July is dog days, singing locusts, black locust turning brown, farm pond turned green, Independence Day, fire crackers, barbecue scents, barking dog, family reunions, sun block, crowded swimming pools, convertibles open at the top and pickups loaded with half-clad kids. It's vacation time. And the first of the summer tomatoes, summer squash, pole beans, okra and cucumbers appearing from no where, green summer apples, red plums and a host of blackberries. July is the time of tall bluebells and milkweeds, of blooming ironweed and scarlet sage. In this lazy month all take to the shade, except butterflies and hummingbirds, which seem to thrive in the blazing sun.
Mimosa, The Silk Tree
You chance to come too far north and need to survive protected; from rare bitter winter winds; But when you, exotic migrant, survive, you give us a delightful display well worth decorating our landscape.
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Bessie await guests. Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, KY.
July 1, 2016Declare Independence from Stuff
As we start the Independence Day weekend, we should reflect upon all forms of independence, especially from material stuff that gets us down. Thus we begin Independence from Stuff Week and should look at our current overly-junked situation. Doesn't too many material things reduce us to material slavery? This is a perfect time to declare independence and resolve to rid ourselves of excess. While trying to loose our bondage to stuff, we celebrate freedom and hope not to get stuffed with food.
How do we unload ourselves from the burdens of "stuff" that overwhelm our office and home place? Don't expect a dozen suggestions on how to unstuff, for that is burdensome on the brain in hot summer. Are we free to rid ourselves of one or more items each day? It sounds too systematic for summer. It does seem to be a habit that, once begun, will reduce the stuffy space surrounding us. Are we able to exercise our freedom to be mobile? This does take courage, even while stuff keeps cascading in upon us.
When suffering from the overload of our consumer culture, we find the first weakness to be our lack of perfect accounting. We most likely get more than one new thing each day through mail, gifts, drop offs at the door, or purchases that were made in a rather impulsive manner at stores and flea markets. We go out to buy a single item and come back with an armload of impulse-induced purchases. A more proper modification of the "rid" rule is the equity rule: free ourselves from as many items as we take in each day. That does not permit additional accumulation.
The first or second or even third day of a resolution involves the gritty determination to do by routine what we say we are going to do. Allocation of time is the problem. Remember, these are dog days, and dogs are not spending time cleaning up; they just want to keep cool and nap. We have within us the freedom to say "yes" or "no," but saying is easier than doing, especially in hot weather. It takes that extra effort to get rid of something by recycling (I regard it as ridding when I put the item into my recycling bin). I may get an organizer to collect items that are scattered about. Is that truly one for one riddance of stuff? Hardly if all it consists of is acquiring an organizer. The quantity of stuff could mount while the numerical listing of items stays the same. Let's count honestly. It is part of being true to ourselves to say whether this or that item is really needed.
We can't dump it out the window, or in the roadside junk pile. Nor should we unload stuff on someone too weak to make a similar resolution. The materials should either be reused or recycled in a proper place. The refined resolution is: Rid ourselves of comparable amounts of stuff in a proper way -- and do still more unstuffing when the opportunity arises.
Prayer: Lord, help us resolve a new thing at this the beginning of 2016's second half; help me be more simple.
I don't attempt to write specific children's reflections, but I would like you to pass along to kids my memories of Jake,who inhabited our cordwood log headquarters in the 1990s. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and one might admit that Jake was somewhat drab and ugly except for some pronounced white and black markings. But he became special to us, for he was able to keep the insect population under control. I am no authority on spider types but he was most likely of the family Lycosidae and what is called the "Carolina wolf spider."
Certainly, Jake was a true Appalachian, a daytime companion and more than a night creature. Jake was friendly enough not to challenge you and just temperamental enough to prefer to be left alone. Jake was our guardian; he made sure the place was free of a goodly number of insects that would prove bothersome. The trick was that we had to like Jake and allow him to roam about at will. We couldn't sit on him or nudge him about or crowd him in, or else he just might be provoked to bite the tormentor. But it took some experience to allow space for Jake in his roaming propensity. One day we had a visitor from Germany and I suddenly saw this grown man quivering at the door and pointing to our hairy inhabitant with a trembling hand. I said in greeting him, "Don't worry,it is just Jake. You undoubtedly know his cousins, for they inhabit the entire globe except the frigid polar areas." This did not appease our frightened visitor who kept his distance, and Jake did his favorite waltz and gladly backed into a crack in the wall.
The common knowledge is that the moniker "wolf spider" did not come from some resemblance in looks, for that is beyond imagination, nor from the trepidations engendered among those "fearful" of wildlife, that portion of humanity with many youthful frights and imaginings. Rather the name is attributed to the manner in which the spider runs down its prey, for it does not do so with any type of web netting as done by so many other spiders.
Many homemakers mistakenly believe some of the scary literature on tarantulas and they mistakenly think spiders of Jake's size are more dangerous than the little guys, but they are not. Had Jake been provoked enough to bite, it might have proved painful for a spell. Cooperative extension agency literature tells people to control their spiders on a one-to-one basis, and they do not recommend general sprays. "Tolerate what you can; spray what you can't." I would rather say, "Tolerate the insect friends and begin to fear the spray." Once, where I was staying the annual pesticide agent knocked with his mask, uniform and spray can. I told him I was a chemist by training with a healthy fear of chemicals, not insects. I said I'd like a bottle of crickets, real competitors of the Jakes and not as fearsome to visitors. He thought I was crazy, because of the way I consider chemical pesticides. A final word: let the Jakes be and curb pesticides.
Prayer: Lord, help us place our fears in proper perspective.
The harvest is rich, but the laborers are few.... (Luke 10:2)
In the Gospels Jesus speaks several times about the shortage of workers in the vineyard, and what was said two millennia ago is still so a propos today. The work to be done is enormous; the willing and able workers are sparse. And so we come to what Jesus is espousing: travel light, stay only as long as needed in a special place, and adapt to the people and their culture (eat what is set before you). When unwelcome, move on to another place.
Today we experience scarcity of personnel, of having right people for the right places. Certainly God will provide, but we have to do our part with the resources (including people) at hand. The Church leaders cannot work magic; they are limited by what is on hand and often that is far from enough to give service to all people to the degree both needed and wanted. However, demands can be made on existing personnel that are unreasonable, given limited human resources -- and these limits as to energy and strength are part of the poverty that we must contend with here and now. The Church is a church of the poor and limited.
Few would regard many places as over-staffed, but when we think of nations like Haiti, where a majority of their medical personnel work in distant wealthy lands, we become concerned. That is not just one nation's problem, but extends throughout the impoverished world. Over- and under-staffing in medical and Church circles would be greatly reduced by equal sharing, but that is easier said than done. However, the Church could more easily equalize staffing if it begins to substitute lay managing personnel or mixed teamwork for scarce clergy, as is happening in some places here in central Appalachia. Church resources are underused in as many places as they are overused.
The Lord says not to stay longer than the welcome deserves. Maybe the push is greater than the pull, for some begin to realize that they have stayed too long, and so they should look about for a new assignment. The Good News can be spread in different and even more effective ways than just a few decades ago. For instance, the Internet is equivalent in the twenty-first century to the first century Roman highway system's template. Just like that marvel of first century engineering allowed road mobility, so the Internet can reach multitudes through global and better forms of low-cost communication. The world has become our neighborhood.
Sometimes we get encumbered by our creature comforts (nice pad, meals, friends, vehicle, etc.) and forget that Jesus tells us to become detached from we could call "essentials" (electronic devices, air conditioning, TV). Jesus invites us to be mobile; our trust must be in him and him alone -- and needs will be supplied.
Prayer: Lord, help us to be good and mobile workers in your vineyard and to encourage others to do the same.
July 4, 2016 Following American Revolutionaries' Footsteps
July Fourth is special in our country, for we surge with patriotism and seek to honor those Revolutionaries of over two centuries ago -- the founders of our country. However, how can these be honored if we have similar circumstances today needing a second revolution? How can we overcome decadence holding us back from immense demanding sacrifices? We excuse ourselves and say we are not of such illustrious character as the chosen few like Washington and Jefferson whose faces are carved on Mount Rushmore, or Franklin, Adams, Madison or Monroe whose names appear in towns and counties throughout this land. What about the thousands of simple folks who gave their lives for the cause, or endured Valley Forge or Jockey Hollow? How do we honor them on this 240th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence?
History may be selective and even forgetful. Leaders, along with rank and file, sacrificed much. Add to this the wives of founders, such as Martha Washington and Abigail Adams; now add parents, siblings, teachers and neighbors to the "founding fathers," together with their associates and subordinates who also had critical roles in founding our country. Where would America be without these folks working behind the front stage of history? Yes, some reference is made occasionally to dozens of signatories of the Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary War soldiers of fortune (e.g., Lafayette or Pulaski), or leading figures of the allied countries -- France, Spain and Holland, -- or Englishmen of the 1770s who strived to settle the dispute through diplomatic means and without war -- and a Revolutionary War terrorist (John Painter). The first American Revolution called to simple folks.
Some people ignited critical sparks when they tossed tea at the Boston Tea Party. Others rang the Liberty Bell. Note the large signature of John Hancock and the ride of Paul Revere and those who risked so much at Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill and Saratoga, and on and on. But it took so many more. The thousands of soldiers who stayed in the army through the dark days of that increasingly unpopular war were very much "founders." The numbers of that time indicate a need for recruiting revolutionaries today who are true to the July 4th freedom traditions. A critical mass was needed in 1776; another such mass is needed today.
Revolution is again in the air this year of presidential elections and it ought to be. Today on this holiday, we speak of the defense of liberties that could be lost to the privileged elite, of which about 400 elite control over half of this nations wealth. How can these inequalities be addressed and tackled? The American founders had prices on their heads as traitors and outlaws. Property was confiscated; homes burnt; patriots killed or imprisoned. We can't minimize the struggle. Independence gained came at a great price to many, not just to a few leaders or notable personalities. History must be honored lest we forget!
Prayer: Lord, give us courage now to do what we have to do.
Robinia hispida growing along roadcut near campground, Red River Gorge, KY.
July 5, 2016 Construction Time in July
For farming folks in this part of America, the month of June is quite busy with starting and tilling crops and with haymaking. Where farmers are not growing wheat and small grains to be harvested in mid-summer, they have free time in July while the corn and other planted crops are maturing. Some find handy chores, such as cleaning fence rows; others, repairing things. Daddy would organize the next house construction project just when the slack period from farm pursuits would commence. It certainly wasn't a spur of the moment decision, for he had planned the house siting and final design on a scrap of paper as he calculated lumber needs during a cold winter day; he made the building materials purchases ahead while prices were lower in the off season.
July is always hot and quite often drier than the months on either side. This dry and hot spell with little or no urgent farm work was ideal to launch and complete the exterior work of the new house, which, once enclosed, could await the next winter slack season to be completed. The winter workers would have the comfort of being dry and relatively well protected for dry-walling, plumbing, electric work, border woodwork, additional insulation, painting and the million finishing touches.
Launching a new project had its own excitement and we were all caught up in something so visible. During summer, exterior construction work ranged from initial grading, foundation and chimneys, wood framing, windows and exterior doors, roofing, siding, guttering and exterior painting. These tasks proved to be satisfying work because it was different from watching slowly growing crops; we could see the actual progress with each passing day. Since it was a policy to maximize our skills within our own family and regular workers, we did most of the building operations. This combination of farming and construction permitted us to set aside money for future college tuition, while other small-time farmers were building sheds, fences, and doing home or barn improvements.
Construction crews with a given work assignment are able to see the progress of their own efforts. That generates an optimism and confidence through making something public that could be admired or critically judged. Awaiting a crop to mature is like watching a kettle boil; why waste time, for with growing plants one sees little change from day-to-day. But in construction big differences appear and these inspire and encourage the workers to be more perfect in a relatively short time. By early August it was time for silo filling, another crop of hay, then the tobacco preparation and cutting, and back to school. The house awaited completion in winter and we were satisfied with the summer. We had deep tans, valuable building experience and an air of optimism as we moved forward.
Prayer: Lord, help us always to find meaningful things to do and to find satisfaction in what we accomplish.
One hundred years ago a terrible war was waging and July was one of its bloodiest months. Wasn't that entire conflict of little moment and did the survivors wonder at times whether the death of their loved ones was "in vain" (worthless, empty, or fruitless)? We hear of another death of a serviceperson in the unending Middle East conflict and similar thoughts arise today. Actually, the subject matter may be somewhat more complex than appears at first. Let's consider this issue of dying in vain from the viewpoint of both individuals and communities.
Does someone ever die in vain? We may say from the standpoint of God's entire plan for our existence that all has some worth -- our life and even our physical death. Christians and others hold that the physical death is actually a transition or change, not a definitive end of life. Thus, with eternal life in mind, we affirm that every life has incalculable value, even the life of little ones who had only a short period of mortal life on Earth.
I read about the impact on an individual when confronted with a drunk; that unfortunate soul drowned by falling straight down into a one-inch puddle and was too unconscious to move his head. Vain death? Well in some way, as in all accidental deaths, if only circumstances had been a little different. But they weren't. And individuals who die natural deaths have no "in vain" factor. In suicides, which are so often the result of a sick and troubled mind, we doubt full culpability of the action and refuse to judge. If someone is eternally lost, then perhaps that life seems in vain, but that individual had the wonderful opportunity to do better.
What is becoming clear is that we can say little or nothing about such individual cases, though maybe more about those groups of soldiers who climbed out of the trenches and marched to certain death. What we can say is that some lives can be less empty and worth more, if the individual uses the gifts given in a more productive manner. One with many gifts, who wastes a life away by substance abuse or just plain laziness, is missing the mark (sinning) by not using God-given talents wisely. We are not perfect, and so we all miss the mark more than we like to admit, but from our righteous viewpoint some seem to miss more than others. Still their lives are not in vain, for existence and the chance to do better has great value.
What about chronic sufferers of a paralyzing and continually more debilitating illness? When we convince them that they can offer their suffering up, with the Lord, and thus acquire a power in their life of prayer, their suffering has world-changing value; and their lives, far from being of a lower quality, are supremely effective. They can joyfully suffer for others; far from being in vain, such sufferers can proclaim Good News and fullness of life.
Prayer: Lord, help us see value in all life and that none is really in vain, even when some appear a tragic "waste."
Each time I see an abandoned house that is falling into disrepair it hurts. Why this pain? It has to do with a life the house experienced with a lively family inhabiting the place -- and now it is forsaken. When growing up, we unearthed traces of an abandoned house on the back of our farm and one could plot the access road. My imagination went wild on what it may have been like: warm fireplace, great meals, happy family. Then there was the time we went with my dad and uncle to see their old abandoned home place and how sad they were about how things had changed.
Now life has come full circle and when I return to see the house I was born in and our family setting for seven decades, I am all the more deeply pained. For the place has been for sale for several years and the house unlived in -- though with repair it could still be a reasonable habitation. The hurt is immense, as it is for my siblings who do not want to come near since it pains them so much as well. No one apparently wants to buy the place and yet it has great potential, both as a farm and especially since the town is coming closer. Apparently there are problems.
Poor abandoned homes such as these will never merit a historic marker, but they are somehow part of our history. I have often thought about what such homesteads were like when in full occupancy and teeming with kids running about. Still a more sobering image is that of the last one out. Others tell me that they are also wanting to return to their earlier home place, but the pain that comes from not keeping up the place is overwhelming -- and I have compassion for them. Our neighbor says he was the last one out of his home and I suspect that is why he hesitates to return for a look, for the conjured memories are so utterly painful.
Some people from Europe tell me that when the graves in their home places are no longer decorated and planted with flowers, the caretakers would declare the plot abandoned; they dig up the bones and place them in an ossuary in the church or other collecting place. Abandoned homes await a similar fate; some are torn down and others burned. I have advised against some buildings being dismantled by those who are unskilled, for fear of a possible accident. As for burning, the local firehouses used to burn such places for practice, but not any more because of air pollution. Too many risks involved!
An owner of a "abandoned barn" on my hiking route told me that he wanted the sagging structure down, but a doe and some fawns were staying in it through the winter months, and he just didn't have the heart to destroy it; there are uses for abandoned buildings, at least for wildlife shelters. They are harsh reminders that life goes on in different ways, and that the past will not return as such. We are to let live and find a true home up ahead.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to take life for what it is and move on to greater things while cherishing past memories.
If you are like me, ducks and especially mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) fascinate now as much as when I was young. They are known to migrate from north to south to avoid the cold weather but, having proven to be somewhat opportunistic, they tend to stick around more of the year with our warming climates. Why go elsewhere when there is a good living here and still plenty of unharvested corn lying about after the pickers move through?
Duck attractiveness comes from many characteristics: they have a sense of ease and contentment; they have grace in gliding along on the surface of the water, dabbling under water to feed, and flying in flocks (though not so elegant when waddling about on land); they lend themselves to domestication and have a pleading look that entices us to give a handout; they are picturesque, especially the male "drake" with his characteristic dark green head and purple breast, in contrast to the smaller brown and white female; and they have numerous incredibly fascinating ducklings. Ducks are regarded as the most recognized waterfowl in the world.
We see ducks today on farm ponds, rivers and virtually any place with water, even though they are generally a wetland species feeding on aquatic invertebrates. The mallards are on all continents, though they dominate the Northern Hemisphere. They molt in late spring; they have a wide appetite as omnivores: seeds and cereals such as wild rice, hackberry, mollusks, insects of many types, worms, gastropods and arthropods, small fish and fish eggs, frogs, and snails. Ducks stay around to glean the grain fields.
The quacking of the female is quite familiar to us all, for it is audible for miles. The males stay with the females through autumn and winter and leave soon after mating. The female lays up to a dozen eggs and then incubates them for about four weeks. The ducklings are led to water and there is no return to the nest. During these hot July days we can find ducks sleeping on the stream and lake banks. Their life is water-centered, and while most have only a one- or two-year life span, some are known to live up to sixteen years of age.
Duck is prized as a food delicacy in many cultures, especially in the Oriental ones. Duck is a gourmet dish, though I insert this in passing due to my on-again, off-again vegetarianism. But beyond being prized, ducks in the modern age suffer from human dangers such as pesticides and other chemicals and oil spills as well. While duck hunting is popular, we need not dignify this as true hunting, since the duck is so visible and is easy prey to human hunter and other beasts alike. All in all, this is a better quality world and the gentle and entertaining mallard gives it a special sound and a rich color that is hardly equalled by other fauna on this planet. Let's help them live and thrive.
Prayer: Lord, we give thanks for ducks and other foul, for they teach us how to be contented with simple things of life.
Spider on pipsissewa, Chimaphila umbellata.
July 9, 2016 Understanding: Welcoming Opportunities for Insight
Let us continue our monthly reflections on the second of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: Understanding. The traditional explanation is that this gift helps us grasp the truths of religion as far as deemed necessary. Involved in this definition are concepts of "grasping," "truths," and "necessity." Grasping may be thought of as reaching into a container of truths and firmly seizing the ones that we most need for personal salvation. The action may appear to be overly eager or competitive, or it may mean reaching for a spiritual insight that we may or may not seize with a certain tentativeness. Truths can be somewhat elusive and so we sense a need to reach out further and further with all our energy, as learners grasping for something more -- not as beggars hoping for a handout. But we need God grace.
Just as grasping involves the effort of searching, so the truths are not seen as finite, as though they are nuggets of gold. In fact, the deeper religious truths are infinite in scope, and thus can never be fully grasped by the human being. We can begin to understand, but the quest for enlightenment is a lifelong quest. We do not set limits on truth we do not yet understand; rather, we affirm that the quest itself must be understood as a learning process that is quite meaningful, for it manifests the way we are created in God's image. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and human beings. (Luke 2:52)
The necessary truths involve the manner of conducting ourselves on our mortal journey. Our manner of conduct includes a sensitivity to fellow travelers on our journey, for we are not on an isolated individual trip, but in company with others of God's children. And a social understanding emerges as we mature, for we grow together with others. Just as wisdom opens up possibilities amid limitations, and negates any false ideal of total self-sufficiency, so understanding challenges the concept of "I can learn it myself." In fact, the true challenge is that we have more to learn; we hope that God gives the gift of time and the willingness to join others in the enterprise. We are part of a team that needs us to help contribute to the total Body of Christ. But our weaknesses are part of the limitations of all fellow travelers, each with limited perspectives on their own understanding. The challenge is to assist each other in coming to a socially appreciated understanding of our cooperative endeavors.
A practical person must understand the real opportunities for progress and then apply his or her limited talents to the tasks ahead. This understanding starts with what is lacking (as known in wisdom) and reaches out to search for those who can help us grow in grasping truth. We do not reach ultimate limits on our understanding, but rather we can chart our growth as an evolving community-based process; we are helped and we enable others to understand their roles in building the Body of Christ.
Prayer: Lord, help us grow in the gift of understanding.
The lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, and then shows himself to be well-versed by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (loving God above all) and Leviticus 19:18 (loving our neighbor as ourselves). And he goes on to ask Jesus who is his neighbor. Jesus tells him about a victim who is waylaid and neglected by the passing priest and levite and then assisted by a Samaritan who, while despised by many in the audience, gives attention, binds up wounds and takes the victim to an inn.
In the course of Daily Reflections we have numerous photos of scenic Canada, our good neighbor to the north. I am always amazed how many people in our country cannot name more than one or two Canadian provinces, or select provinces from a list of names, much less place them on a map in the proper order. This land giant to the north is a mystery to many in the U.S. and yet our foreign trade policies affect the Canadians as much as they do our Mexican neighbors to the south. More attention has been given to our southern neighbors due to immigration pressures in recent years, and often we turn attention to Latin Americans and look only in one direction. Perhaps in sports (hockey), we look northward.
We often emphasize that the electronic media have done much to bring the world's people very close together, truly an emerging neighborhood. There are many advantages of quick communication and learning about other peoples. However, in knowing we also see our expanded responsibilities in dealing with those neighbors who suffer in some way -- and that our luxuries and affluence are juxtaposed to the essential of the hungry in Africa or the refugee in the Middle East. The Parable of the Good Samaritan makes us painfully aware how omission (by the ignoring, excusing, or denying levite and priest) damages the neighborhood. This occurs through blatant disregard for hurting neighbors; on the other hand, active concern does the very opposite (by the attention from the good Samaritan); this helps fortify a neighborhood.
Do we allow the troubles of life to make us pass up someone who is obviously lost or confused or has a vehicle broken down? Are we willing to be good Samaritans? And does our disregard at the local level extend to the nation and to the world as well? If we ignore the malnourished in Africa and are drawn to attend to only those in a favored part of the world, we are limiting what constitutes a worldwide neighborhood. The words of Jesus in St. Matthew's Gospel (Chapter 25) haunt us: For I was hungry and you never gave me food. July is a perfect time to abandon our summer lethargy and extend our concern for others. In this political season it is good to ask candidates what they intend to do about the hungry, the refugee and the undocumented migrants in our land.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see those in need, and to know when we must go out to them and satisfy their needs.
Few people know this is designated as Cheer up the Lonely Day. Even if they know, they still would appreciate a call or a visit. If they wonder why you called, just say somehow a thought of them came to mind today; most people like to be remembered.
Contents -- Be upbeat, but that may be a challenge. Not all of us have a sense of humor. One might say: "I have heard so much bad in the daily news accounts that I find it hard to be optimistic;" or "I never tell jokes well." They don't have to be new and different tales to make the person laugh. It might be an interesting account of something that could be shared with this person a second time. Thus, keep a note pad nearby and jot down the name of the person who will be the special recipient of the select piece of information. We were thinking about them or we just happened to say a prayer for them at this moment.
Passing state -- Acute loneliness is not necessarily a permanent state. Some have just lost loved ones or pets, or their own nestling (child) has departed, or a friend has moved away. They need this refilling of the gas tank of social relationships. Others may be going through a specially hard period due to finances or illnesses, and your thoughtfulness comes in handy. Remind them that the times are moving on and the condition will change, maybe even with the weather. Cooler weather will come.
Everyone can be lonely -- This point is often overlooked until one sees people compulsively talking on cell phones while they wait in line or, heaven forbid, while they drive. A deep and abiding sense of loneliness is a universal condition, for our hearts are restless until they rest in God, as St. Augustine reminds us. Some more than others are more uncomfortable with this state of restlessness, and they hope mere socializing will cure it -- as though it should not be there. Other forms of loneliness, such as depression, beset people in different degrees and is mental illness. We often suffer from some degree of depression when changing occupations or discovering a new illness in ourselves or a loved one. Even in such periods, we can remind ourselves that we really are not alone. The Lord is with us on our faith journey.
Sharing a lonely condition. Sometimes even the melancholy ones can spread cheer. It was known that Abraham Lincoln (who was disposed to sadness) prided himself on telling stories, and some of these were the humor of that period -- and he would laugh louder than his hearers. On his circuit riding as a lawyer in Illinois, Lincoln would spend many late nights at a tavern (though he never imbibed), telling one story after another. His associates reported that he enjoyed his own stories more than the listeners did. Ultimately, all of us have a streak of loneliness (the restlessness of a traveler on the journey of life) and so all benefit on this day, even the one who attempts to cheer others.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be compassionate for the lonely.
There are ways to live amply on $3.00 a day and still share a third of it with someone who is living in the Middle East on $1.00 a day. It is not easy, but can be done in a healthy manner --provided you refrain from drinking Starbucks coffee. Here are some additional hints for eating simply and at low cost:
* Cook with whole grains (oatmeal, rice, etc.), which are regarded as extremely nutritious, though many people avoid them. Go very light on pasta, bread and prepared baked goods;
* Consider dried beans of all varieties, along with lentils and split peas as mainstays, and save on frozen and canned foods;.
* Patronize stores with bulk items, wholesale pricing, fewer choices, and omit the frills of upscale grocery chains. Purchase in bulk everything that keeps, from hot sauce to vinegar, and avoid name-brand products when shopping;
* Curb commercially prepared meals and sweets. Consuming frozen dinners may be accepted by the elderly or those unable to cook on their own, but such is expensive for those of us able to prepare our own meals. Use few prepared foods and sweets such as frozen dinners, prepared pasta salads, small unit salad dressings, pies, cookies, and cakes;
* Select unprepared foods for snacks. Most people are unaware of the cost of commercial "junk foods" such as potato chips and various cookies. Instead tend to use fruits, raw veggies (e.g., celery, cucumbers or carrots), nuts and freshly prepared popcorn;
* Buy seasonal foods. They taste better in season as well as this being a way to grow one's own or purchase from local farmers' markets. Non-seasonal foods are often corporate products, picked green or shipped great distance with immense energy expenditures;
* Grow or gather. Grow a small garden that will supplement fresh produce in the growing season. Gather wild greens and poke shoots in spring and grow organic greens in pots in winter;
* Drink water or prepared drinks (e.g., mint and herbal teas). Refrain from buying soft drinks (a major expenditure from food stamp money --the manufacturers insisted that soft drinks be available to be obtained through use of food stamps); and
* Cut meat consumption. This is a healthy measure from a nutritionist standpoint and one that will accrue immense budget savings. Learn to add small amounts of meat to dishes as opposed to total meat servings.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to live simply so that others may simply live. Encourage us to share the simply lifestyle savings with those in other lands who are outside the food security shield.
How are we to be civil to smokers and yet refuse to tolerate their habit or addiction? It is clear that we need not tolerate tobacco smoke in our work or living space or within our vehicles. That is to be expected by non-smokers and can extend to public and commercial spaces today where others congregate and work. In a strict sense, others may refuse to allow smoking on their grounds (even outdoors near public institutions). Restricting the smoking space is one way of combatting the harm from the habit.
It may be oppressive to nag others to stop smoking. Often very young children are better agents and can be effective if they, in a face-to-face encounter, tell a relative or friend of the family to give up smoking. Certainly additional measures can be taken by parents or guardians when youth want to take up smoking for the first time. Concern about electronic cigarettes can be just as strict as regular tobacco products. An adult individual who is not hurting another should be allowed to make his or her choices even when it shortens life, while a practice gives enjoyment and relief of stress. But even here moral issues arise.
In this century people have become conscious that one does not have to tolerate smokers in the presence of others who are thus affected by environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Current customs hold that smokers should not contaminate a restaurant or public place, for this infringes on the rights of non-smokers in the public place. Well and good, for tolerance is protecting non-smokers from smokers who are hurting themselves, along with all who must breathe secondhand smoke -- and that affects human health.
Home tolerances are issues when residents see things differently. If someone is suffering from emphysema, it would seem proper to have a court order to enjoin smokers from practicing, whether they be visitors or even immediate family members. Would some still smoke in the presence of a respiratory victim? I know of at least one such case and the victim died; all the while the two smoking resident relatives continued smoking and justifying themselves in thinking that tobacco was good for them. What about smoking in the presence of non-sufferers, who could potentially be harmed by the practice? Here the court does not and should not step in, but every effort of moral persuasion should be used to say the living space is contaminated. As for privately owned work space, legislation is in place through the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and through state agencies to grant non-smoking co-workers rights to fresh air.
Health experts say that pregnant smokers place the fetus in the womb at risk. What should be done? Certainly, we do not imprison expectant smoking mothers to keep them from smoking. However, law enforcers think differently about pregnant drug addicts. Smoker choice and moral persuasion of non-smokers clash.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to reduce tobacco use.
Eggs of the Carolina wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus.
July 14, 2016 Animal Protection and Welfare Groups
July "dog days" are a perfect time to mention the various groups who protect and offer welfare to animals. People who want to get involved with animal protection can choose from broad categories of support. Those groups seeking global level protection for birds, whales, raptors, seals, tigers, elephants, and hippos know full well that their special groups are under severe attack from poachers seeking animal parts for commercial purposes -- and that regulations are not enforced to the degree needed. Many animal welfare groups exist and include:
* Local Animal Shelters are usually at the cutting edge of animal protection for stray cats and dogs. These groups often struggle for funding and should be the first to benefit from those who are concerned about animal welfare. They seek to place strays with those seeking pets and often cannot afford their keep.
* National Audubon Society works to preserve the habitats and migration resting locations for many bird species and runs census programs for bird counts. They are struggling in "a race against time to give birds a fighting chance in a changing world."
* World Wildlife Fund (WWF) focuses on the deepening crisis of certain species who are being denied traditional habitat or nesting areas, and says that these species have become threatened and endangered. The WWF supports local and regional organizations working in standard and novel ways to protect animal habitat, resting areas, and migration routes.
* People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is especially concerned about the manner in which chickens are raised to furnish the needs of fast food establishments such as Kentucky Fried Chicken.
* Animal Liberation Front (ALF) is an international radical group that believes the best way is to directly target the laboratories that house animals, such as monkeys, used for research on everything from cosmetics to critical medicines for human health. ALF will actually break in and liberate the animals and hide them in safer environs, or they will damage or threaten facilities and their caretakers.
Individual or group actions may be more suitable to the reader's temperament. Caring for a stray is one way; feeding birds in winter and furnishing nesting places and larger bird sanctuaries is another. Some people feed certain forms of wildlife that tend to proliferate; they may feed deer or geese or turkeys to the annoyance of neighbors who have their property invaded. Others fight the expansion of hunting to wolves, bears, and cranes to the disgust of animal lovers. Compromises need to be established.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to protect our animal friends and to encourage others to do the same.
Coyote, Canis latrans, visits central Kentucky prairie.
July 15, 2016 Stopping at "Nowhere" during July Travels
The July day is stifling; we travelers experience our brain sizzling, or perhaps it is already fried. We can ride no farther, and yet we do not know the whereabouts, much less the interior of the country store with the Pepsi signs. All we know for sure is this is a motionless "nowhere" on a lazy July day, and even the watch dog seems unable to bark. We enter the darkened place and the floor has a slight sag or down bow that forces us to increase our gait to the center, lest we stumble. We become the focus of attention by smoking cracker barrel sitters, and when they exhale we know they are alive; their wrinkled faces don't allow us to guess ages. Finally, as we adjust to the darkness, we find the soft drinks cabinet -- all sufficiently high priced to make us know that this place is connected with the outside world in leap year.
I feel like pulling my dumb trick in France and never saying a word to hide the fact I am not from here. But this group knows the difference. "Just traveling through?" the storekeeper asks in the name of all the eying congregation. "Un-huh," I respond, still not telling much, for most Americans would say that much in a rather uniform style of speaking. Oh what's the use? Let's exchange a little chatter for that is what life is all about. So I volunteer that it was good to find this place before I died of thirst. That brings a knowing response from all the audience, and thus we lapse into weather pleasantries. And when the clerk rings up the purchase, I think she even gives a slight smile and a "Thank you, and come back again."
What I refrain from saying until outside of the door is "This is sure a lazy looking place," but that is within ear shot of the old dog who seems to nod as though in affirmation; maybe he (the dog) is really trying to shake off the gnats from his eyes. In driving off, I do not recall seeing the name of the hamlet, though it undoubtedly has one, even though the post office and half the stores are boarded up. Yes, there were once faster days in this place. And then in a continued cynical mood the comment springs up that "At least they had refrigerated drinks."
As the place fades in the rear view mirror, it strikes me just how many hamlets have a resemblance to quiet, nearly forsaken Ravenna, where I reside. I hope the younger folks who are from "Nowhere" are beginning to find a promising life. And amid all the negativity resulting from a half-fried brain, the second thought emerges; this town still has life enough to refresh us and to treat us with decency when we stop by. I hope most of the world still has watering holes left and hospitality to go with it, for at any one time a surprising number of us are on the road -- and we expect kinder words and deeds than the thoughts that enter our fevered brain in July. Maybe our hospitality is such that it keeps weary travelers from having a heat stroke. Relief comes in cool drinks.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to go slow in very hot weather, but also continue to be polite and cordial to weary travelers.
One form of tourism that has been emphasized in Daily Reflections is ecotourism. However, people overlook one type of companion tourism, agritourism, that may not demand as much travel as those required to go to distant lands. And this form of summer vacation is enjoyable for the entire family, or at least most of them. Surprisingly, many urban Americans, who are now part of the world's majority of urban dwellers, opt for a change and a dabble into old-fashioned rural life. Some satisfy this desire to a limited degree by going out and "picking-your-own apples or raspberries at farms that are generally within an hour's drive of a major city. Success for these places comes through word of mouth or from Facebook or road signs or from newspaper stories, or from the state or local tourist agencies.
Some farm families are discovering that opening their place to visitors who desire to experience farm life can be economically beneficial. Good income is possible, but it takes farmers who like socializing with visitors to make this work. These energetic folks can organize hay rides, show kids how to milk cows, or have them enter and supposedly assist in garden work without chopping out the produce. The farmers may even go farther and include a combination of bed-and-breakfast facilities, plus an outlet to sell produce from the farm. Some friends went to Europe and talked most about an evening on an Irish farm/bed-and-breakfast combination.
As with any non-skill experiences, there are limits on what urban people can do in short-term farm work. Most people are unaware that farm tasks require acquired skills and that these take time to gain, and certainly not overnight. Providing an authentic experience without embarrassing the tourist is a challenge -- but some are able to do this quite well. A retired, able-bodied and adjusted host farm couple with a sense of humor can do splendid work. They need to pace themselves well and be prepared to feed and lodge visitors -- and enjoy the social interchange all the while. If visitors are paying, there is the burden of keeping them happy. Remember some tourists may just be permanently disgruntled. Thus, granting reading and quiet time for the ones who do not like the hot sun or who do not want to exert themselves makes for a better well-rounded agritourist program.
Often the people needing a farm experience are inner city youth, but urban benefactors rather than the farm family should select them and support their expenses. The farm family is looking for income, not a chance to do charity. One should not expect the host to be the principal donor as well as have the burden of furnishing the entertainment/experience. As with all tourist experiences, visitors should be encouraged to record their ventures, either through cameras or audio- or video-recording while making the experience, or writing the episode upon returning home.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be adventuresome and venture forth
and find nature experiences for those often deprived of such.
July 17, 2016 Reflection on the Martha and Mary Story
The Martha and Mary story must be repeated often, for there is always something added. The struggle of busy bodies versus the contemplatives is worth a deeper probing. In my heart of hearts I always thought Martha chose the better thing to do. Even now, that struggle continues and it may have a valid point to it, for preparing the many details of a pleasant meal for the Lord was a very challenging performance. Thus, Martha is the patron saint of homemakers, cooks, hospital dieticians, innkeepers, domestic workers, restaurant owners/managers, waiters and waitresses -- not bad for doing the lesser part and these are all essential in our society. And later it was Martha who went to greet Jesus at her brother's death, not Mary, who remained at home.
The key is the difference between doing and listening. Martha was driven to doing and Mary to a more passive role. There are times when we have to do things and do them well, and undoubtedly Martha knew when to do them well, or she wouldn't be the patroness of doers. If the Lord is at table with us, and we enjoy his presence and being near him, just being there would certainly be the better part of a dinner. Now if the service personnel decide they also want to choose the better part; they will all put down their trays and come over and around the table to hear and enter the conversation. In a short while the customers will become somewhat irritated -- and why not? Start doing and not listening!
Be happy in doing. Even one who serves and cannot take the greater role can still be content with the role that is being played, and not reprimand one party for being able to be present to a guest -- and not helping with the serving. So the great difference is not in the choice of one in competition with another, but in being happy while doing the serving or the lesser role. Thus the doing and the being come together in a new form, a contemplation in action, and when done whole-heartedly it is a greater role than contemplation. But we need to be willing to take that role in an act of humility and cooperation. We need both.
We are to make Christ present in the world in which we live. This mighty task takes all our talents and gifts. Some of us are in the right place at the right time, though we all can say we do the best with what we have got. However, our past missing of the mark has left us somewhat behind in doing and thus we make up for lost time. Nothing is impossible with God's grace. Some who were ahead of us in the gift of using time better have naturally a more choice place. We should not fault them and certainly not reprimand them for their better state; rather we thank God that their gifts were well used. Martha could have chuckled to herself and said a good word for her timid sister. What we learn from Martha is that we too should prepare for others to take time to learn at the feet of Jesus and to listen to him. This should make us happy.
Prayer: Lord, let us see our place and be satisfied, but always try to act in such a way that all benefit from each other.
July 18, 2016Doing, Being and Contemplation in Action
The Martha and Mary story from yesterday needs revisiting, for it contains our own struggles at being effective activists and yet also people who reflect meaningfully on improvement of actions.
Doing as action. Some of us see the primacy of activism and how this is where we start in our Journey of Faith. Reflection follows first action that is imperfect; it opens the way for further improved action. Activism without love is meaningless, as St. Paul says in first Corinthians -- an empty tinkling symbol even if the results seem to be high success. Martha's action in preparing the meal could be a little better had she not grumbled about Mary apparent inaction by attending to Jesus. Martha's action needed some improvement even while it was necessary.
Being as contemplation. Mary attends to Jesus by listening and allowing him to express his ministry in speaking with her. In comparison to the grumbling Martha she had, as he said, "chosen the better part" -- and it would not be taken from her. Mary's being with the Lord is better than Martha's doing for the Lord. The notion that contemplation is of minor consequence is here refuted and allows us to champion those who need and take time to reflect -- for that is the purpose of Daily Reflections. Contemplation is not the state of a few who are more committed to prayer; it is the demand of all Christians called to pray always. Our very being is at stake and yet we are called to be active at least at times, if not for the major portion of our waking hours. Mary's attending to Jesus is a form of being/doing at the same time.
Contemplation in action. What is said is not the total story. St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of contemplating while acting as being the greatest calling, and so we find something beyond the story, but fully connected to it. Had Martha come in and said she has overhead part of what Jesus is saying and wishes she could abandon her work for the privilege that Mary has, Jesus might tell her that her good will and reflection is really the "best" part. Who knows how that story would come out? Our calling as active people is to contemplate as we act as best we can, within the opportunity in which the Lord works in and through us. We rest at times but we are to do what Jesus says and pray always.
Resolution. Jesus is certainly an activist; however, he retires at times to pray to the Father even in his most active period of ministry. He is being who he is and he is doing what he has to do (heal, teach, proclaim good news, instruct disciples, and cleanse the Temple). When John's disciples come to him and ask him who he is, he responds by telling them to see what he does (heal, feed, teach, etc.). In doing, he shows his being, and the two are tightly bound in one person. Each Christian is challenged to imitate Jesus and be what we are doing and do what we strive to be.
Prayer: Lord, open us to conform our lives so that we can do great things and thus be ever closer to you in loving service.
Today is Full Buck or Thunder Moon and when practitioners of Ashtansa yogi take a rest. So often we think of this heavenly body as a light by night. Often we look up in daytime and there is the moon, quite faded but still in its daily rising and setting -- however, it is minus its nocturnal glory. St. Francis talks about "Sister Moon" with all its gentleness and attraction. Moonlight delights the soul, and can turn our hearts to prayer. But I have a soft spot for all who worked by moonlight, for they were energetic enough to want to keep a growing family alive. If it takes a moon to get us out, let's spend time in summer's moonlight.
At various stages of life, including during Jesuit classical studies, I did indulge in operating a small still with mixed results. Once the cooling coils leaked and the good alcohol went as steam into the atmosphere. My later chemical lab work with good equipment gave far better results. Unfortunately, others who indulged through the twentieth century made defective "moonshine" that poisoned the purchasers of their product. While young, I recall survivors of such imbibing who suffered from what we termed "jake leg." The history of moonshining is fraught with difficulties for perpetrators, customers and even the revenue people who braved bullets to find and ax stills. Little remains of the practice, but one can get moonshine with the right connections.
Moonshine, or "white lightning," has been known to be a characteristic Appalachian drink; I even had a great uncle known to do a little as a Prohibition Days enterprise. Making moonshine as was popular, both here and as "bathtub gin" in urban America during Prohibition and the 1920s; it is a rare practice today. It is only slightly less rare than chicken's teeth. At the National Cathedral dedication in 1990, Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth, asked me whether they still had "stills in Appalachia." Unfortunately I could not understand the question and had him repeat it because of my difficulty with languages -- and "English" English is one of them. In essence I told him they were not near as plentiful in our region as they once were. When asked by National Public Radio for examples of moonshiners, I was hard pressed -- though rare specimens appear every so often. Yes, marijuana growing is far more lucrative and popular than maintaining stills to make "white lightning."
Let us look in a more redeeming way at natural "moonshine," for the source is beautiful as a terrestrial phenomenon. The soft glow of the nightly moon immediately the day after full, "Buck Moon," is a wonderful time to spend an hour or so outdoors in high summer. It is even better in some ways than taking moon time in high winter exactly a half year away. The moon's delight is worth celebrating far more than products of people scratching a living by stoking fires at a moonlit still.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to glory in the soft light of that beautiful creature, the moon, that waxes and wanes before our eyes.
Leaves of the silk tree mimosa, Albizia julibrissin, with butterfly.
(*photo credit, Creative Commons.)
July 20, 2016Mimosa, The Silk Tree
Most flower lovers admit that the fragrant and delicate pink and white blossom of the mimosa, or silk tree (Albizia julibrissin), which blooms now is quite beautiful. This member of the pea family is found in a naturalized form in the southeastern United States as well as Louisiana and California. Mimosas are found in all five of the Central Appalachian states (KY, WV, VA, NC and TN). The tree was introduced into this country as early as 1745; it is a native of Asia with a natural range from Iran to Japan. The tree has no value for shade or for wood, and is a "weed" tree like the "tree of heaven." I concede with mixed emotions that it has floral beauty.
Yes, the mimosa as an exotic has a moderate capability to become an invasive when left uncontrolled. Thus, it is regarded as an ecological threat in some warmer forest areas when its spread is not curtailed. A house with a mimosa next to it is a perfect breeding ground for new mimosas that can spread and compete with the stressed native species already battling to compete with a growing list of invasives. Being a member of the pea family, the mimosa produces a large group of durable pods that can yield new tree sprouts over the surrounding territory. And these are hardy in a variety of soils and over a reasonably wide range of climate conditions. This is especially true when near a building or a cove that protects the plant from extreme conditions -- for cold hardiness is a limiting factor to its spread north or in altitudes above 900 meters. Even if mimosas die back in a colder winter, they can resprout.
In this country we have had our fill of invasives from kudzu to mugwart, and so non-natives are always suspect, even when their flowers are quite attractive and they can be controlled to a certain degree. Mimosas that generally prefer full sunlight are found at roadsides and vacant lots -- and grow in warmer climates.
The very first step to control them is to halt the sale (found on the Internet) of mimosa plants, though some people seem unaware of their ability to spread far and wide in warmer areas. Suitable substitutes include the redbud, serviceberry and flowering dogwood. Next, one may be inclined to cut down the tree and this can be done when it is blooming and before the pods that can scatter to surrounding areas form. Girdling of larger trees is effective for that tree, but it does not kill the stump that can return again next year. Small scattered sprouts can be pulled up by hand, especially after a rain. Mechanical methods are preferred over chemical control, because chemicals affect other plants as well.
Don't let this reflection spoil your appreciation of the mimosa blossom (flower of the month). I also find them delicate and delightful where they grow, but I have come to moderate skepticism when knowing more about the history of this exotic species.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to marvel at moderately invasive species when they decorate the landscape for a little while.
In youth, pleasant memories of harvesting hay involved Mama's visit with a pitcher of freshly-squeezed lemonade. It always tasted so good and it was truly refreshing. Also, we took a break in July housing construction and went to a local service station to get a carton of cold soft drinks for the crew during an afternoon work break. These were times to remember and relish because we always need pauses that refresh -- and especially when thirsty. And that applies today in mid-summer's heat.
Yes, we all need pauses and during this week I am making my annual eight-day retreat, which I always look forward to with relish. This period anchors my striving and prepares me for the coming twelve months; really it is the most important pause I take each year. Yes, we need longer pauses as well as the fifteen minute breaks in a work day. Some say one should take a short pause at various times in the workday and at least one full day each week. Likewise at various times in life people talk about the need for a sabbatical in order to reorient oneself.
People need various types and lengths of getting away in order to perform their activities with a freshness needed to be effective. The get away means no phone calls, emails and routine matters, but some do not have the luxury of a total withdrawal; it would be better if they do have a true break. Some of us strive to achieve certain amounts in work in planned lengths of time and so we are tempted to minimize pauses in order to get the work done. And are not the socially concerned those who care for and defend the less fortunate who suffer from lack of social justice? Is the one who works to save our wounded Earth less "social" than those who do not give a hoot about the disadvantaged and still exhibit all the social graces of the well connected? Thus the word "social" has different meanings and much has to do with the nature of the pause, a break to reestablish social harmony in our world.
Doris Kearns Goodwin's excellent book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, tells much about the personalities of Lincoln's cabinet members. Some, including the President, took time in the day to relax in their own way -- and even evenings to get totally away. Secretary of War Stanton did not take pauses -- and he was difficult to work with. He was always uptight even though he did a good job. We need to face the issue of being socially concerned while doing the tasks at hand, and these come for the betterment of all, if we have the refreshing periods that allow for a better overview. Retreats help make this happen when others expect so much of us in a short instant when connected. Ask yourself whether you pause enough and whether you do this for yourself alone or for those with whom you are associated. Be nice to ourselves and others also.
Prayer: Lord, give us the insight to see our needs to take time off and converse with you in the silence of our hearts.
This gardening-related issue is open to controversy among the more progressives. I was once asked a question dealing with my strong advocacy of all who can to take up gardening on their own. This position seems at odds with those noble souls who are gaining a living through Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs); they take a payment at the start of the growing season, and thus have capital to grow and deliver produce on a weekly basis for half a year.
I am certainly not against CSAs and think these practices are a far better approach to obtaining one's fresh veggies and herbs than from corporation farms thousands of miles away -- and often grown with abundant commercial fertilizers and pesticides. As a promoter of self-gardening, so much more can be said for physical, psychological and spiritual wellbeing than merely purchasing good produce from a gardening family. It is a matter of who does the growing and the practice of greener and more responsible growing methods (organic, mulching, raised bed, etc.). I have always been supportive of farmers' market people who specialize and are able to furnish some bulk crops that backyard growers are unable to supply to their own households.
Older age and a weakening back have mellowed my advocacy fervor for total backyard garden production by everyone. There come times in human life when others are to help weaker members of the community. Homesteading demands able and willing workers and all of us outlive the middle age agility and strength necessary for large-scale or even moderate-scale gardening. I had an Uncle Louis who was a gardener all his life, and he dropped from full-scale (with hired help) to moderate-scale gardening in his eighties and early nineties. Even he, like all of us, needed to cut back -- and here is where the CSAs have a legitimate niche in the food producing scene. When we look more tolerantly, we find a host of people who cannot garden: infants, elderly, some of the disabled, but also many who are almost totally engaged in other activities. But I hesitate with the last group, for all people need exercise, sunshine, and fresh air for sustaining good health -- and backyard gardening is an excellent answer. The excuse that one does not have a backyard is countered by use of cropland in the vicinity.
Truly each of us can only grow so much food with our limited energy or physical resources; perhaps an opening for CSAs. I have also faulted a mentality that believes we need to pay others to do what we should be doing ourselves, namely growing some of our own food. The arguments of disability do not fully suffice, for some like Pat Brunner of Berea, Kentucky, maintain thriving gardens from a wheelchair. Busyness is often countered by need for healthy exercise; an arguments for old age should not discourage at least some potted plants with herbs. All in all, CSAs are opportunities for satisfying restricted gardeners with regular fresh produce.
Prayer: Lord, give us the love of growing our own food and to find striving producers to help supplement our needs.
Only once did I experience the beauty of a glacier (in Alaska); the pale blue ice is captivating and left an indelible memory. Was I witnessing a vanishing ice mass? By the beginning of this century Alaskan glaciers were disappearing at a rate of 37 cubic miles a year and together with other glaciers and ice caps were contributing fresh water to rising oceans. Glacier neighbors know things are changing and all due to climate change, though they don't always realize the strong contribution of melted ice to the ocean rise. As the glaciers melt so does the permafrost disappear, and this leads to new wetland and emissions of locked methane gas that has a positive feedback of creating even more atmosphere warming. And this Alaskan phenomenon parallels the break off of the 1,200 square mile section of the Larsen Ice shelf from Antarctica in 2002. And the Arctic is becoming ice-free in summer.
Those hearty souls living near alpine glacial regions or ice sheets in Greenland know that the natural phenomenon in their back yard attracts tourists. However, it is astounding to see pictures of the front of a glacier taken seventy-five years ago and then to see the distance of recession documented by a current picture. And the rocky rubble that remains in the valleys carved by those melted glaciers is not very photogenic. Don't expect too many tourists desiring to come to see where a glacier once resided. And so the glacier loss affects livelihood of such residents.
Those who say the disappearance of glaciers is natural, just as their growth was millennia ago, are not painting an accurate picture. Human beings have much to do with this melting condition because of our increasing greenhouse gas emissions. This loss of glaciers is not just a North American phenomenon, for Europe and other continents are experiencing the loss of glaciers as global warming continues to accelerate. We hate to be pessimistic; still the efforts at reducing climate change impacts is spotty. Yes, and a covey of American candidates deny scientific evidence and do not believe that capitalists can commit misdeeds by their actions. The developing world says that the West used its cheap coal and fossil fuel before effects were fully known; now they want newcomers to global energy to refrain from participating.
The melt from glaciers affects distant peoples. Loss of beautiful mountain glaciers is one thing; melting Greenland and the Antarctic ice caps and ice shelves seems to be producing dramatic results, such as an accelerating rise in oceans, which rose eight plus inches over the past century. Since so many human settlements border the sea, displacement of human populations can be dramatic. Millions in low-lying Bangladesh may have to relocate; scattered Pacific Ocean nation states may be drowned; their right to exist has been trampled upon. We must abide by the Paris Climate Conference of last December. Good bye glaciers!
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to speak out and confront the climate change deniers who are so powerful in this country.
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he had finished, one of his disciples asked him, "Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray say...
(Luke 11: 1 ff.)
One of the first things we note in this passage in Luke's Gospel is that Jesus' response as given here is not the full traditional "Our Father," but only an abbreviated form of what appears in Matthew's version.
Petition.Give us this day our daily bread. The sincerity of the petition and praise is more important than the specific text, though these are the words of Jesus himself. With the familiar address to God we enter into an ongoing conversation with "Abba," our Father. We are to pray always and converse in our own unique way. Our conversation is with Somebody, not just anybody. Our prayers are directed; they are ours; they may be secret or in public; they may be long or they may be brief; they may be formal or they may be familiar. If we truly believe that God will answer us, Jesus guarantees us that it will happen and our begging will not be in vain. In confidence, we come to trust that what is good for us will be given to us. The generous response on God's part is an invitation for us to fulfill our neighbor's needs and become the answer to their prayers.
Thanksgiving. Through prayer we learn to become instruments of service to others, for if what we ask is given to us, we too must be willing to be generous with others. As we become more aware that many gifts are what we receive in seeking, then gifts given, whatever they are, become all the more glorious and trigger our thanksgiving, a form of prayer that is so closely tied to our petitioning to God. And an attitude of thankfulness is ever in our hearts and on our lips. What could be more pleasing than the heartfelt thanks freely given to our God?
Forgiveness. Through our active ministry we move through a purgation stage (forgiveness) to a more familial approach to the God who calls us. And our active participation in fulfilling God's will is shown in our forgiving as God forgives us.
Praise.Thy kingdom come, thy will be done gives a fullness of what is to occur in the distant future, but is already beginning in our midst -- and we are called to be part of bringing this about. Our glory is the work God asks us to do; this becomes the gateway to deeper love of God and a gradual realization of the power of God's love for us. What we do in loving Jesus as he loves us is to make visible God's glory in finding our own calling, in seeing the wonders of the gifts given, and in encouraging others to do the same. Our actions tell our love, and their compassion tell others that we are contemplatives in action.
Prayer: Lord, help us say the "Our Father" with devotion.
"Volunteer" squash from compost pit.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
July 25, 2016Improving Food Quality
High summer is quality time, and we know it by the scents, sights and tastes of produce. Let's reflect at the tripod of good gardening: amount, nutritional content, and taste. Through the use of intensive gardening techniques, quality-minded gardeners can obtain plentiful yields; through careful growing, good nutritional content can be obtained; and by further selection of specific cultivars one can preserve foods beyond the growing season. Recall corporate efforts at delivering produce involve picking hybridized unripe produce, shipping great distances in refrigerated cars, using artificial ripening agents, and selling at supermarket chains. Nutrition is limited, while products are free from blemishes but loaded with pesticides. An apple's worm may be unappetizing, but it indicates pesticide absence. My finicky aunt accepted a few worms on produce and called them signs of being chemically-free and, if accidentally cooked, a source of protein.
Today, many seek a higher quality simple life that includes smaller vehicles and places to live, fewer clothes, more time with family (down-sizing job expectations), more care in growing and purchasing locally-grown organic foods (nutritional quality), and more time given to the arts and music (quality leisure time). It is time to emphasize getting our food closer to home or growing it without resorting to shipping from great distances and not being aware of how the produce was grown. The increasing popularity of "Farmer's Markets" and CSA's (see July 22nd) means consumers are returning to a search for quality, even if it costs more.
Higher quality, larger quantity and broader variety of grains, fruits, vegetables, and herbs allow for a more balanced and wholesome diet. This quality diet means less use of resource intensive domestic animal products and encourages more vegetarian diets. Unit-for-unit, meat, milk and egg-producing domestic animals require feed to stay alive, reproduce and furnish animal products for human consumption. Some 20 units of feed are required for one unit of final animal product that is ultimately consumed. Grain-fed beef is the highest end of this intensity scale, with pork middling and poultry and fish at the lower end of the scale. Animal feed requires a major portion of this nation's arable land.
Quality Arguments. Meat producers say that while animal products are more resource-intensive than vegetables, fruit, nuts, and berries, meat is nutritious, low priced and, if range-fed, require no grain production. However, vegetarians offer the strong counter-argument that, with care, they can achieve balanced diets using less resources. During the past two centuries, conversion of American forest and grasslands to range land has had detrimental effects, including destruction of understory, erosion, and introduction of invasive species in public lands leased to cattle growers. Let's work to reduce consumption of animal products.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to use our resources properly for the benefit of everyone.
Mallards swimming together in tranquil farm pond.
July 26, 2016 Discovering Value in Ponds
Someone may ask, "When is a lake, a lake, and a pond, a pond?" Where I grew up we had four water body designations: a puddle, a pool, a pond, and a lake -- and how much of a designation you would bestow upon each body depended on exactly how wealthy you were. On our farm we had pools where spring water was collected in a walled enclosure with limited access to livestock; and we had a pond which was really a small lake. In the middle of summer, when the landscape would become somewhat brown from drought, these improved pools and excavated ponds were of immense value as one might expect, for all life including livestock demands water.
Besides what local farmers call bodies of water, naturalists have their own favorite nomenclatures. Some are natural and some artificial. With good quality water all help slake the thirst of livestock and wildlife, and are welcome resources for a host of birds, little critters and aquatic life. In all parts of the world, the pond is a place of congregation, a watering hole, and often a remnant of former broader wetlands.
The well placed and protected pond, like larger lakes, can serve on a small level as a recreational place (though with some liability problems related to intruders), and replenishment for the water table. Like lakes, ponds can also increase the land's economic value and add to the harmony of the landscape. They also require careful siting and planning and, since the water comes from the surrounding countryside, the watershed control and protection from commercial chemicals is important as in larger lakes. Ponds can be fish habitats, though the variety of fish is limited and the quantity may depend on the degree of water recharging that occurs. Quite often, where numbers are plentiful, artificial feeding of fish may be necessary.
One nice thing about ponds is that they are more manageable than lakes, provided the proper care has been taken from the beginning. If a nutrient-rich water source is permitted, the summertime pond gets a scum on the surface that makes it unattractive for almost all the beneficial purposes just mentioned. However, care can keep this from happening (anti-scum agents are commercially available as are circulating solar water pumps), and some fish help reduce scum from occurring provided they have sufficient oxygen to survive. Livestock, with direct access to pond edges for drinking (rather than recommended fencing off the ponds and pipe water), often cause super-nutrient pond conditions.
Just as in a lake situation, a variety of plants can enhance the beauty of the pond edge and also help supply natural food for fish. Wetland plants are well suited for the shore line, and trees such as willow and mulberry can add beauty as well. Listings of additional plants are available from your county agent. Yes, ponds must be managed year-round -- but July is a challenging time.
Prayer: Lord, move us to promote landscape with water bodies.
In the haze of July's seeming endless heat, we travel about and sometimes the distance appears so far away we lose our sense of focus and direction. Sunlight and summer heat combine to blind us, or at least to make us lose our focus. I came upon my simple undated verse -- which I think I wrote, but even my recall of words is fading. Simply put, no one else would have done such a thing -- so it must be my own work. It does give a sense of July that is different from other months, at least here in Kentucky. Mid-summer heat makes it harder to focus attention and so we fall back on past resolutions and orientation, trusting that our bearing is right, and the goal is up ahead even though beyond our vision. When I look up and notice the moth again and again bouncing off the light bulb, it reminds me of where my concentration ought to be.
I do not pretend to be an authority on focusing, though I do find writing highly focusing when I truly like the subject matter. That causes a certain remorse when I think about the many times I fail to focus in prayer. Does this mean I really do not like the subject of my prayer? I wonder and yet find the only thing possible is to thank God for the time to pray once more and hope it can be more highly focused. I say the same thing about my driving; I must stay more focused to keep from an accident.
I try to pray, Oh Lord, to you, yet all becomes a host of things to do. As I surmise the overwhelming milieu with moments too few, too few.
Again, I pray the liturgy of the day, again as before, the thoughts betray feet of clay verging closer to harm's way. Please deliver me from this fray.
The verb to "tree," for the sake of non-native English speakers, is to climb the tree to escape some danger. Some raccoons, opossums and a host of other varmints, such as cub bears and wildcats, will take to a tree to get away from the chasers who are bigger and more aggressive than they. Also a cat may get into a tree to find a bird's nest or out of pure curiosity, and then be too scared to get down -- and that is the primary use of the expression "up a tree." In an added colloquial sense, when people are in difficulties, they are like that domestic cat going for birds and getting stuck.
Koalas in Australia live in the trees, feed and make a home there, as do many monkeys and other wildlife -- but they are hardly treed by force; it is more by choice, though trees furnish protection as well as habitat. Animals are not the only ones that can be treed. Treeless landscape can be clothed with a tree planting and this is called "being treed," though without any sense of pressure or external force. And lastly, human beings can be treed in various ways. During times of floods some victims are found in the tops of trees, hopefully alive and in good health. Likewise in very rare cases, human beings do just what the varmints do and escape from a wild or supposed wild beast.
More often little kids are drawn by instinct to ancestral abodes and enjoy getting away from others, especially guardians; they exit to their tree house -- where they cannot be easily hounded, for who wants to climb up to get them? But there is the added attraction that the kid can look down on adults walking below as tiny objects, a vantage point not often obtained by the youngster who constantly has to look up to elders. Tree houses for adults and youth have on even rarer cases in human civilization been the abodes; these find that house foundations are tree roots and trunk, and privacy up there is more or less guaranteed. In all these cases we hope the trees have lightning rods.
Far more frequently we hear the expression "up a proverbial tree." The fact is that affluent Americans and others who live too highly off the resources of Earth have climbed up the resource tree towards the top and do not know how to get down when times get rough. We like our privileged position overlooking the world around us and pretend that life will go on in this artificial position forever. But just like hungry kids who come down out of the trees for supper, so the consumer culture must find a way to descend the ladder to a simpler lifestyle. If consumers are able to get up the tree, they can get down, even if it takes regulations or assistance. We must learn to conserve resources, use less energy for recreation and begin to incorporate solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. Being "treed" in this fashion is nice while it lasts, but uncomfortable when we must descend.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to respect trees that enter our lives as protectors, safety nets, and gifts with many benefits.
Gardens can become holy ground for us in several ways: here we watch the mystery of transformation from seed to mature produce; here we find a mindful place to discover new life during the growing season. To the first we recall that the cooperative handiwork of the Creator was given to Adam and Eve in a Garden of Eden; here was God's handiwork reserved for these human inhabitants, though they in turn spoiled the scene through disobedience. The second sacred garden was that of the Resurrection, when the Lord rose and gave new life to all. From the first garden we see Earth as an Eden worth respect and preservation; from the second we see that we have now received a second chance to help in the more wonderful re-creation. We are to heal a wounded Earth and to rebuild a shattered world. We do not do this alone; with God's help we become renewers and participants in a planetary gardening process.
The call to create and re-create. Our garden plot is a sacred place, no matter how simple or limited. We can make something of what is present by taking seed or plants and bringing these to harvest. It is limited, but still a wonderful goal of extending life. The miracle before us is that a simple seed has locked within it the genes that extend continuity to the hopes of our undertaking. We want results, but must take the effort to cooperate with proper care and necessary nutrients and water to see that this comes about. The change is quite simple: give plant life a chance and the results will surely occur. We give witness that damaged or uncultivated land can flourish through our nurture and care -- and that resulting food will benefit many.
Extending benefits. The garden produce is not only a promise of good things here and now for the worker, but also for those associated in some fashion in household or neighborhood. The garden bounty is for sharing, whether fresh and plentiful now, or preserved for the off growing season. Surplus should never be wasted and so the gardener is keenly aware of becoming a preserver of the surplus. Domestic produce can be fresh, plentiful, uncontaminated and varied. High quality products need not immediately consumed, but used later through proper preserving techniques: freezing surplus, solar drying, canning, pickling, and root cellar use. Some materials such as root crops can be left stored in the ground. Growing and preserving go hand-in-hand.
Prayer: Almighty God, you call me to move along the road to greater love. Help me to value the quality of things that can be grown and use them properly now and in the future. Grant us a renewed resolution to learn through gardening what is sacred in the gift given to us for a limited time. Help us see what we grow as an opportunity to value it as gift and that it is meant both for grower and others through sharing. Help us preserve surpluses in such a way that these benefit us in the non-growing season of the year. May improved domestic garden symbolize the Gardener's true July hope that our troubled world will be made whole again.
Gladiolus with dew drops.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
July 30, 2016Create a Butterfly Garden
The local National Public Radio station played Robert Schuman's "Butterflies" this morning and that brought back so many memories for me: the little blue butterflies in the field flying around a curing cow pod; the monarchs on the milkweed flowers; and my unforgettable visit to the Jardins des Papillons in Hunawihr in Alsace, with its many specimens of colorful butterflies from all over the world. Here in Kentucky a multitude of butterflies are circling around outside in proximity to the blooming zinnias -- but are their numbers rising or falling, and what about their winter habitats? Do these need environmental protection?
Amazingly, the butterflies of this world gently teach us at least three things: to treasure our picturesque memories of the past; to look out and see the colorful world around us; and to protect the many species so they can make happy memories for future generations. Our reminiscences, visions and hopes include certain responsibilities. Butterflies have a gentle way of stimulating us to act to heal Earth and protect what is threatened. Their winging about is itself a call to action.
Our floral gardens are sufficient to attract many butterflies, and some writers suggest a variety of locally-grown flowers: butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) as well as butterfly lily, butterfly bush, butterfly flower and butterfly pea along with bee balm, burning bush, etc. Here in Kentucky, Stephanie Bailey, an extension Specialist at the University of Kentucky, suggests a wide variety of those found and grown in the Commonwealth including asters and black-eyed Susans. The fact is that many flowers attract butterflies, though some attractants may be stronger than others. Butterflies are certainly part of the wildlife that are stressed and deserve special treatment, and so the need for local bird sanctuaries. Collect, document, trade and sow the seeds of your favorite flowers in your available space.
Butterflies look for flowers from which to collect their nectar. And since they seldom mind having admirers around, they respond well to a special place set aside for them by an admiring gardener who may be inspired by their fluttering presence to create music, poetry or good conversation. Gardener and butterfly work together to create a congenial environmental atmosphere in which all thrive together -- and a beauty starts to appear.
Neither gardeners nor butterflies like a barren landscape. By preserving a total landscape we invite beneficial insects to come. Butterflies let us know by their absence that something is wrong. Besides inspiring flower lovers to create butterfly gardens, we must encourage longer range projects as well. We, who are at the service of all creatures, deepen our concern both through specific butterfly gardens and through environmental protection of the edible landscaping that is our ultimate goal.
Prayer: Lord, give us the same eye for beauty that you have.
And this hoard of yours, whose will it be then? (Luke 12:20)
Some, if not most, of the seven capital sins are actually regarded as virtues by the more perverse elements in our culture. And none of these seven sins is more prominently grasped as a goal than slightly hidden greed, or the art of acquiring more and more to look prosperous and successful to a supposedly admiring world. Greed breeds self-interest to the detriment of the common good and leads to a destructive insensitivity to the needs of others. And greed is not measured by quantity of materials, for even the impoverished can become greedy with small amounts.
Slightly removed from the immediate attention of the greedy are the plotters, who are willing to go to extreme lengths to frustrate that greed. And so greediness breeds adversaries who can be just as cunning and sinister. And the greedy and their adversaries are at work at both the individual and communal levels. As in the parable just quoted, many individuals strive to build up huge nest eggs without regard to the essential needs of their neighbors. In much the same way, many communities and nations store up goods or protect their own sources of food and energy at the expense of the powerless and less wealthy areas and fellow communities. The difference between future necessity and hoarding is not often developed or successfully determined.
Counter measures extend from sharing of toys by youngsters, through almsgiving by wage earners to sharing time with elder citizens. Communal looking out for the needs of others is the best countermeasure to greedy practices. This can be exercised at the individual level and also within communities where competing self-interests must be addressed and where those with less voice are often neglected or overlooked. Powerful nations have colonized other countries to obtain hoards of materials to fill their own barns, and to rest in the anticipated satisfaction of having enough. However, materials never satisfy, and so goals become elusive; more and more is taken and yet it is never enough.
Greed must be confronted in a public and forthright manner. Affluence is not a good in itself, even though it has been regarded as a measure of success. Economic balance means refraining from taking more than is necessary. But greedy action can overwhelm just apportionment. America has a greedy appetite or "addiction" for oil. Are we able to break this addiction and allow fossil fuels to remain in the ground as we move to a renewable economy? Are the military expenditures of our nation a form of basic insecurity that generates more insecurity? Is not the radical sharing of resources with others a form of spiritual security that is beyond the understanding of a materialistic culture? Greed must be exposed and addressed forthrightly.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to know when greed enters our lives and help us invent measures to share resources justly.