root. These are my garlic
choices for they produce milder after effects when eaten. The
ingested garlic when metabolized releases a chemical, allyl methyl
sulfide (AMS), that affects the breath and sweat for a period of
time after being ingested. For those not eating garlic this
becomes an unpleasant burden that garlic lovers seek to alleviate
by fresh parsley, mouth washes and the urging of companions to join
in garlic dishes.
Wild garlic is found virtually all over the planet with the
exception of Arctic regions. Certainly it is found in almost every
lawn. Thus it is better known than virtually any other plant
though its ubiquitousness could have been from human naturalization
processes perhaps from an origin in central Asia. Garlic is a
perennial; garlic is loved; garlic is claimed to have many
beneficial effects besides its culinary recipes. And garlic will
always be with us.
Medicinally, garlic is almost as popular as ginseng when taken
fresh and uncooked. Galen called garlic the "cure-all." It has
been regarded as an antibiotic and a remedy for fungal infections,
digestive disorders, chest problems, yeast infections,
atherosclerosis, thrombosis, and hypertension to name but a few.
Also some regard garlic as a way to regulate blood sugar levels.
But many of the claims are disputed including the reduction of bad
cholesterol (LDL). Garlic is thought to aid folks of all ages and
to keep the blood flowing and the conduits open. With chemical
certitude we know that garlic contains many healthy ingredients
such as Vitamin B1 (thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), C,
along with traces of selenium, zinc, potassium, and phosphorus and
other healthy ingredients. Often people use garlic as a cheap form
of dietary supplement even though it has its social effects already
mentioned as to breath. No wonder various cultures have considered
this humble plant as a way to ward off the devil and other evil
February 25, 2007 Jesus Was Tempted; So Are We
The temptations facing us all are many and varied. In the
first week of Lent we need to become realistic and see these
temptations for what they are. We have company not only in that
others in our community are tempted as well, but we can look to
Jesus who was also tempted though remaining true to his calling --
for the temptations dealt with his upcoming ministry: the use of
material things to achieve success; the power over others as
followers; and the sense of fame that would bring on admiration on
the part of all. On the other hand, Jesus' security was in the
Father's hands and not in material wealth; his power rested on a
moral authority coming from a good life; and his fame was to obey
the Father in all things even in his shortened ministry, in his
suffering and in his death.
1. Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread because he was
hungry. Jesus uses the Deuteronomy quote, "Not by bread alone."
We also are tempted to find security in material things. We seek
such security in insurance policies, in job security, in material
conveniences. The more we obtain, the more we seem to need, and
soon a sense of poverty in spirit gives way to the insensitivity of
possessing an overabundance of material things.
2. Jesus was tempted to receive all the power and glory of the
kingdoms of the world if he but give homage to the devil.
Temptations to manifest power over others especially in a nation
that knows itself to presently be a superpower affect us all in
many ways. We can be consumed by the emerging powers that are
within us to command and control our own lives and that of others.
The temptation is to think that we can bring about all good apart
from the demands or cooperation of others. Power without some
checks and balances corrupts us. Instead of visions of grandeur we
are to be single-hearted and chaste in our quest for God; before
God alone do we fall down and worship; only in God do we trust.
3. Jesus is tempted to throw himself down from the temple
parapet for the angels would come and save him. The temptation was
to create a dramatic entrance to his public ministry and one in
which others would be overwhelmed by his majesty and treat him as
a heroic model and notable personality. Our own temptations to
fame and grandeur and personal glory involve always being better
than others and outdoing them as number one, shining out in
competitive excellence at other's expense, and being looked upon in
admiration. But this is not God's way and we like Jesus are to be
obedient to God's will in every occasion on our journey of faith.
The likelihood is that our personal temptations may not extend
to some of these areas, or we do not believe that they do. Part of
the reason is that many are tempted to sins of omission -- that is
to not become engaged in any way, to deny that dangers exist, to
give the excuse that the work is for others, and to escape from the
duties before us and into other allurements and distractions. All
in all, we all are tempted in some way.
Snow melting on a Bluegrass field, low winter sun.
(photo: Janet Powell)
February 26, 2007 Geological Awakening
In the light of our broadening field of Earthhealing topics
and photographic subjects (2/15/07), the regular reader will see
more geological wonders this year. We are awakening to the healing
effects of a geological consciousness, for the power to destroy and
pollute the Earth threatens even our geological heritage whether it
be rock formations or underground caves or coastal reefs or crystal
clear streams. I aspired to be a geologist but never availed
myself of the opportunity and ended up never taking a formal course
in this field. However, I did read privately and even taught a
course (Earth science course for college students) in that subject
once, staying just a little ahead of the students. All in all,
these forays into geology proved that it was a most fascinating
subject both in content and in the manner the researchers were able
to unveil plate tectonics, mountain formation, ocean floor
structure, volcanoes, earthquakes, and climatic variation. This
planet is in motion -- yet very slow motion most of the time.
In Mason County, Kentucky, we had an abundance of limestone
rocks at or near the surface of the land. These contained
clustered shells of long-gone maritime life and then were regarded
as almost commonplace -- but they did cause us to wonder about
their origin. Visitors who came to visit would prize what we
gathered and had crushed to dust to scatter on the fields. We
laughed when some would take these rocks back with them and told
them they could have all they wanted. Our nearby caves and
sinkholes as well as the hills and valleys, creek beds and rock
formations (6/29/06) made home a stage for observation and
reflection. See what wonders God has wrought!
Upon reading about the evolution of the Earth, the excitement
actually increases for it has taken billions of years for the
fullness of this creation to unfold for us who live in this brief
moment of the planet's long life. I have always pitied those who
think God's creative act was limited to some 6,000 years -- a
horrible misinterpretation of the "creation story" in Genesis.
Roadcuts have been one of the great revelations, for driving along
we come upon the marvels of the unfolding rock formations now
visible through excavation, especially the site on I-68 in western
Maryland near its merger with I-70. Whole guide books are written
on roadside geology and these are worthwhile when people do long
distance travel. Well at least pull over, rest and observe.
Earth sciences teach us to become familiar with our own
planet. We wonder what earlier inhabitants thought about what lies
beyond distant oceans. Did they desire to know about this Earth or
were they simply satisfied with a limited home turf? Knowing the
Earth's circumference, its motions in the heavens and its general
air and water movements enhances a sense of reverence. More
recently, an awakening awareness that we can harm the Earth in
major ways makes us turn still more to Earth sciences as a
component of the Earthhealing process. Knowing Earth's
vulnerability calls forth deeper concern and respect.
February 27, 2007 Helping to Empower Others
Empowerment of communities is a long and slow process; it
involves overcoming false aspirations for personal gain and taking
on the goal of empowering all citizens and not just a few. What is
often overlooked is that people think empowerment will be given to
them like charity, when a portion of the work rests with what they
will do for themselves. But they must focus their actions on key
issues and goals.
Alexander the Great learned from his father, Philip of
Macedonia, that military success did not depend on numbers only but
on striking at the heart of the foe and getting the leader early in
the struggle. This is the reason he was able to win the battle of
Issus in 333 with an army only one-fifth the size of the army of
the Persians under Darius III. And it resulted in subsequent
brilliant victories as well. The strategy of engagement is
important and so the financial or physical resources are not the
only consideration; much depends on the direct manner of attack and
the focus of attention -- but it must be more than a warlike
undertaking involving death and destruction. Empowering includes
all doing their tasks and doing them in a liberating spirit.
False humility is debilitating. Empowerment may contain a
number of steps, some of which include acknowledging where one
needs assistance. Some may protest through a false humility about
their own inability to achieve the goal. They realize they are
powerless in themselves and so excuse themselves from further
action. The powers that oppress them are too vast; they cannot be
conquered so the seemingly powerless retreat into their own world
True humility is empowering. Another opportunity affords
itself for the powerless. Acknowledge where we are but protest
loudly that we do not intend to remain in that condition because we
can become empowered. Here one accepts the true condition and that
is humbling, but realizes that with another's (God's) help all
things are possible. Through an acknowledgment of honest
powerlessness alone and power with another, the vision of
empowerment emerges. Yes our own resources are limited; with
divine help we can do it. Herein is discovered a new-found
This sense of empowerment could apply in our own individual
lives or in that of a community, for the psychological process is
the same. We move from a false youthful sense of exuberance, of
being able to do anything, at least in our dreams. With time we
come to know our own weaknesses and are overwhelmed by a sense of
powerlessness. The opportunity opens itself to join together with
others to succeed where we would fail alone. Pride passes through
false humility to a true humility of knowing both limits and a
power existing in community. The goal cannot be reached alone; it
involves us all and here the empowering agent enters the picture;
we can act as a catalyst. Now true change may occur.
February 28, 2007 Abolition Now!
America's attitudes about the death penalty are now coming in
line with those of other advanced nations throughout the world. In
recent years through more available definitive (DNA test) results,
a number of those convicted of serious crimes have been found to be
innocent of the particular criminal action for which they were
charged and convicted. This has shaken confidence in the federal,
state and local correction systems. The movement to abolition of
the death penalty has extended to the Church that is speaking
strongly throughout the world against the death penalty. And
finally this attitude is penetrating the pews in America; even
those who affirm a pro-life stance are seeing that this includes
saving lives of prisoners as well as the others within the total
Just a few years ago the abolition of the death penalty seemed
unrealistic in such militaristic states as Kentucky. However,
things have been changing. A survey last summer by the Kentucky
Survey Research Center found that while 30.5% of those interviewed
chose the death penalty, still more than twice that number favored
other penalties for those convicted of aggravated murder: life in
prison without parole (36.2%); life in prison without the
possibility of parole in 25 years (10.3%); life in prison without
the possibility of parole for 20 years (5.6%); and 15.5% chose a
term of 20-50 years with no parole possible until 85% of the
sentence time has been served. In other words, over two-thirds of
those surveyed rejected the death penalty as the most appropriate
penalty for aggravated murder.
The world is certainly ahead of the United States and now we
are only one of a minority of nations that use the death penalty.
This country is frowned upon by other civilized nations for even
entertaining the outmoded concept that killing is crime deterrence,
which proves not to be a major factor in major criminal acts. Most
would say that the loose prison systems in earlier ages may have
encouraged inflicting the death penalty, instead of allowing the
strong possibility of the villain's escape. But that is hardly the
greatest worry today.
Our nation is even ahead of Kentucky in such more positive
attitudes; the various nationwide and local organizations dedicated
to abolishing the death penalty are certainly getting their message
to the public. Please discover those working on such issues in
your respective state and consider them the organizations that we
highlight this month. Kentucky's Coalition to Abolish the Death
Penalty says that "with not a shred of evidence to suggest that
use of the death penalty serves any significant advantage over life
without parole, a civil society must act to rid itself of the death
Contact: KCADP P.O. 3092 Louisville, KY 40201-3092