Winter moves on relentlessly; "there is nothing slower than molasses in January except molasses in February." When sunshine seems to have a stronger and longer intensity and day begins to overcome night, then we sense late winter's promise of spring. February is mercifully short because we are so anxious for the end of this season. We ought to endure with patience, be ever more perceptive, and discover that things are starting to happen: wild garlic sprouts, varmints hustle about, and the morning dove is heard again. What can we do to heal this troubled Earth and how can we get others to help us?
True "Harbinger of Spring," pedestrian, "Pepper and Salt," first of many woodland flowers, purple-stemmed and white-petaled bulb, erect among winter tinder, and yearning to announce new life
for all the world to sing.
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All wildlife, even the simple groundhog, can teach us provided we are humble enough to learn their lessons. Tomorrow is Groundhog Day and an opportunity to learn from one of the most down-to-Earth creatures, (Marmota monax), the hibernating woodchuck or North American "groundhog." One of our truly American fables is operative tomorrow, for if the groundhog comes out and sees his shadow, he retreats into his burrow for another six weeks of impending winter weather. Never mind that no one has ever done a study to see how correct at weather prediction the groundhog has been in the past century. Fables are not meant to be analyzed.
The lowly groundhog does not have an appearance of a teacher, and that itself tells us not to make presuppositions based on initial appearance. This varmint is rusty brown and somewhat unkempt as ought to be expected after sleeping an entire winter in a simple hole in the ground. However, simple living does not distract groundhogs from being especially diligent; their awake time is well occupied and these busybodies scurry about for food and other business. They are truly piggish in appetite, but they adjust well to virtually any plant food available, for they have a very wide-ranging menu. No finicky eaters here. A single groundhog can wipe out a garden in a very short evening visit -- that is if it is willing to be "Hagar the Horrible."
Well then what is it groundhogs teach us? Few creatures are more peaceful than the mild mannered groundhog, which regards its best defense as a hasty retreat into its burrow, not a fight. The groundhog is not overly aggressive and thus it can become an easy target for dogs and more pugnacious wildlife -- for peace is its mantra. In fact, the young groundhog is downright cute and is as attractive as a ground squirrel. Kids may befriend a special groundhog and find a good pet. This is our only day in the year named after a species of wildlife -- no Cougar Day or Wildcat Day, although some call Thanksgiving "Turkey Day," because of the menu of the day. Singular wildlife honors go to the lowly groundhog -- and yet honor in lowliness does not make them proud. Groundhogs are self-sustaining, non-intrusive, non-biting, resilient, in no need of special protection; and they can thrive on their own.
If the natural niche of the American carnivores is depleted, then herbivores can have a field day. Havahart traps, made to capture prolific wildlife in a humane manner, may not be appreciated by those whose property is targeted for wildlife dumping. Maybe the lowly groundhog tells us to welcome back the carnivores such as wildcats and red foxes. All the while, let us support a harmony of all wildlife and give a special place to the lowly and humble groundhog.
Prayer: Lord, Creator of all things even the most humble, allow us to open our eyes and learn from nature, finding even here the attributes that come from the Almighty; teach us to be humble
and thus help make the world a better place.
Sunset comes to rural Kentucky farm in winter.
February 2, 2017 A Light for Us to Enlighten Others
...because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel. (Luke 2:30-32)
Today on Candlemas Day we celebrate the presentation of Jesus as the light of the world. After his Ascension Jesus did not allow that light to go dim for he also designated us, his mystical body, as the light of the world (Matthew 5:13). We are more than candles or symbolic fixtures; we are light, we give light, and we reflect light in many ways a few of which are given here:
As photosynthetic light we help enliven others, acting as a catalyst to move the world forward to the end towards which it was created. Others grow through the light of our encouragement;
As guiding light we show the way. Light is a guide for others and we become a lighthouse that directs the ships at sea. Let our good deeds be seen by others (Matthew 5:16). As Earth healing instruments we guide a world that is distracted and not focused on important issues. We may not know where every danger is located, but our beacon makes others aware that some danger is present. How people guide their ships and stay clear of material shoals is up to them, but the alert is given and remains steady throughout;
As enlightened by the Spirit we give insight. There is much written and spoken about the over-emphasis on negative environmentalism (pollution and depletion of resources) as well as the promise of positive environmentalism (appropriate technology and simpler ways of living). A balance of both is needed to the degree that is called for at a given moment, and that balance takes a special insight that only dawns upon us with time (Isaiah 58:8).
As light converted into heat we warm the hearts of others grown cold through insensitivity; this is brought on by over- affluence and the drive to gain material things. We are a healing presence as though a full spectrum of spiritual sunlight; we refresh and give joy and health to others by being present to them;
As an echo of our Triune God we exude mystical Light. Our light has a timeless quality for it reaches into the past event we celebrate today, and far back still more to that first moment of light (Genesis 1:3). Light is part of salvation history and is also a promise of things to come, a foreshadowing of an eternal spring when there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth; and
As a securitylight we give others the courage not to lose heart but to assist in the awesome work ahead. Our light furnishes a space for people to do meaningful work.
Prayer: Lord, help us to realize the strength of the light that we are given in Christ and help us to extend the rays of his glory to others around us.
Forest in winter. Near Appalachia - Science in the Public Interest, Livingston, KY.
February 3, 2017 A Global Solution: Solar Cookers and Ovens
Global use of solar food cookers (ovens) offers a potential to save forestlands, for over a billion people depend on forest growth to furnish the fuel to cook their food. With both fuel and food prices escalating, realize that the very poor are hurt by reduced wood fuel. Lower income people spend a quarter of their money on kerosene or other fossil cooking fuels, or at least a day a week gathering scarce firewood. Besides making possible economic savings, solar cooking devices are easy to build and maintain and their proper use can be taught easily; only minimal cultural changes are required. The solar cooking process is smokeless and thus avoids harm to cookers' lungs. The cooker is a low-priced way to purify water in areas with danger from intestinal disease, for water is pasteurized by heating at least to 150 degrees F.
The solar cooker must be placed where it receives sunlight for a number of hours depending on time of year and geographic zones -- working well in the tropics year-round. When the sun is one-third of the way from horizon to overhead, many easy-to-cook foods will be started and will be ready at midday. The closer the sun is to directly overhead, the greater the cooking intensity. Most rapid cooking takes place from two hours before to two hours after true noon. In temperate zones the angled winter sun is weaker. Dust and smog slow cooking time, but generally cooking time is unaffected by wind, humidity and outdoor temperature.
Solar box cookers are insulated box-within-a-box containing a dark cooking pot to absorb sunlight (converting light to heat). Shiny surfaces of aluminum or Mylar reflect rather than absorb energy on reflectors and inner box surfaces; sunlight passes through a tight-fitting transparent material, which traps longer wave heat energy. These solar units are equipped with adjustable reflectors directed to sunlight. Simple solar devices are made of cardboard with reflective sheeting, plate glass for covers, darkened cooking utensils, and insulated with sawdust or crumpled paper. More efficient cookers are made from pressed earth, brick, stone, or wood and include fiberglass insulation and more surfaces.
The amount of cooked food depends on box size. Even the smaller units described can cook up to 10 - 15 pounds of food on sunny days, through slow cooking techniques. Add no water and retain nutrients when cooking meat, fresh fruits or vegetables. Cook dried beans and grains by adding normal amounts of water. Gentle cooking temperatures of 200-235 F are ideal to refrain from burning food. Even tough meats are tenderized. No stirring is needed. Checking food frequently by opening the lid slows the cooking process. It's best to move the cooker with the sun, especially in winter weather or on cloudy days. The cooking times for the specific Lilongwe Solar Heater are: beans 3 hours; rice, fish and chicken 1 1/2 hours; vegetables 1 hour; and beef 2 hours.
Prayer: Lord, help us to assist others in seeing the sun as a free heat source for cooking their meals.
February 4, 2017 Weigh Natural Versus Synthetic Fibers
Many environmentally-concerned people have knee-jerk reactions to certain issues; one of these is the benefits of natural versus synthetic products, e.g., fertilizers, food preservatives, building materials, etc. However, while choices in many categories are fairly straightforward, often using scarce petroleum products and exotic ingredients that could be harmful to human users, product choices can be more complex and sometimes depend on a number of overlooked factors. One should inquire how natural fiber is obtained, duration of fabric wear, and recyclability of products.
Some people have a bias for cotton, for it is cool, has a comfortable feeling, does not cause skin rashes, is breathable and absorbent, and is generally cheaper than other fabrics. However, that is not the end of choice options. A synthetic fiber or combined fiber may last longer, may be easier to wash and/or dry, may hold its shape, size and color, may be lighter and easier to pack and store, and may feel just right. In such choices, there may be both personal preferences and scientific fact. This is more complex when new synthetics or blends (of natural and synthetic) are produced, which are breathable, longer wearing, and cheaper.
Here are some additional environmental factors: How is the fiber produced? Are non-renewable resources such as oil needed in growing the cotton, flax or hemp, as well as in the processing? Generally, the amount of petroleum used in producing a natural material for fabrics will not equal the petroleum used to synthesize fabrics from petrochemicals. However, natural as well as synthetic fibers can require non-renewable fuel (petroleum or natural gas) for processing. Among American agricultural crops, cotton is a very heavy pesticide user, though one can now buy organic cotton. Growing crops for natural fibers where land disturbance occurs causes soil erosion.
For centuries, cotton mill workers have gotten "white lung," though conditions today are generally less severe but still lacking in worker safety. Sometimes child labor is involved. Wool is the natural fiber with lower environmental impact, provided sheep do not overgraze or pasturing involves exotic species introduction. Wool is warm, generally long wearing and has a pleasant appearance, though some synthetics and blends also have these and other favorable characteristics. Global warming will limit wool-wearing.
All else being equal, choose locally-grown natural fibers for fabric materials; give preference to wool products from locally pastured animals; buy goods with long-wearing fabrics, especially for youth and those needing rugged and special materials such as in hiking or mountain climbing; use only fabrics that do not cause allergies and are healthy and comfortable; take into consideration laundry and Permapress characteristics; reuse and recycle clothes and other cloth products; and refrain from buying for fashion.
Prayer: Teach us Lord to consider all factors and not led by initial impulses that are often not based on good information.
February 5, 2017 Ways to Become a Light to the World
You are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:13)
Challenge: How can we enlighten a world of darkness?
During February we notice the expanding length of daylight and know that ultimately spring is coming. God is the source of all light and, in the liturgical readings today, we are asked to become lights to the world, a challenge that could take a lifetime to achieve through teaching, healing, modeling, and laughing.
Enlighten by teaching. The Big Bang was an initial moment of light's beginning. God said "let there be light" and there was light. And God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness (Genesis 1:3). As author of all light, God truly is our source of physical and spiritual energy. Physical light is a part of our mortal life, for we all need light to perform our work. We utilize artificial light for signals, road markers, illumination in our interior living space, and for a multitude of operations. We know this need when electricity is "shut off" for even a brief period. Light gives us a sense of security; light triggers the photosynthetic process of the plants for food and shade; light warms, heals, and enlightens. We live and teach in light.
Enlighten through healing.Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard (Isaiah 58:8). Christ is our spiritual source, our lamp rolling back the darkness of our self-created shadows, our way or lighthouse that guides our journey of faith. Christ, our light, enlivening us to perform noble deeds; he is the light we need for healing and refreshment of our bodies and to extend healing to others. The rays of Christ's light produce a greenhouse effect within us, light transformed into a heart-warming energy, a love that has its own healing qualities.
Enlighten through being models to others.Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16). Christ transfers light to us in a special way: we become other christs to the world around us through the graces of our Baptism and Confirmation. We are not just mirrors of Christ, for we enliven as in the photosynthetic process; we guide others and thus give them the catalyst to move forward so they will walk in the light of faith.
Cultivate light-heartedness. To lighten up is a good reminder during February's dreariness. Spread some laughter; find a way to make others enjoy what we say and do. Cultivate humor, for that inspires others. Being light-hearted has a serious quality, for it gives courage to those who find life burdensome in many ways. Using humor is one way to enlighten an overly somber world and for all to grow in mutual self-esteem.
Prayer: Teach us Lord, to enlighten others to become lights.
Kentuckians love to tell stories because these can captivate others. In fact, story-telling is in our blood, and we recall that Abe Lincoln loved to regale others with his stories from younger years. Likewise see our YouTube for Ralph Conlee's narrative on the aircraft carrier Yorktown in the Second World War. A Kentucky "story" may stretch the truth for emphasis. Recall that Jesus' parables are stories passed through Scripture from generation to generation, and from one time to another; we never tire in good stories. Part of story-telling is in the art of telling with choice words, pauses and added emotion all related to the content itself. In youth, I told stories to my younger siblings and began to sense that effective story-telling can be an art:
Be vivid or graphic -- Even though an audience is not totally able to retain the details, the graphic nature of the story allows them to enter in with their whole being, just as good color combinations and proper details make for better paintings. Thus naming a place and exact location, description and mental state of actors or effects of specific weather conditions may add flavor and attractiveness to the story;
Be aware of the audience -- Some cannot take too much gore or long narratives or many sub-plots. If the audience is not with you, it is time to shorten the story and bring it to a quick conclusion. If they are with you, draw it out a little more. The environment has to be right and the good storyteller has to know his or her audience;
Be enthusiastic -- Better to remain silent than to destroy a good story by a hesitant or tiresome narration. Storytellers repeat their tales over and over and to the same people who do not seem to mind, provided they are freshly and enthusiastically done.
Be light-hearted -- That is the best word since some stories have their moments of humor and convey the sadness of life all at the same time. An overly heavy-hearted or morose story or a flippant one are not good themes for storytelling.
Be credible -- The story may be a fable or a parable, but it must have a great degree of authenticity. The theme or goal must be worthy of belief even if some embellishments are fictional.
Be yourself -- Personal stories told from the heart for a given purpose are most often better than merely repeating what someone else told you. The story does not have to be long and drawn out, for simpler stories have more punch. Longer tales are for long winter nights by a fireplace with no television, a rare circumstance today.
Prayer: Lord, keep our minds open when hearing and doubly open when telling a story -- and let your love be the greatest story ever told, which we recall and proclaim with enthusiasm.
February 8, 2017 Maintain Efficient Vehicles and Drivers
Federal auto efficiency standards become ever more strict and now stand at 35 miles per gallon by 2020. The cumulative savings for this entire nation in money, petroleum resources and cleaner air is now beginning to accumulate and has cut petroleum consumption to a point where the highway trust fund is undersupplied. Considering that there are over two hundred million vehicles in this country alone, and this does not count the rapidly growing motor fleets in such populous and economically growing lands as China and India, we know vehicle efficiency is a global problem. If we Americans take a lead, other emerging nations will also follow suit and climate changes goals can be reached.
Few older vehicles are fuel efficient and yet the nation continues to tolerate fuel-wasting power vehicles, motor homes, SUVs (the petroleum addict's last fling at gas consumption), and fuel-guzzling trucks, especially as fuel prices continue to decline. This comes when hybrids have been getting 60+ miles to a gallon and electric autos are making a stronger debut. Efficiency technology is available and waiting to happen; solar-powered electric vehicles are operating, and the hydrogen economy is coming in a few years. All are ready, for big changes are in the offing.
Car Talk is a rather humorous weekly radio show on National Public Radio with callers being subjected to playful ridicule for bringing up their difficult and supposed "car health" problems. While listening, we wonder whether we are any better than the callers, even when we realize their inexperience in car maintenance. Our respective vehicle manuals say it all, but these are not the most popular reading materials. Keep tires properly inflated, oil changed at regular intervals, timer belts replaced at specific intervals, spark plugs and air and gasoline filters replaced, have tires checked for excessive wear at the time the car is on the rack, rotate tires on a regular basis, and on and on. Our regular mechanics can be the auto's primary physician; they remind us of auto repair needs when we neglect vehicle care. It pays to patronize good and dependable auto service places.
This brings us to each of us who age and need our own refreshment of auto safety tips and courses; some insurance companies require or give incentives for taking courses. We realize that texting is a new practice that leads to distracted drivers and unpleasant accidents. Efficiency can easily erode and all too often can be influenced by what the next driver does during waits and other inconveniences. Some of us may be judged too inefficient to operate a vehicle on the highways. Such is life!
Prayer: Lord, allow us to be watchful on our journey in life. Show us that the resource waste of driving inefficient vehicles is at least collectively sinful, if not perhaps individually so as well. While encouraging us not to be judgmental, at least help us to maintain efficient vehicles and good driving efficiency.
All, even the speechless, are called to communicate in some way. Merely talking to ourselves is hardly communication and some would regard it as senile or anti-social behavior. We realized early in life (even shortly after birth) that communication between people is vital to comfort, care, and just being human. Gradually cries and whimpers became spoken words and then we began to expand our arena of social contacts. Quite early for most of us we were invited through baptism into the family of God. In response to the divine call founded in love, we were asked to love God with our whole heart and soul, mind and body. How else can this be done but by talking with, listening to, and being open to God?
We talk with God in various ways: We ask forgiveness for faults committed, especially when offending someone, and we pray thus at the start of the Divine Liturgy; we sing out our praise of God's greatness at the Gloria; after hearing the word of God read and spoken about, we petition or "pray" (English meaning "I beg you"); and then we participate in the heart of the Divine Liturgy itself which is our highest form of prayer -- thanking God for all things.
Our prayers have differing degrees of intensity: we offer prayers each day for various causes that are close to our heart and thus turn our hearts to formal prayer. Some periods of the day should become our special personal time with God in a more intensive manner; we may wish to do this through rote ways of praying (memorized prayer, rosary and meditation on the mysteries of the life of Christ, reading or reflection on Scripture, private conversation with the Lord, and the Jesus Prayer). Find the one that suits you best on this stage of the faith journey. On either a daily or weekly basis we pray with a community in a more formal manner. Ancient Brother Schwakenberg was a gardener at our Milford Ohio Novitiate; I went past his open door and he was talking as though someone was in the room -- it was the Lord.
When busyness, sickness or confined circumstances overwhelm us, we find our prayer more challenging. We are forced to modify our prayer habits, to retreat into the silence of our hearts, that ultimate personal space where we can find God in more intimate terms. A sick person or one in prison will not be able to have a special time or secluded place for prayer; a busy parent strives doubly hard to find time and place to get away; a nervous person may want to walk or exercise while meditating. My cousin, a medical doctor, would take a half-hour afternoon nap, no matter how many extra patients were in the waiting room; he said he needed that rest, and his patients needed his rest. The retreat to a period and place of recollection is sought after by many, and yet few make it a reality. In fact, prayer time is often sacrificed because of the pressures of the day. In such circumstances, a final recourse is to the prayer of the heart.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to pray, to pray always, and to pray
from our hearts, especially when duty calls us to other things.
February 10, 2017 Support Enthusiastic Tour Guides
It is never too early to think ahead to vacations for ourselves and to prepare for tourists from a distance. And let us always consider the occupation of guiding others and the need to foster local services that are worthwhile for workers and those served. A good tour guide can convey enthusiasm for both his or her occupation, and a desire to assist others hospitably through the service rendered. The guide is good when being ever fresh with information, telling it clearly, and not allowing fatigue to manifest itself. Too often, questions show profound ignorance or an opportunity show off one's knowledge or, worse, the limitations of the guide. Patience and good will is always called for.
In my seminary days we were housed in a former hotel at West Baden, Indiana, which was part of a local motor tour from nearby Frenchlick hotel. The guide came within ear reach of my room and I daily heard a fraction of part of his talk -- "...in 1901. After this the place was" -- Astounding that the talk was so well rehearsed that the precise wording was exactly given in the precise same space and time each day. I never heard the rest of the story.
When helping to show my French cousins around several years ago, I noticed how offended they were at a Washington, D.C. museum because it had a host of flags in the entrance but did not have a French flag (a deliberate vindictive act due to anti-French feelings for opposing the Iraq War). I was embarrassed as well, since France was the major contributor to our becoming a republic in the Revolutionary War. However, a day later when we were touring Gettysburg Battlefield I told the tour guide who asked where folks were from that these two were visitors from France; thereupon he hummed the Marseillaise, which made their day and visit. That tour guide did far more than just tell an interesting story, he made visitors feel welcome.
Tours guide can be someone designated as such, or a person who serves visitors in other capacities: at a counter, maintains grounds, waits at table, or runs the local service station. People who are knowledgeable make a visitor's experience enjoyable. Some ways to support tour guides include:
* Give attention to what they have to say and caution people who interfere with the story or are disruptive;
* Ask pertinent questions to show that you are interested and encourage others to do the same;
* If the script is incomplete, add a comment to educate the guide and perhaps give him or her ideas on how to improve the narrative (when others are not listening);
* Thank guides and tip generously where it is the custom;
* Ask something about where the guide is from, and inquire as to future plans if the person is temporarily employed; and
* Mention to their manager that they did a good job.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be good guides for those on their journey in life; give us enthusiasm and creativity in our work.
A replica of Abraham Lincoln's grandmother, Bersheba's home. Springfield, KY.
(*photo by Mark Spencer)
February 11, 2017 Reflections on Abraham Lincoln
Perhaps our patriotism is nurtured by some of the great leaders of our nation, and one of these is the 16th president Abraham Lincoln, a self-taught person of immense intellectual skills and leadership qualities, who came at our nation's darkest hour.
Since Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky, his roots are a good topic for a personal reflection. His pioneer grandfather was killed by a raiding party of Native Americans. His father, being a younger son, had to struggle first in the home of his widowed mother and then on his own, since he inherited very little if anything but an experience of homesteading practices. Lincoln's mother, also coming from humble circumstances, had to make do with virtually no formal education and meager living conditions in the beginning days of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. She and, after her untimely death, Lincoln's stepmother were able to show a deep sense of trust that he would move forward and succeed in life.
Lincoln came from a homesteading family and they were far more skilled than one might imagine, or how else could they have survived? Building a house from logs, as done where he was born and then, as a youth when the family moved to Indiana, involved hard work and expert survival skills -- with which his father was highly acquainted. Lincoln acquired these skills and did not let seemingly major crises hamper the ability to use them wisely and well. In late 1862, after becoming president, Lincoln was under immense pressure to fire some of his cabinet (e.g., Seward and Chase); he related to a legislator that when young he learned how to bring pumpkins home on horseback by balancing one on one side and one on the other with a rope tying the two together. He kept both opposing cabinet members even after they submitted resignation letters.
Lincoln's spiritual upbringing owed much to his stepmother and the rest of his family, even though he was reluctant to acknowledge it. Lincoln was a God-fearing man, but not a member of a particular church. He worshiped with his parents in the Baptist tradition in his youth, but never became a church member; he apparently did not acquire the fervor that his parents had for that particular service. During the Civil War he attended a Washington Presbyterian Church with his wife and family, but he did not become a member. However, the pastor prayed at his funeral. Nevertheless the war made Lincoln a prayerful man, one who turned to God often, and he grew in compassion for all who suffered through that horrifying ordeal. He surprised his cabinet by acknowledging that he made a vow to God before presenting the Emancipation Proclamation in its final form -- and he overcame opposition.
Prayer: Our Alpha and Omega, our Beginning and Ending of all things, You are our ultimate root and foundation for who we are and can become. Help us to be grateful for the great people who have influenced our lives in so many ways, including Abe Lincoln.
Renewables Are Coming but Not Fast Enough
The Trump Administration wants to make America great again and has a covey of climate change deniers and fossil fuel lovers in key positions. Part of the propaganda associated with the advocacy of fossil fuels by the current Administration is that renewables are a long way off; for them practical considerations mean enhancing the life of fossil fuels.
The advances in electrical capacity tell a different story.
The total 2016 update from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) shows that 16,124-MW or 61.% of newly installed capacity was from renewable sources (biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind). This is the second year in a row that the renewables exceeded fossil fuels. In 2015, renewables added 12,400-MW of new generating capacity or 64.8% of total; in 2014 total new generating capacity for renewables was 49.6%. While most fossil and other sources declined in the past few years, still natural gas experienced a modest growth from 41.6% in 2011 to 43.23% today due in great part to the advent of fracking procedures.
In 2016 wind accounted for 7,865-MW and solar 7,748-MW. These help make up 19.17% of total generating capacity of which hydro traditionally takes the lead (8.5%), wind (6.92%), solar (2.00%), biomass (1.42%) and geothermal (0.33%). Wind and solar are increasing substantially with competitive costs in respect to fossil fuel numbers. Solar capacity is 12 times greater than (0.17%) achieved in 2011. Furthermore, solar percentages underestimate the true solar capacity, since they only account for generation by plants with nameplate capacity of 1-MW or greater. Distributed sources such as the rapidly expanding rooftop solar units (such as on our parish hall) are excluded.
If renewables were given an even shake in contrast to fossil fuels the advancements would be all the faster. Senator Sanders says taxpayers subsidize the most profitable industry in history to the tune of $10 billion every single year: tax breaks, direct subsidies, leases, royalty agreements -- and now more pipelines.
He adds in Our Revolution (p.366) that "for every dollar of taxpayer funds invested in renewable energy fossil fuels have received eighty dollars!" The five largest had combined profits of $93 billion in 2013 and received $2.4 billion in tax breaks. In order to stop these grossly unfair practices the Senator introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act, which he said would save American taxpayers $130 billion over a decade -- the money going to renewables. Renewables are coming but not fast enough.
Ken Bossong, of SUN Day Campaign, says "The focus of the new Trump Administration on fossil fuels is not only environmentally irresponsible but totally wrong-headed in light of the latest FERC data. Year-after year, renewables are proving themselves to be the energy sources making America great again." <firstname.lastname@example.org>
February 12, 2017 Called to Discern What We Must Do
I have come not to abolish the laws and the prophets but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)
Challenge: How do we become more discerning in today's world of threats to our civilization and impending climate change? These are times that try our souls; the demands are for a growing watchfulness and openness to needed change. Fulfillment of the law and prophets means going beyond the letter and fortifying our spiritual life for participation. Growth in perfection takes us closer to Jesus in prayer and alertness to possible service. We find that obedience to the letter of the law in not the end all; we have valuable work that is different. We think we are doing all that's required, but are we? Problems force us to delve deeper into what obedience really means -- namely obeying the will of God.
Today's responsorial says: Give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart (Psalm 119:34).
The prayerful request calls for discernment on all levels of our society. It is not enough as each of us to keep the basic commandments, if we fail to discern the utter needs of our neighbor; likewise we must refrain from following allurements all around us. On an individual level, we need a daily discernment of how well today went, and how much better we can make tomorrow. A heart sensitive to others' needs must go along with observance.
Before us is life and death; whichever we choose will be given us (Sirach 15:15-20). Discernment applies both to the individual seeking to give service (healing, teaching or works of mercy), and to the community that must choose life-giving service to its local and all the global human family. Nations and people are not to provide benefits solely to their own members, but to extend the spirit of caring to all on the planet including the most neglected. Neighborhoods are contiguous and more so due to modern social media. If not attentive, some will suffer while others prosper.
Discerning about local or broader problems should not be so exclusive as to forget the needs of plants and animals threatened by greed and lack of regulatory enforcement. In order for us as a people to live and prosper, we must accept the challenge to think about global health care and environmental protection of all of creation. Elephants are rapidly becoming an endangered species due to ivory poachers. The accessible resource pie is limited. How proper distribution is done more equitably is a challenge calling us to prayerful discernment. The mysterious wisdom of God that St. Paul speaks of is what we must discern in the world around us -- and this means taking on the inclusive love of Jesus for all creatures who suffer and need our compassion.
Prayer: Give us, Lord, a discerning heart to penetrate the mysteries of your calling for us -- and to choose life over death.
Help us to be sensitive to the sufferings of others and assist them where and when we can.
Bluebird box in the style of Wayne Davis (see below).
February 13, 2017 Improve Bird Habitats
The migratory birds will soon be returning. We are reminded by the cooing of the mourning dove and those that are surviving the winter here. Birds are under stress due to the loss of habitat both in terminal lands and migratory routes. This loss can be compensated to some degree by creating a "wildscape" in our yard. We have those precious varieties, colorful jays and cardinals, and more drab wrens and crows. Refraining from use of lawn chemicals is a necessary beginning in attracting birds. The best way to determine whether someone uses these herbicides is to see whether robins frequent the particular green space upon arrival.
Specific details on what to plant for birds, as well as bird nests and bird baths, are given in a host of nature books, manuals and websites. Retired University of Kentucky Professor Wayne Davis has created bluebird boxes and Carolina wren boxes, which prove to be favorites for these birds. If you go to Dr. Davis' house in Lexington, Kentucky he will give you boxes only on the promise you put them up and maintain them.
Residents may want to go a step further than just making the landscape attractive, and actually declare the backyard as a bird "sanctuary." That is sufficient and no governmental certification is needed. Bird sanctuaries allow aviary invitees to nest, rest, and feed there without endangerment from prey. Feeding birds is frowned upon by some nature purists, but others justify such practices as positive countermeasures to widespread destruction of normal habitat in urbanizing America. Sanctuary fragments are inherently limited by nature, but are often necessary for survival of the semi-tropical migratory wildlife on their way north or south. Certainly joining adjacent properties would create larger contiguous areas for the better health and well-being of the permanent and migratory bird populations.
Birds make good neighbors for shut-ins and the elderly who are rather limited in mobility. The bird species attracted can be determined to some degree by the type of seeds and other bird feed furnished. Native Americans Cherokees in the Southeast attracted martins through gourd houses to control mosquitoes. Hummingbirds are attracted by sugar water feeders and certain often red flowers; interplanting these flowers in herb and vegetable gardens may prove attractive to a mix of hummingbirds and butterflies and create a quite delightful scene for spectators. Affording safe nesting places take precedent over bird feeding and watering, for in overly fragmented landscapes the birds are prey to cowbirds who lay eggs in other nests, which leads to competition and excess labor by the victims. Keep the squirrels out, if you can, and allow the bird to feel free from the danger of hawks.
Prayer: Lord, you have given us the song of birds to lighten our hearts and their colorful attire and movements to appeal to our eyes. They are delights to behold and enjoy; give us the strength to be concerned that they have safe habitat and travel stops.
Happy St. Valentine's Day!
Love is --
the atmosphere surrounding our service for others,
the unattained goal of life towards which we strive,
the most elementary form of early communication,
the stirring deep within our bones,
the unsolicited smile to another,
the craving of our very souls for peace,
the unquestioned devotion of our pets,
the kind words when others have forsaken us,
the sacrifices of our parents and guardians,
the constant demands met without thanks,
the hurts that we endure but do not return,
the momentary meetings of eyes with someone served,
the calluses on work hands,
the arms joined with others in prayer,
the desire to be united with another,
the many pleasures of life shared with another,
the grateful feeling of surviving the night,
the pause by a cook after serving a favorite dish,
the attraction mixed with spiritual fulfillment,
the sincere kiss,
the time spent quietly with a loved one,
the radical sharing by those with little,
the heartbeat in unison with an unborn child,
the stark reality of enduring another's foibles,
the sincerity of the poor,
the rush of joy to the returning soldier,
the quest for protection by the vulnerable,
the hug by a speechless friend
at the time of another's passing,
the goodbye between two when one is going to harm's way,
the appreciation by an elder for a youngster's kindness,
the joy on a kid's face on a parent's coming home,
the firm assurance that all is okay,
the eyes of gratitude from the sick bed,
the pride in a job well done by a loved one,
the pleasure in watching a garden grow,
the confidence of the nurse with the patient,
the sincere thank you for help given,
the glory of the newly wed,
the making-up after a quarrel,
the night's embrace,
the only baggage at the moment of death,
the final meal with friends,
the caring for a loved one who is passing,
the peace of soul at Holy Communion,
the attraction to the deepest Mystery
at the moment of death,
Prayer: Lord, help us to love as you love us.
Eastern bluebird, Sialia sialis, drinks from garden birdbath.
February 15, 2017 Launch Gardening in Your Backyard
February for committed gardeners is time for planning the growing year, but it is the start of the growing season for us in my part of the country. I follow my mother's practice of sowing peas on or near this date every year (when no snow cover). It is the ideal time to launch the gardening season by preparing some ground, obtaining the right seeds, and fetching some simple tools. Here are hints that other backyard gardeners may tell you:
Survey the place. Plot out the space and find out the type of soil around the house (it may be clay fill dirt or good top soil); determine the amount of sun or insolation on the area (trees or buildings may partly block the sun), and learn the condition of the surface (crabgrass may have taken over the area). If the task of preparing the soil is going to take extra effort, either enlist help, get a power tool, or scale back space expectations.
Consider multipurpose use. Most of us have to be creative with limited available backyard space. In severely restricted areas, plant while allowing picnic areas and sun and entertainment space. Backyard gardening may be interplanted with seed plants for birds or flowers for butterflies. Ensure that materials are growing and maturing throughout the season.
Plan what to plant. Selections are based on what the residents like to eat and on what can grow best in the given space according to soil type and climate. Shady areas should be planted with shade-loving greens and other vegetables such as cucumbers. Crops such as corn should never be planted in limited space. Pumpkins or gourds are okay provided they can run across non-tilled green space. Native plants are ideal; if they are perennials like berries or horseradish, they save us time.
Start NOW and start small. Beginning at the earliest possible time is the secret to good gardening. Some early sowing may not survive, but covering tender plants with cloth or newspaper on cold nights protects the early garden. People tire of excess produce and prefer variety. Some of the selected herbs, flowers or vegetables can be placed in pots, which take less room and can be rearranged when space is used for recreation. The walls of outbuildings can serve as support for a vined lattice for peas, pole beans, tomatoes, grapes, or kiwis.
Consider aesthetic aspects. Gardeners are artists who envision the living canvas that differs through seasons like a cathedral's colored windows in changing sunlight. Are you willing to see the garden as art worthy of special care and design?
Try keeping records of product yields, a map of planted areas for future reference, notes on weather conditions and photos.
Prayer: Lord, you are the master gardener and give us use of Earth for essential needs. Help us make our space productive.
A blooming dandelion after stretch of mid-February warmth.
February 16, 2017 Recognize Intrusiveness as a Modern Vice
We sit down to rest in a public place and suddenly in a loud voice the person next to us starts talking on a cell phone. Our silent space has been intruded upon, and yet we tolerate in silence the effects it has upon our peace and wellbeing. In many other ways also we are subject to a massive assault on our personal silent space with no regard by the intruding party. Fortunately, through popular mandate the law now restricts telemarketers from the infringement via public phone -- though not perfectly. Through the many media outlets that enter our homes and lives, we are targets of privacy intrusion, something unheard of in prior times of no television, radio, phone, or Internet. Few things are more irritating than telemarketers at meal time. Most parents have difficulties getting everyone together for a single meal; "dinner" is ideal for finding all at home -- and marketers know this.
We need our private time and space, the moments we recoup or rest or sleep or just do little or nothing. Energy restoration and mental and physical health demand such periods both for ourselves and for our associates. In former ages of slower travel and communication the degree of intrusion was far less in most but not all circumstances. One must note that Abraham Lincoln suffered much from the constant intrusion by office seekers, office holders, and the just plain curious. Being someone who always wanted to be available, he soon found intrusion quite detrimental to the immediate tasks at hand, and his secretaries made this an issue by deliberately protecting him from intruders.
Some people are better adapted to intruders than others and even enjoy the social connections. Being "wired" means a) that people will contact you and expect a response in a matter of a short time or b) that you are stressed by busyness and constant intrusion. People are always on call through such devices as cell phones and Internet -- that is, if we let them get away with it. Privacy becomes the victim of instant communication even when we want to know if an earthquake has occurred or a storm is coming.
We can restrict instruments of quick communication, turn them off and tell others when available, get an unlisted number, or go to a no-call situation. We can limit the barrage of commercials on television or radio and get blockage to the Internet spam. Without community action we cannot do much about outdoor ads that intrude on our "viewscape." What about commercials that appear on vehicles, clothing, place mats in restaurants, urinals, wastepaper cans, airline literature, the walls of public buses, theater shorts, and on and on? Intrusiveness is a plague, the modern door-to-door salesperson. It is far more than learning to say "no" firmly and politely. Only a tiny touch of curiosity brings on what we deserve -- intrusiveness masterly performed as our cross.
Prayer: Lord, help us to discover and retain our silent space so that with heart and mind we can reflect on deeper things; help us avoid distractions that make us so scattered and stressed.
February 17, 2017 Practice Responsible Consumerism
All of us consume food, energy and other resources. Yes, and reduced fuel prices means more change for use. Money burns a hole in the pocket of many. In this century with rising house prices, people borrowed on their home equity and spent more and more of what was borrowed. Then housing values dropped and millions suddenly found debt staring them in the face, sometimes of greater amounts that they could possibly pay and live; they are "under" water. However, the great recession has never really taught all the lessons needed to be learned.
Consumption continues; how much is a learned experience that many are not too able to grasp. Some three-quarters of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck -- and it is quite difficult and nearly impossible with high rent, auto payments, student debt and ongoing mortgages. Excessive consumption by the affluent, or those who think they are affluent enough when they really are not, is wrong-headed -- and thus a rude awakening for an entire society. Excessive food leads to obesity; excessive domestic heat is oppressive in winter and excessive cool air in summer is harmful to health in summer; inefficient vehicles are costly to driver and the planet; excessive purchasing leads to excessive junk and domestic space demands heating, cooling, and maintaining.
People are programmed to be excessive consumers in many ways:
* Credit cards give one the notion that the credit is available and the payment can be put off to a later day. I asked one who started a business how he was financing the operation; he replied, "Through credit cards." Needless to say, the new establishment went under, for many do not have a handle on their exact finances and thus do not figure for inevitable indebtedness;
* Bargain sales lead to the panic to get to a sale before the greedy nudge us out with the exclamation "Look how much I saved." and not "See how much I spent." Excess is a curse as much as are destitution and lack of essential goods. We hear a conservation ethic is lacking in those who cannot control their buying habits;
* Advertisements even to infants and youth lead to purchase of products that are higher priced (e.g. popular brand cereals or athletic clothes) but are now redefined as essential to life; and
* Rising lifestyle expectations based on media propaganda make the consumer restless for processed and fast food, fashionable clothing, inefficient vehicles, motorized recreational equipment, and electronic gadgets owned by peers and neighbors. The more fashionable items are often the more expensive, and so this triggers greater more consumption triggering planned obsolescence.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to buy when needed and to refrain from buying the luxuries. Do not let us fall into the trap of wanting something because others have it, or the temptation to indulge in impulse buying. Teach us to be satisfied with simple living.
Early spring-flowering pennywort, Obolaria virginica.
February 18, 2017 Cell Phone and Electronic Device Overuse
Cell phones are now being used by hundreds of millions in all parts of the world. They are becoming fashionable and affordable for large numbers of people -- and are being used to keep in close contact with loved ones. Many people no longer have in-house land phones in developed countries and that phase of communication passed over many of the developing countries. Lower income people in Africa all have such access and regard the device as a "necessity," a needed means of connection with others. Really cell phones are people-friendly and also Earth-friendly having no environmental cost associated with use (not even a string of poles and wires and removal of trees along the routes).
Cell phones have additional benefits; they furnish valuable information at a low price to large numbers of individuals who otherwise would be isolated and without immediate access to phones. Traveling relatives are in contact even at times of emergency with the assurances of safety greatly allaying the fears of people who care about them. Cell phones can be used for scanning the whereabouts of individuals, especially youth who need some sort of accountability. The phones can save travel by asking a more convenient person to fetch a product or run an errand. For persons afraid of certain places, the cell phone becomes a companion because assistance can be readily sought in time of need.
Nothing is perfect and so cell phones also have limitations. They are just small enough to get lost or stolen. Some users act as though they are as busy as the next person and so the habit soon develops of urgent conversation while eating or driving or walking, or just sitting and waiting for an appointment. The distractions and dangers of using cell phones while driving are recognized, and the rise in traffic accidents tell state and city governments that distractions through texting is a major cause of bad driving.
Can the overuse of cell phones lead to compulsive behavior, that is, the need to talk with others at all times, and the diminishment and destruction of silent space and time for reflection? Are not conversations often interrupted by cell phone ringing, and does not an added burden result when cell phone holders regard any message as more urgent than the current conversation? In public places the self-importance and loud voice of the cell phone talker in the next seat become a form of noise pollution that is not easily remedied. Does excessive use cause physical stress and mental damage to constant cell phone users? Although cell phone coverage is increasing, cell phones still cannot be used in certain mountainous areas due to the shadows created by terrain -- and in my ministry I remain a minority that is free of such devices for the present time.
Prayer: Lord, cell phone users remind us of the need to stay connected to you. Give me the courage to continue to treasure silent space ask a way of being continually connected with you.
What Must We Do About Climate Change?
The World is on a suicidal course with regard to climate change. Pope Francis
The urgency strikes each of us with a Trump Administration hell-bent on that suicidal course. Denying that climate change is occurring is culpable; saying others may do something but not me is false humility; becoming distracted by other allurements is totally wrong and yet is a major temptation.
Focus on the issue. If this is the greatest security issue of our world today as Senator Sanders says, then it deserves special attention. When conversation deals with serious global or national problems, constantly return to climate change as THE issue today.
Communicate publicly. Use whatever communications outlets available at this time: phone, email, Facebook, Twitter, letters-to-the-editor, etc. Expand the arena of your concern to include policymakers and national and state legislators. Make them aware that fossil fuels are still favored by governmental practice when renewables need an equal playing field. Speak up. Call Congress.
Petition when you can. Some petitions have made dramatic impact by their wording and numbers assembled. The pipeline battles, especially Keystone XL, will go beyond but still demand a series of petitions to decision makers. The Big Energy folks have taken over the media and attention and must be checked by legal alternatives.
See people face to face. When representatives come for town meetings be there and say something about climate change and efforts required at this time. Present the actual facts about the rapid melting of icecaps, extreme weather conditions, rising oceans and hotter than normal years one after the other. Catastrophic results are not remote possibilities, but face the next generation.
March. General opportunities afford themselves each year at local, regional and national levels such as in DC and regional centers this April 29th. Participate. When one marches it is more than public demonstration; it commits one to the cause and climate change problems are part of this.
Resist. Thousands of individuals committed themselves back in 2015 to stand up against the Keystone XL Pipeline, for when put into effect it would lock the world into the carbon death cycle to such an extent that there would be no recovery. This is a very heavy commitment for many people and should not be taken lightly for economic and social reasons. Reflect and pray before such a commitment. You may have additional creative ways to resist.
See YouTube for additional related videos. Al Fritsch, SJ
Red bellied woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
February 19, 2017 Must It Be an Eye for an Eye?
Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away. (Matthew 5:43)
Challenge: Can we find just ways to structure the economy?
Loving our enemies and doing good to them replaces the natural impulse to show revenge whether to an individual or a nation. The ancient maxim (an eye for an eye...) had its place, and yet is often misinterpreted; this is not license to continue a dog fight, but a restriction on the response of kind: don't break someone's arm because he blackened you eye, whether inadvertently or in a fight. Jesus teaches us to look at things from another level, namely, "Love your enemies." This is really a deepening of the Old Testament command to be holy because God is holy. You shall not bear hatred for your brother, in your heart... You must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18). We hear the refrain from Psalm 103: The Lord is kind and merciful.
Because of our need to be holy and godly, we realize that love extends from local neighbors to more distant people, even our enemies. Where would be the economy of weapon-making or the need for self-defense? A just world order demands correct relationship, that is respect and civility. However, love reaches out to a broad horizon, something beyond a litigious nature of civil relations among competing people. "If you step on my toe I will sue, and I've more money to hire a lawyer than you. The legal prevails."
Jesus calls us to go beyond and widen the world order, to create loving relationships among people. Giving to another more than his or her "due" is really at the heart of his message. In the basic attitude of Jesus we discover the beginnings of a redistribution of global resources from those who want to those who need. Let's concede that those who need have service needs, including proper assessment of basics, finding the ones who can administer these essentials, and enforcement and protection to ensure justice is served.
Today begins Brotherhood-Sisterhood Week, and we are astonished that Jesus tells us not to turn away those who wish to borrow. At the heart of this is a message that we ought to give from the depth of our collective hearts and to question a system that fosters excessive loans as a business (Pay Day lending). That some have much and others must beg or borrow needs to be radically challenged. We must establish a new world order where the Commons is reclaimed, not borrowed with interest by some from the privileged. Jesus gives us no justification for the grand capitalism that oppresses so many of the world's poor. Jesus calls us to a more perfect state, and the challenge is to break from the locked step of this current dysfunctional system through a merciful non-violent revolution. If we truly love the rich, let's liberate them from the oppression of their wealth.
Prayer: Lord, help us to know your teachings and apply them.
Unusual gall on standing dead tree. Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary, Woodford Co. KY.
February 20, 2017 Presidents' Day and the American Way
This President's Day comes after an exhaustive year that involved immense energy expended in choosing Obama's successor to elected office. The position is in constant state of redefinition in an ever changing world. Our forty-four past and still living presidents have commanded great respect both by our American citizens and those in other nations. These were elected by the will of the people through an involved and somewhat antiquated process of the Electoral College, which on occasions has not delivered the person with the most popular votes. Nevertheless, our people honor the designated president with the illustrious position of commander-in-chief of the most powerful military the world has ever seen.
The presidency is one branch of our government as defined by our Constitution, the oldest written one in the world. That Constitution is regarded as the crown jewel of our republic, a bedrock document of our democratic system, even though it was the product of a wealthy and partly slave-holding class over two centuries ago. No one less than Woodrow Wilson reminds us that our government had been "originated and organized upon the initiative of and primarily in the interest of the mercantile and wealthy classes." We respect and have through the years pressed for democratic reforms and broadened the right to vote and hold citizenship. We accept Supreme Court decisions and interpretations even when we do not fully agree.
Over time land, air, and sea transportation and communication networks have bound this country more tightly. Our police system is relatively stable and operative; our education system is open to all people though tuition barriers need reduced; our economy operates smoothly (much of the time); and our research is highly involved. Our understanding of the presidency evolved with time.
Our nation reflects the character and foibles of its own inhabitants; it is not perfect, and honesty demands that we assess the true "state of our nation." The nation started with a festering slave issue that would not be settled until we underwent a bloody Civil War. But we endured this struggle and though racial inequalities did not cease immediately, progress has been made. Our country treated Native Americans in a shameful manner starting with actions within the Revolutionary War -- the only portion of history I have found too frightening to study thoroughly. The minutemen of 1775 stood as models for what is needed today, for we have conduct to change, that is, everything from consumer practices to entertainment, from resource colonization and unilateral police actions to addictive behavior. We need to be vigilant lest we become captive, anaesthetized and docile, and forget our democratic roots. Pray for our president for she needs all that we can give.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to say with gusto, "we the people." Make this a special grace again this year when the burdens of our leader reflect those that weigh on each and every one of us.
With the climate change crisis looming in its fullness, the call to Earthhealing has never been greater. Each of us will attempt to say what we are doing to heal a wounded and fragile Earth through conservation, recycling, community change, gardening, noise abatement, or a variety of "green" practices -- and we search for ways of doing more. The Paris Climate Change Conference a little over a year ago raised the specter of rising oceans and more frequent extreme weather events -- and these continue to happen as predicted. We can do more as individuals and as a collaborating citizenry, and we must responsibly explore them:
Forbid wasteful practices -- Americans still have an outmoded practice of purchasing inefficient vehicles if they can afford them even with new restrictions coming into effect. A simple way to bring about change is to do what is happening with inefficient light bulbs -- simply ban the manufacture and sale of inefficient vehicles or inefficient electric appliances even on a global scale. The practices of wasting food can be highly reduced by more flexibility in sales of dated items and reuse of cooked foods by institutions.
Mandate increased renewable energy contributions -- This requirement could be coupled with mandatory limits on the amount of electricity coming from non-renewable energy sources (coal, petroleum, natural gas) and more subsidies and favorable tax incentives for installing solar and wind energy facilities.
Institute a carbon tax -- Some call for no new taxes and forget that this ploy could do a special harm to the planet since tax sources increase or diminish over time. Taxes can be a good way of redirecting the policy on a regional, national or global level. Carbon taxes would allow the current advantages of fossil fuels to fade and usher in the renewable energy economy.
Promote resource conservation -- A conservation ethic should be taught in schools, in civic organizations and church educational structures. To fail to conserve is to deny that God creates all things good; failing to conserve implies a low regard for people who are seeking the basic elements of life; also it shows disrespect to the needs of future generations who will need some of the resources now being wastefully expended.
Bring on a renewable Energy economy -- All must address the climate change deniers and show that this is a scam to keep fossil fuel companies afloat. Green housing measures should be enacted on all new construction projects for zero fossil fuel expenditure is possible. Potential food materials such as corn should not be turned into biofuels.
Prayer: O Almighty Source of goodness, You established a people to be your very own, to know, love and serve the divine majesty. You gave us all good things and yet we overuse them.
We celebrate Brotherhood and Sisterhood Week; it is a good time for us to review how well we work with others at home, at work, at worship, within the local community, and in larger segments of our world. We know there are many professional groups, programs, conferences, training sessions and websites that are directed to better teamwork. All types of corporations require that employees and managers emphasize cooperation as a key ingredient. The military develops its manner of team performance in all of its training; religious communities have their rules of life; schools stress working in teams in athletic and academic exercises. Even gangs that conduct illegal operations seem to know the value of successful cooperative endeavors.
On George Washington's Birthday we recall the life of our first president (1732-99). He was born one of ten children to a well-to-do planter family at Bridges Creek in Westmoreland County, Virginia. For Washington, leadership through cooperative endeavors became an evolving experience. From the earliest time Washington learned the cooperative practices in plantation work, land surveying, military service, and statesmanship. His most significant cooperative effort was leading an army to bring diverse colonies to form these and finally the United States. The title "father" of our country has true patriotic overtones. Washington's constancy in character was shown both in his Revolutionary War military activities (especially the difficult winters of 1777-80), and in his later service as the nation's first president (1789-97). He knew the prize of working together was a growing sense of individual freedom -- even though he was a slaveholder and a wealthy (maybe the most wealthy) planter. Brotherhood and sisterhood needed further development as the understanding of freedom expanded in the succeeding centuries.
Some of the best examples of the cooperative spirit are organizations termed "cooperatives." These groups require organizing effort on the part of leaders and compromise and consensus on the part of members. Though history is filled with examples of teams, guilds, confraternities, unions, military units and what have you, still the flowering of cooperatives is really of recent vintage. However, the struggle to sustain cooperatives is difficult, and even the best dairy or coffee cooperatives must contend with the competitive economic systems which may deliberately undercut them. In my youth our family was a member of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative; this association brought stability and fairness to many tobacco farm families in the tobacco belt of Kentucky and surrounding states; it was a good example of an agricultural cooperative even though the product grown was basically unhealthy in the manner used. Still a host of more beneficial agricultural cooperatives flourish in our world.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to expand the cooperative spirit in this age when competitive multi-nationals influence the commercial world. Show us that cooperation is a basic family endeavor.
A visit for brisk hike to Keeneland in winter. Fayette Co., KY.
February 23, 2017 Plan Eco-Vacationing near Home
With the increase in attention to climate change and the need to cut luxury travel that uses petroleum for transport fuel, we ought to give serious thought to a basic tour principle: Spend vacations in local travel; make transoceanic trips very rarely, cross-country ones rarely, and local ones far more frequently. Seven points for local focusing include:
1. Choose an accessible place that you have never visited. It does not take all your vacation time travelling to reach a destination when it is not far away -- and worthy of acquaintance. Often people forget that the journey coming and going can be quite tiresome and not an integral part of real vacation enjoyment.
2. Acknowledge the hospitality that can be offered locally as much as in a distant place. Familiarity with culture, language and practices can reduce the tensions rendered by not knowing the place. Let overseas travel be experienced in college academic or specific professional experience, not during short-term vacations.
3. Select a beautiful route with care. No part of our country is far from uniquely beautiful settings; it is a matter of learning about where they are and when the opportunity arises to travel.
4. Think green, for all touring should be ecological in nature. Consider good camping sites or places for reasonable bed-and- breakfast accommodations and mom-and-pop dinners. One needs to remember that all regions are fragile and some more so than others. Choose activities that are termed "green recreation."
5. Support the local economy, a patriotic reason for remaining near home. All too often we hear of benefits to the economies of places we visit; yet the ultimate amount of money going to the locals over and above what goes to airlines, travel agents, hotels, etc. is meager at best. By patronizing local businesses, we can ensure that our money stays in the locality and thus can help improve the local environment.
6. Let personal economy and a lower expenditure be part of the vacation plans. You will not be able to brag about distance places visited, but you can give saved funds to local charities -- and be proud of doing so. Yes, from a personal standpoint the charity can enhance the pleasant memories of this vacation period.
7. Realize that less stress is placed on the leader of the vacation party and on all participants, if travel is reduced and thus there is less need to contend with luggage, airport screening and parking pressures. We often forget that the purpose of vacation is to lessen stress. For further suggestions see our Ecotourism in Appalachia: Marketing the Mountains.
Prayer: Help us, Lord, to choose our vacation while being mindful of others, even our planet Earth.
Sycamore roots dip into edge of frozen pond.
February 24, 2017 Explore Our Local Historic Roots
We might think that fairy tales and past legends are always found in a distant time and place. Time differences do add to the mystery and attraction, but such legends may be situated quite close to home. By delving we may discover local tales of woe.
When I read Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad by Ann Hagedorn, I suddenly discovered that the book contained modifications of legends I had grown up with. In our county where Uncle Tom's Cabin was written and the slave Eliza escaped with her child on Ohio River ice, fiction came close to reality. Hagedorn presents the raw reality of the escape of slaves on the Underground Railroad with a terminus across the river at Ripley, Ohio. Black people sought freedom and were not always a happy lot. She mentioned Charleston Bottoms where our scout troop camped and the North Fork of the Licking River where we caught fish as youngsters. The story was told of two horrible incarcerations at the Washington jail over the ridge from my home. The surnames are familiar names, but history touched our neighbors.
The mix of real history and folklore and legends always needs to be unsorted by us in time. Add to this the multitude of overlapping regional legends: the many haunted houses of our area, some of which are known as sites of murders; the graveyards now overgrown and forsaken; the Native American encampments and settlements; the mounds a few miles away constructed by some pre-Indian inhabitants; the campgrounds in the Civil War and their buried treasures; the early flatboats converted into log cabins; the antebellum homes with their hideaways and hidden closets; and the abandoned roads on which white settlers came by covered wagon and livestock was driven to market. Local history and folklore abound but how much of it is true and how much embellished?
We grew up regarding Native Americans as residing far away and forgetting that they were fighting here for their homelands. We considered slaves as people who were properly treated and loved as part of an economic family, but were they? We forgot that the tobacco we grew would become the substance abused through smoking and coughing addicted individuals. Being story-telling folks we could spin a tale before a body grew cold. There is generally a purpose and goal in fortifying our local tales and legends.
One wishes to be an authority on neighbors and events and embellish facts with stories much like legends of saints cropping up throughout Christianity. We treasure legends and make them teaching tools to convey respect for people and places, even imperfect people and tarnished places. Life journeys become part of our collective blessings and burdens; they make us humble. To forget would be a disaster; to warp would be improper; to retell in an interesting manner is a challenge; to be honest is hard.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to tell tales with a high degree
of enthusiasm and accuracy and with a balance to both.
In February when trees are still bare and it is not snowing, the sound carries across the icy countryside. Natural and human- induced sounds define our sense of place. Certainly no one wants complete silence for that becomes its own burden. To be able to hear the natural sounds whether of a gurgling creek or the returning birds requires that we tone down the human-generated noises that compete with these more desirable sounds. How can we forget and avoid our noise-making devices: car horns, boom boxes that seem to set the streets to vibrating, sirens, whistles, squealing tires, lawnmowers coming too soon, jackhammers, power saws, motorized recreational vehicles -- and compulsive talkers on the cell phones. Noise-making volume abounds; studies show rising noise levels in many urban and rural areas with each succeeding year. There are limits to what most of us can take, and so many citizens rightly say, "Enough!"
However, we do have an ace up the sleeve; we can regain and create quiet space. Detecting equipment exists in the form of noise meters that can indicate where and when noise originates and how strong is its volume in given places. We need not become virtual prisoners in the noisy world with its ubiquitous discordant sounds, for as citizens we can defend the commons of silent space. First, we work to contain or limit the noise to certain playgrounds and areas and to certain times of the day. We can help create quiet zones near senior citizen places, libraries and hospitals. School, hospital and library administrators along with the silent majority become ready allies in a silence crusade. The general public has many potential champions of silent space who speak up for creating zones and times, see signs are installed and ordinances enforced.
If noise pollution persists and we have exhausted legal and citizen recourse, consider creating quiet zones within your home (rooms with sound proofing), yards (vegetative sound barriers can be effective) and community sound barriers near busy highways. Rugs and fabric wall hangings and drapes all reduce noise levels and provide vast returns for a modest investment. Turn down the volume and create domestic quiet times. Help build noise-free zones similar to smoke-free ones, hoping the awareness of the benefits will spread. Of course, kids will be kids, but part of overall education is to learn when to be silent and to concentrate on homework. We recall that adults and youngsters alike hesitate to complain about noise, when their peers regard loud sounds as part of the culture and a sign of macho fulfillment. However, we should encourage everyone to become more sensitive to noise, introduce waterfalls for soothing sounds, and carry out noise abatement science fair projects.
Prayers: Lord, teach us to seek quiet space where we can pray, to be patient in working with noisemakers, and to find the compromises in life that allows times for sound and time for silence -- and to extend our concerns to wildlife as well.
Silence: The Wrong Approach to Climate Change
Speak out: Church leaders! Concerned citizens! Progressives! Conservatives! It is in an extraordinary situation that we find ourselves -- a deliberate effort by the privileged few to prolong the profit-making of fossil fuels and endanger the Earth herself. This is what Pope Francis calls the suicidal act of allowing climate change to occur. Don't deny, excuse or escape: silence at this time is culpable, partisan, and a sign of indifference. It includes a momentary triumph of fossil fuel interests in a U.S.: Secretary of State, EPA director and others who are in Big Oil clutches and promote a new federal policy denying climate change.
Doing nothing is not a viable option; it is morally wrong, for it presumes either indifference to the seriousness of the situation or submitting to intimidation by a bully in the White House (with threatened loss of tax exemption or possible exposure to some form of harassment). Yes, elected officials are not "candidates" under the Johnson Amendment, which restrains scrupulous non-profit groups from political activity. Incidentally, this has not curbed a large number of Right to Lifers from speaking out on abortion issues. The most fundamental right to life issue is climate change; with no viable planet, there's no viable fetuses or people.
The call to speak out is never clearer than today. Converse, petition, lobby, confront officials, write, march; refute reasons given by climate change deniers who are highly concentrated in our country and among certain Republican groups. The Church must speak out as well as all others. Silence will later be regretted, if our government undercuts the global efforts to promote the December, 2015 Paris Conference. The window of opportunity is closing when the U.S. as key energy user must assume a pivotal role in bringing on a renewable energy economy. Expose the perverse goal of climate-change deniers to prolong fossil fuel profits as did the same so-called "Big Tobacco experts," who generated doubts on smoking health effects; they reaped great profits for three additional decades. Energy pollution effects are far more severe.
Responsibility requires us to act publicly as concerned citizens. To fail to speak in these perilous times is foisted by those controlling the finances of this land (the upper one percent), who expect silence as a condition for continuing their own privileged support. Yes, silence is golden, if the gold is held by the few demanding no opposition from the cowed public.
Our silence is intolerable, both by those who are more expected to speak out such as leaders and employers AND by those who are ordered or expected to keep silent. Granted, the risk to go public is immense; to those in authority, the attempt to silence others on this issue is sinful; to underlings, the continuation of silence is likewise sinful, for as concerned citizens we cannot allow this situation to severely damage our troubled planet. The Lord may ever so soon say to each of us: "You remained silent when you were bound to speak for your brothers and sisters."
Yound red cedar seedling on forest floor. Powell Co., KY.
February 26, 2017 Do Not Worry about Tomorrow
Look at the birds in the sky. (Matthew 6:25)
Challenge: Are we attentive to Jesus inviting us to see other creatures as our teachers?
Our attitudes towards other creatures are quite varied. We can act as overlords, masters, stewards or exploiters; or we can find a more humble stance within the arena of all being. Jesus teaches us to serve and to be attentive.
Trust. Before our Creator we are like trusting children. We are at the mercy of God, but so are birds and other creatures. The basic message in Luke's Gospel passage quoted above is a trust in God who watches over us always and gives us the confidence to continue on our journey of faith. Birds do not sow or reap. While we human beings strive to be sedentary enough to sow and reap, we must see such actions are not the entirety of life. God takes care of us to the degree that we all ought to share and find sufficient resources -- provided some do not take what belongs to others. Trust in God inspires us to regard the protective cloak of providence as an environment in which good may occur. Become the providence of God to others, and be energized by the Bread of Life.
Freedom. There is something freeing in doing what Jesus tells us here, for by looking at the birds we see something that points to our relationship with God, a relationship of mutual giving and receiving. To be free from sin and before God we find a fullness of life to move from place to place in our journey of faith. The barriers can be overcome, and we alight at new places. These winged creatures that are all about are the constant reminders that God is all present, and God freely sees and works with us. Birds build nests but after a period of bearing young they move on and on. They seem to have the freedom of the hunter/gatherer and yet are willing to sit on a nest to hatch young and then to patiently teach the nestlings to fly. Be free and teach others to also venture out and exercise their new-found freedom.
Joy. Perhaps nothing is more heartening than bird songs when we are sluggish, distracted or dispirited. Suddenly everything lightens up and the shadows of gloom vanish, for God gives us the voice of creatures that sing before our eyes and ears. Joy creeps into the gloom and makes us aware that we are meant for eternal joy even amid the ups and downs of our arduous faith journey. Amazingly, impending storms are coming and still the song of birds uplifts us. Remain cheerful is the lesson, and do this in a public way so others can see and hear and find joy as well.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to love the birds all around us, and to see them as meant to teach us the qualities that God gave them. Help us to protect birds so they will continue to teach us all --for what would a birdless Earth be like?
A variety of birds sharing at winter feeder.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
February 27, 2017 Think Before You Drink
This Mardi Gras period is a good opportunity to reflect on our drinking habits, from water and both hard and soft drinks. Informed decisions are highly important in drinking habits because our body consists of a surprisingly high percent of water and is quite sensitive to liquid intake -- and can be easily dehydrated. Is our water pure and free of all contaminants? What about other beverages that add unneeded calories to our body weight? Some drinks have good and bad aspects: many people promote nutritious milk and milk drinks, (though some people have lactose intolerance); fruit juices are beneficial (but these can also have extra calories); herbal and non-caffeinated teas are healthy (though many prefer caffeinated drinks); and others choose bottled imported water (what a resource waste in transportation?).
Hard drinks are a problem area because some seem to be susceptible to alcoholism and find it hard to control drinking habits. Many, and especially pregnant women, ought to abstain. In the past the lumping of all alcoholic beverages into a single category was too simplistic, for the age old (and biblical) red wine with its merits should not be lumped with all hard drinks of high alcoholic content. Moderation is the order of the day and excess can be quite disturbing to daily performance of duties and overall health. The harder the drink, the greater the caution.
The ubiquitous soft drink makes us ask, "How often do I quench my thirst with a soft drink?" Is the water fountain difficult to find? Or does the fast food restaurant expect the customer to choose a soft drink? Is it customary to hear the refrigerator doors slam and then the hiss of the escaping carbonation? Calories mount unless we choose the distasteful diet concoctions (with their own heath problems) or bottled water. A major portion of our one hundred pounds plus of sugar per-person-per-year is in soft drinks -- great money-makers for bottlers and fast food places, but how much is this resulting in overweight clientele? Why are the Coca Cola/Pepsi commercial wars directed at cash-strapped schools? While milk consumption among youth has plummeted, soft drinks have doubled in consumption. Road sides are inundated with soft drink bottles and cans, causing neighborhood visual pollution. More resources go into making the beverage container than the contents. The number of soft drink containers produced is staggering, and only about half of the billions are recycled. Soft drinks are not foods and should not be a food stamp choice -- even though soft drinks producers disagree.
Better drink choices are worthy of consideration. The habit of carrying around a water bottle is a good thing and certainly pure safe water needs to be promoted. Refill from the tap. Bottled water is competing with soft drinks for shelf space, but the containers are becoming a resource and environmental problem.
Prayer: Christ, Living Water, teach us to choose good things to drink so that our bodies remain healthy and of greater service.
Lenten rose, hellebore, blooming in late February.
February 28, 2017 Start Lent on a Spiritual Note
New beginnings are always part of our lives. Lent can be a season of new beginning as we prepare for the spring that is soon coming. This is Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) when, in the past, animal fats were consumed in good culinary treats before the fasting season began. Now the call is more refined and means getting rid of wasteful distractions and allurements so that the season is one of coming closer to God. Suggestions include:
Rise with enough time to start the day well. Give yourself plenty of time for the preliminary exercises of the day.
Start with a prayer or meditation. Thank God for living through the night and ask for the strength to carry out the things ahead. Often the Scriptural readings of this day or of the weekend ahead can be the starting point for a meditation. This selection gives us a focus and prepares a spiritual climate in which we discover more about our own faith journey.
Lay out daily plans. Part of prayer could be planning for the day ahead. It may help to jot down a general set of major happenings expected in a day book and ask God for the strength to carry them through. Often the change called for in Lent is to lay out the daily plans the night before.
Reduce food intake but ingest something for the stomach. Absolute fasting may be what you intend, but one hopes you are not planning to do work on an empty stomach, for that may handicap what you intend to accomplish -- a very important consideration. If fasting, at least take some liquid. This suggestion is based on the Catholic Christian concept of fasting, which calls for a reduced amount of food for two of the day's meals, but not to judge those who choose a more rigid regime. Note: I usually eat my larger meals early and the lightest later in the evening and so the timing is important for many of us.
Change the routine slightly. Lent is a time when we prove that we are not a slave to the routine. It may mean more sleep or a mandatory rest period during the day that allows for the needed energy and stamina to complete the day well.
Exercise during the day. All of us need the physical exercise that it takes to remain alert. This may mean some walking to office, work or school or an outdoor or indoor physical routine early in the morning to sharpen our senses and tune our bodies.
Recap at eveningtide. This is a chance to close off the day with a review of what was achieved and thankfulness to God.
Prayer: Lord, give me a grip on our time schedule as spring approaches. I realize that time is short and is really getting shorter with each passing year, so help me to improve my use of that time. Allow me to see Lent as a spiritual opportunity.