January 1, 2007 Start the Year Anew
Our Earthhealing Program is a systems approach to resource
use. That is what it has been for the past twenty-five years
(since its beginning in the summer of 1982). We have pursued this
goal: through the
Environmental Resource Assessment Service (over
200 environmental resource assessments in 33 states and provinces
of Canada); through the "Earthhealing" television interviews of
people who are making a difference in saving our wounded Earth
(five years of shows); and through our more recent Internet
informational service that is now receiving about 140,000 visits a
month. In all three of these areas along with books on accumulated
environmental topics, we have strived to look at the environment
from a more systematic approach. We do not dwell solely on the
tragedy of environmental damage or on pure remedial (legal or
technical) solutions, but strive for a broader healing approach.
The word "ecology" comes from ecos or home. Thus we regard
the comfortable and higher quality home to be the basic template of
our healing work. This is the reason that subjects vary beyond
traditional ecological subjects and include culinary arts, home
improvement, yard management, gardening, wilderness management,
personal wellness programs, communication arts as related to
healing Earth, resource and personal planning, eco-spiritual
subjects, models and public interest groups to imitate, homilies
for special feasts, and peace and broader based social justice
issues. What begins to emerge after these "daily reflections" is
that a broader approach is better suited to healing Earth than is
specific medicines and prescriptions -- though they have a place.
Of all the insights that have emerged during the past year,
the biggest is that the Internet is the easiest and lowest-cost way
to spread the word. It requires no studios, offices or printing
shops, and the turn over from assembling to delivering information
is rapid. Provided the Internet is not saddled with privatization
of the system and limitations on times of accessibility, this
medium offers a means where the poor can voice their views over and
beyond prevailing bureaucratic structures. In essence, the
Internet becomes a means of liberation much like our free highway
system (although a number of these toll roads are being privatized
to foreign companies). The Internet is a technological
opportunity much like the highways of ancient Rome at the time of
the rise and rapid spread of Christianity. Using this medium well
requires vigilance and constant care lest it be misused or coopted.
All of us are uncertain about the future to some degree and so
we all enter 2007 with a certain trepidation mixed with hope.
Nothing is certain except death and taxes and we don't know the
exact time of the first nor the exact amount of the second. Even
the gift of Internet accessibility has a degree of uncertainty but
that should only make us all the more watchful and not complacent
at the start of a new year -- and we can approach this condition in
a light-hearted way. Again, think about what we poor folks can do
with this access to the world through the Internet.
January 2, 2007 Tithing Time for Planning
The emphasis here at the beginning of the year is not on a
how-to list for special planning spheres such as travel and
gardening (treated elsewhere), but on setting aside time just to
plan. This becomes more of a January resolution than a January
activity but this month is certainly suited to more planning than
usual. Being shut in for a spell will make this all the more so.
I am not a person who strongly advocates tithing money, since so
many of the well off folks should give far more than ten percent to
charitable and worthy causes. But our time is limited, and so to
tithe time for planning how to use time well seems a good
How much? Maybe some overplan for particular occasions.
Fewer overplan than underplan. The Lord speaks about those who
underplan, and the army is lost in battle or the house destroyed
through lack of proper siting. Somewhere between the rare
overplanning and the far more frequent underplanning is the happy
medium. That is why "tithing" time approaches godliness. If we
give time to plan, we profess the value of the time remaining for
us to complete the journey of life. God is the ultimate giver of
our time, but we are its stewards today.
When? A block of time set aside for planning is good whether
that be at the beginning or end of the day, week, or month or all
of the above. January is certainly a good time to plan for a
garden and purchase of seeds, if those plans do not hem one in too
rigidly once the planting year commences. It is also a good time
to assess our resources as to what can be done this year. We may
need to join forces with others since we cannot do it all
ourselves. We need to see that frequent small increments of
planning are as important as major assignments of time -- and so
continual planning and readjustments are necessary. Don't start a
day with "now what will I do today?" Certainly there must be some
schedule somewhere for activities -- even though true free time can
be set aside and planned in as well.
Where? Some planning is done best with others in a group
setting and thus the customary or reserved place becomes important.
Maybe the best planning is before falling asleep or just after
waking up. For some the computer can assist in planning. But a
certain flexibility for allotting planning to places where we find
ourselves with unplanned "free" time is advisable. We can plan,
for example, when awaiting a doctor's appointment, penned in by a
storm at home or at an airport, or after a meeting that was shorter
than scheduled. Always carry the planning pencil and paper for
just such occasions.
One additional aspect of planning is giving time to
considering whether past plans were successful. If they were not,
was (were) the planner(s) partly at fault and how? This evaluation
process can be planned into the tithed time. Often the end of a
project is perfect for reviewing what has gone right or wrong.
January 3, 2007 Human Rights and Tibet's Freedom
A healthy Earth means that nations are allowed to exist and
express their cultural traditions in an atmosphere of freedom.
This the Buddhist New Year is a perfect time to promote the cause
of an independent Tibet. Prior to the last century Tibet existed
for thousands of years as a separate culture. The current policy
of Tibetan cultural and national repression by the Chinese must be
denounced for it appears destined to destroy Tibet as it existed a
Today, China seeks to be accepted in the world community with
its drive to become a commercial power in the world and to host the
Olympics in 2008. However, China's rise includes a push to exploit
global resources to fill its many expanding industrial needs.
Sparsely settled territories next to its land teeming with 1.3
billion people is awfully tempting whether that be Siberia or Tibet
each with about seven million people. Since the latter is within
the boundaries of greater China, many eyes are turned in that
direction. China recently opened a first rail link to Tibet and
this is now bringing in a flood of immigrants who are changing the
face of the capital and surrounding regions. Given time and a
systematic educational program, the young of that land will take on
Chinese ways, culture and aspirations -- and Tibetan culture will
continue to be overwhelmed or diluted by sheer numbers of new
A deliberate effort is being made by the Beijing Communist
leadership to undermine the moral authority of the Dali Lama. This
man is aging, has lived in exile for decades and is not allowed to
return to his own land without becoming a prisoner of conscience.
All the while, human rights advocates from throughout the world
recognize him as leader of his people and a major moral and
religious force; he has been the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize
and medals such as the Congressional Gold Medal. He preaches non-
violence and restraint and speaks of peace even amid violence and
the repression of his beloved Tibetan people.
The International Campaign for Tibet (ICE) along with other
human rights advocacy groups, seeks to keep the spirit of freedom
burning among the oppressed Tibetan people. And with rapid
economic development by the Chinese government, it seems that time
is running out. With current accelerated rates of "development,"
the stamp of old Tibet grows dimmer with the years. We can expect
that the ICE and other groups will continue to campaign for Tibetan
freedom and recognition as an independent state. The time is
right. Thus all of us believers in the right of religious and
cultural freedom should support the various Tibetan advocacy groups
who champion the freedom of Tibetan people. And this demand should
also extend to the other oppressed people in China proper including
various Christian groups who are not allowed full freedom to
practice their religion.
Contact: International Campaign for Tibet <www.savetibet.org>
January 4, 2007 Useless Things
In this consumer goods-laden culture, one occasionally finds
things that are so worthless that they seem suitable for being
pushed off on the poor and undiscerning folks. Do you have such
items and are you tempted to donate them to a worthy cause? If so,
let's be honest and ask whether the "Golden Rule" applies -- would
I honestly want someone to push this item off on me? I recall
going into a home of a person in northern California and seeing a
familiar object in a decorative place in the living room -- "a corn
sheller!" The hostess said I was the first ever to identify that
item which we used so often in my youth to shell corn for the
chickens. And we feel old when the implements used on the farm are
now found -- and sometimes misidentified -- in museums. Time flies!
Some categorize "prepared foods" as a primary form of useless
items. That is because they are expensively wrapped and
apportioned, filled with chemical preservatives, and bland in
taste. Such foods can perhaps be called useless, but some non-
edibles certainly fill the bill: electric pencil sharpeners, can
openers, and leaf blowers -- though they could be useful to a very
few. Certain forms of exercising devices come high on the list
when mere outdoor walking or running could prove so much more
beneficial. I find a host of gadgets and wall ornaments, of
knickknacks and souvenirs, of games and articles of clothing to be
added. But some may object that they are not useless for they
become a "good gift" for someone who will remain puzzled about
Creativity calls for inventing uses for the useless. I know
people who plaster their work space walls with useless car licenses
or electioneering signs or advertisements from times past.
They make the now useless into a "collectible" and thus of some new
worth. Some economy-wise homesteaders flatten metal cans and use
them for weatherboarding. Wood scraps and slabs have hundreds of
uses; some waste materials can become biofuels.
The worst aspect of retaining useless articles is that it
reinforces a miserly mentality that makes people feel more secure
because they are surrounded by items they cannot throw away or
recycle -- and thus the hoarders and junk squirrels (forgive
demeaning those varmints who store edibles for the winter) become
a model for other budding materialists to imitate. Retention of
useless things is a message to the world that the one who holds on
does not have a sense of proper discernment about what is valuable.
The conclusion of the traditional holiday season is the
perfect time to consider your own "useless" items, to resolve to
stop their proliferation, and to realize that they take up space.
But have an open mind. What appears useless to me may be of use at
least as a decoration to others. In the back of our mind is the
embarrassing possibility that the giver may ask at some unforeseen
time how well you liked a useless gift. "I gave it to Jim who
really wanted it for his room." That would be the nicest solution.
January 5, 2007 Earthhealing and Personal Health
Some people make a sharp distinction between environmental and
medical issues -- but should they? Here are some reasons for
convergence of the health and environmental communities:
* Environmental degradation not only affects the health of
plant and animal eco-systems leading to their damage and demise,
but it also affects human communities and individuals. Destruction
of land through erosion and strip mining breaks the spirit of
neighboring rural communities; air emissions and water
contamination lead to harmful and deadly illnesses and diseases
that shorten the lives of countless people throughout the world.
* Earthhealing is a type of caregiving. Doctors, nurses and
other caregivers develop a refined sense of kindness, compassion,
and enthusiasm -- the very characteristics that have been spelled
out as necessary for Earthhealers (see Eco-Spirituality through the
Seasons, on this website and especially July and August issues).
* Hospitals give improved services if green (environmental
awareness). There is a growing understanding that a variety of
environmental improvements can assist in the healing of sick people
in medical institutions, e.g., noise reduction in corridors and
rooms, green roofing, decorative plants in lobbies and waiting
rooms, and certain recycling procedures (Green Hospitals 11-4-06).
* Caregiving of all types improves the quality of life of
individual people, thus allowing sick people to become more
appreciative of the quality of their environment. They become more
conscious that healing is a holistic physical, moral and
psychological interactive result. In the same way, participation
in Earthhealing leads to a deeper appreciation of genuine wellness
programs such as healthy nutrition, organic foods, pure water, and
need for physical exercise. Wellness programs and environmental
awareness go hand-in-hand.
* Saving the Earth is a necessity for life and health. The
quality of life will decline dramatically if global warming is not
addressed in the next few years. Long-term health for future
generations depends on environmental practices that must be
implemented today. The health of our oceans and forests is a long-
term investment and is directly related to the future health of our
human descendants -- and their health is related to the health of
the physical environment.
* Certain practices within some so-called "environmental"
programs, such as straw bale housing in humid zones and the
proliferation of bio-fuels into cropland production, can produce
somewhat hidden detrimental health and nutritional effects, which
must be brought to the public's attention. These borderline
environmental areas require additional research and discussion and
thus the cooperation of the health and environmental communities.
Early winter, patterns in ice. Franklin County, Kentucky.
(Photo: Janet Powell)
January 6, 2006 Green Gift-Wrapping
Much paper is used in wrapping gifts and yet wrappings are
torn open and discarded in the blink of the eye. The pile is
heaped up and trashed with little thought to the care that went
into all aspects of the wrapping.
Some suggestions are made here so that less paper is wasted in
* When removing the wrapping do so in such a manner that the
material, along with bows and ribbons, can be reused;
* Consider using brown paper with some artistic flare;
* Newspaper and other printed materials can be artistically
used as wrapping material so as to make a presentable gift. This
shows that you do not want to waste precious paper resources;
* Use recycled envelops that have some artistic work presented
in an interesting manner.
* For wrapping use kitchen and other clothes that can be
reused at the proper time and place.
My niece, Christine Fritsch, has a highly successful book
entitled Gifted Wrapping, which can be obtained on <amazon.com>
She has many other ideas on how the giver can present a gift from
one who cares to the recipient and do it tastefully.
January 7, 2007 Epiphany from a New Perspective
Over the years we look upon "little Christmas" as something
for the little ones. We see parents taking kids up to the manger
and showing them that the statues now have been rearranged; the
camels and Magi have replaced shepherds and sheep in presenting
gifts to the infant Jesus. But this makes us pause. Isn't
Epiphany meant for adults as well as for kids and where do we fit
in this wonderful picture? Do the youth have something to teach
us? Children approach the manger in three ways: recognition of
the mystery before them; adoration and wonder at the infant Jesus;
and bringing whoever we are to the altar of the Lord.
Recognition. We all are caught up in the business of living,
and we look ahead with many plans for this year. The business of
living seems so demanding, so focused, so practical. We do not
have time to be children and play games of coming to the manger.
Or do we? The recognition at the end of the Christmas season is
that the journey to the stable is not meant only for the local
shepherds, a rather lowly class of people. The message is meant
for all and that includes the more wise and intelligent. Christ
has not come just for the local scene; Christ has come for the
world, and the "wise" men of the East figure this out with the
arising of an unexplained bright star that leads them to the stable
and the humble family lodged within.
Adoration. The act of thanking God, of petitioning and even
of asking for forgiveness must be accompanied by that fourth area
of prayer -- praise. We are profuse in praising the good of
achieving youth, of the merited reward of years of service by a
retiree, or of the one who wins a hard-fought election. Are we so
full of praise that we see the Lord's presence and praise God for
appearing among us? Acknowledging the goodness and generosity of
God's coming is a form of praise. As we become more proficient in
praising God, we see the greatness of all creation -- and thus
God's handiwork is all the more praiseworthy.
Gift giving. We have exhausted ourselves during this
Christmas season thinking of who deserves gifts, what to give them,
and how to deliver packages. Gift-giving is a major component of
this season, and yet we forget the greatest gift we can give, a
more valuable gift than gold, frankincense and myrrh. Creative
writers through the ages have most likely waxed eloquent on what
the three gifts mentioned in Matthew's Gospel really symbolize, but
let us not get too caught up in symbolism. They were precious, not
necessarily bulky (depending on the amount of gold), gifts that
were brought from a long distance by camel power. What we bring of
ourselves as gift is the weight of ourselves and nothing more; we
offer our talents and our lives and yet these are the most precious
things we can offer. They are ourselves and, however we are, they
are most dear to us. Most likely some of us will not be here next
Epiphany or for an Epiphany a decade from now. Our precious mortal
lives are all we have and yet the gift is most pleasing. How do we
give our lives this year to the Lord for the good of others?
January 8, 2007 Protecting Endangered Areas
On Aldo Leopold's birthday (born 120 years ago today) we
should give some thought to resource conservation, which was a
major part of his life. He is regarded as the father of wildlife
ecology and Wisconsin's premier environmentalist. We need to heed
Aldo's concerns about conserving our land. While previous essays
focused on protecting rivers, streams and wildlife, still the land
itself in its current state is in need of protection.
A critical area needing land protection is the Amazon Basin,
the lungs of our Earth. During the past decade, an area of that
vast basin the size of France has been clearcut and turned into
rangeland, cropland and other non-forested uses. However, all is
not lost; we have just heard that a major part of the Amazon
rainforest (the size of England) is now to be included in a
protected area that will keep out those who ravage the land for
timber and other non-renewable resources. The local native
communities have room to continue obtaining fruit, nuts, rubber and
other renewable resources at their own pace, now that loggers and
ranchers are excluded. Brazil's environmental managers have become
more sophisticated and with sufficient resources and police are
able to manage this immense rainforest area.
The bluegrass region of Kentucky is also in need of
protection. Rich farmland here in Kentucky and especially in the
more urbanized central areas is under severe stress by pressure
from developers who are bent on turning green pastures into strip
malls and housing subdivisions. Here again conservation of land
must be regarded as a key to saving the beauty of the landscape and
the quality of life of the community. But unlike the forested
Amazon, here the cleared land itself is under threat. With
increasing prices for farmland, the temptation is great to give up
farming and sell. And with inflated land prices, the limited
amount of money in conservation easement funds (that deny
development) can help only certain choice areas. Merely buying
land to keep out development seems a losing cause because only
certain tracts will be able to be conserved. The answer is better
land use regulations. Zoning requirements are weak in many parts
of our country and subject to change from both inside and outside
To save the land demands a vigilance that has not yet surfaced
in certain parts of our country and world. The past notion that
land is a private matter and each can decide on how it can be used
has led to some of the scattered and piecemeal development that
breaks the landscape and destroys the will of a native community to
continue its past practices. Indian ways are regarded as
primitive. Farmers and their methods are soon looked down upon by
urban neighbors in new developments, and pressure is applied to
abandon farming in favor of urban tracts. The process seems
relentless and more and more of our prime forestland and farmland
is now being developed. A revived Aldo Leopold ethic is
imperative, not only in America but throughout the world.
2007 Kidney Gift or Bazaar
Trade in body parts can take on various degrees of
acceptability, especially when realizing how much human beings
suffer from lack of a kidney or eyesight.
The question of generosity. Virtually everyone will agree
that once the body part has been obtained, the surgery to implant
the needed organ is not very dangerous and hardly ever life-
threatening. The person who generously offers one of his or her
kidneys when another is in need is giving one of the most generous
gifts imaginable. How much more could one do for another -- and
sometimes the donation is to a person one does not even know? The
donor is convinced that it is important to share, and only one good
kidney is necessary for an average life. The same could also be
said for donating one's eye, especially for a blind relative. The
donation of the organs of a person after a tragic accident by the
closest of kin is second only to the gift given by a living donor.
Such giving is highly encouraged for so many organ recipients wait
in line today. Donating individuals and families often establish
a bond with the recipient, since the donation is seen as saving a
life after someone else has had a tragic accident.
The question of convicts. In China and other lands where the
death penalty is popular, some see the place of execution as an
opportunity to harvest healthy organs. It sounds and is somewhat
gross and one wonders whether a theme for a fiction novel would be
a prison operator who expands the execution rate so as to sell tens
of thousands of dollars worth of body parts. The subject is
repulsive but is it beyond the pale of credibility? The mere
possibility gives us pause in finding more reasons for opposing the
death penalty and thus a lucrative source of organs.
The question of commerce. The gifts are one thing, the
extraction of the condemned convict's body parts is another. And
still another is the sale of kidneys. In Pakistan, a kidney is
reported to net the donor $2,500, sometimes half that amount, and
sometimes up to five times that amount. Much depends on the
proximity and condition of the potential market at a given time. In
our country the donating of kidneys for cash is banned and it is
rightly so in many other countries. But in most of these lands the
shortage of kidneys is acute and some will die after remaining on
the waiting list for years. Surprisingly, the International
Society of Nephrology has proposed expanding the pool of kidneys by
legalizing payment of about $40,000 to donors. Different
governments see the situation in different ways. Even in lenient
Pakistan there is rising concern about the condition of the poor
donors; these are not monitored after donating the organ although
some have had some serious side-effects due to the kidney removal.
We get somewhat nervous about the possibility of donation for
money in a world where the giving of one kidney for a larger sum of
money seems quite enticing. Whatever the international outcome,
let's hope more is done through generosity rather than commerce.
January 10, 2007 Preserving Heritage Sites in Iraq
Iraq has been blessed in being the cradle of civilization and
in the past its museums and archeological sites have been preserved
in a careful manner. But that record is being blemished today.
Some of the Iraqis entrusted with threatened artifacts have
actually hidden them away so they will not be destroyed or stolen,
and hope to bring them out if things calm down in a few years.
Recently one of the major native experts on antiquities had to flee
for his life from the environs of Baghdad and added another
sorrowful tale in that ever-suffering land. He told how many of
the ancient Iraqi sites are no longer protected, as people strive
to achieve more basic needs. He said that sites are being looted
due to lack of proper security guards, that collected antiques are
no longer preserved, that military bases are now situated near
ancient Babylon and Samarra, and that military bulldozers are
thoroughly disrupting the foundations of many Mesopotamian cultural
sites in the Tigris/Euphrates River Basin.
With the gruesome effects of Iraqi civil war so vivid to all
of us, we forget the importance of preserving these sites and
collections of antiquities. Curators have shown immense heroism in
storing away and locking down collected ancient artifacts for a
better day. The effects of poverty and the need for basics make it
all the more tempting to steal and sell some of these priceless
items on the black market. And then we ask ourselves what more can
be done? Certainly tracing these stolen goods and recovering them
is a high priority, but what is that when people do not have the
staples of life? We reject an argument that people come and go
while these items can never be reduplicated; such talk overlooks
the uniqueness of the individuals whose lives are threatened.
However a conservation ethic encourages the following:
* Seek to get all sectarian factions to respect Iraq's ancient
heritage and keep military operations away from historic zones.
That's easier said than done.
* If knowledgeable antiquities personnel could be allowed to
be imbedded in the military ranks, things might be better -- at
least to some small degree. But with the problems now facing Iraq,
is this even feasible? Cordoning off valuable cultural sites may
simply make them all the more tempting to thieves while the
situation is so desperate.
* Slip funds to those who remain to seal off the antiquities
in the hope of better times in the future. Some of the more
prudent curators have and are doing this in a quiet way and hope
that what is being done will be saved for the human treasury.
Getting them funds to stay in the country and continue these heroic
efforts is of the greatest importance.
* Alert the world to the possible black marketing of Iraqi
January 11, 2007 Jimmy Carter's New Book
Jimmy Carter has dared to do what other American politicians
have neglected: namely stating that in the United States the
Israeli government's decisions are rarely questioned. In a book
that has recently been published, Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid
(Simon & Schuster), Carter establishes his own familiarity with the
Middle East region and discusses his own efforts at peacemaking
while president a quarter of a century ago. In essence, Carter is
convinced that there is no debate in the Congress or the
administration that is equivalent to that carried on within Israel
itself and throughout Europe on the Palestine peace process. He
also faults the American news medium for its near total silence on
the Israeli practices of occupation, confiscation, and colonization
of Palestinian land.
While Carter does not like to use the term "Israel Lobby," he
does admit that this is stronger and more effective today than it
was in the 1970s when he was in office. He emphasizes that he
strived during his presidency for Israeli political and military
withdrawal from the occupied territories, a fact that has certainly
not yet been achieved. In fact, in the intervening years, that
occupation has taken on a more permanent aspect in the West Bank
areas -- even though Gaza withdrawal has occurred. Carter credits
George W.H. Bush for withholding funds from Israel, something he
never did and something that is certainly not being done today
during the GWB reign. In fact, Carter is critical of both parties,
including Democratic congresspeople who he says are also
universally silent as far as criticism of Israeli governmental
Although Jimmy Carter is an evangelical Christian, he does not
spare those of the right wing "left behind" theories, which he
calls completely erroneous. This group supports the Israeli
occupation of the West Bank and has brought its influence to bear
on the current administration. Carter deplores the current
destruction of the dwindling Arab Christian communities under
present circumstances. He says he has always supported the
existence of Israel, but he says there will be no peace until the
Israelis are willing to live within their own borders. He adds
that United Nations Resolution 242 must be implemented and Israel
must withdraw from occupied territory.
In the light of the manner in which the recent Israeli attack
in Lebanon has gone, Jimmy Carter's book is a major contribution to
the Middle East peace efforts. The United States simply did not
put pressure on Israel to curb the fighting or the number (over a
million) of "cluster bombs" and other devices hurled against a
largely civilian population. So little if any criticism comes from
placing that wall dividing Israel and Palestine totally on the West
Bank side of the border with sizeable cut off pieces of land
removed from the integrity of a Palestinian state. In fact, it is
America's silence that seems to be holding up the peace process --
and finally Jimmy Carter has the courage to make this known.
Fitchburg Furnace, near Stanton, KY
Read about the history of the Fitchburg Furnace
(Photo: Jeff Kerr)
12, 2007 Planning a House
Some people are expecting to build or buy a house as prices
decline to a range where they can afford one. January is an ideal
time to plan a new homestead or to assist others in planning their
future home. Or maybe this is a hope for the future though the
actual building or purchase is far down the road. Since planning
is of the utmost importance in home construction or purchase, the
more that can be done beforehand the better. An added point is
that even if you do not want to take immediate action, a longer
term perspective may require planning right now.
Site-specific. Some plans can never be achieved due to hidden
expenses, lack of building materials and other resources, or the
lack of proper siting opportunities. All the same, consider it
good to plan with some degree of flexibility in mind. One who does
not yet have the final site in mind must realize that houses need
to be site specific. We won't build a house on the plains that we
would in the mountains, or one in Alaska that we would in Florida.
While that seems self evident, there are plenty of examples where
the site is far more influential than the builder anticipated.
General green components. Not having a site will restrict but
not eliminate the planning. Some planners may make some basic
decisions. One is to build what is needed and not overbuild with
excess space. That is the greatest environmental consideration and
one that some architects seem to neglect. Extra space requires
extra heating, cooling and maintenance; thus novel ways to combine
uses in specific rooms (sewing room or office can become guest
bedroom on occasion) is the beginning of green housing. Expecting
to use ample insulation and passive solar energy takes a certain
amount of resolution even while awaiting the final site selection.
Building materials. The type of material will depend on the
site to some extent. Local materials could mean obtaining a
material locally or by some definitions within five hundred miles;
in the past local meant within hauling distance and that was by
horses or oxen. Even here, the choice should be of materials that
are agreeable to the place (do not mold in moist climate) or have
a lasting potential (certain wood will not keep as well as other
types). Often the use of locally abundant wood or stone would be
preferable to resource-expensive concrete. The proximity to brick
yards or lumber processing plant is always a consideration.
Expertise. The planners may want to do their own building and
thus the plans should reflect the expertise needed to complete the
structure. It may also include neighborhood professionals who will
help at certain phases of the construction. For instance, a solar
house may require the design and assistance of a local expert solar
builder. Planners do not need to be complete homesteaders to build
a portion of the house themselves. Knowing what can be done is
helpful, and so the planning may include a willingness to assist
others to build in order to pick up pointers and expertise.
January 13, 2007 Lifestyle and Prophetic Witness
Many hunt for examples of those who freely choose to live a
simple lifestyle. Thus we look for models and sometimes desire to
become models ourselves. We glance back to the past for those who
are examples and we look out to the future in hope that we can
become prophetic witnesses to others as to ways of living better in
a world of limited resources that need to be shared more equally.
Examples from the past include the prophet Jeremiah who
strived to move the people to see that their extravagant ways were
moving them to ruin. The people had forgotten about God and
neighbor, and thus the nation was weakened to the point that it
would and did fall to foreign rule. To a more individualized
audience John the Baptist announced the need for changing lifestyle
and repenting so that the individual Jewish people could recognize
the coming of the Messiah. Both types of messages (to nations or
to individuals) were slated for radical reform and both overlapped.
The prophetic witnesses were certainly inspired but that does not
guarantee results from the audience. Israel was led into the
Babylonian captivity; many turned away and denied the Messiah.
Repenting and changing one's ways is at the heart of the
prophetic message. This is no longer the age of individual
prophets, for through baptism/confirmation each individual
Christian becomes a witness -- a potentially prophetic person
through gifts received. In some manner we are all called to be
prophets in how we live our lives. Thus we are confronted by the
task of answering our particular calling -- something that is of
special interest in January, the month of vocation. When it comes
to lifestyle, we must confront the temptation to acquire affluence
and comfort, a lifestyle that leads to becoming insensitive to the
needs of our neighbor. We are to face prophetic choices: we
either gain Christ or we lose everything.
The third aspect of prophetic witness and lifestyle is helping
to persuade others to forgo excessive comfort, convenience and
affluence and to share resources with those who lack the basics of
life. Most would say that they do something for the needy and
regard their feeble efforts as sufficient. Others may say, "let the
poor fend for themselves." To break the chains of affluence is not
easy, and efforts at the individual level may not be highly
successful. One is fighting against the immense pressure of our
commercial culture. Instead, a more serious and promising approach
is through citizen action -- the voters accept regulations and
taxes on those who have excess amounts. Thus citizen-determined
redistribution schemes could work. While individual simple
lifestyle choice is praiseworthy, it must not distract from the far
more influential effects of a concerned citizenry demanding a more
reasonable lifestyle on the part of all. We need to be prophetic
witnesses working in community for profound changes to occur --
hoping that the sheer weight of numbers will move where individuals
are unable. We as "church" are called to take on this immense
undertaking in order to help make it successful.
January 14, 2007 Cana: Manifestation of the Lord
We are celebrating three great manifestations of the Lord in
early January: the star leading the Magi to Jesus; the baptism by
John with the voice from heaven and the dove (celebrated on January
8th); and the changing of water into wine at the marriage feast of
Cana. Each is a manifestation of divine intervention. As the
evangelist St. John says about this last of the three, this was the
first of Jesus' public signs and "so revealed his glory." The
story is thus more than details of what happened at a wedding,
though Christ's presence gives marriage feasts a special blessing.
Cana stands out as a single instance of what occurs so often in our
resource-short world, where good things just unexpectedly run out.
Doesn't this happen to copper or to petroleum or available
farmland? And does this unexpected shortage stymie the celebratory
progress that we all anticipate to be never ending?
A transformation act. We can do more than merely utter the
fact that we are sort of running out of this or that resource. The
power we have in the risen Lord is not to change water into wine
but something far greater: we have the power to change wine into
the blood of the Lord. This consecration and profound
transformation gives new hope to a world of doubt and fear. We are
suddenly able to enter into the creative power of God at work in
the world. If we can make such a profound transformation, then we
are to do even greater things in our world. The possibilities of
technological innovation stretch out before us through this
A necessary act. The Eucharistic celebration proceeds in much
the manner of a wedding feast: we come together to express joy; we
celebrate a new bond-making event; we witness to a profound event;
and we cheer on the bride and groom. But when problems arise, we
fall back on the need for God to answer our pleas. But we are
baptized as other christs in our world. With Mary's confidence we
can take on the role of Jesus and intervene even when we think our
hour has not yet come. As at the wedding feast, in the divine
liturgy Christ assumes the role of groom providing for the guests.
Christ is the groom of the Church and we too must accept our role
of standing with the Lord. The rest of the world looks out to us.
To answer the plea of a needy world makes this into a divine
mission of which we play a major part.
A public act. Our divine liturgy is also a public event, the
initiation of our ministry for a particular time period. We give
witness that the shortages in physical or human resources can be
overcome in God's good grace. Just as Jesus responds to the urging
of his mother to do something, we hear Mary's call to us to do
something for our world in great need of the basics of life -- and
to work with Christ to bring this about. The changing of wine to
Christ's blood in the Mass extends the sacrifice of Calvary in
space and time. In this mystical act others may come to believe as
we do in the ultimate transformation of the world and have the
courage to make this happen.
January 15, 2007 Slave Trade Continues in Human
Religious organizations such as the Vatican are quite
concerned about the global dimensions of human trafficking of women
to become prostitutes and children to become child labor or child
soldiers. Unfortunately, these are not rare occurrences, and some
estimate that conditions are worse than they were during the high
water mark of slave trade (in the 18th century) that really has
never ceased in remote parts of Africa and the Middle East.
The birthday of Martin Luther King is a good opportunity to
reaffirm the world's need to regard slavery and its after effects
as more than a historical curiosity; it is still an actual fact.
And with the breakup of the Soviet Union many of the people of
Eastern Europe are enticed by the promise of work to go west and
that could mean, through the agency of a pimp or other criminal
elements, into human slavery. The person who is caught up in that
slave trade is not in company with large numbers who can call
attention to the injustice involved; rather they are isolated,
ignorant, foreigners cut off from help; they are often unable to
break free. The enslaved person has few resources to return to
their former habitation because of distant captivity.
Archbishop Renato Martino, who for years was the Vatican
envoy to the United Nations, is aware of the dimensions of this
problem; he says current conditions are worse than the slavery of
those coming from Africa during the height of the African slave
trade. Though current travel conditions may be less dangerous (for
so many of the former slaves died on slave ships), still the
treatment of slaves at the destination was less degrading because
the slave was expected to be a lifetime worker. Sex slaves are
regarded as far more expendable today. In addition, today we are
far more aware of human rights and the inherent dignity of the
human person -- and yet this form of slavery goes on in a somewhat
hidden way within developed countries. Furthermore, today we have
the means to detect and prosecute the slave traders, if only we
have the will power to detect what is occurring and expose it.
This slave trade estimated in the millions has accelerated due
to the opening of Eastern Europe to new work opportunities. Often
the predicament begins with the promise of a distant good job.
Upon reaching the destination the victim is cut off from home,
intimidated, isolated from any means of appeal, and forced to do
things against his or her will under fear and intimidation. The
circumstances make this modern form of slavery even more onerous
due to its lack of visibility or to placing the fault on the
victim. But culprits could be exposed and brought to justice.
Some of this could be stopped at the start through valid work
permit programs that clearly identify the work destination as
suitable to the victim's hopes and aspirations. Curbing this form
of slavery is difficult but not impossible through cooperative
endeavors by the nations of both origin and destiny. The United
Nations, with the cooperation of the member nations who send and
receive workers, could set regulations on worker exchange programs.
January 16, 2007 Religious Freedom Day -- 2007
In treating this day and subject in 2004, we focused on the
historical and current aspects of religious freedom in our own
country. Now let us take a broader perspective and consider
religious freedom throughout the entire world.
Global view. Religious freedom is not present in certain
parts of the globe. Americans tend to overlook the lack of
religious freedom in China for certain minorities such as Catholics
or Protestants outside the state-approved church structures (or for
the Tibetans). The cynic is tempted to say that good commercial
relations allow the traders to overlook religious freedom.
Fortunately, even our Congress finds it necessary to call attention
in regard to China to the human rights abuses in relation to
exercising freedom of religion. But China is not the worst
example. In North Korea no freedom of religion exists either. And
what about many Moslem lands such as Saudi Arabia where the
churches are not allowed to function, religious leaders cannot wear
their distinctive garb in public, the church communities cannot own
buildings, and people cannot even import a bible? Are we silent
because we are so addicted to their oil that we dare not irritate
Reciprocity. Pope Benedict XVI is right. We must reaffirm
religious freedom and reaffirm it for all the world, not just for
a few nations. Why should Western Europe be a haven for 15 million
Moslem immigrants who enjoy complete freedom of religion and yet we
tolerate the oppression of religious minorities by certain nations,
even those seeking EU membership? And some of this oppression is
severe such as in Afghanistan where our own soldiers are risking
their lives. Was it not that country where its people wanted to
put one of their own citizens to death for converting to
Christianity last year? In that particular case the resolution was
to spirit the convert out of the country to an undesignated final
location in Italy. Even now he lives under fear. Something is
wrong with risking the lives of our soldiers in defending a land
with so little freedom of religion that another becoming like our
military defender would be killed for doing so. Something is wrong
when freedom only works one way. Where is reciprocity?
Complete freedom. Apart from the Asian and other Moslem lands
just mentioned there are places where some religious practice is
restricted, sometimes even severely such as in Belarus where
religious people from foreign countries are subject to deportation
on trumped up charges. One knows there are degrees of national
restriction for the protection of vulnerable inhabitants that are
acceptable to some degree -- but the regulations must be fair and
just. Simply putting up barriers to the practice of religion in
order to retard the growth of a certain religious group is not
sufficient, and damages freedom of religion. Certainly protection
of innocent residents from individual proselytizing may have a
place -- but this is tricky ground. If one is to err, it should be
on the side of freedom not on that of restriction.
Beauty in Ice
(Photo: Eric & Kathy Fritsch)
17, 2007 Steve Collingsworth's Answer to Blasting Effects
Steve Collingsworth of Powell County, Kentucky, is an easy
going man who makes friends with everyone -- and he gives credit to
the others in his life for some of the things he is quite singular
in achieving. By profession Steve is a drilling expert and holds
patents in that area, but he was also aware that blasting
operations, which occur throughout the world at roadbuilding,
construction and mining sites may have some detrimental effects.
Appalachians are all too familiar with the explosions heard in
strip mining areas throughout the work week, and some of the
resulting environmental effects such as damaged water aquifers and
foundations of buildings.
Steve has invented and holds a patent on a power plug or
"Power Deck System" that can be inserted into the bore hole; this
device helps redirect the path of least resistance for the
explosive energy of the blast upon detonation. This low-priced
plug, though rather strange in appearance, resembles a cut-off
polyethylene container of a size needed for the particular drilled
hole. It is lowered into the hole and held in place by an attached
stick that allows an air or water void beneath the plug. The
pressure pulse generated in the detonation will sheer the bottom of
the shot from bore hole to neighboring bore hole. This is easier
to see in diagrams than verbally and can be obtained from
The advantage of this simple device is that it saves about 30
percent on the amount of blasting materials -- and all but the
explosive manufacturers find this a happy prospect. The device is
fast and simple to install, improves fragmentation at the blast
site, reduces the amount of drilling, can be used in very hard
formations, and works in both wet and dry holes. Over and above
economic advantages are the welcome environmental ones:
* Reduction in dust levels. When one is near mining
operations the dust whether above or below ground is a major health
problem both for the workers at the site and for nearby residents
who can be critically affected by elevated dust levels;
* Reduction of up to 75% of the vibrational pollution due to
the way the waves are generated and directed. This pollution has
been a major cause of property damage in blasting zones such as
excavation for highways and in mining operations;
* Reduction of fly rock. The fly rock is reduced because the
pressure caused by the plugged detonation goes out into the strata
and not up in the direction of the opening of the hole. As a youth
I narrowly missed being hit by fly rock when blasting fence post
holes. We hear of such accidents quite frequently in Appalachia.
* Noise abatement. The Collingsworth plug has the effect of
reducing noise by a noticeable degree and, in an overly noisy age,
this is welcome news.
January 18, 2007 Christian Unity
Our vocation is to pray for the unity of all Christians. That
is not an easy calling because none of us knows exactly where the
road will lead though we have hints at various times.
Cooperation and unification. We see interfaith cooperation in
charitable enterprises or other undertakings such as caring for
refugees and migrants. Some denominations take great pains to work
together with others to amalgamate buildings, organizational
structures and finances in the quest for unity. That is often an
immense undertaking and even at times results in splinter groups
that refuse to go along with the unification. In other instances
the unification is a movement of one into another while retaining
a certain independence in customs, ritual and canon law such as in
the Catholic "uniates" from the orthodox tradition -- and then the
members may encounter difficulties from original parent groups.
An understanding approach. Differences often arose in church
history due to lack of communications and cultural differences in
thought, language, and worship style. In some cases the great
theological differences proved to be misunderstandings or
overemphasis on one or other truth without hearing the contrasting
emphasis of the other party. With charity and patience some of
these differences such as the Lutheran/Catholic positions on faith
and works have been resolved to the benefit of all parties. No
doubt more of this can be done through further theological
A federated approach. Amazingly, from early Christian
tradition there were churches in various parts of the world with
different regional or cultural traditions. At times of the
councils of the church many of these different churches gathered
together and hammered out agreements. But far more important
today is the coming together for mutual sharing of resources such
as in training, education and social works. If this level of
Christian activity demands togetherness, and can be achieved, then
we could have degrees of unity among different groups that may or
may not be at levels of intercommunion. Respecting the boundaries
of difference and allowing others to continue in separate
liturgical practice, leadership structures, and other matters would
be part of the move to unity. Benedict XVI says we must respect
our Catholic understanding at the time of the cleavage (a thousand
years ago) with the Orthodox and this, once honored, is a step
towards a new degree of unity.
No one knows where the road to Christian unity will lead. Each
time two church communities come together we should all thank God.
But the clear accepted opinion that the present disunity is a
scandal is perhaps a step towards unity. In former times this was
not voiced so openly, especially by those of hardened positions.
We need to work together both at the small community level and at
the broader one. The times require unity, the Lord wants unity,
and in our heart of hearts we crave unity. Let's pray that it
takes place quickly.
January 19, 2007 What To Do About Global Warming
In the short duration of this series of essays we have gone
from arguing that global warming is a real problem (July 24, 04) to
a more prudent way of looking at the problem (May 27, 06) and then
to more serious additional environmental effects that are predicted
(Nov. 21, 06). The people seem to have gone in two and a half
years from trying to determine whether the problem exists to a
state of panic as to how to handle it on a global scale. Never
before have human beings affected the planet in such a short time,
and yet not all are on board about doing things A few holdouts
would say we should continue everything as usual and give the task
to a future generation.
Commitment and will power on the part of individual consumers
are necessary. Seeking to find easy technological fixes is no
solution, but we can all conserve energy and that can buy time.
The waste of energy is on both institutional and individual levels
and so to expect a government to handle the problem in a free
society is a challenge. Individuals have a role to play but we
must have the will power to see that ethical issues are involved.
Our national practice of unrestricted emissions of carbon dioxide
affects people everywhere and some in low-lying parts of the planet
more than others. Island nations in the Pacific Ocean could be
Kyoto-2 is in the making but the degree of commitment must be
greater than anticipated partly because many nations did not meet
existing goals. Likewise, the United States has been dragging its
feet and not signing the treaty. Add to this the emerging of the
economic and industrial powers of China and India who were outside
of controls at Kyoto-1; these two are rapidly becoming heavy
energy users, especially of more and more coal for electricity
generation. The panic should not lead us to latch on to all forms
of biofuels, only those currently produced from waste materials.
Turning valuable farmland away from food production to help fuel
our inefficient vehicles could be one of the most selfish acts ever
performed within the human family. And will it be done with church
people in the so-called developed world remaining strangely silent?
Furthermore, the panic should not push countries to return to the
nuclear power strategy for electric production that is quite
costly, generates troublesome wastes, and could lead to further
Global warming is here but we must not panic. We have the
means to curb our inefficient energy consumption through
conservation and to furnish new sources of safe energy in non-
carbon dioxide emitting solar and wind power. These renewable
energy sources are fast growing and need to be encouraged. If the
two routes of conservation and safe energy are pursued, we can
check and reduce the effects of global warming in the next few
decades. If not, we face some major crises in the coming years,
which are being spelled out with ever greater clarity in this start
of the 21st century. Should we wait any longer?
January 20, 2007 World Religion Day
Tomorrow we celebrate World Religion Day. Maybe this is a
good time to find the common elements among various religions, not
to seek to learn about all our differences, as though this is a
time for comparative religion study. Interreligious cooperative is
so paramount that we must accentuate the positive rather than seek
to show why and how we are divided. The bitterness expressed at
this time in the Iraqi civil war where Shiite and Sunni factions
are fighting makes us pause. Are we not all brothers and sisters?
Do not the hopes of people of one group equal those of another?
Does not the basic need for food or security ring true in the
hearts of people of various faiths. With the rise of various forms
of fundamentalism, it is all the more imperative that we seek
communality, not difference. Fighting of any sort among those who
profess faith in the one God is truly a scandal that needs to be
recognized and acknowledged.
In winter we learn to assist each other and to see all as
brothers and sisters who must work together for a better world.
Beyond weather, exists the reality of these times religious
differences must not stand in the way of working together to save
the refugees in Darfur and Somalia, the migrant from Africa or
Latin America. A common goal of basic food, clothing, shelter and
security for every man, woman ad child makes working together a top
priority. When we see each other as needy without regard to
particular faith or creed and respect each other as though blood
relatives, we are celebrating World Religion Day.
Today is also the Islamic New Year. As we said on each New
Year's Day, the need for a fresh start is imperative at this time.
We Christians and Moslems need to see each other in a fresh
perspective. We worship the one God; we believe in an afterlife;
we know the need for charity and establishing peace in this world;
we have far more in common than we have differences and thus we
need to break down the barriers that divide us. One possibility is
to have all know with deep respect the religious beliefs of others
and to affirm an affinity of concern for each other. Far more than
just factual or theological knowledge of differences is the
recognition of mutual needs -- of peace, security, and livelihood.
This recognition comes through practical experience in working
together for common purposes.
The Eastern religions of Asia are also calling us to come to
mutual respect. I recall how some Hindu pilgrims befriended me on
a trip in India and told me about the various customs and habits as
we visited one of their shrines. I will always have a warm spot in
my heart for those who took the occasion to show me what they
believed. We need to do the same for others who come to our home;
we too can invite them into our places of worship and explain what
we have to offer to them and the world. World religion is
primarily an expression of religious respect throughout the whole
world, thus being more an affirmation of commonality among all
peoples rather than a listing of differences.
January 21, 2007 Jesus Is Liberator
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord's year of favor. (Luke 4: 18-19)
Jesus enters the synagogue of his home town of Nazareth and
there in the public place makes his definitive mission statement
using the words of the prophet Isaiah (61:1-2). Jesus publicly
announces that this text is "being fulfilled today." He lays this
out in a straightforward manner and gentle fashion to his own
people. He is not angry at their lack of response and so we seek
to imitate him in proclamation of the word. How are we likewise to
proclaim the Good News even at risk that it will not be accepted?
The liberation process will be a long one involving people
over the centuries. The impatient who wanted Jesus to be a
fighting Messiah did not know God's plan. Nor for that matter did
the new Christians who thought liberation of their own precious
selves would come in a matter of months or years by uttering a
verbal profession that Jesus is savior. But the profession of a
community of faith takes more time -- thousands of years. A
certain "liberation process" is part of knowing and following
Jesus. While our individual lives pattern a liberation process so
do our economic and political systems. We need be attentive to our
own liberation from sin; we must also be attentive to the
liberation of our people both in this country and in the world.
Corporations exist at the pleasure of the citizens, and they
need to be instruments of liberation not tools of oppression used
by those in charge. When these organizations do what they were
incorporated to do, they assist in the liberation of the world, and
yet in this age of globalization they can exert a subtle form of
repression. These institutions are incorporated by particular
states or nations and need to be accountable: through renewing
incorporation documents, reporting earnings, paying taxes,
obtaining distinct identification numbers, establishing
communication with local authorities, and carrying out the public
trust in specific areas. In the evolution of our nation these
agencies took on certain "rights" as though they were citizens.
This devolved further into retention of vast accumulated financial
power and the use of that power to influence governmental
legislation related to their own self-interest.
The situation instead of being controlled more tightly, has
actually gotten more out of hand through globalization and shifting
of finances or production facilities from one nation to another
with ease. A friendly and beholden government tends to overlook
and permit the power of these institutions to lobby excessively,
buy and retain candidates, and get tax breaks denied the less
influential portions of the population. We need to challenge the
system just as Jesus did at the start of his public ministry.
January 22, 2007 Overpopulation Concerns
Some would like to dredge up the arguments of the past few
centuries principally by Malthus (1766-1834), who stated that the
world population tends to increase faster than the food supply
unless natural restrictions such as war, famine or disease reduce
that population or it is checked by moral restraint. Over the
years since the ecological awareness of the 1970s, this argument in
certain variations has cropped up over and over. Some
environmentalists even regard this as the prime issue facing our
resource limited planet. The green agricultural revolution and the
more recent surplus of agricultural production in many countries
have allayed the arguments to some degree as has a gradual slowing
in population growth.
No one can deny that exploding populations in certain
countries are accompanied by strained educational, health and
natural resources. This happens to be a problem in places like
Haiti, many Central African and Middle Eastern (especially Moslem)
countries. Since the turn of the millennium, that overpopulation
concern has been toned down as policy makers have realized that
nations such as Russia, Germany and Japan are beset by declining
populations, which also result in severe problems of declining work
force and payees into social systems.
Europe's population is in decline; the Far East's rates are
leveling off quite rapidly; North America's population growth
increase is fed by immigration; Latin American rates of growth are
in decline. The real problem areas are much of Africa (though some
parts such as South Africa are in decline due to AIDS) and the
Moslem world of the Middle East. These are areas where some sort
of concerted efforts must be promoted along with addressing the
poverty and socially destabilizing issues of these unfortunate
lands. However, the affected people must help find the solution
with our assistance and not be given off-hand techniques that they
will ignore. Global population growth rates vary considerably and
some areas are still growing too rapidly even though overall rates
have gone down in many countries quite dramatically in recent
years. The global annual growth rate now stands at 1.1%.
A key to addressing exploding populations in specific regions
is not some mechanical gimmick such as the distribution of
literature or condoms, especially when a more holistic approach to
poverty is omitted. The 2006 calendar from the Zambian Jesuit
Centre for Theological Reflection states that "Money expended on
population control would be far more beneficial if directed towards
eradicating poverty, increasing educational opportunities
especially for the girl child, and promoting the health of pregnant
women." These expanded opportunities allows marriages to be
delayed, the drive to have children as supporting family members to
be lessened, and the women to take more charge of their own lives.
Poverty determines family size to a great degree and the advocacy
of mere mechanical solutions without reduction of poverty is bound
to have only limited effects.
January 23, 2007 Encourage Good Penmanship and
A reflection on Handwriting Day in 2004 said everything that
needed to be said about the value of good handwriting and the
shortcoming of poor penmanship. The cryptic notes sent by generals
or doctors have and can have disastrous consequences as history has
borne out. Bringing up instances is not as important as the
reality that poor handwriting is not regarded today, in an age of
computers and blackberries, as such a vice . Someone might ask,
why write anything by hand in 2007?
Art form. For one thing calligraphy is an art and penmanship
enhances that art form. Good handwriting can be beautiful and even
prized by those who admire both the style of delivery and the
content of the message. Many treasured messages that were well
written testify to the care in choosing words and in delivering by
the use of pencil or pen and ink.
Care about recipient. So often one hears complaints that the
e-mail message is not thought out, is done in haste, and lacks
sensitivity on the pat of the sender. This criticism may be well
placed for the message says that the person sending it does not
regard the recipient as worth a more careful presentation. When
someone takes greater care in writing a handwritten note of
condolence, it means so very much to the ones sorrowing. And today
with speed in using manufactured cards and other such devices, the
handwriting becomes all the more treasured. The writer will not
have an automatic spell-checking device and mistakes are not easily
overcome. We often have to reread the message to see whether it is
legible enough for the reader -- and even give attention to block
print important addresses or information. All of this takes time
and can be appreciated by the recipient.
Uniqueness of sender. The best handwriting experts can tell
whether a certain handwriting is unique to an individual
and can even tell the intelligence and the mood of the writer under
given circumstances. Some experts can even detect instances of
deception in differences in the way letters are made at different
times. Somehow handwriting tells a lot about us and we need to
recognize that we reveal ourselves through our unique handwriting.
Our openness to being seen and judged in our handwriting is
something many value as worthwhile and treasured -- and that is why
handwritten notes are often retained as keepsakes.
Resource conservation. No one considers the small expenditure
of electricity to energize the computer as of importance when it
comes to letter writing. Some could argue that saving the message
is actually far easier in the computer memory in comparison to
steaming up a copier and making a duplicate of one's handwritten
note. Perhaps there is little gained ecologically through
handwriting. However, the sharing of one's concern and the degree
of appreciation on the part of the recipient make this practice a
good example of homemaking, far better than the e-mail whipped off
in one minute. A little energy is worth the qualitative result.
January 24, 2007 A Potter Molding Clay
Take a potter, now, laboriously working the soft earth,
shaping all sorts of things for us to use.
Out of the same clay, even so one models
vessels intended for clean purposes
and the contrary sort, all alike
but which of these two uses each will have
is for the selfsame potter to decide.
I came upon a potter at the festival;
she was so diligent and wanted others to observe
the talented works of her hand.
I asked her whether her fingerprints would stay
on the piece that she was fashioning.
She assured me they would not, and
smiled at my ignorance.
She ran the wire under the moist clay
and set the pot free and on its own. A birth!
Is it really so bad if the fingerprint remains,
I said to myself?
For the genius was in the creation,
and this would be her own signature.
We are fashioned from wet clay,
here awhile with smudging fingerprints,
All characteristic of each individual
and no other has the same.
We are clay creations from a mighty potter's hand;
and then we fade in death's own kiln,
Glazed into a reflection of eternal light.
Will not all fingerprints remain?
They are the handmaids of God, ushering in a new order,
teaching us to be courageous about our new ventures. Terrorists
are cynics who are dead wrong when they seek to tear things down;
crafters have it right, for they proclaim Good News in troubled
times by creating something new.
log with brightly colored fungi. Parksville, Kentucky
(Photo: Janet Powell)
25, 2007 Wealth and Poverty
A recent economic report says that two percent of the world's
people own half of the world's wealth. That is one more telling
report about the concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and
fewer people. With wealth comes power, and so concentration should
be looked upon with great alarm by democratic people. Fewer and
fewer people possess more and more economic (and political) power.
On the feast of St. Paul we search his writings for a blueprint of
how we are to act. However, Paul did not expect to change the
structures of the Roman Empire with its overwhelming political
power -- and yet he saw the possibility that all people (male and
female, gentile and Jew, slave and free) were one in Christ. With
time we have received a clearer understanding of what this
"oneness" means. Certainly oneness has expanded through the rise
of nations and it has increased in the time of our American
forbearers who gradually extended voting rights to those white
males from much to little, and finally no property; to the Blacks;
to Native Americans; to women; and to those between the ages of 18
and 21. Gradually more of us are able to exercise our citizenship.
Along with this extension of voting rights is the "House
Divided" concept of Abraham Lincoln. We cannot have a nation that
is half slave and half free -- and what does it entail to become
one people? The Lincoln insight can now be globalized as it
applies to economic conditions: We cannot have a world that is
composed of the haves and the have-nots, a world in which some
super rich and others do not have the basics of life. At the very
heart of our Earth's illness is this social injustice that must not
continue. We must come to the core of the sickness and start the
healing process in the most non-violent manner possible. And this
must be done with urgency.
Liberation is a two-way street. We are to liberate the poor
from their slavery to poverty and lack of decent food and housing;
we are to liberate the wealthy from the burden of their wealth that
is costing them their very soul. This liberation applies to
individuals and to nations as well. Thus the rich must freely give
up and the poor should freely take but both through non-violent
means. And we look for regulations that will take from the excess
and give to those most in need.
We find the task of redistribution of resources somewhat
daunting. But we must speak the message over and over until it
penetrates the psyche of this nation of wealth and this world of
power and powerlessness. We must challenge the billionaires who
increase in number with each passing year. Why do so few have so
much of what belongs to the commons -- all of us collectively?
Must the world's citizens take what is rightly theirs? Should not
citizens be activated to challenge the system lest our democracy
erode into a mere facade? Does there exist a divine right of the
billionaires? The declaration that the world's wealth must be
redistributed can be found in embryo in the writings of St. Paul
2,000 years ago. Fidelity means activating the people.
January 26, 2007 Avoid Food Wastes
Some may say this topic is best treated right after
Thanksgiving. However, most people know how to use leftover turkey
and so in some ways that is not as good a time as "anytime of the
year." People waste food, and some say nearly half of all food
that enters the kitchen leaves in waste receptacles or the garbage
disposal. That is particularly true when people are well fed or
overfed, and when the food itself costs relatively little in
comparison with other expenses. Were they in a camp of starving
Africans the waste would certain be less.
But do we have a qualm about wasting otherwise high quality
food? Some latitude depends on the way we define "waste." A
friend said when young he would tell his mom who told him not to
waste food that eating it when he was full was wasting it. A good
point but not exactly to the point. We can refrain from waste so
that the food can be eaten when we need to be restoked the next day
or beyond -- not at a given dinner sitting.
I will never forget the horror of mountains of food left on
students' plates at one university where I was attempting an
assessment. How can people talk about resource conservation when
they say, "I paid for the food so I will use it as I please"? This
proves somewhat disconcerting to those of us who were taught to eat
everything on our plates.
The largest area of waste is fruits and vegetables. The
advice never to buy more than is needed is often overlooked. A
better dictum is always buy food after a meal, not before one. We
tend to buy less excess when we are not hungry.
Good homemakers have always known how to make the best of
leftover food. Many fruits and vegetables can be saved through
some cooking and preservation skills. Blemishes can be removed and
the wilted veggies can become prime candidates for soup, thus
preserving much of their nutritional value. Fruits, minus the
rotten areas, can be cut into fruit cocktails. Leftovers can often
be frozen for future use.
Some curtail food wastes by cooking only what is needed for
the meal. However, this goes against the basic principle that we
are to cook in batches to save energy; we store the remaining
portions for future meals. If one has this second more
conservationist approach, much more will be saved.
The habit of leaving a little on the plate is not so bad if
the little is really little and not a massive amount while one
makes room for dessert. All in all, children and adults must be
taught again and again not to take more than can be consumed. In
rare cases someone gets sick after filling the plate; in most cases
good habits will result in no food being wasted. Curtailing food
waste is the start of resource conservation. So beginning at home
is a good place to start in saving the planet.
January 27, 2007 Return to the Twelve-Component Soup
The day after reflecting on food wastes is the perfect time to
search through the refrigerator and find the half a head of
cabbage, the somewhat shriveled carrots, potatoes, broccoli,
onions, and turnips and perhaps a few additional items -- and turn
a select number of these into your own tasty vegetable soup.
It may be necessary to break open the deep freeze compartment for
a handful of frozen peas or corn. Maybe the diced tomatoes in the
can need to be included, or one or other dried variety of beans
that need a little beforehand soaking. You may even add a spice or
two and call it a happy mixture. All good and well.
Perhaps the greater challenge is not the magic number of
components in the soup; rather it is making this combination into
a tasty delight. Here the spice shelf comes into play for a quick
look at the ones present may allow for a taste pattern never before
imagined. What are all these seasonings for except for a January
treat? For non-vegetarians a little frozen sausage or some turkey
bouillon may add to the body and flavor as well.
I suspect that my previous contributions about a January
series of soup components (generally root vegetables that have
survived the great freeze) could dissuade you, but it shouldn't.
You are permitted to be proud of creating a unique dish during the
drab month of January -- and make enough of it to last into even
more drab February.
You may not live in a mild or semi-tropical growing zone where
partly covered collards or mustard is thriving at this time of
year. Be proud that you can use your own products but just cooking
the new dish contains a certain culinary pride as well. You may
not have a greenhouse or cold frame and yet are craving a bowl of
homemade soup. Forego the guilt of not growing the various
ingredients and just cook up a batch from purchased items. It is
better to use purchased materials that should be moved onto the
kitchen table rather soon due to the shelf life of the item than to
move the vegetables to the compost bin.
Feel comfortable with the choices. Making soup from scratch
is always something to be proud of and enjoy. However, why not be
prouder of making the soup from leftovers; this mentality has a
long history going back to early human cooking experiments and thus
this is a participation in that long conservationist tradition.
Should one add fruits to such a concoction? I add apples to some
soup if of a proper variety. Those gold rush apples contribute
something special to a vegetable soup, which makes it more than
vegetable. So does adding dandelions, chickweed, mint, and violets
-- but maybe not too much of any. Some will be daring enough to
add left over pasta or something never thought of before. While
being daring, do consider those who are to partake of the meal.
How does it look? Try a small sampler as a side line and if it
tastes well with peppers and added spice, then expand to a bigger
batch. That is what January cooking is all about.
January 28, 2007 What We Do about Rejection
They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town.
Jesus comes into the public arena, proclaims Good News, and
demands an affirmative response, a "yes" and not a "maybe." But
the maybe folks can become hostile. The Good News is like a
lightning strike and starts a conflagration. For the local
hearers, Jesus is expected to say pleasant things. Why these
dramatic words of liberation, which are so demanding on ordinary
people and so anathema to the established order? Jesus' message
includes elements of both personal and community liberation.
Healing ourselves as individuals (internal reform) leads to the
freedom to engage in external reform. His townsfolk cannot see fit
to follow so they seek to kill Jesus.
Rejection is possible and does occur even in the sublimity of
the divine message. Jesus evokes hostility that seems to grow the
closer he gets to the seat of political and religious power --
Jerusalem. His herald, John the Baptist, is first imprisoned and
then killed; the scribes and pharisees shadow him, ask questions,
show discontent with his healing on the Sabbath, question those
with whom he associates, point out the failures of conduct of his
disciples, and do not like his association with Yahweh. They try
to trip him up about allegiance to Caesar; they try to push him
into one or other factional camp; they conspire to weaken his
ministry, and yet Jesus responds in a forthright manner.
Jesus tells his disciples that if some do not want to hear
their message they should shake the dust from their feet and move
on to somewhere else. Don't waste time if people are unwilling to
hear the word. What becomes evident is that we are not to demand
a hearing, or mince words to suit the hearers, for that is the
characteristic of false prophets. Rather we are to make do with
what we have. We are to evaluate the audience and simply expand it
to include others who care to listen. We are other christs, called
to bring the message of salvation to a hungry world. Like Jesus,
we desire to start from the home base -- but the people at the
starting point may not be willing to receive the words and deeds.
Are we surprised? We speak and act from no power base (unless an
authoritarian regime is forcing people to assemble). Rejection may
occur because the invitation is freely given and freely received.
Moving on may not mean going in the same style to other sets
of people but changing the delivery approach completely. Here
prayer and discernment become a necessary increment in decision
making. Our time is short and the message is necessary. Can we
shake the non-hearers through words and deeds aimed directly at
them? Maybe not. Should we influence the agencies of change that
can regulate behavior so that the lack of charity done to others is
not perpetuated? The answer may be a "yes" and so moving on is not
taking the same message to a new cohort but changing the manner of
delivery through the use of community empowerment procedures. More
about this elsewhere.
January 29, 2007 Disposal of Electronic Junk
A growing number of us have an unused computer, monitor,
keyboard, or other electronic device and we are wondering why we
hold on to them. Do we find it hard to find recycling outlets to
get rid of them? In fact, the estimates are that some 30 to 50
million computer units are ready for disposal each year.
Recently the BBC had an early morning broadcast about the
disposal of older computers in developing countries -- a practice
that has gained widespread favor in recent years. This trend is
part of the movement of cast-off materials all in the name of
charity, even though a majority of the materials sent have problems
and a very shortened life span. Many things are wrong with
unloading on poor people that go beyond electronics and include
cast off or unfashionable clothing, older vehicles and furnishings.
We need to emphasize that in some cases when people are burnt out
of homes second hand items come in handy. But that is not always
the case with used computers, unless they come in working order and
with an expert who can repair immediate glitches. Here are some
weaknesses in used technology transfer:
* Recipients are unsophisticated and face wasted time and
major disappointment when the computer or other device does not
work. Since the discarded material is often out-of-date, the
recipients are often frustrated by the short-lived equipment;
* The one receiving the computer, which likely contains toxic
materials, is at a place that is least able to dispose of the
* Had the basic computer units been reusable, the computer
would have been likely retained by the primary user instead of
* The give away is the abandonment of responsibility by the
original manufacturer and owner. The actual line of disposal could
have been a return to the producer so that components could be
safely scrapped and parts possibly reused.
Last of all, this is a form of pharisaism on the part of the
first user that bodes ill for cultivating sound environmental
One gives lip service to recycling by passing on junk to
another instead of disposing of it properly. This practice
reinforces an attitude that the latest is the best and the older
must be disposed of expeditiously as quickly as possible. The
attitude of superiority over those who have less is certainly not
the golden rule. Would you want the cast-off junk of another,
especially if it contains problems that can not be easily solved?
Junk electronics is a problem that needs solution at the point of
manufacturing. Who knows, they may make it a money-making
January 30, 2007 Exaggerating Environmental Costs
An October, 2006, article in "Acid News," the newsletter of
the Swedish NGO Secretariat on Acid Rain, tells about how often
industry estimates of costs for environmental measures are
overestimated. Sometimes these turn out to be twice the actual
cost, and occasionally exaggeration can be tenfold. The article
cites an April 2006 report on cost estimates by business for
European Union environmental legislation -- but one could suspect
that some of the same patterns are present in the United States as
well. Some of these cost overruns are based on existing expensive
technologies and do not account for expected improvements that will
cut the cost dramatically. In more rare instances, estimates were
close to what actually results. In fact, a point is made that
there is little evidence that industry knowingly provides biased
The authors propose a number of ways to improve the accuracy
of these environmental cost estimates related to changing
regulations: draw cost estimates from as many sources as possible;
the costs should be clearly defined and include savings such as
from lower energy usage; cost estimates should be revised
frequently as policy develops and targets are revised; a feedback
process should be set up to update cost predictions in light of
experience; if possible, unknown technological innovation and
economies of scale should be factored into the initial estimates;
and actual as well as predicted costs of policies should always be
analyzed, so comparisons can be made and lessons learned.
No discussion was made of the other side of exaggerating
environmental costs estimates -- that is, from the estimates of the
degree of environmental damage. Since environmental damage
estimating is a far less exact science, namely placing a monetary
value on environmental pollution, it is difficult to talk about
such costs in opposition to cleanup costs. However, just as there
are gross exaggerations on the part of industry, there may be the
same from the environmental standpoint. The difference is that
environmental benefits have more than a monetary value -- and the
added benefits cannot be easily put into dollars and cents. While
arguments of damage should not be blown out of proportion, they
should not be placed in the arena of pure economics.
That particular report cited above on industrial environmental
costs was produced for the European Commission's DG Environment by
the Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit,
Netherlands, and can be downloaded at --
Similar reports are needed for American industrial estimates
and actual environmental costs. It would make the advocacy of
stricter anti-pollution regulations much easier for all parties
concerned with saving our planet.
January 31, 2007 Network
Every month we highlight one local, regional or national
organization that is striving to bring health to our Earth. Since
social and environmental justice are one, we find that groups that
have begun to gain respect in justice issues are truly
Earthhealers. Such a group is "Network," a lobby group of Catholic
sisters that is over thirty years old and has an impressive track
record. The members are in their own words not typical pinstriped,
fancy-shoed lobbyists who often dominate the corridors of power,
but people with a passionate involvement that has generated
tremendous respect on Capitol Hill.
Network believes that we must do more than feed, clothe and
shelter families in need; we must also make it possible for people
to feed, clothe and shelter themselves. And they strive to do so
by promoting a living wage among all God's people. Social justice
issues that they advocate include:
* Affordable, quality health care for all. Staying healthy
shouldn't be a privilege that's reserved for a fortunate few. With
health care costs skyrocketing, more and more working families --
especially those with children -- can't even afford basic insurance
* Fair taxation. A person earning a million dollars a year
could now buy a new luxury car every year with the extra money in
tax breaks Congress has put in his or her pocket. Tax breaks like
repealing the estate tax mean the federal government will have to
shift more of the tax burden to the middle class and poor or cut
much-needed public programs,
* A foreign policy that promotes diplomacy and peace. Acts of
aggression and domination, like the war in Iraq, fuel further
conflict. Particularly because the U.S. is a world leader, we must
strive to build understanding among the nations of the world.
* A federal budget that values human beings over military
power. The Bush Administration's proposed FY06 budget includes a
$19.2 billion increase in defense spending; while human needs
programs face a $12.4 billion reduction. Of course we must be
safe, but wasteful defense spending is robbing other important
priorities like education, health, or housing programs.
If you would like to give support and assist this quite
effective lobby group, you could contact them at --
25 E Street NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20001