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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.

A series of written meditations and reflections

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Table of Contents: Daily Reflections

February 2010

Copyright © 2010 by Al Fritsch

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Snow in cups of the wild carrot, Daucus carota.
(photo: Janet Powell)

February Reflections, 2010

We are at February again; it comes more frequently than when we were younger -- but that is because we are older, and life hurries up as we advance in age. Actually, while February comes ever so often, it seems to tarry ever so long. "Nothing is slower than molasses in January than molasses in February." Time seems to quicken when we don't want it to, but it tarries in February for most of us, especially those who find wintery roads difficult. Granted some like the snow for skiing and the ice for skating, but all that comes to mind for elders is the challenge to maneuver an icy stretch of highway or sidewalk.

Really we need to arise in February, for nature invites us to turn over the soil for a new garden year. Likewise the Lenten season invites us to improve our observational skills. We cannot help but notice that the daylight span is increasing as darkness recedes; the wild garlic becomes greener; the mourning dove call is more distinct this month; the sap in the maples is starting to rise; Kentuckians are moved to sow their peas and initiate the planting season. In February, we attempt to practice patience, for spring warmth will come all too soon in this the warmest decade in modern weather record-keeping.










Quaking aspen, Populus tremuloides. Rowan Co., KY.
*photo credit)

February 1, 2010 Proclaim Salvation For All

     Two months ago in Copenhagen the challenge was placed by the poor nations; if we are to save this world we must all be willing to share in a radical manner. Response was mixed but the one hundred billion dollars per year in 2020 was a good beginning. What we are all coming to through kicking and screaming is that "Salvation is for all, not just the privileged." However to understand and champion this universal outlook is itself a privilege of grace.

     They say "hindsight" is an exact science. We do look to history of both longer- and shorter term, for possibilities as how to act now. The Lord has given us a glimpse as to what lies just beyond the horizon, but to reach that goal up ahead involves taking risks. In Luke 4:21-30, Jesus' message turns an astonished hometown audience into an enraged one. We might wonder why people so suddenly wanted to kill him. Jesus does not cater to the hometown audience as though they are privileged to dictate how to act or what to say.

     Jesus goes out to people everywhere, for all enter his arena of love. For selfish people, thinking globally is to diminish local privilege. Jesus speaks directly to the heart of the matter; he never minces words; his heart goes out to people in distant places well beyond the area his immediate ministry -- which is beyond his hometown. Does saving all mean sharing limited resources with people throughout the world? Yes, all are to be saved, not just our own folks. Increasingly, in recent world conferences, differences in rich/poor viewpoints have become more pronounced. Do we preserve high consumption rates among a few, or do we share health, food and other benefits with the great masses?

     Just as it was risky for Jesus to deliver his message two thousand years ago, so a prophetic voice calling for the saving of all is a risky message today. Silence is not golden under such circumstances. One must share, and that means turning luxuries into essentials for others in Africa. We are anointed by the oils of Baptism to be a prophetic people, and that means we should not remain silent. To be true is to speak, even when what is spoken is not well received or even provokes violent responses.

     People in local communities and parishes are asked to share radically with others. One parish in Tennessee changed its building program and assisted a poor parish in Haiti. Some individuals curb their food budgets in order to share with people in India. In speaking of a prophetic outward vision, one must challenge those who hear or read these words. Where is the need the greatest? Are people hungry for Christ in our local county or community? How do we go out to all the world except through this radical sharing with them from our surpluses?

     Prayer: Lord teach us to proclaim the need to share radically with our neighbor and to encourage others to do the same.






A candle to set the dark night aglow.
(*photo credit)

February 2, 2010 Candles and Other Energy Sources

     Each year on Candlemas Day we are carried back to the rich tradition of using candles for special events and seasons: birthday candles, altar candles, candles at Baptism, Advent candles, blessed candles lit during storms, dinner candles, candelabras, Christmas wreath candles, and on and on. We realize that the light of a candle (candle power) is quite small, and yet this flame has been satisfactory as a source of light for generations of our ancestors. Along with the various types of candles are a host of associated emotions: commitment, anticipation, protection, conviviality, solemnity, and intimacy to name but a few. Candles when lit symbolize enlightenment in a special way. "Light a candle; don't curse the darkness." Enlightenment gives us direction on our way and light by which to read. Although candles are a weak source of illumination, they are strong symbols of how we ought to act. However, candles have some inherent weaknesses that we ought to recall:

     Candles are expensive. Conservative candle users limit the time in which they allow them to burn. In former times, the differences in the ordinary monetary offering for a "low" Mass (two candles) and that of a "high" Mass (six candles) were partly based on candle costs. Remember blessed candles used in such services were made from beeswax -- and that can be expensive. So are modern sources of energy costly, especially if we are to choose nuclear power operations at price tags of six billion dollars and rising per powerplant, along with uncalculated additional environmental costs. "Clean" coal demands more and more taxpayer money as well.

     Candles are dangerous. One cringes to think that the Swedish girls would wear rings of lit candles on St. Lucy's Day, or Germanic folks may light candles at the Christmas tree (heavens forbid). All too often candles have been left burning after a meal or services, with some drastic results. Thus certain energy sources are dangerous, even when forgetting the dangers to the environment associated with fossil or nuclear fuel sources.

     Candles are temperamental. I recall the process of the unsteady hand (my own) attempting to light or extinguish candles at the high altar using a taper-holding device. Candles can easily topple or drip or fail to catch, or their wick can get buried in the molten wax; sometimes they cease burning or fail to start. In much the same way, many renewable sources of energy seem perfect from a distance, and then the clouds block the sun and the winds cease blowing when energy is needed. Energy production can be challenging even from renewable energy sources.

     Candles are finite. They can give only so much light. All energy sources are finite whether in the materials and finances needed to install or in the resulting useful energy produced.

     Prayer: Lord, as the light of day extends, help us to bless the light You give us to help find our way in the world.






Earth's magnificence. Corbin sandstone boulder as substrate
for life. Carter Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

February 3, 2010 Take and Receive Abundant Blessings

     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)

     Once a year we ask a special protection for our continued good health, realizing that we are always subject to mishaps and illnesses that afflict human life in general. Seeking protection through the intercession of the saints is an age-old communal exercise, but more; we place ourselves within God's familial embrace and realize that many blessings are always forthcoming.

     Today we use a blessing of St. Blaise who was a fourth 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. That gesture of good will extends to us today.

     Why is this the most popular blessing in this country and in many Christian communities worldwide? 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 them. 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. We desire protection from such accidents -- and from such diseases as H1N1 flu that could strike with dramatic suddenness. Calling on the saints can be a public sign of the constant need for divine providence and heavenly assistance. 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. The world would be a better place if more blessings were asked and more given. We are part of a needy family that could use the spiritual and moral support of others, especially those who have accomplished the journey of life and are crowned with victory.

     Prayer: Lord, we seek your special protection, especially in times of epidemics and troubles. Guard us and help us to do your will. Give us good companions to help us on our journey of life, and open our eyes to look out for blessings given and opportunities to give blessings in return.






February 4, 2010 Obtain "Tobacco Days: A Personal Journey"

     Most books take a long time in formation. In 2002, when completing my directorship of public interest groups after thirty- two years, I considered a project to examine how my family was engaged in wars of the past two centuries, and thus I conceived of a trilogy that would involve war memories of the Civil War and Second World War, the Franco-Prussian War (1870) and the "Tobacco Wars" of the early twentieth century in our part of Kentucky. Through research during my sabbatical I prepared two essays on the first events. However, I became increasingly puzzled by my family's participation in the Tobacco Wars in and near our home county. In fact, the failure to surface specifics about the domestic squabbles (everyone remained silent) caused me to turn my attention to the concept of tobacco itself. How did this beautiful and yet mesmerizing plant enthrall and overwhelm our family and neighbors in a mere lifetime? And this story included all for better (economic) and worse (health deterioration and death to certain individuals) aspects of the tobacco culture.

     As the facts began to reveal themselves, it was painfully apparent that my gradual change of attitude took place over eight decades and that each of these spans of time triggered a difference in outlook. I moved from seeing tobacco as an unqualified good, through realizing the damage misuse can do, to a more neutral view that the substance can be a good as teacher and, if alternative uses occur soon, as a healer. In addition, tobacco use as a lesson on deliberate corporate misuse is something much needed by a consumption-ridden culture like ours; furthermore our tobacco story needs to be shared with other people who are going through their uncritical love affair with tobacco use. Millions die each year and the numbers are rising at an alarming rate.

     Tobacco Days is a gentle story of someone spared by the unhealthy effects long enough to lay a case out to others. This applies to those who are in health policy, administration and care, and to those who want a loved one to break an addiction, which can harm both the smoker and nearby relatives and associates. The purpose of the book is often more serious than the rather humorous manner in which the story unfolds, but sometimes when we chuckle we are striving to prove a point: Stop current tobacco use. All the while, my admiration for the tobacco plant is undiminished. Beyond my lifetime, tobacco could be a source of protein for a hungry world. Tobacco can be redeemed -- and that makes this work theological as well as scientific, political, economic and social.

     The book is being published by Brassica Books. Details on how to obtain a copy are given in the Publications section of this website.

     Prayer: Lord, help us to get this book into the hands of a few who are smoking themselves to death. If only a few can be encouraged to change from this practice we will have achieved something.






Ice of a small stream.  Franklin Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

February 5, 2010 Realize That Weather is Important

     On Weatherman's Day, let's consider that each of us is to be a "weatherperson," not just certain gifted or tv-friendly and presentable individuals. On venturing outside we want to know exactly what is happening today weatherwise. Will winter let up today? Are there any new signs of spring? We may return and check the weather maps on the Internet, television or newspaper; we listen to weather reports when planning trips. If a storm front is coming, we prepare for it, or postpone the travel for safety's sake. With each passing year, weather maps are more accurate, as meteorological science becomes more sophisticated. The maps can tell us the patterns of the next few days with reasonable accuracy -- and we tend to pay attention before confronting the "elements."

     Some of us experience mood changes when the barometer takes a sudden dip -- and with time learn that our important life decisions must take weather into account. We weather-sensitive people should not decide matters when the barometer is low or changing --- and maybe some ought to refrain from decisions when temperatures are too low or high (this century has already had record high summers). Know exactly what the environmental conditions are when we choose certain life-altering actions. Most of the time I must go out of doors each morning just to get a "feel" as to what the day is to be like (yes, my outdoors inspection says it will snow today as this is being written), Farmers make daily decisions for planting and harvesting based on the immediate weather conditions.

     I doubt whether the home-bound or those working from their place of residence are as interested in weather as those who must go outdoors to work or travel or play. Even the home-bound must go to the doctor or other places and want to know about road conditions. The weather enters into our scheduling of events. What if that rare trip is slated for next weekend but a major storm is expected -- and cancellations and delays could be reasonably expected? Think ahead; we can't change the weather, but we can change our weather-dependent activities. In the past, the word "journey" had involved a hardship component, and this has never completely disappeared, even though travel is more comfortable than in times of stagecoaches and sailing ships.

     Longer term weather predictions as to how cold the rest of winter will be or how hot we may anticipate this coming summer being are somewhat problematic -- even for the professional forecaster. Those who guess by wooly worm color or the thickness of animal coats or groundhog shadows are right about half the time -- as are the rest of us. We need not know that much about the future even though climate change seems here to stay and affects us deeply. Tomorrow will bring weather that we must prepare for.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to be observant to the signs of the heavens as Jesus tells us; help us to know what is coming and to realize that this influences the way we act here and now.






Tree gall against winter landscape.
Clyde E. Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary.
(*photo credit)

February 6, 2010 Consider Lenten Diet Changes

     Lent is a perfect time to change our ways. Each of us should consider our current eating habits, some of which could be moderated according to the threefold legs of good diet: nutritious, low-cost, and locally-grown foods:

     1. Grow your own fresh salad vegetables this year. During this non-growing part of the year I have enjoyed homegrown kale, mustard, collards, radish tops, turnips, carrots, garlic and spinach. These veggies replace costly store-purchases, are local and are highly nutritious. Consider growing them throughout the year using protective cover and add others that grow well in your micro-climate.

     2. Omit soft drinks and go to water, fruit or vegetable juice, herbal drinks or even coffee and tea. Soft drinks are expensive, contain excessive levels of refined sugar, and generally are supplied from distant bottling plants with no responsibility attached for picking up and reusing the containers.

     3. Use locally-grown herbs for spicing. This is low cost and saves on the purchase of salad dressing and various seasonings;

     4. Prepare steamed veggies (cabbage, carrots or turnips) for breakfast using Quick Eggs (fat and cholesterol free and low calorie) along with a sprinkling of oatmeal. Local free-ranging chickens are a fine source of eggs, but eat eggs sparingly.

     5. Choose snack foods wisely. These are part of the diet of people who prefer to eat at irregular and frequent times. Fruit, carrots and celery are good snacks along with nuts of various types. Salty and fatty chips are to be avoided. Unsalted popcorn flavored with garlic and chili powder is a special treat.

     6. Prepare a different soup each day and use leftovers as part of the creative mix. See "Special Issues" on this website.

     7. Eat belly fillers; 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, crackers and other carbos to a reasonable degree -- one or two slices per day. Limit pasta dishes and pancakes to weekly or a few times a month.

     9. If you are not vegetarian, at least watch and reduce the meat intake. Locally-obtained venison is highly nutritious and comes at lower cost than expensive, distantly-grown beef or chicken.

     10. Rearrange daily food intake. Make breakfast ample and the supper sparing, and eat increasingly smaller meals in between.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to be watchful not only in prayer but in the things we eat as well.






 Color amidst winter forest floor. Pipsissewa, Chimaphila maculata.
(*photo credit)

February 7, 2010 Be Willing to Do the Lord's Work

     Here I am! Send me. (Isaiah 6:1-8)

     God sends us as messengers of Good News and yet some do not listen through the noise all about them; some excuse themselves for lack of hearing or a false humility; and still some seek to escape the responsibilities directed at them and direct their attention to other business, allurements and distractions. However, the Lord calls and perceiving this becomes our critical moment. Granted, we are unworthy, we recognize our escape mechanisms, and we realize that the time is short.

     In the stillness of winter when the snow falls, dampens outside noises and forces us to stay put, we have a precious moment to stand before God as Isaiah's moment of grace appears. If we are people who thank God in a spirit of ongoing gratitude, we find the gifts given deserve a recognition that goes beyond mere words; the call is to specific responsible deeds whether these be caregiving to others, fulfilling our current ministry, moving to other fields of service, or allotting free time for the benefit of our fellow human beings in need. God is powerful and willing to share power with us; we must be willing to see the deeds we can perform as powerful God-given instruments of change.

     God calls, gives us the grace to respond, and helps launch us into the deep of those in great need. Even amid difficulties and risks we are willing to say with Isaiah, "Here I am." Unless this is a very special call, I cannot abandon my present locality and move to distant places. However, the call is to be totally dedicated. Jesus calls disciples at the Lake of Galilee; his apostolic call is for them to leave everything and follow him, even to go to distant places. We also receive God's call. "Here" includes Calvary-made-present in our world, an entry into the sacred divine moment, NOW, and space, HERE.

     The task ahead is daunting. Jesus says, "Put into the deep water and lower your nets for the catch" (Luke 5:4b). The risk of failure is always present. However, God, who has given us all good gifts, will shower us with the tools to undertake the tasks ahead -- if we but truly trust in divine assistance. By saying "present" to God's unique calling, we launch into the deep and open ourselves to make Christ present to others. But launching involves risk and vulnerability on the turbulent sea of life. Our forebears decided to move out of their home security to a new life. In following the Lord, we see the fruits of our labor as being from God and that success depends on working with the Lord at this time.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to leave the comfort and safety of our supposed securities, our couch, our nest, our inner room, and move out into the harsher and more uncertain depths. Help each of us to say "Here I am! Take me as I am," and to do so eagerly and with enthusiasm.






Thimbleweed, Anemone virginiana.
(*photo credit)

February 8, 2010 Are We Willing to Accept Regulations?

    The Economist puts more faith in business than most. Yet even the stolidest defenders of capitalism would, by and large, agree that its tendency to form cartels, shuffle off the cost of pollution and collapse under the weight of its own financial inventiveness, needs to be constrained by laws designed to channel its energy to the general good. Business needs governing just as science does. (The Economist 12/19/09 p. 38)

    Healing involves knowing the cause and seriousness of an illness, remaining in isolation to avoid harming others, and taking measures needed for healing. We cannot expect miracles to cure what we have caused through deliberate neglect or thoughtlessness. We are not to pollute air through some sort of "right to pollute" and then expect God to right the wrong we have done or are continuing to do. Knowledge of wrongdoing includes realizing the harm, begging forgiveness, and taking corrections.

    Wrongdoing towards our wounded Earth includes: pollution of air and water, excessive emission of carbon dioxide, salination and erosion of fertile land, and toxic contamination of land through use of pesticides and industrial chemicals. Glaciers are melting; oceans are expected to rise and storms to increase. We assure ourselves that technical remedial measures exist and that we (the affluent) can evacuate to higher grounds and build higher sea walls (all costing billions of dollars).

    Some may suggest paying for added climate change expenses through a tax on the savings that shipping companies make by using the shortcut of an ice-free Northwest Passage. Far-fetched? However, climate change realistically could be reduced through some practical measures suggested at the recent Copenhagen Conference: renewable energy and efficiency measures; transparency in programs to cut pollution; and giving a value to forests, thereby compensating poorer nations for reducing and eliminating deforestation (currently causing 20% of climate change emissions). However, few openly question a consumption-based economy that is the root cause of these environmental problems.

    Do citizens (especially affluent ones) have the will to change? Certainly some people want to simplify their lives, and want to spread the message of energy efficiency and to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. However, the critical question is: what about the vast majority? What about Chinese, Indians and others who want cars, spacious homes, electrical appliances, and more meat and processed foods? What if two billion more want to be like Americans? Yes, measures by individuals are beneficial, but not enough. Doesn't a free society demand a radical sharing of responsibilities?. Are we willing to join with others and do this? Will we accept increased regulations?

    Prayer: Lord teach us to act as a community and curb the excesses that harm our Earth, and take the needed remedial steps.





A red-bellied woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

February 9, 2010 Demand Proper Financial Regulations

    Our economy is connected with our environment; to expect those of us engaged in seeking to heal our wounded Earth to refrain from being critical of the economic system that encourages wasteful consumption is erroneous. Citizens can and must regulate and reconstruct the economic system in which they must live and thrive. The question is not one of patchwork regulations for a corrupt system involving banks and financial institutions outside the law; regulations ought to be directed to confronting economic illness with authentic healing. Some desired regulations include:

    Break up the banks: The old economic ways are simply not good enough: "Too big to fail" is failure; the truth is "Failed when too big." Small is more than beautiful; it is far more practical in economic terms. Big banks are unhealthy and damage our democracy. Limit the size to which banks can grow.

    Limit financial activities: No federally insured banks or institutions should be allowed to engage in reckless speculation.  In reply to the argument that there will always be speculation (and other forms of gambling), the answer is that speculation can be strictly regulated if not abolished so that all will be unharmed.

    Limit pay levels: Why should some in this world have a "right to wealth" when others do not have enough to live on? Every effort should be made on the part of government to avoid bonuses for ALL, for there are other more healthy incentives for doing one's work. People should be able to make higher salaries; they simply should not be allowed to keep them.

    Prohibit derivatives and exotic financial instruments that are not related to the common good and defy normal regulation. Why can such economic game play even be allowed in a rational society where many are not properly fed, sheltered, educated and provided with access to health care?

    Tax the Rich: Why should the tax burden be on lower income citizens? In Kentucky (and elsewhere) the highest income one percent pay the smallest proportion of taxes. Certainly a speculation tax called for by some is only a start. Most can live well on $100,000; the remainder should be taxed for the needy.

    Jail the tax cheats and those who slip immense sums of money to overseas tax havens. Apply sanctions to the nations that are tax havens and encourage such illegal transactions.

    The first few ideas are provided in an editorial by Robert Weissman in Public Citizen News, November/December, 2009, p. 3.

    Prayer: Lord, we are overcome by a holy anger over what has occurred in our land during the last two years. Help us not to be blinded but through proper legislative action to change a system that has threatened to destroy our democracy.






Starling, Sturnus vulgaris.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

February 10, 2010 May We Hear the Cry of the Poor

           Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right;
                 they shall be satisfied.
(Matthew 5:6)

    Is it safer to be silent about our discontent, or ought we to begin to spell out our feelings in a special way? Our discontent involves both the current "free market" economy and the gurus who promote it and intimidate us to be silent about the system's weaknesses (joblessness, undervalued resources, greed, unjust tax patterns). Since we can change the world faster and more profoundly through blessings than through curses, let us attempt a positive spin on what lies ahead -- not cursing the possible darkness that could envelop this world. Here are positive elements that are emerging:

    The poor will rise. The less-wealthy nations are realizing power in uniting and in rejecting the colonial "divide and conquer" approach of past ages. In union is strength. Demanding financial support in times of global climate change is simply asking those who sinned through wastefulness to pay for what went wrong -- the temporary effects of sin and wrongdoing. The demand that they are not to continue in their sin but to make recompense for the after- effects of wrongdoing in the past is a Christian and just demand.

    Affluence is exposed as impoverishing. This impoverishment works in several ways. Excessive wealth used for consumer goods impoverishes our Earth by excessive draining of resources that are needed for meeting the essential demands of the poor; affluence impoverishes the spiritual aspects of individuals by turning them into materialists; and affluence makes practitioners selfish and insensitive to the needs of others; lastly, affluence is an inherently bad example for those aspiring to be wealthy.

    Changes will come quickly. A world of rapid communication has a way of hastening the demand for justice; the Internet is catalytic. What is lacking among so many cannot go unnoticed with television cameras and microphones. People cry and we are to hear the cry of the poor for we are Christ's ears. We must challenge social acquiescence or a consent without protest. Injustice in all its forms needs to come to light so that, with a pure heart, justice can be distributed to all who are in need.

    Just taxes are required. In Kentucky, the top wealthy one percent has the lowest tax rates in our commonwealth; many of our taxes are quite regressive and affect the poor in the hardest way -- and our state is not alone. Not only are current tax systems unjust, they impoverish all by cutting educational, health and public service benefits. "No new taxes" is a propaganda slogan generated by those who ought to pay their fair share.

    Prayer: Oh God, Source of all justice, inflame our hearts so that they may not rest until they rest in You. Help us never to be satisfied until justice comes upon our world.





Finches enjoying the blessings of a winter birdfeeder.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

February 11, 2010 Give Thanks for February's Blessings

    If finding a dozen things to be thankful for in January seemed to be a challenge, what about in February? However, here are a few that may tap your own creative wellsprings:

    * A Lenten time to reflect and meditate with fewer distractions;

    * Lengthening daylight, becoming ever more noticeable with each passing day;

    * The dawn's color with its sweeps of gray and blue. Sometimes the red streaks enter and tell us of the weather changes ahead;

    * Poetic inspiration that seems to be better suited for this month, maybe because its shortness makes us aware how passing our own mortal lives are -- and how much more we must do today;

    * The birthdays of great people born in this month, all of which could deserve some special remembering;

    * The aroma of wood smoke from the neighboring residences that still burn a renewable resource for heating and cooking;

    * The sound of the mourning dove that gives a sense of reunion with the great outdoors and the need for new life;

    * The sight of the first robins as they move about the lawn and seem to be shivering from the cold;

    * The warm indoors that makes us comfortable and sheltered form the sharp external breezes.

    * The first outdoor work opportunity on a sunny day. Things come to mind such as initial spading of the garden plot, planting of the first peas, gathering of fallen tree branches, and grounds' clean-up that was not completed in the autumn;

    * The vigor of basketball games of all sorts being played or observed, or the other indoor sports such as racquetball and squash; and

    * The early flowers -- snowdrops, crocuses, and forsythia bushes (add, in addition, the brave dandelions that give needed color to the raw landscape).

    Prayer: Lord help us during this holy season of Lent to always rejoice and give thanks, even when this seems to be a challenge. It is far easier to beg than to thank You for gifts already given, but help us do both.







A nest in February, freshly-filled with snow.
(*photo credit)

February 12, 2010


When winter extends itself in frosty clime,
    and spring won't come, nor poems rhyme.
Such is the shortest month sublime,
    but longest, by far, in psychic time.

Sing out winter's final dirge,
    Fault the neighbor's mall-led splurge..
Exercising urge, fasting purge,
    Greenhouse starts, when spirits surge.

A birthday rite, a feast of light,
    When days get longer, an hour less night.
Hear the mourning dove, bird-starved delight.
    Listen! the tree sap's finding height.

Pouring molasses in January's a chore,
    but molasses in February is still slower.
Winter, winter, may it ebb away?
    Modest delay, oh fibbing February!

And deep down when I think this month's a crime
    I find the finest born came at this time.
There's George, Tom Edison and Honest Abe,
    and many years ago, Paul Rothkrug, a babe.*

God made the February-born doubly great,
    for these learned early to smile and wait,
To defer to those who come by late,
    to stand for justice in place of hate.

    * Dedicated to the late Paul Rothkrug on his birthday, though it could just as easily apply to other February-born.

    Prayer: Let us find every month an ideal time for something, and make the best of what we have with each opportunity. There is a time to be born and a time to die, and let us be comfortable with the times that avail themselves for important happenings.

Tree swing covered in snow.
(*photo credit)

February 13, 2010 Protest 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)

    Injustice abounds in our world. What do we do? If injustice is against me as a person, the Spirit may direct me to silence; if against another, we must protest in every way we can. Even Mary, the other women and John protested by standing beneath the cross; the other apostles in all their bravado and posturing ran and hid; the women were the protestors; the apostles the fearful ones.

    Permit me to repeat a previously told story (February 10, 2007) of once attending a global consciousness-raising game play: ninety percent of the audience were given a simple rice meal and ten percent a steak-and-gravy feast. We ninety percenters were to reflect as though we were the poor. So what did I do? Why the only Christian thing: I organized part of the majority and went over and seized the steak dishes and divided them equally; thus none would have too much and "pig out," and none were to go home somewhat hungry. Some other players (the privileged ones) complained that we spoiled the event. I protested that we made it a success. Why should we tolerate such differences and remain politely silent while others hurt themselves by overindulging?

    Protesting injustice is needed if we are to rid this world of the many obvious injustices: lack of food and essential human needs; overly wasteful affluence; the privileged going undertaxed; and a rampant militarism. Yes, all too often we persist in acting out the part of passive observers of events as though they are inevitable. We are silent with a deafening silence, for if we say something we might be declared out of order. Looking at Isaiah's words we ask whether it is we who destroy world resources and conceal this from the poor? If we allow such conditions without protest we are the ones who are party to the injustice.

    A misdirected scriptural passage relates to Jesus' saying the poor will always be with us. Taken out of context this is made to justify ongoing poverty. However, our failure to address this persistent poverty means that we will be challenged over and over -- and this means the problem will stay with us until solved. The possibility that all injustice will not be eliminated does not stop us from taking the positive steps needed at a given time. Even with all the work ahead, we must protest injustice with all our limited strength. In and through protest, we affirm the need for improvement in time -- and are willing to work for it, not to be complacent about the status quo.

    Prayer: Lord, teach us not to fear standing beneath the cross of injustice, and to show by our public stance that we are with those who suffer with Christ. When we can help remove that cross, give us the energy and courage to do so.





Remnants of summer against a wintery sky.
(*photo credit)

February 14, 2010 Blessed Are the Poor

    Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.
(Luke 6:20-21)

    In this Year of St. Luke's Gospel, note how often the poor are mentioned: the infancy narratives, temptation of Jesus, Good Samaritan, Lazarus and the rich man, hard saying to pharisees and others, and even Jesus' initial proclamation of his mission to his home town audience; the refrain continues throughout and even through Luke's companion volume the Acts of the Apostles.

    Homily-givers, especially on Valentine's Day, are tempted to say what is pleasing and soothing. "Why bite the hand that feeds you?" Is the homily meant to increase our popularity, or does spiritual leadership demand more? We can deny our privileges, excuse ourselves as doing some things with the poor, or simply escape to other issues. But face it: we are privileged with special gifts: national security, good roads, health care systems, educational facilities, a secure food system, adequate potable water, instant communications systems, and on and on. As privileged with many gifts, we must see gifts as serious responsibilities, opportunities to share, and as resources to respect and use properly. But this is not enough for a homily.

    How can those who suffer so much be blessed? First, sufferers often have a sense of gratitude for the simple gifts given; the poor are often more receptive to seeing that they could have been overlooked and yet are somehow remembered. Some sufferers do not have such a grace of insight, and yet intuitively they know that comfort awaits them in a blessed future. . Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord (Jeremiah 17:5-8). While the poor often include imperfect people who are conniving, subservient, deceitful and even greedy, still a sizeable number are trusting in God, for how else can they survive? They can understand a spiritual blessing, while others more or less fortunate rely on seeking comfort in real or imagined material goods. And the more materials possessed, the tighter the grip the average possessor holds on his or her material things.

    Do we seek to encourage the wealthy to give up what they regard as theirs and allow this to become a double blessing? 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, the moral imperative to liberate the rich of possessions is present. Give it up freely and generously. Such a recognition of improper ownership by the wealthy is a spiritual grace so often overlooked by those seeking to hold tightly to the status quo of wealth and poverty. Liberation is needed.

    Prayer: Lord, we are torn by our own unrecognized riches and a persistent poverty that is often beyond our limited horizons.  Make us a blessing to the poor and to become one with the poor.




A quiet bench for a moment of rest during a February hike.
(*photo credit)

February 15, 2010 Woe to the 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)

   Woes are harder to administer than are blessings. With a blessing we extend God's goodness to others who may be less fortunate. The "woe" is a potential blessing for it affords an opportunity for someone who is on the wrong track to stop and redirect his or her steps. We say woe to 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. That is a wrong satisfaction.

   Why a woe? The woe is a wake up call, a demand that another pause and think what is happening. The message of Good News is meant for everyone, but a failure to give the total message could lead to the loss of a few, and we do not want this to happen in any way. Salvation is for all and thus we address ALL, the poor and the rich. If one is not doing the right thing, that person ought to be addressed -- and we need to work with those who affirm "woe" in a more meaningful manner. These can distinguish between unjust business as usual and what needs to be done by bearing witness.

   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. Large gifts given become expressions of power by multi-billionaires. The wealth given should not have been accumulated in the first place. Such giving may be highly publicized, but still ever higher percentages of economic wealth are concentrated in fewer hands -- and all democracy suffers.

   Citizenship involves our assisting in liberating the wealthy of ill-gotten gains. Progressive forms of taxation must be made effective. False prophets bless materialistic gain; good prophets gain essential materials for those in need. The authentic prophet must help with human liberation; this involves shaking people from their affluence, and making them ever more willing to share with others. Arguments are similar to those of the eighteenth century against absolute and often despotic monarchs. Woe to the wealthy!

   Prayer: Lord, sweep away the dark clouds that hide from us the poor of the world; make us see them as people in need and ourselves as people who are in spiritual need of the chance to share with them and to become one with them.






Goldenrod stands tall during snow squall.
(*photo credit)


February 16, 2010 Shrove Tuesday and Meat Consumption

   The concept of "Shrove" Tuesday deprives from the period to confess sin and has old English and Germanic roots. The exercise was and still is a private individual practice that has its benefits as we prepare ourselves for Lent. However, Americans ought to consider annual per capita meat consumption from 1950 to today (Chicken 21 to 87 pounds; turkey 3 to 17; beef 44 to 66 but pork dropped from 65 to 51, with total livestock intake going from 144 to 222 pounds today). Isn't this too high? Climate change is directly related to livestock production to some extent and to hold to a goal of only a two-degree centigrade temperature rise in this century. We need to curb resource use and a good start is to reduce meat consumption.

   As farm youth, we butchered our own pork and chicken and later beef. Our consumption approximated 300 pounds of meat per non-infant family member -- a sizeable amount even for folks who considered meal and meat to be nearly synonymous. But meat eaters and others can change, and often for the better. I am not a vegetarian and do not buy meat; I have reduced meat consumption to less than 2 pounds a month (from donated sources or shared meals).

   Resource conservation: Consuming grain and soybeans directly as food is more efficient than passing equal amounts through animals to make milk and meat products. Soy milk takes far less input of agricultural resources than does an equal amount of milk product from a dairy. The same holds for the production of farm-livestock meat (not wild game or domestic livestock that would forage off unimproved land). However, running cattle on unimproved land can have detrimental environmental effects as well.

   Solidarity: The anger at the start of the December Copenhagen Conference swelled up among delegates from less-developed nations with a beginning proposal to cut wealthier nations' energy consumption in half and then cap the developing nations at half those consumption rates. True solidarity means radically sharing resources and finding security through non-military means.

   Economics: By comparing nutrition unit-for-unit, we discover that meat products cost more and strain the limited budgets of lower-income folks. Meat substitutes are economic alternatives.

   Health: Reducing meat consumption can be good for the health when we find that balanced vegetarian substitutes for animal products can be healthy and better for the heart.

   Prayer: Lord, we confess that we could reduce meat consumption for a number of good reasons, and this becomes the perfect season to reflect on changing patterns of diet, something that all of us ought to consider. Help us find ways to reduce our use of some animal products. Make us see this Lent as an opportunity to explore ways to limit our consumption of resource-rich foods.







Weathered barn against winter skies.
(*photo credit)

February 17, 2010 Remember That We Are Dust and Ashes

   They will throw dust on their heads, and roll in ashes. (Ezekiel 27:30) (also Jonah 3:7)

   On this day, Ash Wednesday, we confront our mortality, our stance before God, and our ongoing relationships with our fellow human beings. On Ash Wednesday the familiar markings of dust on foreheads make us all aware that the Christian season of Lent is starting, a time of extra reflection and mortification. Colorful Mardi Gras celebrations yield to somber purple Lent.

   In various ways "dust" is a pollutant, a nuisance, an embarrassment, a challenge demanding attention. Yet at times dust has value: the wind-blown dust (loess or fertile loam) that settles and fertilizes certain landscapes; the dust from graves regarded as first class relics by those who respect the dead; the dust of mortal remains. We are made from and into dust, and this gives us pause as to how dust enters into our own life cycles. We discover that watered dust can be the springboard of life.

   Ashes have value (February 21, 2007) as signs of:

   * Penitence -- In both Old Testament and New Testament times, ashes and dust were the signs of repentance and a humble stance before God. In fact, up to midway in the Christian era the dying individuals were laid on sackcloth and sprinkled with ashes as a reminder of their condition before the Giver of all life;

   * Subservience -- The vanquished was adorned in sackcloth and ashes before the conqueror;

   * 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.

   * Cleansing agent -- Homesteaders percolate water through ashes to leach out alkaline (lye) ingredients for making soap. Pure ashes can clean oily fabrics.

   * Fertilizer -- Wood ashes are scattered on the garden or other growing location as an organic supplement that adds potassium and trace minerals. The ash is alkaline, and too much would raise the pH beyond the range optimal for most vegetables. Through ashes comes forth new life.

   * De-icer -- Ashes are considered better than salt as a substance to put on paths and roadways for traction in icy times. However, sticky ashes can be tracked into buildings.

   * Cutting agent -- In seeding an area with very small seeds farmers often mix the seeds with an abundant supply of dry ashes, which affords a more even dispersal on the field or plot.

   * Triumph -- In the sport of cricket the winner holds up a trophy that contains ashes, perhaps originally signifying that the loser has been vanquished.

   Prayer: Lord, teach us to remember who we are, made from dust and yet more than dust and ashes. We are made to your image and are people on the dusty road to You.







The mourning dove, Zenaida macroura.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

February 18, 2010 Celebrate the Mourning Doves

   One of the great mysteries of my life is that people would ever "hunt" a mourning dove. How could you do such a thing? What is manly -- or womanly -- about killing a dove, have you ever heard of a dove killing a human being? That is sure to give me an email about a car or plane crash in which an unfortunate dove came through the windshield.

   The mourning dove's call was first heard this year in a very distinct way. I used to think that the dove call was a February harbinger of spring (February 8, 2007), but with the effects of global warming we find that it is now a January call. If we search a little deeper, we may discover that the dove is calling us to beware of both good and bad effects of any climate change that is surely upon us -- and will be even more serious if steps are not taken in light of the Copenhagen difficulties several weeks back.

   The dove pairs have a love and fidelity to each other. We find them along the road hunting, hurrying about, and gathering food together. Cooing together is that sign of love as found in the Song of Songs -- and the turtle dove. This seems to be a match where the parties need to work together throughout the operation.

   The dove is not an exotic bird, and so is a simple gift from the Creator to us. In times past, poor folks presented doves as a sacrificial offering in the Temple; Mary and Joseph offered these birds at the formal presentation of Jesus. In some ways, the dove symbolizes simplicity and presents itself as a gift worthy of being offered back to God.

   The dove is a sign of peace. We recall that the dove brought back the olive branch to Noah and the ark community as a signal that the flood had ended. The dove together with many other birds and living creatures reminds us that we need to have peace with all creation and not make war against Earth herself.

   The dove can bring rejoicing. Yes we are preparing for Lent but are asked to rejoice for the Easter that is to follow, and so mourning is short-lived as we learn from this dove. We know the sound of weeping but such can be for sorrow or joy -- or a combination of both. Cooing can sound mournful or joyful according to one's interpretation. Thus a true celebration has the elements of what has passed before, and of what is to come.

   The mourning dove triggers us to act. Spring is now before us and there is work to do. The dove teaches us to celebrate in little ways so that we can have a longer-term celebration later.

   Prayer: Lord let each creature be our teacher, and allow us the precious time to reflect upon the quality that each has to offer us, so by being enriched in simple things, we are better able to embellish the Good News we give to others.






Warming light of a sunset.
(*photo credit)

February 19, 2010 Is There a Garlic Bubble?

   In 1636-37, a gigantic financial "bubble" developed in Holland over the price of tulip bulbs, one of many capitalistic bubbles (stock market, dot-com, etc.) springing up, down to our day. Tulip prices rose precipitously; more people wanted to gain wealth by trading in tulips at outlandish prices and profits. Greed caused a stampede. Finally, someone, perhaps a child, said, "Wait!" "Why the panic?" Prices imploded and tulip-holders lost their shirts.

   The recent garlic bubble in China (the world's major garlic producer and user) proves either history's repetition or simply gullibility. The 2008 drop in garlic prices caused underplanting in 2009; the H1N1 flu surfaced and garlic was considered protection; suddenly institutions wanted truckloads of a scarce commodity, and prices were multiplied by forty. Jinxiang, China's garlic center, witnessed simple growers making instant fortunes, and the word got around quite quickly.

   Medicinally, garlic is almost as popular in China as ginseng whether the garlic is taken fresh or cooked. 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, therosclerosis, thrombosis, hypertension and as a blood sugar regulator, to name but a few uses. Many claims are disputed including the reduction of bad cholesterol (LDL). Garlic does contain many healthy ingredients such as Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), and C, along with essential traces of selenium, zinc, potassium, and phosphorus.

   People swear by garlic (Allium sativum), the "stinking rose," a close relative of the lily and onion families. February is the time we detect new life among the many wild garlic plants that are the first of the signs of new life. Many people flavor dishes with both wild and cultivated garlic. The pungent cloves are the sub-sections of the bulb or head that can be dug up from the cultivated garlic; after the outer skin has been removed, these can be crushed and used for cooking. However, a milder garlic flavoring is found in the leaves or the shoots from the garlic root. 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. Non garlic lovers won't eat garlic dishes; garlic eaters may use fresh parsley or mouthwashes.

   Wild garlic is found virtually all over the planet, not just in every lawn but also in all places with the exception of Arctic regions. Its ubiquitousness leads to widespread recognition. Garlic is a perennial; garlic is a widely-liked seasoning. Often people use garlic as a cheap form of dietary supplement and even regard it as a way to ward off evil spirits. However, with all its qualities it did not succeed in halting a Chinese bubble stampede.

   Prayer: Lord, teach us to use the things of Earth in such a fashion that we learn moderation in their use and commerce.






Shadows in the snow.
(*photo credit)

February 20, 2010 Observe Brotherhood and Sisterhood Week

   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)

   This coming week is a perfect time to consider the size of our "family." Many of us limit family to those within our household, a few relatives connected by cell phones, or an outreach to uncles, aunts and cousins who get together at weddings and funerals. Family means related by blood. Others are committed by some sort of allegiance and call "family" this broader designation. Others of us need to extend family to those with whom we show special concern and love. Jesus, when it was announced that his "family" was outside wanting to see him, swept the audience with his arm and exclaimed that all who do his will are in his family -- and certainly included his mother. Let's follow his gesture as well.

   Our sense of family must grow, not diminish, with time as we get older, less energetic or unable to travel. Spiritually, our outlook to all who are "related" may take on a global dimension as we begin to acknowledge that a billion people are hungry -- all individuals with empty stomachs, refugees, those with mental disabilities, the ones who are in harm's way, and those who are struggling with illnesses. The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference was a teaching moment that all, rich and poor, are one challenged family who must work together to save our planet.

   Extending the sense of family 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 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 become 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.

   As part of the family we enter into the sufferings of others and pray for them with compassion. Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit survivor of the El Salvador university massacre in 1989, challenged us that in all we do we either crucify Jesus in the 80% of the global marginalized population, or we "take Jesus down from the cross" by accompanying the marginalized in their struggles for a decent existence. Lent becomes a family time, when we truly ask how widely we extend our family. We need to learn from people who choose to give quality time to their families.

   Prayer: Lord, teach us to know our family and their needs and resolve that our bonds of fellowship may become more intensive.






Hillside near the Mary E. Fritsch Nature Center - ASPI
Rockcastle Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

February 21, 2010 Confront the Temptation to Refrain from Acting

   DON'T! DO! Well which is it? Words can be caution signs that something terrible will happen just around the corner. Generally we make this first Sunday of Lent the time to hear about all the things we could do wrong, and so the "do nots" take precedence (do not steal, bear false witness, fight, etc.) What we are not to do makes us feel after a while that a frozen position is a proper model stance in the world around us. Do nothing! But is that right? If we fail to act by denying the need or excusing ourselves or escaping from the responsibilities, we are sinning by failing to act, in other words, by refraining from acting.

   We look to Jesus to see us through our temptations and yet he realizes that his upcoming ministry will involve acting: healing, teaching, and proclaiming the word. He refrains from using material things to achieve success and fame and power. Jesus' security is in the Father's hands and not in material wealth; his power rests on a moral authority coming from a good life; and his fame is to obey the Father in all things even in his shortened ministry, in his suffering and in his death.

   Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread because he is 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.

   Jesus is tempted to receive all the power and glory of the kingdoms of the world, if he but gives homage to the devil. Temptations to manifest power over others, especially in a nation that knows itself to be a current 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 those of others. The temptation is to think that we can bring about good by acting unilaterally. Power without some checks and balances corrupts us. Instead of some type 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.

   Jesus is tempted to throw himself down from the temple parapet, for the angels would come and save him. He is tempted 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 notable personality. We are tempted to fame and personal glory by being better than others and outdoing them as number one, shining at others' 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 on every occasion in our journey of faith.

   Prayer: Lord, teach us to see temptations for what they are, to act even when at risk, and to trust in your mercy when we act.






Machu Picchu from above.
(*photo by Pedro Szekely, Creative Commons)

February 22, 2010   Consider Our Cultural Commons

      On George Washington's Birthday, we realize that America has a cultural history that includes Mount Vernon and a host of historic and archeological places worth respecting and preserving.  At times, petrographs on rock formations and caves in our region have been desecrated by chipping or spray painting.   

      Local, regional and national protection ought to extend to the global heritage sites, since these are part of a "commons" that is a worldwide legacy.  Tourists ought to have only limited access to sensitive guarded sites (e.g., King Tut's burial site is deteriorating).  A host of cultural treasures need protection:  pyramids in Egypt, the Sistine Chapel, Machu Picchu in Peru and the Taj Mahal in India.  High profile global treasures ought to be internationalized as to protection and maintenance support.  With increased mobility it is all the more imperative to protect major ancient cultural artifacts and historic sites from poachers, relic hunters, air pollutants, and natural calamities.   

      Merely designating an unprotected site as culturally significant can invite damage.  After being described in the media, a 6,000-year old cave painting in western Africa was ruined by spray paint.  European conquerors and thieves took ancient artifacts, parts of the Greek Parthenon, many Middle Eastern columns and memorials, and even parts of the Egyptian pyramids.  In the past the wealthy and powerful considered themselves entitled to loot with a colonialist-type justification.  Looted treasures ought to be returned to nations of origin.

  A recent trend is that the children's world of games, fairy tales, nursery rhymes and songs has been privatized by entertainment companies -- even "Happy Birthday" is copyrighted.  Among the stories that Disney has come to control beyond Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh are the ancient tales Robin Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Davy Crockett, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and Snow White.  Incidentally, no Disney stories have entered the public domain.  Private cultural heritage ought to be in the public domain.

   On January 21, 2008, Marie Smith, the last speaker of the Eyak language in Alaska, died; a last-of-a-language death occurs about three times a month.  The UN reports that, at current rates of disappearance, within this century half of the seven thousand languages of the world will vanish -- three per month.  Native speakers die and their offspring prefer to use the major language of the area.  Cultural heritage and expression are a threatened and endangered species.  National Geographic, "A World Loses Its Tongues" (Oct., 2007) has a map showing the most threatened areas.  The Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, a National Geographic project, ought to be supported.

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to work for the protection and support of significant cultural treasures and expressions.  






Poppy from a summer's garden.
(*photo credit)

February 23,  2010  Is the Afghanistan War Justified?

      On this Peace and World Understanding Day we must ask some searching questions with respect to the wars now being waged.  Just war theory has been argued for many years, and President Obama escalated a war and collected the Nobel Peace Prize all in one week.  Those of us who listened to President Obama's speeches in December wondered whether we can concede that such a theory is still justified in this modern age.  From the time of Cicero and since St. Augustine of Hippo, various conditions for such a war have been proposed.  Are all conditions for escalating that war being fulfilled?  Is the current approach the only one, and is it influenced by the military/industrial complex?     

   The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy:

    * the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

      * the other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

     * there must be serious prospects of success; and

     * the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.  The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. 

      No one doubts that terrorist acts were committed originally, but a small group of terrorists possibly operating in an extremely remote territory may not justify inflicting total war on people. Certainly other means could include training groups to subvert the terrorist organization or taking measures that would not demand war's escalation.  As for serious prospects for success, we recall that Afghanistan has never been conquered in the long-term, and to expect success in this time is foolhardy to say the least.  

   The final condition is not to cause harm graver than the evil to be eliminated; modern weapons are causing considerable civilian injury and death -- and that is grave harm.  

      William Pfaff, author and political commentator, argues that the ultimate purpose of the Taliban and al-Qaeda is to bring about an upheaval in the Islamic world, in order to rescue Islam from corrupted governments and degenerate practices.  He thinks the West is drawn into being provoked (through homeland attacks), in order that we send in more troops and build military bases;  this ensures that the occupied people are radicalized and scandalized, and they turn against their own cooperating governments.  For him, the West is playing directly into the hands of al-Qaeda.  The conditions for a just war are lacking and reasons for troops being in Afghanistan are problematic.  I do not think this war is justified. 

   Prayer:  Lord, we pray that our country takes quite seriously the conditions for a just war and selects non-military solutions to the current conflict. 




Muhlenberg Co., Paradise, KY.
(*photo credit)

February 24, 2010  Make Fossil Fuels Transitory Energy Sources 

      Each day, the 110-car coal trains in a railroad switching yard right outside my window remind me of what drives the economy in this part of the country.  Coal is regarded as cheap (not paying all ecological costs) and is the main export from this region.  Few question its current place.  However, some of us are now concluding that this coal is an intermediate fuel between formerly-primary fuel wood and future renewables.  However, if we are to waffle and tarry over the long-term move, we could spell irreparable harm if not destruction to our wounded Earth.   We have some problems: 

   The International Energy Agency says that the rise (especially in China, India and other emerging nations) of fossil fuel use is so great that we can expect that renewable energy will lag behind fossil fuels during the next two decades.  There are simply not enough wind turbines, solar panels or hydropower sites to meet the upcoming demand through the year 2030.  

      Coal will contribute 44% of the fuel in 2030 in comparison to 41% today.  It all comes down to what will continue to be "cheap" when users neglect all the many environmental costs.  It is like feasting on cheap but non-nutritious subsidized fast food;  it is not good for us, but it costs less than other types of food. 

      People have been sold on the hokum that the coal emissions can be neutralized or completely contained by some sort of carbon dioxide capture.  "Clean coal" is a myth, and to make the burning less polluting would require an immense outlay of remedial resources, which we cannot expect China, India or even the United States to be quick to install.   

      Those of us in coal and fossil-fuel-dependent areas find ourselves in a bind.  To remain silent is wrong;  to speak brings down anger and outrage as though we are being totally disloyal.  However, we can refine a message to show pro-regional sentiments in several ways.  First, our region can become more of a tourist destination if coal production is curtailed;  we can install a limited amount of renewable energy applications to replace coal;  we can make our region a haven for retirees, especially the large number of expatriates who would like to return to their roots. 

   Perhaps our dependence on fossil fuels is temporary, and we still have precious time to make meaningful changes to a renewable energy economy.  Coal dependency must yield to other types of livelihood. We need to see the immense value of our mixed mesophytic forest, the oldest and most varied temperate hardwood forest in the world.  This resource needs to be preserved as a natural sink for the excess carbon dioxide -- and just as poor lands deserve subsidy from wealthier ones, so does our region. 

      Prayer:  Lord, give us the courage to speak out even to those who are near and dear and to begin a process of making changes that will reduce the danger to our planet Earth. 





Dandelion and shadow.
(*photo credit)

February 25, 2010  Glory in the Lowly Dandelion 

      It is not too early to think of dandelions (many of which are regarded as pesky weeds by many lawn lovers).  Certainly this alien from the Old World has comes to thrive in our part of the planet.  However, even though the dandelion has long been naturalized, for me this lowly plant is a favorite edible vegetable/flower worthy of respect.  For one thing, I have found blooming dandelions (often in hidden and protected places during winter) every month of the year.  The delicate scent of the bloom always elevates my spirit.

      The green portions are excellent late winter (in milder climates) and early spring greens.  During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers, pressed with food shortages in the waning of their cause, would gather and eat dandelions, which are rich in vitamins and minerals.  To me the early messes of dandelions are wonderful when wilted with vinegar and hot oil (my mother used bacon grease) and served with chopped onions, boiled eggs and potatoes, and a dash of sugar, salt and pepper.  Also dandelion makes a wonderful addition to many different cooked greens and soups (see Special Issues).

      The root can be dried and crushed to make a reasonable herbal drink, and the flower is known to be made into a wine, the quality of which depends on the skills of the wine maker.

     My local Jesuit superior, Walt Bado, has allowed us to reproduce his insightful poem here: 


           Golden asterisks on emerald grass,

           Fuzz-balls, seed-filigreed, alas!                

           For botanists, plant-genus Taraxacum,

           For weeders like me, pain in the apoplexum. 

           The leaves do make a handy salad, though;

           The flowers, a dandy brandy. So, 

           Weeders of the world, if we can't beat 'em,

           Let's eat and drink, enjoy 'em! 


      Prayer:  Lord, help us to see the simple and lowly creatures below our feet as resources for our own learning, utility, and aesthetical yearnings.  Give us the continued opportunities to proclaim to others what so many overlook and take for granted in their often-defined routine lives. 




Cover for "Mountain Moments" (click here for information).
 (*photo by Warren Brunner)

February 26, 2010  Prepare for "Mountain Moments"                       

   By mid-2010 a coffee table book of about three hundred colored photos will be  published by Acclaim Press, a group known for full size photography books.  This publication, principally by Warren Brunner and his three-generational clan (along with my text) has been a two-decade work of love.  Right now Warren's vast photo collection is being tapped to obtain the best colored photos of mountain scenes, representing a lifetime of hard and creative work.   

      This book promises to be an ideal gift for people who have left our region but want a remembrance of the good times and events among our friendly mountains and communities.  Those who hear of this book will have an opportunity to purchase an ideal gift for special anniversaries, birthdays or holidays -- or simply to be nice to those who are recovering from an illness or other burden.  


                        Mountain Moments 

      The Appalachian Mountains influence us in many ways and, in their own way,  help raise our hearts and minds to God.  Also they are able to change the way we live and think about ourselves and others.  Mountains have their own characteristics and when we live among them;  these good attributes help make us better for being here.  This interaction of land and people is worth reflecting upon and we are convinced is worth passing on to others.   

   We seek to demonstrate the ABCs of just some of these mountain characteristics through photographs and accompanying reflections and prayers.  We suspect that we have only tapped the surface and that deep within the recesses of our hills are many other wonderful characteristics that are awaiting discovery.  Our invitation is that you attend to the mountain moments of your own lives and help us uncover the spiritual wealth that is forthcoming.  We would like to know your own thinking on this subject.

                          Warren Brunner & Al Fritsch, SJ 

   For a limited time, the price is $29.95, a pre-publication bargain that we hope our readers can take advantage of through our Earth Healing website.  For further details visit the publisher's website:

                   Acclaim Press

                   12267 State Route 135

                   Marion, Kentucky  42064-5656






Cranks Creek Survival Center (Becky & Bobby Simpson). Harlan Co., KY.
(*photo credit)


February 27, 2010        Encourage Agents of Change 

      The landscape is preparing to change dramatically with the approaching spring.  Our hearts are gladdened but does this always accompany upcoming change?  Do we welcome changes when people mature, grow old, leave home, acquire new interests, or retire?  For the most part "changes" get mixed receptions, some we greet and some we prefer to ignore.  Change is inevitable and thus we must learn to live with it, accept it, and direct it to improved stages when possible.  Thus, our focus ought to be on being and helping others to become good agents of change.   

      Some people make great agents of change: founders of religious communities, artists and influential writers, inventors and explorers.  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 B.C. 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.  Military changes are dramatic, but not necessarily the most profound type, for victories and empires are passing.  In fact, incremental changes through the evolutionary process have a drama all their own even though immediate witnesses may be absent.  We ought to focus on the agents of smaller, but nonetheless profound, changes in our world.

      Changes are good when well-directed.  The one who fails to accept the need for change may suffer from a lack of confidence, a debilitating false humility, and the loss of a golden opportunity.  Authentic agents of change perceive opportunities, are positive about the talents of others, and are sympathetic to those reluctant to take a major step: a move, a job, an enrollment, a new social outlook.  This agent of change is really a catalyst, not the decider but the one who influences the decision-making process along productive lines -- for some may need the creative space to reflect and discern before a major decision.

      Challenge the reluctant change agent who tends to measure himself or herself in comparison with people of different talents.  "I can never be a good musician" may be an honest admission that this is not what lies ahead for the person.  Maybe they are not as talented in one pursuit as is their model of measurement,  but they are talented in other ways.  This moment of agitation and self- doubt can be a negative insight.  "You are right; you are not meant for this;  consider other possibilities."   The true agent of change facilitates the decision-making process by individuals or by communities -- and may remain apart from the decision itself.  A catalyst remains apart from but still enhances the process.  

      Prayer:  Lord, give us the insight and generous spirit required to see change ahead, discover agents of change, and encourage them to act. 





Farm near Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
(*photo credit)

February 28, 2010         Reveal God-Given Opportunities 

      Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it;  it may bear fruit in the future.  If not, you can cut it down..  (Luke 13:8-9) 

      In today's parable the servant begs the landholder who wanted to cut down the unproductive fig tree, which has not borne fruit in three years, to give it one more chance to be productive -- and the petitioning servant is willing to assist by fertilizing and nurturing the plant.  In some way, this kindness is also what God shows to each of us by giving us individually and collectively  additional opportunities to change our ways and improve.  Furthermore, we become other christs to our fellow human beings by becoming the servants who fertilize and encourage change leading to a fruitful life. 

      Individually, each of us needs these opportunities all too often, lest we simply sink into the ruts of our lives.  Let us not forget from this parable that it takes another to help afford the opportunity to be productive.  Our second chance is a community endeavor, not solely an individual acting alone. God affords us additional time and space to make the changes and really acts as the servant as much as the landowner.  Likewise, we who work through grace are those looking for change and yet also willing to take the extra step to give another opportunity.  Those who seek to abolish the death penalty so that the convicted can have another chance in a productive life (even while in prison) are servants for the second chance.  Some strive to touch the lives of those who are overdrugged and seemingly hopeless.   Others try to educate those who feel worthless or people without hope.  Still others want the illegal migrant to be given another chance. 

      Collectively, much the same pattern as just mentioned is part of God's mercy and care for communities, peoples and the entire human family.  As responsible citizens, we become the God-given opportunity to change the way we live as local communities, regions, nations and the community of nations.  Wasteful use of resources in the past is a sign of sterility and unproductiveness.  Now the world needs us to be servants willing to  fertilize and nurture, to abandon wasteful luxuries, and to share in a radical manner with our suffering brothers and sisters in other lands.  If we do not seize the opportunity to be servants to and for them, entire island nations can be swallowed up by rising oceans and ultimately the poverty of sufferers will extend to our own doors.  God gives us opportunities to convert as a people from economies where natural resources are undervalued to ones where all have a chance to live quality lives in a sustainable world.  God's mercy and compassion are what holds back a wrath that could easily come.  However, if we see our way in this Lenten season, we become the opportune moment and place when and where change is possible. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to see that You are quick to give us one more change; inspire us to share Your patience with others.

Copyright © 2010 Earth Healing, Inc. All rights reserved.

Albert J. Fritsch, Director
Janet Powell, Developer
Mary Davis, Editor

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