Icy trees at the dawn of a new day, New Year.
January 1, 2018
New Year's Here
Adieu, whistles blew, noise grew, brew too;
Spent year subdue, Auld Lang Syne renew.
Wring out the time-worn bitter sting,
Jump start the orbits' spring.
For good reason some stayed apart,
No fresh season can ever start
by losing sleep; that's not very smart,
For a clear head makes for a steady heart.
It's strange the wags are gonna say
To launch a year with a holy day.
Rise good hearted and with no delay,
Dress warm, hurry now, come to pray.
Good News relay; strong tones convey;
A sacral season's sublime bouquet.
In January we deepen the sense of mystery that is within, immediately around us, and that stretches out in space and time. We break loose from possessing and controlling material things that limit our aspirations and turn us away from the awesomeness of divine Mystery. We face climate change with all its implications, and we resolve to do what we can to reduce the negative impacts that such global warming will bring. We suddenly see the need to take responsibility for our own lives. Part of the mystery before us this year is that we must live within limits but, even so, we face the challenge to improve our quality of life. Yes, the key words for 2018 are "expand quality."
We hope that this year gives us a greater awareness that we can and ought to be satisfied with less -- and even find that this is spiritually as well as physically a more sane and healthy aspiration. Reduce quantity and improve quality. We are becoming sensitive to the limitation of resources. Some people take advantage of their economic or political power to control and fail to share material resources while others live in destitution -- and this is often the root of global terrorism.
How can we call ourselves brothers and sisters under these conditions? Part of a deeper reflection on the mystery of a global vitality that includes sharing resources is the need to do our part actively to bring about equality. Healing involves sharing and redistribution, a spiritual insight worthy of proclamation. A steep learning curve awaits us in 2018. Can we promote equality and confront those who do not want to bring this about. Will we do this with no apologies?
Prayer: Lord, give us the enthusiasm to start anew, and to espouse a global activism that brings equality in use of resources.
Melting ice form droplets on remnant berries of dogwood.
January 2, 2018 Recite a Litany of the Earth
During the nakedness of winter when foliage is gone, we find that our Earth is far from being barren; a new though somewhat hidden life is starting to stir. We walk gently upon this seemingly lifeless Earth. We notice that we can detect nature's sights, sounds, smells, and feelings more clearly in winter. The shape of the terrain is more evident, the skeletal forms of trees in the woods are more emphatically revealed and, when snow is absent, the rock outcroppings are more pronounced. The sounds of crystal clear streams give us background music, with the birds that remain through the season adding a special chorus. The leaves and the evergreens give their faint scents to accentuate the winter scenes. The vibrations we feel announce a new life is stirring and will soon come to flower when the weak sun's rays become stronger. Yes, winter lacks the distractions of more active seasons. It is a time to return to the deep mystery of life itself and to make us closer to our mother and mothering Earth herself.
Earth, mother of the human race,
Repository of past civilizations and geologic ages,
Dust from which we came,
Cradle of our infancy,
Room for our romping feet and ever stretching hands,
Schoolyard of our intellect's quest,
Garment of our loves and yearnings,
Lap of our sorrows and joys,
Bearer of our transgressions:
Marked by our heavy footprints of time,
Eroded and scarred by highwalls
of human greed and negligence,
Crowned with pointed mountains and occasional rainbows,
Comforting, situating, directing us forward,
Welcoming new life of every form,
Giving all space to roam and find themselves,
Glorifying in their presence,
Recalling through quakes and shakes what is transitory,
Provider of the birds,
Nourisher of flowers and plants of every kind,
Supporter of the trees,
Preserver of wildlife
Dwelling place of the human race,
Economic commodity at desecrating hands,
Battleground and memorial of the warring,
Haven from sea storm and air flight,
Autumn's last bloom, telling of our end,
Urn of our bonds, grave of our people.
Prayer: God, Emmanuel, be with us in our fresh beginnings of the year. Help us to enliven what appears to be a lifeless season.
Mourning dove, Zenaida macroura.
January 3, 2018 Protect Birds in Various Ways
Birds all around us are in decline and need special protection in this age of pollution and loss of habitats. One may observe that birds can migrate away from danger, but it is not that simple. Traditional routes, feeding grounds and nesting areas are under attack; further decline is due to deforestation and forest fragmentation, human population growth, increased traffic congestion and commercial development, construction of powerlines and roadways, and the negative effects of climate change.
Join the Audubon National Annual Bird Count that is going on right now. Check <http://www.audubon.org/Bird/cbc>. Join the thousands of volunteers who include a mix of generations of family members who can participate in the oldest American citizen science project (since 1900), which improves wildlife conservation awareness and protective programs. The specific count is led by experienced birders or designated "compilers." The results of the count of sixty million birds help scientists who are engaged in this type of environmental work to determine degree and severity of decline or rise in bird populations.
Enhance local bird habitats through furnishing nests and establishing safe areas. Don't let clusters of swallows, flocks of crows, bands of wild turkeys or gaggles of geese make us think that bird populations are prospering. A wide variety of species both residential and those that migrate are in trouble due to habitat nesting area degradation. Since birds are heavily impacted by current environmental conditions, we may consider feeding birds -- not just hummingbirds that make immense treks to wintering places -- but also our permanently resident birds.
Protect the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Pressure legislators at the national level to halt the move to increase oil drilling in fragile northern areas. Too often the pressure of Big Oil overwhelms the resistance of environmental activists.
Control free-ranging domestic cats -- real bird killers. Audubon suggests improved habitat protection, partnerships with private landowners, backyard programs for homeowners, and stronger local regulations in controlling stray animals.
Become a committed birdwatcher. About one-quarter of all Americans consider themselves to be birdwatchers; these contribute to the local economy in terms of travel, food, lodging and equipment some $32 billion dollars, not including state and federal taxes (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates). But birds do more than furnish us economic benefits including environmental insect pest control. We are better because birds are in our midst, cheering and enlivening us by their song and color and assisting us in our praise of God.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to protect the birds around us and to learn where assistance by us is most needed.
Pebbles weathered into rounded shapes along a water's edge.
January 4, 2018 Promote Reasons for Living Simply
Here are some reasons why we should live more simply:
* Countercultural: Witness Value. Simple living is a testimony to the right way of doing things. People who live a complex and materialistic lifestyle take what rightfully belongs to others and hoard and waste these materials. It is affluence gone riot to take from future generations so as to satisfy this generation's greed and desire for comfort.
* Solidarity with Poor. Simple living helps us to be at one with a great number of believers -- two billion people who will never rise above a bare existence level. On the other hand, distancing ourselves from them makes us insensitive to their needs.
* Practicality and Creativity. To live simply is to remove extravagant excesses and unneeded consumer goods, which half of the rest of the world cannot possibly afford. Through simplicity we become more creative and practical in all aspects of daily living.
* Psychological: Wonder and Enthusiasm. The world of the wealthy is soon buried in material things, which require maintenance and care. The wonder of simple joys, of butterflies and sunsets, of fresh air and simple foods, is lost in this move to gain more and better things and to replace quality by quantity.
* Ecological: Communion with other Creatures. With St. Francis we call out to sister moon, brother sun, sister bird and brother wolf. These extended family members live simply, and our own simplicity helps us appreciate them as fellow creatures in God's grand plan of creation.
* Physical Health. It is far better to eat right and to exercise, to live in a way that excess is not part of our lives. Simple lifestyles include healthy food and balanced activities, moderation in drink, only necessary drugs, and other safeguards.
* Environmental. To walk gently on the Earth means using fewer materials, which require resources to extract, fashion, and dispose of. Complex lifestyles overload waste systems, require more water and other resources, and demand more electricity from air-polluting non-renewable fossil and nuclear fuels.
* Relational. Living simply and doing so with a purpose allows us to become more neighborly and less self-centered. Thus we are able to help others when in need, and with God's help to "save" ourselves through radical sharing with our neighbors.
* Liberation. To live simply requires much less time -- not more. We can discover resources to be of assistance to our neighbor, and to pursue our own intellectual and cultural growth.
Prayer: Lord, help us to live simply so others may simply live.
Gentle waterfall near Watt's Ferry. Woodford Co., KY.
January 5, 2018 Consider Peacemaking Activities
Since 9-11 in 2001 we have been in some sort of undeclared struggle or warfare in the Middle East -- and 16+ years is far too long. The beginning of 2018 presents each of us with a challenge: how can we become true and lasting peacemakers? Merely repeating the words "peace, peace" is not enough for words must give way to effective deeds. Now is the time to start afresh, to reconcile, to build bridges, to dispose ourselves through silence and meditation, to do peaceable acts at home and in community, and to make peacemaking a part of our individual and collective lives.
Individual Practices: Lessen stress levels by establishing a place of silence where we can recover from the struggles of life. This may be within the home or in an open space where nature gives a healing balm. Within our living space we can lower the volume of TV or other noise makes including appliances and equipment. Refrain from constant use of personal electronic devices and give yourself moments of peace of soul. Settle internal quarrels, for things can fester if unattended. Get sufficient sleep and rest and leave the ranks of the sleep-deprived; rest extends our peace of soul, gives us a fresh outlook, and is physically and mentally healthy. Focus attention when driving on the road. Keep a physical exercise program that takes about half hour or forty five minutes a day.
Community and Social Activities: We can expand peacemaking by joining others in our community or at broader levels. Bad relationships and conflicts exist all around us and need to be addressed and healed. Let's unite with local peacemakers through sharing resources and helping with civic activities that confront drug abuse. One may wish to join peacemaking organizations such as Pax Christi <www.paxchristiusa.org> or help promote specific national peacemaking programs. A number of years back, people like Theodore Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame, proposed a Peace Academy to research the causes of peace, train leaders in conflict resolution and mediation techniques, and serve as a clearinghouse to provide information to policymakers.
Broader issues: Peacemaking extends to the stability of our national and international political and economic systems. We must not only pray for global peace, but we must also encourage our elected representatives to engage in active conflict resolution and to be mindful of the need for dialog among all parties. Diplomacy is far better than expanded national military structures, which never give full security. No peace can be reached in the Middle East (or in the Holy Land in particular) unless all parties are at the table, and the legitimate concerns of all parties are voiced and addressed. We can hardly expect terrorism to be eliminated when we tolerate the silent terrorism of food insecurity on the part of so many of the world's people. Equality ensures peace.
Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of peace and help me to see that peacemaking is a priority for all of us in 2018.
Is Inequality Pro- or Anti-American
1. Unlimited capital belongs to the privileged since they have better talent in using it successfully.
2. Free markets and free trade are articles of capitalistic faith.
3. Charity by the rich is worth praising so that the motive to give more is enhanced.
4. Credit is the tool by which power is exercised over consumers who expect to be debt-free on their death bed.
5. Citizens are materially profit-motivated and strive for a greater share of the property base even though the pie is limited.
6. Millionaires strive to become billionaires -- and more power to them.
7. Lottery is the hopeful means to success and so all ought to take part.
8. Big Energy CEOs have a strong voice in government through lawmakers and leaders they know and support.
9. Governments are despised, complacent, manipulated, and used to advance the cause of the well off.
10. The poor are a problem and must be kept docile, hidden, and controlled. Problems are solved in a secular world by the rich who know best no matter what kind of mess the world is in.
11. Greed is a virtue needing cultivation as a clear motivation for material success.
12. Democracy means total and absolute individual choice and is not a domain of the socially inclined.
1. The world of wealth and resources do not belong to a select few; they also belong to the poor. Pope Benedict XVI 2007
2. Fair trade is needed so that those who sell are able to receive a just return.
3. This poor widow has put in more than any of them; for these have all contributed money they had over, but she from the little she had has put on all she had to live on. Jesus (Luke 21:3-4)
4. Credit cards have limited value and should not be made into a source of consumer spending; bills will need to be paid.
5. Proper activating citizens are socially motivated and champion the vision of radical sharing of resources.
6. The poor must rise up and find that they have the power to take what is rightfully theirs as community and not as individuals.
7. Winners in big lotteries have fewer chances than one struck by lightning -- and yet poor folks think it is their last chance.
8. Renewable energy users can tap the resources at hand and become independent of large-grid systems.
9. Legitimate governments stand as a barrier to keep the wealthy from taking over everything.
10. Excessive wealth is a problem that can only be solved by fair taxes levied on all possessions.
11. Greed is a vice worthy of confronting and exposing.
12. Democracy is fragile and must be respected and protected through ever-vigilant watchfulness.
Freezing cold and fresh snowfall. Fayette Co., KY.
January 6, 2018 Plan an Annual Retreat
This may not be the specific time for retreat-making for many of us, but January is a good time to plan a special annual event.
I like to make an annual retreat (generally at mid-year), and plan no special distractions to divert the attention needed during that week. It is a personal retreat; it is a sacrosanct time, for the planning and the retreat are part of living. Some hints for my and others' planning should include:
* Take quality time to plan, for this exercise is a form of tithing of our fleeting and precious time; planning is not a single yearly event but should include some daily, weekly, monthly -- and yearly spans of time. The annual retreat should be a major component of all our annual planning;
* Choose a retreat place that is removed from distractions. If this takes some time to locate, consider the time well spent. I make a portion or all of my annual retreats in wooded settings (though I have had to give up rustic camping as I age). One can discover that the annual retreat is a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with God's creation. Others will not want gnats and flies and so prefer a more developed or controlled setting such as an established retreat house, well lawned and well sprayed. Wherever the choice, the place should be devoid of noise and congestion. Youth prefer retreats that involve dialogue with others. But this is often not the case with adults who interchange too much with others and desire time to listen and talk with God.
* Plan for a possible change of plans or alternative time and place. It is difficult for some people to plan ahead definitively, whether for family, finances, future occupation, or major decisions in life. Take a word from a compulsive planner: we can refocus more easily when detours are possibly anticipated. Alternatives may be part of the initial planning. Most find changes of plans disconcerting -- unless planned in. Unexpected changes of plans can create unnecessary stress in one's life -- something that the happy-go-lucky person will quickly indicate.
* Isolation may be a distraction in a retreat and so some type of connection or proximity to others may be desirable. Also a companion human or even a pet may be desired -- or at least a telephone to contact others if need be. Actually, refraining from TV and social media electronic devices is essential for many.
* Avoid planning for other activities during the retreat. Part of the reason for the needed rest is that we open ourselves to the Spirit. We cut away distractions; we admit that we can only do one thing well at a time, namely, here and now to listen to the Spirit. However, some may be led by the Spirit to talk over what is happening at this time with a spiritual/retreat director.
Prayer: Lord, help me plan to make an annual retreat.
Many textures and colors of leaves on the forest floor.
January 7, 2018 Glory in the Story
The glory of the Lord shines upon you. (Isaiah 60:1-6)
The Christmas story is told and retold a million times in various formats: sermon, fireside chat, homily, poetry, simple prayer, and yet the story is ever new and enlivening. Audiences are different, conditions vary, but each who hears finds present a deep-down hunger to experience the basic message of peace and harmony with Christ's coming. Often our concerns are blinders that shut out the simple Christmas message of trust and giving. As we are distracted by terrorist attacks or the continued promoting of fossil fuels and foot-dragging with climate change issues, we are forgetful of the basic message of lasting peace.
Epiphany means the manifestation or showing of God's glory and its discovery by good and trusting souls. This is the peace that newborn infants bring to parents; it is the satisfaction with work done honestly to make a living; it is the rewards for helping to heal our wounded Earth. We are called to help bring Epiphany to a troubled world.
The Magi travel from a distant land with only an extraordinary phenomenon, a guiding brilliant star, which some strive to prove was a conjunction of stars or planets. The Magi represented all of us, the visitors to the Holy Land who seek peace and intend to take that peace to the outside world. Is not the same trek ours to make as well? God's manifestation and light is there but hidden because we must make the effort to journey to find it and cherish what is found. The psychological situation now, as in Christ's time, is that we sometimes ask directions, and without knowing it, from worldly and evil powers. But God is with us and through proper spiritual discernment we can arrive at the truth.
Gold, frankincense and myrrh are brought to the king of kings, and these three wise men take back home the gift of receiving Good News. This is a proper meeting in which valuable things are simply and lovingly given, and peace and harmony are received in exchange. Thus begins the grand missionary enterprise that extends to the end of time. The wise men faced limits due to modes of transport and distance. We must face the reality of selecting precious gifts, which are really simple but full of love, for our travel mode is also limited; we leave this world with only our love as final gift.
The Magi story of simple giving is interwoven with Herod's jealousy and his cruelty in retaining worldly power. The story involves changing plans, returning by another route, the killing of innocents, and the fleeing by the Holy Family to Egypt. Evil plots stand in stark contrast to the simple gifts exchanged and yet these sometimes happen. Our journey of faith is risky; like the Magi, we open ourselves to becoming vulnerable -- but we trust in God.
Prayer: Lord help us to manifest your presence through the simple gifts we share, knowing full well there are risks involved.
Winter hike along Kentucky creek.
January 8, 2018 Baptism: Reassuring Us to Act
You are my beloved son. On you my favor rests. (Mark 1:11)
Each time I pour the water of Baptism on the head of another, I pray that the importance of this event grows with time. God solemnly pronounces the beginning of the Messianic journey through a public ministry by Jesus; it is launched in a rather simple setting on the banks of the rushing Jordan River. John the Baptist feels unfit and objects to performing such an awesome task; yet he is reassured by Jesus. In some way, this dramatic second manifestation of Jesus that follows that of the Epiphany is an invitation to participate in the mystery of the salvation process.
The divine favor rests on the Chosen One, but that resting is a focusing, a special gift that is not meant to be clutched as a sole possession. Water is poured just as is the Jordan a fast- flowing stream at this point when and where Jesus was baptized. The rushing water manifests a coming of the Spirit, an enlivening for the mission ahead. The flowing water foreshadows the movement of Jesus out from his native Galilee to Jerusalem; it foreshadows the pouring forth of Pentecost's grace on his disciples.
Through the course of Salvation History we observe God's favor resting on One, but the descent of the Holy Spirit would also rest on each of the disciples and ultimately on each of Christ's followers, in time touching us. Jesus is called in vivid language through the drama of a voice from above.
Peter speaks to Cornelius, "I begin to see how true it is that God shows no partiality. Rather the one of any nation who fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to the Almighty" (Acts 10:34-35). Peter as leader of the apostles begins to sense the utter majesty of the grand work of salvation and he finds himself at a loss, being a mere human instrument in the work ahead. All God-fearing persons are within the arena of God's favor -- but each of us must see the need to do what is right in order to become fit instruments in the divine plan. God's favor rests as a gift that we certainly did not merit or have owed to us in any way; but it is freely extended if we follow Jesus down into the Jordan River. We see that Peter accepts the universal mission to bring Good News to others who will follow the pattern Jesus has undertaken.
Our Baptism washes away the stain of sin and bestows new life on us. This is our regeneration, preparing us to be the bearers of Good News. Our baptism is a launching pad, the most important moment between our birth and our passing from this life. We cannot rest by saying that we have been "saved" and that is to be presumed sufficient. We now must respond in an individual manner through the righteous living of our lives and the performing of good deeds needed in saving our troubled planet and people.
Prayer: Lord, make us aware of the gift of your grace, the power of our baptism, and the calling to the awesome task ahead.
Sandstone meets limestone, Carter Co., KY.
January 9, 2018 Strive to Become an Eco-Traveler
We can fool ourselves and justify travel more often than we like to admit. Do we realize that an auto or airplane trip consumes fuel? Some travel is good but let's be moderate and take less frequent trips especially overseas. The following eight guidelines from Co-op America's Travel Links are worth remembering:
1. Travel in a spirit of humility and with genuine desire to meet and talk with local people; travel to meet, not conquer.
2. Reflect daily on your experiences; seek to deepen your understanding. "What enriches you may rob or violate others."
3. Be environmentally friendly; use energy, water and other resources efficiently and in keeping with local practices. Only bring necessary technological gadgetry. Participate in local recycling programs where available. Try not to bring into the country any containers that you don't plan to take out.
4. Don't create barriers; take advantage of opportunities to walk, bicycle and use other forms of non-motorized transport.
5. Acquaint yourself with the local customs. Be culturally sensitive, especially with photography; folks are happy to pose.
6. Realize that people in the area you visit often have time concepts and thought patterns different from your own -- not inferior, just different.
7. Be economically beneficial. Spend money so that it stays in the community. When buying, remember that a bargain may be obtained because of low wages paid to the producer. Don't purchase products made from endangered species.
8. Cultivate the habit of listening and observing, rather than merely hearing and looking. Discover enrichment that comes from seeing another way of life.
Travel alternatives. Maybe this is the year for each of us to consider an alternative vacation that may not involve much additional travel. It is the time to travel less and handle more business by phone, conference calls, or e-mail. And this may be the year we need to stay closer to home with shorter and more regional alternatives. Extra guidelines apply, if the travel is considered "eco-tourism" -- and this is extensively treated in our book Ecotourism in Appalachia: Marketing the Mountains.
Pack Carefully. Think ahead on what is needed. Set these items aside and consider what items are really not needed. So often we will be thankful for fewer items. Always pack early.
Prayer: Lord, we are a people who are on our pilgrim's way. Help us to appreciate our situation and to become ideal travelers.
Laurel Lake, KY.
January 10, 2018 Resolve to Salt Less This Winter
Salt is necessary for our lives; we prize it, cook with it, preserve with it, sprinkle it about for flavor, and pour it to melt ice and gain traction. Yes, we can overuse salt that is less relatively expensive than for our ancestors; that overuse may occur on one of these cold icy days when we look for the salt sack, and spread crystals generously over the driveway and walks. It is so easy to do and allows us to quickly return to our warm living room. We may even hope that salt trucks scatter still more salt on the public roadways on which we must soon travel.
All is well -- if we pretend that the salt disappears immediately after the ice or snow melts. Not so. Crystals are gone, but the brine solution seeps into the soil and sidewalk cracks and stays around unless flushed away by rainwater. Vegetables, flowers, trees and other plants may find the salt worrisome if not damaging to growth. Some of our favorite shade trees -- the beech, birch, crabapple, ginkgo, hemlock, mulberry, sugar maple and white pine -- suffer from oversalting of the landscape. The brown leaf tips on susceptible trees are sure signs of "leaf scorch" due to salting.
"Don't salt!" is more easily said than done. Common rock salt, sodium chloride, is currently cheap in its mined and mostly unrefined state. Other types of materials, which also can produce a melted solution (provided the temperature does not get too cold), are commercially available. The local general merchandise stores have sodium chloride substitutes, which are far better for the environment, but they often cost two, three, even ten times as much as sodium chloride; some are inorganic non-sodium salts; others are by-products of the pulp industry, such as Bare Ground Ice Melt (granular or liquid) (one gallon at about $20 protects a thousand square feet). Some products are advertised as needing a single application per winter season. First, test these on a small-scale before widespread use. A cheap material to consider, which is less environmentally harmful, but less effective at times, is sand. Another substance, bothersome due to tracked residue, is cinders.
Winter weather is becoming less severe today due to climate change but extremes can and do occur. Trying to melt or reduce the adherence of partly melted snow-turned-ice to pavement is tough; going out immediately after the snow period and cleaning off before others walk and compact the snow is more suitable. However, don't be fooled by the apparent ease, for snow-cleaning can be more strenuous than anticipated. Attempt to clean pavement during the snow storm, and moderate shoveling is good exercise. Yes, moderation in all things. Recall that fertile lands have been salted through bad irrigation practices; that has been a pollution problem that goes back centuries in the Middle East and elsewhere. Let us learn to respect the power of salt in all we do.
Prayer: Lord, you want us to be the salt of the earth. Help us as salt to scatter our good deeds -- and only salt where needed.
Frost on roadside vegetation.
January 11, 2018 Launch the Gardening Year
This frigid winter day in January is a good time to launch the gardening year for there are always some preliminary things to do. Certainly it may not be the time to turn the soil, but the following twelve suggestions are worth January considerations:
1. Determine to garden well during the coming year and work out how you will secure the space to garden. The available space may be so small that the best plan is grow in pots or vertically on trellises, or it challenge one's management skills;
2. Decide and lay out where you are going to garden and determine which varieties are worth the effort. Select varieties that are compatible with limited space and proper sunlight;
3. Consider a fresh water source for small-scale irrigation. Refrain from using chlorinated municipal water if at all possible;
4. List perennials present on the land and any additional berries or fruit trees that you may find interesting;
5. Put your garden tools and garden supplies in order;
6. Collect seed catalogs and prepare a listing of needs;
7. Inventory your own home seed supply, especially for those that are heirloom varieties that you have saved or exchanged;
8. Go ahead and exchange/order your seeds today;
9. Sow brassicas and celery in greenhouses for early plants;
10. Prepare hotbeds for this is a perfect time;
11. Harvest the remainder of last year's root crops when weather permits; and
12. Plan specific floral interplanting with vegetables.
Gardening is for all who challenge the iron-clad distinctions between experts and inexperienced, and between producers and consumers. We can fulfill much of our food needs with what we produce, and we will do this in environmentally friendly ways. We can become gentle revolutionaries who believe in the power of starting small at the grassroots, and gradually influencing others to make their own changes. Gardening involves to some degree all the different seasons, and January is no exception. We anticipate the exquisite pleasure of picking tomatoes, digging root crops, gathering crisp greens and enjoying produce during the year.
Prayer: Lord, energize us to get started with the small preliminary exercises needed for a successful gardening year and to have the energy to carry on throughout 2018.
Fresh vegetable soup.
January 12, 2018 Make a Winter Twelve-Veggie Soup
All of us can grow in our cooking skills. I like to cook a twelve-ingredient vegetable/herb soup. This wider variety allows for new and creative tastes with each new undertaking at low cost and using ingredients at hand. The number "twelve" in reference to vegetables or herbs sounds just right. Cookbooks are nice, but let them rest; launch into "innovative cooking." Add your own dash of seasonings and spices to be creative. On rare January days I have made a twelve-ingredient variety even though my autumn garden was not perfect. Once I made a January twelve-variety soup totally from home grown ingredients: canned tomato juice; greenhouse-grown vegetables ("tommy toes" tomatoes, dill, mint, Swiss chard and Chinese cabbage); and late garden, protected winter crops (parsley, Jerusalem artichokes, salsify, carrots, garlic, mustard and kale). That is harder to do when I now lack a greenhouse.
January combinations may include these items:
Tomato juice -- thick and red made from Romas (or from store-bought canned juice) as the base ingredient.
Squash or zucchini -- kept in the root cellar for just such
culinary creations and body.
Garlic -- also found under the mulch. Garlic adds that distinctive and best liked of all cooking aromas.
Carrots -- just dug from the garden when not frozen for these are filled with vitamins needed in winter.
Salsify -- a truly winter root vegetable (also known as oyster plant) that has all the taste of seafood itself along with its own distinctive texture.
Jerusalem artichokes -- also fresh from the garden for added gourmet touch at the end of the cooking process.
Parsley -- from the snow banks where it is fortified with its natural sugars to withstand the cold for flavor.
Swiss Chard or Collards -- from the greenhouse or protected areas for color.
Kale -- from the temporary cold frames in the garden for green bulk.
Mustard -- under a cloth cover, able to endure the early winter until well into January in Kentucky.
Dandelions -- hidden under the mulch cover and able to add a special batch of nutrients to the mix.
Dill -- a final greenhouse remembrance of seasons past.
Cooking: The pepper/tomato juice base (one quart of thick, canned juice with one to two quarts of water added) is brought to a boil, and ingredients added after cleaning and dicing. Add black pepper and soya sauce but no salt because the juice has canning salt present. Some cooks prefer sautéing, but I add the onions, garlic and aromatic herbs last. The four-liter soup mix is boiled for about one hour and then left on a simmering low heat until time to serve. Add one's own creative final seasoning.
Prayer: Lord, help us to enjoy cooking and sharing our soups, especially when they contain the produce from our garden.
We Must Confront the Current Economic System
Environmentalists concerned about climate change find a limited success in confronting deniers; these powerful economic forces are committed to prolonging the fossil fuel-based System as long as possible. Big Energy has a death grip that chokes the cry of the poor and the sane voice calling for justice in our world. Part of the nefarious actions of this group last year involved a so-called "tax reform," which is regarded by knowledgeable economists as possibly the greatest transfer of wealth from the lower classes to the rich in the history of the world: a transfer of over a trillion dollars, that's over a thousand billion dollars. The transfer is not from an existing treasury, but via IOUs going to future generations. Does any of this make sense when urgent focus ought to be on establishing a renewable energy economy?
What about political action this year? We cannot allow injustice to exist when our democratic principles tell us that things seem right in one way of looking at the world, and yet are convinced that time to change is of the essence. Urgency calls for joining forces with responsible citizens and not to simply act alone. The sting of inequality helps create discomfort among the discerning, and a government beholden to those with wealth simply moves us as citizens in a democracy to take matters into our own hands. Yes, final economic reports of 2017 when painted in some red brush strokes seem upbeat from a standpoint of economic improvement, but with continued growing indebtedness in the trillions of dollars in times of prosperity, one can stop and listen and hear a death toll on American leadership at a time of global crisis. This year may be our political last chance.
Are we willing to speak out for radical change? It is time to turn public discourse and be willing to call a spade a spade, even at the risk of losing one's favor among family or friends or other associates. Are we to remain silent about the current economics, especially since some statistics seem so favorable (Stock Market heights, fairly good employment, profits for the upper class, power of the large corporations, etc.)? Are there actually dark clouds just beyond the horizon as some predict? Is the global dominance of the Capitalistic System amid its growing inequality a mirage soon to fade in a day of reckoning? How do we cope with a continued advance of climate change through greenhouse gas buildup? What about a world threatened by nuclear holocaust? Are we aware of the signs of the times and are we willing to discuss them?
Must we call on divine assistance? Responsible people must hone everything at our disposal to check this insanity that involves an addiction to consumer goods and a failure to address the urgency of such allurements. We must use all of our resources and this includes awareness that the work cannot be fully done alone, but needs divine assistance. This is part of the basic problem with any form of addiction -- the powerlessness of raising oneself by one’s bootstraps. Consumer addiction befalls a world and the secular promise of solution is hollow. Believers in the future who see clear signs of the times must proclaim the need to establish harmony -- a balance of actions with sincere prayer (see Resonance: Promoting Harmony When Confronting Climate Change). Without divine assistance a public allured by distractions will wish to postpone problems along with national indebtedness.
Monied interests point to what heights Capitalism can reach, with their promise that good will trickle down from the top to the bottom. This is certainly not a healthy democracy where all in theory have an equal voice. The silenced are the ones who cannot get equal attention in a world of those with power and attention-reaching influence who imply by actions that it is okay to borrow from future generations in order to please the current one. Certainly information overload and social chatter reduce our attention span. Silence is no excuse, for it allows the economically powerful to broadcast their empty promises. Are we forced to commiserate privately with victims of injustice (the poor jailed for failing to pay or refugees caught amid competing forces)? Does this seemingly forced silence mean citizens lose the last vestige of social justice to billionaires?
Answers are available. Discerning questions may only postpone commonly seen answers that people to do not have nerve to voice. Yes, we could have fair taxes (tax the super-rich and increase gasoline and road usage fees) to pay for infrastructure and to pay for renewables in poor countries (who did not cause the crisis in the first place); taxes could pay for a single health system for all, pay for proper education and welfare, and pay somewhat less for an over-bloated military system. Answers exist and yet the legislators are like lap dogs who do not want to bite the bejeweled hand that feeds them.
This year must be one of more than questions that will only postpone solutions that need to start now, both through a will on the part of existing legislators and by a change of government more to the will of people demanding action at times of urgency. But there must be a will to act and that is difficult for addicted people to do without a Higher Power. Questions, no matter how sincere, are not enough. Answers can be forthcoming, if the power shift occurs through productive resistance to the present paralyzed System. Why must the poor pay through social welfare cuts? Resistance is not only possible, it is necessary for the life of this nation and world.
Solutions are multiple but possible, necessary and not postponed, reasonable and spiritually uplifting. The recently passed so-called "tax reforms" are a sham and must not be considered a permanent fixture in this currently unfair System. Time to act is not to simply gravely question that complex assortment of economic bright spots for some, and to tolerate a bleak future for others. We must speak out politically, morally and spiritually.
Weathered barn and shed, Anderson Co., KY.
January 13, 2018 Treasure Rural Experiences
You can take the boy out of the country, but not the country out of the boy. This adage is repeated by the many Americans who have left farm life and now live in towns, suburbs or cities. We farm escapees or exiles may desire to continue and intensify our country identity, and to do so as a yearly or year-round experience, for example, through returning to farming after retirement, helping out during the summer on a farm, or (in my case) through gardening on a regular basis. We add an additional note: many youth lack work experience and truly miss something that ought to be brought back in some form -- and is very needed today.
January always brings back remembrances of farm life. Maybe it was the month with the harshest weather to endure. It was difficult leaving a warm place and going out to do farm chores. But it is also a time to reminisce about the things that make you a country "boy" all your life. Here are several rural patterns worth mentioning:
* Weather -- You can step outside and know what it is going to do today -- it didn't take a weatherman to tell you. You know.
* Outside -- You feel uneasy being indoors when the weather is pleasant and it is daylight, for there could be outside things to do. It is part of being ruralolic.
* Animal Ways -- You can size up the way a cow is going to turn by just looking at it from a distance. You know how to take care of animals when they are sick and how to give them some distance when they are mean. No one tells you. You know.
* Outdoor Work -- You know when something has to be planted and that waiting for a week could be the wrong strategy. You know how to pace yourself in working in the hot sun. If you overexert, no one else is to blame.
* Orderliness -- You enjoy seeing a well-kept place with fences and gates in working order and good farm buildings. You know how much effort it takes to make straight and evenly spaced crop rows.
* Seasons -- You know the year begins with winter, for that is the first of the growing season, when daytime lengthens and when the sap starts to rise, and the roots start to extend themselves. You don't start the year in spring, for life begins in winter.
* Directions -- You know how to get your bearing quickly and how to regain direction; you can size up the lay of the land, how water flows, and what are sunny and shady places.
* Farming Gifts -- You know the people who are not energetic or smart enough to farm successfully. And you respect rural folks.
Prayer: Lord, we thank you for our past experiences.
The Kentucky River.
January 14, 2018 Listen for the Seasonal Calls
Here I am. You called me. (Samuel 3:3-10, 19)
We are all called in some way, and this is not a once-only event. Samuel is repeatedly called. Jesus leaves his home and goes on his mission journey -- and with time and subsequent events his calling becomes clearer. Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John. It is a seasonal call for them and something that includes re-calls at various important seasons after they have lapsed. In the summer or autumn of life we hear Melville saying in Moby Dick, I am a man running out of time. We have a time-sensitive gift of life to be used well. All of us need to be sensitive to our seasonal calls that occur right here and now:
Icy stillness in that timeless span,
A cipher in the majestic divine plan,
Spoken against first winter's spell, "God-man."
Within that majestic spoken Word
Our names are called, though the sound be blurred,
But, by another, first heard.
Spin the rushing wind, the earthquaked rocks rend,
--Or is it maybe a kid's boom-boxed din?
And then a blissful moment's silence when
God speaks to me in gentle whispers hence,
Mockingbird, dogwood, redbud dispense
Early springtime's luminescence.
Summer's bright red comes rightly soon,
Blazing sun, heat waves at life's high noon,
Drifting upward as though an endless tune.
Vows and promises of youth seared by heat, a retreat
And within God's sweet sounding drumbeat --
Repeat, repeat the words, repeat.
Gold and crimson autumn's scene arrived,
Fast lane's withered leaves survived;
But mercifully my soul is not deprived
Of the chance to soar. Wiser, I can't ignore
Any whisper, any roar; still God does implore --
There's more in store, explore the more.
Then finally winter's frost-covered finality
Or is it unworthy dignity
In reaching to the light of eternity?
An Ave's mercy at the hour of death;
Only a curtain call is left, encore bereft;
Beseeching new birth in dying breath.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to stop awhile and see that this is the ideal season for listening to your seasonal call.
Setting sun on rural farm, Mercer Co., KY.
January 15, 2018 Purge Elements of Residual Racism
Today on the birthday of Martin Luther King we are again called to look into ourselves and find the vestiges of elitism that makes us unconsciously think we are better than another. We may say that such does not exist, but are we so sure? Often we hear a joke about another ethnic group or race and that stays with us only too long. What lurks in our memory of past belittling language about anothers' race, color, or ethic group?
We Americans are all products of our longtime racist culture and it simply takes time and discernment to root out those hidden elements that express themselves against black folks or Hispanic migrants or Native American tribes, or former national enemies. The story of slavery in our American past and the interning of Japanese-Americans during World War II are examples of our shared cultural history with pitfalls. Let's ask so basic questions:
* Am I a racist in explicit ways or through preferences for hiring, interacting, conversing and associating?
* Do I show racial preferences in speech? I once knew someone who I could predict what race he was speaking with by the way that he conversed on the phone.
* Do I harbor stereotypes of people of a different race?
* Do I tell or tolerate racially or religiously-based jokes which disparage others?
* Do I give preference to people of a certain race over others who are not of that color?
* Have I tried to overcome the barriers that separate us, and tried to help bring about full equality among the races?
* Do I champion a program of restitution for descendants of slaves who helped build this nation for virtually no compensation?
Recall that Georgetown University has recently announced an affirmative program to compensate for sale of slaves in the 1830s.
* Do I believe in affirmative action or has that day passed? Do I have an alternative plan that would improve race relations? Do I support civil rights issues? The goals of the NAACP?
* Do I pray for and conduct my life so that full integration of the races will occur in this country? Do I welcome the coming administration with no racial bias?
* Do I show equal concern about American and the developing world's health and hunger problems?
Prayer: Lord, help me to break down the barriers that separate us as citizens of one nation and one world.
Taking a walk with beloved pet.
January 16, 2018 Encourage Daily Physical Exercise
January is a time when we make new resolutions, and yet in this winter season we can easily backslide on our personal physical exercises (PE). The temperature and outdoor weather conditions in the northern areas of America cause us to seek excuses for not being more physically active. Maybe PE tomorrow! True, there are outdoor winter sports people -- ice skaters, snowball throwers, trappers and snowmobile operators, and the skiers who flock to winter resorts in the Rockies and elsewhere. But for the great majority of us, winter can be difficult, and we think more often of how to find excuses while we await spring's welcome arrival.
Initiate indoor exercise programs. For better or worse, PE itself is more important than where it is performed. Some people like indoor pool swimming or working out with stationary bikes, moderate weight lifting, calisthenics and yoga exercises. I have a rowing machine that is rugged enough not to wear out quickly, if kept oiled. The cost of indoor exercise programs hardly matches the health bills that could come from deteriorating health due to lack of exercise and overweight. Better health club than hospital bills -- that is where formal PE programs are accessible in our own domestic settings.
Consider year-round gardening. Year-round opportunities may exist for gardening, depending on the presence and size of a greenhouse or cold frames or the mildness of a particular winter. Gardening is a proven reducer of stress and an opportunity to be in the great outdoors. Such exercise allows us to establish our own pace, avoid strenuous exercise, set our own schedules, and uses virtually all body parts -- legs, arms, back, and hips. We may have an opportunity to assist shut-ins who have a more difficult time getting outdoors, and this assistance or service for others becomes physical exercise for the caregiver.
Do not forget moderate outdoor exercise. Winter time in this age of global warming is not totally sleet and drifting snow. Even in severe winter areas, mild days afford opportunities to get outside for fresh air and full-spectrum sunlight. Some prefer sheltered parts of the grounds or woodlands where one can cut firewood or clean brush. Others find cleared roadways less dangerous at certain periods, and thus take brisk walks using shoes that offer good traction. Winter jogging is sometimes possible though this can be hazardous at times.
Other Steps for Anti-Aging: Besides exercise, the following ten points are suggested for senior citizens: don't smoke; follow a healthy diet; use supplements wisely; drink enough water (six to eight glasses a day); avoid excessive exposure to the sun; reduce stress; challenge your mind; limit alcohol consumption; cultivate satisfying relationships; and consider preventive medicine.
Prayer: Lord, remind us that we are people on the way, and that means physically exercise to what our constitution allows.
Unidentified fungi after warm weather period in January.
January 17, 2018 Learn from Ben Franklin: Stay Active
Today is Ben Franklin's 312th birthday, and we ought to consider some of the accomplishments of this extraordinary co-founder of our nation. Maybe his many noteworthy achievements can overwhelm the reader (Continental Congresses, mission to France, electricity experiments, newspaper, public library, Pennsylvania Constitution, etc.). A complete listing would take up the entire essay, so let's focus on one characteristic of his life that is worth imitating: staying active. What about it couch potatoes? Some suggestions for being Franklin-like (though he did not necessarily use these suggestions himself) include:
Help others who are in need. Some people chalk up sizeable amounts of service time by giving their free time to help others with homework and tutorials, language and literacy training, cleaning and housekeeping, voter assistance, community service, forest maintenance, prison visits, and a host of other activities.
Read widely. Do this in a variety of fields. Franklin lived in the age of the Encyclopedists who were seeking a wide range of knowledge in science, the arts and philosophy. His interests were quite varied. Wider reading keeps us open to new ideas.
Exchange ideas. Participate in lectures, discussions, workshops (and blogs if meaningful). Talk over new ideas with friends by person-to-person conversation or through phone calls, letters or the Internet. Communication is easier today than it was in Franklin's time, so make the best of it.
Become a hobbyist. Choose a hobby or craft and stick with it. Consider real puzzles such as ones related to food purchases and cooking, home economics or energy expenditure. If caught with time and no materials, discover the longest English word that does not repeat the same letter. Can you get 26 letters or even 11?
Read while waiting. Often we can expect a waiting period at appointments and before boarding a plane or train -- or strained somewhere in a snowstorm. Carry interesting literature that will keep you occupied during unexpected waiting periods.
Pray and exercise. Each person should find the time and that means adjusting busy schedules for formal prayer, reflection, meditation and physical exercise. Also try to pray spontaneously.
Double occupations. When exercising in a manner that does not require much concentration, meditate; when biking in non-traffic areas, sing to yourself; when preparing a meal or some daily chore, listen to the news; when driving, listen to music but do not engage in texting; when toileting, read interesting articles.
Prayer: Lord, you are the master of our time. Help us to make the most of it -- and see that reflection is also part of staying active in a meaningful way.
Rarely-encountered saprophytic pinesap, Monotropa hypopitys.
January 18, 2018 Eight Ways to Simplify One's Life
During these challenging times we need to rethink our lives. Here are some ways that deserve January consideration:
Simplify by down-sizing. Is the extra space for work or living necessary? Many people desire a change in life and this may be the opportune moment. Excess space requires extra cooling, heating and management, and that is costly in money and time. Think smaller; it may prove comforting.
Simplify by "reuse." Become counter-cultural. Don't buy unless necessary; use what you have; recycle what you can't use; give to someone who can make a better use of the material; discard only when no longer needed -- and recycle the discarded items.
Simplify by insulating walls and windows. Insulating materials certain have quick payback. People with good sewing skills can make an immense difference in an area of sizeable heat loss in winter; they can make beautiful quilted, insulated window shades and wall hangings; instructions are on the Internet. Also consider adding window glazes that curb energy loss.
Simplify through creating comfort zones. Many Americans do not realize that they demand lower indoor temperatures in summer than they feel comfortable with in winter. A single established comfort zone whether relatively high or low would save energy needed to heat and cool; the resident should allow for five degrees higher in summer and five degrees cooler in winter. We can withstand the "cold" at 60 of lower degrees Fahrenheit, along with blankets and winter clothing. In summer 70 degrees F or higher is tolerable without air conditioning by opening in cooler nights.
Simplify car use and care. Bike, walk, carpool where possible; combine trips; keep a car in tune and with properly inflated tires; plan for a more energy-efficient vehicle.
Simplify lawn and grounds use. Too much ornamental lawn is of no good purpose and will only prove a worry. Convert this into cultivated space or "edible landscaping."
Simplify diets. Change eating habits and choose foods that are lower on the resource scale: consume less meat and more imitation meat products; buy and use less prepared sugar- and fat-filled commercial foods; look for and purchase more bulk items to save on packaging; consume fewer soft drinks; and grow your own garden produce that can be guaranteed to be organically grown.
Think twice about each electronic device. Here too many people are caught up in the rat race to stay connected at all times. Social media interaction is nice but can consume time needed for reflection and focus on important matters.
Prayer: Lord, inspire me to champion the simple life.
Buffalo Mountain Wind Farm, TN.
January 19, 2018 Celebrate Windpower in America
Wind power is coming though naysayers can slow down the progress. The data is not complete for 2017 but the picture is one of continued progress as it overtakes hydropower as the principal renewable energy source. Wind is cheap, it's plentiful, it is developed with relative speed, and it is environmentally friendly. Newer and more efficient turbines are coming on stream each year. When the off-shore farms on the East coast start producing, this renewable source will be close at hand for densely populated centers from Boston to Washington, DC. Wind is coming!
And more than cities benefit. Today 99% of wind farms are currently operating in rural areas and 71% of them in low-income areas. The investments are at $14 billion a year in the US and with annual lease payments of $245 million to rural communities. Overall, in the U.S. public health benefits from wind replacing fossil fuel emission comes to $7.3 billion per year. The number of new employees in this expanding energy field is running in the tens of thousands a year, a great reason why renewable energy and jobs are a win-win situation.
Wind potential is immense. The Great Plains from Minnesota to Texas have already been the focal areas for new wind farms, but the potential also exists elsewhere in many parts of our country. Furthermore, advanced wind generators work quite well at lower wind speeds and expand wind energy's potential territory to much of the nation. An American map shows higher wind potential in the Great Plains but also in the Northwest, the eastern Midwest, parts of Appalachia and the Great Lakes regions, and along the East and West coasts, and where much of America's population can someday benefit.
Wind energy is pollution-free. Except for the swishing sound (300 yards away it is as quiet as a library reading room) and stray birds (directed elsewhere through certain attached devices), there is virtually no environmental impact from wind generation. The argument that the viewscape will be marred by such wind generators is not sufficient in an age when the atmosphere is already damaged by non-renewable energy-generation pollutants. Consider the improvement in environmental quality in replacing a coal-fired plant by wind turbines with cattle grazing about and the air pure.
A key in the total energy system. Wind advocates admit that wind does not blow always at the same volume and speed; this is an intermittent energy source just as is solar energy. A combination of several sources such as more consistent hydro, geothermal and tidal (along with natural gas as a current alternative) will be the most ideal transitory condition to a renewable energy economy. The great hesitancy of initial equipment costs (very low in comparison with nuclear power plants) is disappearing with new technologies. Acceleration depends on removal of fossil fuel tax breaks.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us through the Spirit's rushing wind to champion the effectiveness of the physical wind all about us.
We Must Become Politically Involved as Citizens
The dilemma facing those who are committed to religious duties in our country is to what extent one must become publicly involved as citizens. The Johnson Amendment puts limits on partisan activities by religiously committed groups. But does this mean that one is to be silent on political matters? How can anyone stand by with the current Administration's blatant disregard for proper participation in threats to our planet? It's necessary for every responsible citizen to speak out through every means possible when irresponsible actions are contemplated or actually being perpetrated. We cannot remain silent, for silence is its own immoral partisan position. Let's review some steps to take:
Lobbying activities. Before legislation is crafted it is important that the political leaders become involved in the rule-making process. On issues such as climate change that must be urgently acted upon at various local, regional and national levels, the clear mandates of ushering in renewable energy programs must be championed. This needs active work either in personal or organized group contacts or through emails, letters, phone calls and gatherings. What is more personal is more influential. If and when you become known as a champion of the issue, it may be strategically wise to enlist others to lobby and simply assist them in assembling the information. Acting behind the scenes is important, provided alternative lobbyists are articulate.
Mustering political action. Some opt as citizens to belong to a political party of their choice in order to exert more influence, and this should not be discouraged; Democrats need to include those who are pro-life in their midst and Republicans need those who have a sense of economic and social justice in their ranks. The deficiencies of political parties can be directly addressed by trusted party members perhaps better than from those outside the party. As citizens, all who are religiously committed must regard this inner party activity as an option to the degree it does not turn off ministry constituents. Much depends on the degree of public participation and open expression.
Voting. Little more can be said in a viable democratic society than that this is a must and should include not only proper registering as individuals, but also of other members of the neighborhood -- especially those with similar views to your own. Consider transporting immobile voters on Election Day.
Petitioning. The use of social media as a means of telling political leaders where one stands on issues plays an important role in the current political process. This activity is an easy expenditure of time when signing one's name on the Internet, but the process generally includes the unpleasant task of filling out a polling questionnaire and request for financial contributions. In some notable occasions legislators are pleasantly surprised by the number of their constituents who sign up for a specific issue.
Personal interacting. Today, the urgency of the times demands that people are willing to discuss political issues with others at a more private and interpersonal level. Are you willing to confront a climate change denier at a personal level and to do so with charity and an open-minded spirit? The ability of some to do this better than others is obvious, and those better suited should be encouraged to undertake this ministry with increased vigor.
Public educating. This type of activity cannot be overlooked, for it involves what is happening on this website. Any form of written, spoken or video-type media presentation that is clearly reasoned is of great importance. This is especially true in a consumer culture that is bent on alluring people to fun and games; often the thrust is diverting attention away from urgent problems facing our world. This removal from focus is all the more telling when the effects of lack of legislation will affect a future generation and not current lives. The public must be informed and that includes political leaders on such issues as climate change. Examine essays, opinions, letters-to-the-editor, academic lectures, discussions, homilies, conferences, classroom guest discussions, YouTube videos, and on and on. Opportunities are far more numerous than many suspect. Consider making use of them.
Civil demonstrating. As 2018 progresses it is evident that such activities as the building of the section of the Keystone XL Pipeline in Nebraska will come up for review. This issue is paramount since this pipeline will open the door for the importation and passing through the U.S. of millions of barrels of very dirty petroleum; these supplies are meant to be refined on the Gulf Coast and then exported to other places. The added amount of greenhouse gases from pipeline contents will be sizeable and every effort needs to be made to see that the process does not reach fruition. Many of us activists have promised (from several years back) to resist such endeavors as the XL Pipeline extension as the mark in the sand beyond which Big Energy must not cross.
Civil disobeying. The likelihood is that the climate of policing at pipeline demonstrations could turn violent, and that the law enforcement might feel the mood of leaders in affected states is to sanction brutal means to control or disperse such demonstrations. "Leave or you will be arrested." When issues are of great urgency then non-violent demonstrations, even with risk of arrest or imprisonment are necessary. Certainly our nation that has left the Paris Climate Change Agreement has an Administration bent on prolonging the fossil fuel economy even at the expense of the planet. No wonder the atmosphere for conflict darkens.
Political involvement is a duty of every citizen and yet what each can do may vary dependent on human energy and time. The immoral stance of hell-bent expansion of fossil fuel production must be resisted, sometimes at cost to the resisters. Discerning our own maximum influence is well worth reflection at this time.
Frost-covered trees along rural road., Powell Co., KY.
January 20, 2018 Reflections Where Life Expectancy Declines
This is a hard reflection to write: it hits home and I can do little to really ease the situation. My two parishes cover one Kentucky county apiece (Estill and Powell) and each have the unique distinction of being among only ten in the over 3,000 in the U.S. where life expectancy is in decline. Eight of the ten are in our Kentucky Appalachian region. The Institute for health and Metrics at University of Washington and Erasmus University found life expectancy or Americans increased from 73.8 years in 1980 to 79.1 in 2014 -- but with a twenty year gap between shortest and longest living counties. The results are tragic but not unexpected.
Among the reasons offered by those who think they are on top of the situation are: poor health on the part of individuals (physical inactivity, obesity, diabetes), heavy use of tobacco products, an older portion of people with younger and healthier ones leaving through out-migration, alcoholic consumption, and overdosing on drugs. The problem with the last of these reasons is that there is great under-reporting. On a Saturday a while back I was riding with the undertaker in Powell County and he said they conducted seven funerals that week and this seventh was the only one that was not an overdose death. However, the obituaries would never indicate any of this -- died after "short illness" or "abrupt illness." In fact, a colleague and I attempted to confirm overdose deaths and found funeral directors in the know simply clammed up. Insurance payments were at stake. When the national government says 33,000 in a single year (91 a day), do they really know?
Yes, we have deaths and so many are in middle age, but what can one individual or even one parish do about it. We do pass out food to those in true need, for people are hungry. In fact, one of our parishes passed out over 5,200 food shipments per year to families in need at a time when food stamps are being cut to enrich the wealthy. One woman told me in asking for food that she had food stamps for a single individual yet she cared for a total of five, including grandchildren. Some of our veterans get $15 a month in food stamps and some folks are unable to get any. Yes, there is a commodities program and it is highly welcome. And we do stress the need for local gardening to supplement food needs.
A combination of persistent poverty and lack of jobs exacerbates our local problem. Our Appalachian public interest hopes are that we can take care of ourselves -- but we know that modern health and education are costly; funds leave our region for more sophisticated health and educational centers and skilled jobs are less available for our people. Tourism is flourishing but its income does not replenish out-funding. Part of being with the poor is raw awareness that our charity is imperfect and our solutions are longer term than our lifetimes. And yet even with fewer years to live in expectancy we cannot give up hope. Such is life! Let's ban the profitable legal drugs that kill our people.
Prayer: Lord, help us to improve the quality of our lives.
Evening photo near campfire, Livingston, TN.
January 21, 2018 The Jonah Story Applies to All
Up! Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you to. (Jonah 3:2)
The basic Jonah story seems so fantastic that one could hardly expect to find it in the Bible. But it is there. Jonah is called by God and yet is a reluctant prophet; he suffers from being disobedient in his manner of responding to his mission; he is to go to Nineveh, a vast city, and yet he turns away and goes off to Tarshish -- the other end of the Earth. Jonah finally listens to the call to convert Nineveh after being the victim of a storm, thrown into the sea as though lost, rescued by a whale, regurgitated onto the land, moves forward to his delayed mission, and after the mission is accomplished complains even amid its success. God works with imperfect Jonahs and accepts people where they are. Jonah's work is completed and yet he sits outside the city depressed and awaiting death. A castor-oil plant (Ricinus communis) grows up quickly and shades him; it dies and he faces the scorching sun and again waits to die. God finally tells him one last time that welfare of Nineveh's people is what is important.
We are called to be modern "Jonah" prophets; Nineveh is the worldwide arena; going out is engaging in the Internet through social networking with those in need; and preaching is our interaction or our unique manner of responding to divine inspiration, for the story can have a modern setting:
* We are also called by God each in our own way, for we each have a unique mission;
* All too often we run from that call in our own way, but God is the "Hound from Heaven" and seeks us out on the fleeing ships of this world's busyness and cares;
* Misfortune strikes in the storms of life and all seems lost in the manner in which we have forsaken our mission;
* Others dump us overboard because we have caused trouble;
* Earthly creatures all too often are the messengers who are meant to bring us back to our senses and to regain our mission;
* God's message is serious even when accentuated through light-heartedness; we must return to our call to save a wandering world, and preach the message of simpler lifestyle;
* God's love and mercy extends to the brute animals, for these are included in Nineveh's repentance and our wellbeing;
* The urgency of mission grows as the agent of change becomes involved in the work at hand and demands a change of heart;
* We are but servants in the service of our God, and that should be its own satisfaction;
* At times we face depression and dissatisfaction;
* In humorous ways God blesses us with castor-oil plants; and
* Amid it all, God is a merciful God and tolerates our eccentricities.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see our mission for what it is, to do so seriously and yet to persist in a light-hearted fashion.
Rural road along the Natchez Trace.
January 22, 2018 Care for the Car
For some drivers cautions mentioned here sound like old hat. Fine, but most of us deserve to be reminded. Automobile care is a serious consideration in winter's rough weather, and so it is natural that we should give some extra tender loving care to our vehicle(s). This reminder is as much for me as for you. Let's be more aware of tires, brakes, battery, windshield wipers and lights, just in case we have special needs this month. Place flashlights, extra clothes and even a sleeping bag in your vehicle. I live in an emergency evacuation zone, being downwind from the Bluegrass Army Depot that stores a heavy volume of nerve gas. Other readers may be downwind from a potential winter storm.
Good regular maintenance. Autos give better service when cared for properly, such as with routine oil and oil filter changes. One mechanic tells of a new car that never had an oil change in twenty five thousand miles -- it was essentially ruined when it should have had ten more years of life. Such things happen. All drivers or their service center can check the fluid levels in a radiator, batteries, window wash container, transmission and motor oil. We ought to have regular checkups so that the auto specialist looks over everything with even more thoroughness than we do. Also winter is a good time to have vehicles washed to remove road salt.
Intermediate and extraordinary maintenance. At a more intermediate level, remember to have gas filters checked. Then for some autos there are timer belts, which will need changing after a period of time depending on the car model (usually about 60,000 miles). Consider spark plug replacement, brake performance, a thorough look at engine performance, and to have the exhaust system inspected for rusting and punctures. A tune-up is often worth about 10% in gas mileage. A regular car "doctor" takes pride in alerting us to unsuspected needs. Even if the extraordinary inspections are done by the state or city, it is good to know a thorough diagnosis of the vehicle has been made. We should all stay alert for any strange sounds and watch mileage per gallon to determine whether there is a sudden loss in vehicular efficiency.
Tire care. New tires (especially radial ones) are some of the soundest investments for highway safety and fuel efficiency, giving up to ten percent better mileage. I am reminded here to get two new tires. Most drivers know that proper inflation adds to better wearing tires, and brings the very welcome benefit of fuel economy. Check tires for excessive wear after hitting a curb or road object.
Start-Up and driving time. We like to jump in and drive away. The conscientious person will start and idle the car for a short while and then start out at moderate speeds. We need constant reminders to drive within the speed limits; this adds to the life of the car and saves fuel as well (a twenty percent savings, if within limits as opposed to driving fifteen miles over).
Prayer: Lord, help us to be care givers even for our vehicles.
Centipede on textured pine bark.
January 23, 2018 Reuse Materials
During the Great Depression Americans were far more economical in the way they handled their possessions. Maybe 2018 is the time to consider reusing our current resources. We know that it takes more energy and resources to extract, grow, transport, fabricate, advertise and sell the items we use -- and often the items we possess are underused. It's wasteful to acquire substitutes or to fret about keeping things that have little use. Here are some considerations about our material possessions:
* Take unused items to a flea market or generate a yard sale, which is a popular market during economically difficult times. One person's junk is another's treasure, a saying that has some merit. Strive not to be a collector of what others discard, but always be on the lookout for needed tools, kitchenware or clothes. Going to a yard sale requires a certain discipline so avoid unneeded things. List needed items prior to going. Impulsive buyer, beware!
* Strive to get the very old items to a museum or into other public uses. Remember, if you have kept items around long enough, they may become antiques and may repay their storage costs. Half of the types of tools I used as a farm kid are museum pieces today.
* Refurbish old furniture or doors for needed furnishing such as tables and book shelves. Some people have a particularly creative eye to reusing such items for household applications.
* Reuse containers for storage and make them attractive enough so that they can be prominently displayed on open shelving in the living and office space.
* Turn the store room into a pleasant guest room where people can spend a fascinating evening looking through your own treasured items. They may ask for one or other item and relieve you of them.
* Learn to recycle Christmas gifts or add a little trim to make a very creative present for special occasions.
* Make unneeded furniture available to others. People moving into your town may have to refurnish their homes and your discards will help if you let them know what is available.
* Look for artists who like to work with materials such as unique older appliances or tools. They may be happy to reuse what you have allowed to collect dust for only too long.
* Reuse building materials. A major area of waste with immense creative possibilities is the ever-growing amount of used and salvaged building materials. Think "reuse" with your junk.
Prayer: Lord, we can't take it with us, so let us learn to share it before we depart. It is most likely of greater value to others than to us at this time.
Pine plantation, Red River Gorge, KY.
January 24, 2018 Make a Forest Pledge
In January we consider the threatened and endangered plants and animals that are emerging as additional problems due to climate change. Nature lovers may hug trees but need do more. Practically speaking I "hug" trees to measure their girth accurately (my extended reach to outstretched arms and to the ends of my middle fingers is exactly six feet and each hand width is six inches). If you don't want to hug trees for either emotional or practical purposes, at least make a pledge to protect our forests:
Knowledge -- I will be a champion of a healthy diverse forest and resolve to know the multitude of plants that compose the forestland understory;
Commons -- I affirm the commons of all forestlands and the materials that grow therein. We are stewards of the lands under our control and not absolute arbiters of forest practice. Thus we are accountable to those laws and regulations that will preserve forests for future generations;
Value -- I believe that forest plants have an intrinsic value apart from current or future economic uses. Their presence and biodiversity are a rich treasure worth espousing, preserving and describing to others -- and sightseeing does have tourist value;
Respect -- I respect the private ownership and boundaries of other forestland property holders and will not trespass or remove plants from these lands without their owners' permission;
Prudent Revelation -- I refrain from telling those ordinary folks about any species that could be of economic value, unless I am certain the person will not over-harvest or encourage others to mistreat the plant in an unsustainable manner;
Protection -- I will not introduce exotic and invasive species into the forest and thus threaten the native ecosystem, nor will I engage in or allow unsustainable logging of the forestlands under my control;
Preservation -- I will not remove or encourage others to remove forest plants that are rare, endangered or threatened species, or that need special protective measures;
Enhancement -- If physically able, I pledge to improve the quality of my private or neighboring public woodlands by careful forest management that includes removing exotic species that threaten the biodiversity of the forest understory;
Green Economics -- I pledge to champion economically viable non-timber forest products that will, in turn, demand a healthy forest as a canopy. Here again I emphasize the value of having healthy forests for attracting the tourist dollar by the number one tourist activity, namely, sightseeing;
Sustainable Harvest -- I will take from the forest for economic or other reasons only modest amounts of a plant and in a manner that will allow the plant to reproduce and thrive; and
Promotion -- I pledge to promote the benefits of the forests of my region, nation and world for our forests are our planetary lungs and need continual protection.
Prayer: Lord, help me to keep my forest pledge.
A carpeting of snow in the forest.
January 25, 2018 St. Paul's Day and Ecumenism
St. Paul's Day is a special January celebration for it is a time to reflect on how to address current cultural and religious divides that plague us. St. Paul's vision was that of all people and not a restricted few. We should reflect on our attitudes and actions with regard to ecumenism or the thriving for a basic unity among Christian bodies. Ecumenism is derived from Greek and means "the whole world." This program to bring about unity is not limited to divided Christian bodies but can be extended everywhere, from the unity of family, to that of citizens working together, to our country and to the people of various faiths throughout the world. Differences certainly exist, but they should not be sources of friction or isolation. We must work together to save others.
Jesus' wish at the Last Supper was that all would be one; if we know Jesus, we know the Father. They are one in a holy unity, which we are invited to become one with and to enter into as a final destiny -- and divine harmony motivates us to seek further unity among all people of good will. The precondition to unitive discourse is a readiness to work together in peaceful and just ways, not a capitulation as to doctrine or to pretend that such differences do not exist. The dialog is one that is bathed in love -- and that makes such ecumenical action godly.
Some would like to begin unity measures with the roots of division and stress differences through a rather historic approach. Others prefer to discuss theological differences from an academic standpoint. A third body of believers perceives need for unity on a host of everyday matters from political and economic stability to caring for the Earth; these are convinced that working together to lower the barriers that separate us is the best way to generate a cooperative spirit that manifests the openness and acceptance of others. Believers are convinced that success in cooperative efforts is possible with God's help.
Religious and cultural practices differ, and that is quite clear within this century and the rise of radicalism. A prayerful sensitivity is required, for we realize that misunderstandings do occur and some people are quick to place the blame on people of other religious viewpoints. Many of us are reminded through general talks, homilies, sermons and interactive blogs that our efforts must be directed toward ultimate unity among all people. In his letters, Saint Paul shows us that the way to unity is through deeds of charity. If we are to share an eternity with others, we should begin now with charity to all. Disunity is a historic fact; it needs not be perpetuated. Times call for collaborative action. We need Christian unity in order to move forward compassionately among Earth's brothers and sisters.
Prayer: Lord, direct us to read the letters of St. Paul and to see how they apply within our own lives; help us see that we must establish unity through sharing, first in Christian communities and then among all people on this planet.
Hemlocks along an eastern Tennessee stream.
January 26, 2018 Save Our Hemlocks
It has come to our notice that once hemlocks are infected, the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) can kill these stately evergreens in a matter of a few years. The disaster that is happening is similar to the blight that befell the American chestnut a century ago; various diseases threaten other tree species today that are under stress from environmental assaults. This hemlock threat could change the Appalachian landscape and put stress on wildlife species, which find a haven in these cool dense trees.
The HWA came from Asia and was first detected in the western United States in 1924. Unfortunately, it moved east and came to Richmond, Virginia in the 1950s. From there it spread northward along the Atlantic coast. In Virginia's Shenandoah National Park 80% of the hemlocks were dead by 2005. The HWAs are continuing to do their deadly work on the thousands of acres of hemlock-dominated forests some of which are regarded as old-growth. Recall that some hemlocks can live to be 800 years old.
U.S. Forest Service managers recommend three methods to control the spread of HWA: systematic injections of pesticides, insecticidal oils and soaps, and biological control. For small stands and individual trees the pesticide-based methods work best. Biological controls are needed in larger hemlock stands. These involve releasing either of two nonnative beetles: Laricobuius nigrinus (Lari beetle) or Pseudoscymnus tsugae (Pt beetle). Both types actively hunt the HWA as prey, feed voraciously, and eat only HWA. When no HWA are present the beetles quit reproducing. Needless to say, it is difficult to rear these protective beetles, which have exacting requirements for survival and effectiveness.
Residents with hemlock trees should consider locating bird feeders away from these trees. HWA can be managed in home and nursery settings if detected early (white wooly tufts are easily observed clustered on hemlock branches). The soap solutions must be sprayed on the entire infected tree; for taller ones (over 30 feet) the spraying can best be done by a professional arborist. Only spray the infected trees, for the oil sprays and soaps are not deterrents. Don't fertilize infected trees, nor use Pt beetles in a home or nursery; that would be costly and ineffective. Be sure not to brush against an infected tree and thereby carry HWA to uninfected hemlocks. Report infestations to your extension agent as soon as detected and obtain information on the best available treatments for your locality.
Will entire stands of the American hemlock be lost? Our elders a few years back spoke about the tragedy of the loss of the American chestnut and we do not want this repeated. It is a long slow process to bring back infected species. Let's take measures to protect our precious heritage <http://www.saveourhemlocks.org>.
Prayer: Lord, make us mindful of the need to save all that is precious -- and to see that American hemlocks fit this category.
We Must Expose the Current System
Can we be faithful to our calling by allowing the present unfair System to continue while remaining silent? It is not really honest and yet we are confronting the standard citizen reply that it is not the System but an extreme portion that must be modified. Is it possible to just tinker with what is global or is a longer-range radical change necessary? Will replacing oil and coal by solar and wind be sufficient? It seems that fairness must go deeper than transfer to renewable energy sources. When the Big Energy folks wise up they will attempt to transfer their control to wind turbines and solar farms; will that be enough?
If two-thirds of the current System flourishes on a consumer portion of the economy, and if excess consumerism is at the root of our energy and resource overuse, is it not enough to dampen consumer wants and thus control the System? Easier said than done. The System is catalyzed by billionaires who are uncontrolled in their greed for possession of influence and goods, and this degree of addicted success is transmitted to the average consumer, who also wants a piece of the action. It is not enough to tinker with the System in little ways, for it is inherently evil in its foundations of greed in all its components.
Is the System godless? I have asked this question for years. We are to find God in our lives and expose the elements of Godlessness wherever they exist. What if the very economic system is without God and so the answer to the title question is something definitive. But perhaps that definitiveness yields a "yes" and a "no." How could that be possible? Perhaps the answer is that the System is Godless but is not godless, for its idol is money under a variety of denominations and types. Money is adored and institutions are arranged in our current culture to allow it to be glorified with its liturgy of daily stock market reports and its cathedral on Wall Street, and its clergy of hedge fund operators and other financiers.
Capitalism is certainly Godless. God gave us a loving evolutionary process with its starts and risks, but always moving to a fulfillment in Divine Love. For us to truly enter this process while thanking God for the chance to do our part means that we must share with others, not exclude them from needed resources. The System wherein we do this must be open to all and not a closed gated world of privilege and the rest. If we look deeper we find that the proper distribution of God-given resources for the benefit of ever greater numbers is the antithesis of "successful capitalism." In this wanton System only those with the power of legally acquired resources can dictate how much of the largess filters down to others. Power nested with sequestered resources of which the limits are determined by those in power -- this is Godless in the full meaning of sharing gifts given. The economics involve a godless idol in the "dollar" and interchangeable amounts.
Is Capitalism Captured by the Evil One? To be freed from the spell of the Evil One is what we pray in the "Our Father" in its fullest meaning. Certainly, the Evil One does not want us to either believe he (saying she may cause a fire-storm) exists or that he dwells deep within our capitalistic culture. A System that tolerates and give virtue to greed and failure to share with others is wrong; a System that persuades the have-nots to think they may also become rich and greedy some day (if lucky) has a pervasiveness that champions assaulting loving service and the enslavement through indebtedness of the poor.
A popular concept? No, but our resistance to the System cannot be based on current popularity because the social media, an arm of Capitalism, knows there is no profitability in too much questioning. Success in the revolution that is called for by Pope Francis, and is part of every authentic Christian's mandate, does not mean one looks over the shoulder at what is popular in order to conform to the System. What about the Christ alert to the forces of mammon? Is there not a countercultural movement when the System is flawed and in need of change? In order to save a planet heading rapidly to destruction through overuse of resources, one must accept the task of doing actions that are not part of the status quo -- and to say this publicly with confidence that believers in the future will rise and follow.
Quo Vadis America? The issue before us is a silence that allows the System ensconced within the current Administration to isolate itself and become a power into itself in order to "Make America Great." A sense of utter selfishness prevails. This nation is the second highest environmental polluter and has accumulated the highest deficit in emission burdens since the start of the industrial revolution. This, when not compensated, is an indebtedness to the entire world, a responsibility that ought to weigh on our conscience if we were not an addicted people. Unfortunately, the Evil One is so perverse that he tempts us to think greed along with other Capital Sins is a virtue that can continue if it does not directly affect others. Unfortunately, every act of greed affects and weakens the social structure. It is impossible for a warped and sinful society to see evil where it stands. The landscape is blurred by the fog of Capitalism.
The myth of prosperity? Our nation has had a persistent thread of mega-churched examples of prosperous preachers who are rich through donations of congregations. The promise is that if leaders continue to prosper, followers will do so likewise. They turn God into a Capitalist and show their closeness to be proof that others will continue donating. This had ready acceptance in the more Calvinistic branches of Protestantism but is not limited there. When the System is influenced by billionaires who are of other persuasions, then expect this to follow -- the relentless and targeted funding of a more conservative agenda in the Catholic Church or within Judaism or among Moslem groups. Prosperity in times of full employment and record profits seems so utterly enticing. The band plays on and on, but will the System endure?
Suet feeder provides nourishment for winter birds.
(*Photo by Sally Ramsdell)
January 27, 2018 Protect Our Wildlife
Wildlife has thrived for millennia though now it can be threatened by a variety of environmental stresses such as loss of habitat, air and water pollution, and climate change. We who are to be of service to others must be wildlife's protectors.
In populated areas, larger carnivorous mammals are threatened by farmers fearing for their livestock and parents for their children. Wolves have been exterminated in large parts of our nation; so have the red and grey foxes and the cougars or mountain lions. When protected wolves have made a comeback, but this can become an ongoing process for they have human foes. Furthermore, destruction of predators and their habitat has led to an explosion of their prey -- rabbits, squirrel, deer, and turkeys; and regulated hunting seasons are often not sufficient to bring about balance in the manner that nature handles best. For some, it's heartening to see the expansion of the coyote's territory to the eastern part of the United States, for these coyotes are filling an empty niche and are keeping small game under control. Pets beware!
We are often observers and can be protectors of migratory birds, which when winging north or south need resting, feeding or nesting places. Granted, the geese and ducks are far more opportunistic than other migratory fowl and birds; they flourish in our warmer winters by feasting on uncollected corn in the Mid-American fields. However, many small birds, which must head further south for food and more comfortable winter conditions, are disappearing or migrating in greatly reduced numbers (see January 3rd). Their plight is all the more reason to initiate protection programs in the form of bird feeding and sanctuary projects.
Even our native fish may be threatened and require protection, especially since some of the world's most abundant fisheries are reaching the limits of their production and suffering from over-harvesting by factory ships. We are uncertain whether genetically engineered fish targeted for fish farming will escape to the wild and affect the free roaming populations as well. The amphibian populations (frog, toads, newts, salamanders, etc.) have had dramatic declines in a number of American states, and biologists are baffled as to the cause. Some blame pesticides and other pollutants; others reveal natural causes exacerbated by human-made stresses and reduction of wild space.
Winter quarters of the monarch butterfly cover a very limited area of Mexico now affected by development. Add to this, reports that genetically engineered plants affect these majestic butterflies in the feeding areas in this country during the milkweed growing cycle. Are we going to experience reduced populations of butterflies along with other species? The threat is all the more reason to champion butterfly garden plots using attracting plants. Certainly, wildlife need our protection
Prayer: Help us, Lord, learn to protect our wildlife.
Dusting of snow on treetops.
January 28, 2018 Called to Exercise Authority
And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority. (Mark 1:22)
Today we read that Jesus enters Capernaum and teaches in the synagogue on the Sabbath. People have never heard one speak with such authority, and are thus spellbound by his words -- and his healing deeds. From the interaction with a man with an unclean spirit and the resulting healing comes forth Jesus' reputation throughout the region.
The Church is called today to teach with authority, especially during times of upheaval and terrorism. The power through the Risen Lord contains that promised authority that extends through Baptism to all believers and most especially within the collective body of the Church. However, we are reminded that we need to respect that sense of authority or it can be eroded through conformity to the world or through the lack of courage to speak forth. Authority has resided within the Body of Christ, the Church; Jesus confers this to Peter and the Apostles and their successors. In fact, included here is the permission to strive to drive out unclean spirits (exorcism). However, focus of authority does not mean all is in the hands of our leaders, for all of us have power within the Spirit; nor are all to exercise the awesome power of exorcism, for this takes those with special spiritual gifts to exercise.
Today, socially unclean spirits in the form of materialistic addictions abound in our world, and we as baptized members of the Body of Christ must respond. God bestows on each Christian through our Baptism/Confirmation a prophetic grace to help save our wounded Earth and her people. We are baptized as priest, prophet, and king; we are empowered with a certain authority when properly perceived and exercised. In every age, problems face believers. Currently, healing our wounded Earth is a mandate, the issue not known as such by our ancestors. We cannot deny the situation, excuse ourselves, or seek to escape the demands placed upon us. Like the event that Jesus experiences in the synagogue, we must speak out and, like Jesus, join words with deeds.
The challenge for us is to show authority without becoming authoritarian, for that undermines authority itself. We must address the addictions that beset our consumer culture, but we address these with a godly act of love and mercy, not in a self-righteous or vindictive manner. If our words show a willingness to act, greater authority follows. An affluent society wishes to retain an unsuitable economic system, but this prolongs the threats we face. As Easter people who follow Jesus we must match speech with action -- word and deed acting in tandem. Authority in Church members includes respect for our power through of the risen Lord.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to use the power given to spread the Good News, for all to see your authority shining through the combination of our words and deeds.
Intricate patterns in embers of wood fire.
January 29, 2018 Questioning Retirement
Make hay while the sun shines. People sometimes think I am in retirement. For the record, I did retire from management of a public interest center in 2002 after exactly twenty-five years at that job. I did not retire from pastoral ministry or public interest work. No the "R" word is something I do not believe in promoting; for Jesuits, when we can no longer do active work, we must pray for others in a more formal ministry (since all are to pray always). Good physical health is such a blessing that when we have it at whatever age (even 84), we must use it in the service of others. If one means by "retirement" halting the particular work in which one is engaged, then it becomes a confusing designation, since so many people change jobs or create new ones.
Some speak with sadness that retirees must return to work. Perhaps they ought to regard the return as a blessing! Work gives meaning to life and is a privilege. Often the so-called early retirees such as military and other governmental workers who enjoy good health and accumulated experience are ideal candidates to be volunteers at the service of the less fortunate both in this country and overseas; thus, they can continue meaningful work. God calls all and not just youth to new beginnings. So-called retirees can take on a new ministry through the prompting of the Spirit.
Such opportunities are indeed plentiful as volunteer services: civic and church outreach work for the poor, school auxiliary and literacy training programs, prison visits, work at drug rehabilitation centers, health and paralegal services in centers for poor folks, and work as auditors, writers, or fund raisers for social, civic, or charitable organizations. Older returnees to work bring more than just good will; they offer wisdom and experience that will enhance the effectiveness of the organization. With more time to spare, elders can show genuine hospitality and the ability to listen to those in need. The networking aspect of elders who know the community is really an important social asset. Communities see benefits of local people donating their services.
There is an additional way to return to work through further education -- and that can be work. Citizens may have time now to further their limited education, an ideal time to shift from being a wage earner to a student worker in another degree or just for advanced learning. Some colleges offer discounts to senior citizens in a number of fields as well as Internet courses at lower rates. Mobile seniors prefer the popular Elderhostel non-credit programs; these are conducted in a variety of subjects using facilities that are otherwise not occupied. These senior-related programs were started in 1975 by Marty Knowlton and became immediately popular; today many people choose certain favored programs and must sign up early. Learning is an occupation.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see "retirement" years as opportunities to be of selfless service to others -- and in gratitude for health and energy to carry a ministry forward.
Interlocking parts of an old farm fence.
January 30, 2018 The Hunger for Community
People today seek community: all migrants, the homeless, college students away from home for the first time, the immobile and elderly, youngsters lost in a large school, unorganized workers, those who move to a distant city. Some community seekers are lured by purveyors of drugs, sex or alcohol; others by the millions seek company through the social media of Internet. Others search while unsatisfied within existing communities. In some ways we are all seekers and our hearts will not rest, as St. Augustine says, until they rest with God. Thus, restlessness for community with God is salutary, but to get to eternal rest involves accepting and participating in community-support structures here and now.
Being social beings, we move out and seek groups with whom to associate for our welfare individually and collectively. We become aware that some communities on Earth will direct us to God, can be the foretaste of the celestial Jerusalem, and can be a consolation to other fellow seekers. Community quest takes various forms, for we have simultaneous social opportunities. Some tasks are not sufficient and we reach beyond locally-based communities -- no matter how effective they prove to be at their respective level. Saving our planet from exploiters requires globalized regulatory powers, and that means supporting regional, national or global community transcending local ones.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest seed of all the seeds, yet when full grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush and then birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches. (Matthew 13:31-32)
This passage tells much about needed community formation:
* Communities must be sowed by people and be allowed to grow in the field even with a very small beginning;
* Communities though small can involve immense growth potential. The Lord said they were the smallest, and I remember one mustard plant in our solar greenhouse, which grew to the ceiling twelve feet high -- and it exceeded others in height;
* Communities allow for the full potential development of members. There needs to be some recognition of the various talents of the individuals in community and thus the branches are all attached and yet are distinct in themselves;
* Communities are willing to share with others, especially those less fortunate. When it is full-grown the community is able to serve the needs of others and not remain isolated; and
* Communities when healthy can become attractive so that others can come and prosper in their midst within a totally suitable environment.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to be both builders of earthly communities while seeking an eternal one; help us attract those seeking community to our midst.
Seeds of summer against rustic henge.
January 31, 2018 Declare All Time Extraordinary
During this month we speak of Sundays in "ordinary" time; this refers to numbering outside of festive periods (such as Christmas and Easter). The number is part of a fixed or designated set or "ordinal numbers" as first, second and third. From such numbering has derived a common attitude that ordinary is not of special importance. We hear of someone's passing and think for a moment that he or she lived an "ordinary" life. Then in the next moment we see how great are the special troubles and crises of our own age, for they seem out of the ordinary. In fact, looking a little more closely we discover a uniqueness to all life and thus conclude that life contains something extraordinary in its very essence. History is more than narratives of elites and royal persons; it is a collective record of the extraordinary generated by so-called ordinary folks -- nameless valiant people responsible for military victories, fitting candidates for the "Tomb of the Unknown."
Time is always extraordinary and so are people. For years I received a Valentine's Day greeting from Elizabeth and David Dodson Gray, and since it is the only one I consistently received, it became very special. One of theirs was a single eight-and-a-half- by-eleven red and white sheet with the quotation "We have so little time to be born to this moment" by Saint-John Perse (pen name of Alexis Leger, the 1960 Nobel Prize winner in literature). On deeper reflection it came to mean that neither past nor future, not the awesome length of history from whence we emerge, nor the infinite future toward which we are destined; rather, it points to the NOW in our lives. To make it the vital center of our existence is to act in an extraordinary way, for no other time is colored in the uniqueness of this moment. It is here in an instant and then recedes into a memory, which fades as we age and fail to record it.
The average life of 75 years has 900 months, 27,384 days, about 657,216 hours and almost 39,433,000 seconds. Think of it, not a single two of those hours or even seconds are the same. They are unique, but not recognized as such, and we forget to value their uniqueness, especially since they are so numerous.
We are the ones who help create the extraordinary. We do this by our enthusiasm, "the God within." God works in and through us at each moment of our lives, and that is wonderful creative work, a marvel to behold. Are we mindful of the divine presence? Are we often drawn to pause and thank God for being alive? Perhaps it comes more easily for cancer survivors and the recipients of transplanted organs. Others are grateful for a productive life and regard offspring as a source of joy and pride. We do not create, but we are invited to help co-create the unique present moment; this instant links the whole mystery of our past and the mystery of our future. The more intensely we co-create this moment, the greater will be the enthusiasm for seeing how extraordinary it is.
Prayer: Lord, help us see the extraordinary in our lives, and to see that your special favor makes it gratefully so.