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St. Elizabeth of Ravenna Catholic Church
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The Chaplin River, Washington Co., KY
July 1, 2020 Being Sensitive During the Second Half of 2020
Stay cool! July is the time that tries our souls. It is so hot that it does not take much to trigger harsh words or deeds. That is not a proper way to begin a mini-New Year, especially since so many make today, rather than January first, as beginning of an annual budget. Accepting July first as a new beginning invites us to review our actions and discover that the start of the hot summer is a good time to be sensitive to others who are uncomfortable.
Insensitivity in all its forms restricts our understanding of the common good. People overlook the needs of others and focus on more self-centered individual problems. The sin of affluence desensitizes individuals from the great mass of humanity; the sin of excessive property (clothes, residences, vehicles) removes too holders from realizing essential needs of those hungry or without access to health care or adequate housing. Insensitivity on a major scale leads to spiritual impoverishment and results in attempts to establish security through broader financial investments, more insurance or military hardware, personal or governmental.
Some regard concerns about global commons as impractical. "My steak would spoil before it reaches the hungry in Africa," is hardly an excuse to forget food sharing, because the transportable grain that fattened the beef cattle (source of the steak) could have been fed to others at a distance. To share with the hungry requires that we reduce our use of resources even if this entails some belt tightening. Social assistance must be increased, not shaved and our candidates this year must be confronted with this never too popular issue. Wealthy alarmists can paint vivid pictures of the poor taking materials from gated-communities. In their opinion their personal privileges allow them to enhance the current economic and political system, and lead them to believe they know best how to manage their treasures. Affluent individuals see nothing wrong by engaging in unsustainable practices, because they see no need to share with future generations saying "After our passing, who cares?" They remain sequestered from the commons as long as a selfish system supports their "legal" possessions.
The Principle of Enough when fully understood focuses primarily on essential needs of a global community as community -- and not as individuals. The concept of "commons" understood as healthy sustaining local communities refutes the need for outsiders to come and manage their affairs provided the local community is healthy. When local communities hurt from drought or other natural or human-made disasters, responsibility for the hurting human family members become paramount. The temptation is to isolate ourselves in our own concerns and not to have a global outlook. Yes, summer is a tempting time to go totally local with little regard for the rest of the human race. Let's not let this happen.
Prayer: Help us, Lord, to be sensitive to the needs of all, not just those in the local community, but help us be mindful of unfortunate people throughout the world.
Five-lined skink, Eumeces fasciatus
(photo by Walter Para, Stanton, KY)
July 2, 2020 Taxing All Fairly Is Not a Partisan Issue
Independence is never definitively won; it is forever an ongoing process. An American Revolutionary
Is it possible that our democracy could be -- or has been --taken over by a plutocratic system of governance by the wealthy? The answer by average citizens is that this is a remote possibility which would be caught by vigilant citizens. People still vote, pay taxes, get responses from Congresspersons, and watch TV debates on major issues, but what if this is all charade and real government goes on behind our backs? Some on the liberal left are convinced that this is actually the case in the U.S. at this time given the record profits by Wall Street, the feeble efforts at reducing taxes for ALL at a time when dependent mothers and infants are seeing funds reduced. They point out that certain quite profitable corporations pay no taxes at all due to specific exemptions granted by legislatures beholden to them. Is this description valid and, if so, can things be reversed by citizens seeking freedom for all?
The disparity of wealth in this country is a reality that few of us can overlook. We have a heavy portion of the world's billionaires who can do what they like with their wealth. The top of the heap is the 0.1% of the income level who collect the most and have the political establishment behind them. The voting habits of many legislators answer to the desires of the wealthy, not the average citizens, a phenomenon that characterizes both parties. Too much big money is at stake, and unfortunately elections depend on big money. "Bigness" comes from wealth; this bigness means power and access, and access means influence on the laws that ensure bigness. For the super-rich even amid their moments of generosity “Democracy be damned!" The most astounding thing is that polls the great majority are truly uneasy about this growing inequality in our fair land.
The Church has a greater mission to do than teach patience to the underprivileged. In fact, the Church must be on the side of the public, not the private domain. In such a mission, the Church condemns plutocratic practice openly and seeks to strengthen the enforcement and vigilance required by a properly functioning government. In real time, the Church ought to be a catalyst for change for the better, not the guarantor of an imperfect status quo. Jesus exhibited holy anger at the economic situation of the Temple, a place privatizing space meant for ALL the people. Jesus stood clearly on the side of the public domain. Jesus challenged an unjust system in driving moneychangers from the Temple, and leaders sought to kill him for challenging the status quo. Jesus' followers should act in a similar fashion and get angry with a privatized plutocratic system. Let's require fair taxes for ALL. We can make certain changes in this election year.
Prayer: God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change; courage to change the things we can; and wisdom to know the difference. Serenity Prayer, Reinhold Niebuhr
The Experience of Discovering Our Talents
July calls us to focus on our life's healing mission. The pandemic lingers and threatens to rise again in force. This July, even amid its heat, is a special time, which requires our sense of balance and a word of encouragement to others who are deeply frustrated by current events. We are called to heal Earth, to see the devastation of Earth with its current streak of racism and violence, and to rediscover Jesus as model ecologist. We are called to be compassionate, to suffer with the Lord, to find empowerment in exaltation of the Risen Lord, and to be willing to spread Good News to all so as to focus on Earthhealing.
Concentration and focus are keys to the summer months. We can so easily be dissipated by heat and simply settle down and just vegetate. Rather, let us attend to the qualities that make Jesus the perfect ecologist and how we enhance these qualities in our own lives. Our unique personal traits influence our way of seeing and doing things, even the way we heal Earth. Just as eco-spirituality is based on a relativity of time and place, so it is colored by exactly who we are and the company we keep. The teamwork to bring Good News is composed of both giver and receiver. Can we truly come together as a team? If in July, then anytime? July is the time to test our patience, foresight, communicative skills, and respect for others. Really, all give and all receive; the believing community recognizes gifts and offers them back to God through the person of the Risen Lord.
Summer maturation comes to all our senses, especially in this season of the 17-year locust's appearance and sound. Does an Earth- healing spirituality accept all human gifts as important? Or is it selective with its privileged few? Do authentic Earthhealers invite all others to be part of an active team helping to save the planet? Do Earthhealers see how their own efforts enhance these unaffiliated but earnest folks to become part of a biodiverse ecosystem calling for protection and renewal? Are we willing to look about nature and learn lessons worth imitating?
A gurgling creek is a mystery. What is the sound of rushing water? Often, I stop and concentrate and focus all my powers. Does it start with "G" for the sound of gurgling, or "B" for babbling? I am unable even to start to spell the sound of water rushing over rocks, although it certainly is a familiar sound. I stand and pause in utter confusion. Why must I spell the sound of rushing water? Is it not enough that I hear rushing water, let it flow through my fingers, and allow it to enter me and become musical rhythms to my heart? Other creatures -- mice, copperhead snakes, and deer -- are attracted to the fast-moving stream, and yet do not attempt to spell it. They come to drink and maybe find something to eat nearby. Let it freely penetrate my being. Maybe through the sounding stream I learn to listen to the hearts of people and discover their uniqueness as well.
Roadside wildflowers are enjoyable sights but distracting. I consider the times I travel on the smaller roads where wildflowers are beautiful and there is time to stop and just let the ambiance penetrate my soul. But so often I pass up the scenes. Sweet‑scented wildflowers awaken our spirits and teach us so much. Their fragrance lifts us in rapture as though we are flying over the hilltops on a multi‑colored air balloon. When will we stop or will we ascend on high, so high that we will never come down? Blooming flowers soon pass, and the lingering feeling is that summer is not eternal. We must confront the reality of Earth herself with accompanying hard knocks. One can speak of a child who will bloom in cuteness and beauty and then rush quickly to adulthood. We also get somewhat melancholy in seeing older photographs of healthy and youthful faces that we know now as wrinkled and graying. Flowers are the harbingers of ourselves ‑‑ beauty bright and glorious, but quick to fade - as do we.
The taste of summer wild plums, the most exquisite, makes me aware that tastes are not the monopoly of the rich and affluent, for many don't know what they are missing at times. So does the joy at going into the orchard, that place of refuge, and eating fruit off of trees. Unfortunately, the ones who miss this joy include the modestly-incomed living on pizza and hamburgers, fries and cokes -- a horribly uniform set of tastes. Again, it is difficult to convince them of their narrow palette of tastes. I often wonder what else of the commonplace gifts of God we are missing. Doesn't concentration on the good things of life include looking around for variety and accepting creatures as God-given gifts? Let's refine our tastes and detect the differences between garden fresh and store-bought. Maturing involves taste broadening.
Other creatures can be teachers. I watched in utter fascination as a robin taught her young to leave the nest. The parent held the worm at a distance, and the fledgling strained as hard as possible and then stepped out of the nest and reached, and the parent hopped further back on the branch with the hungry youngster coming after. With fluttering and falling and all the false starts, the amazing thing was how fast the young one learned to fly. With good attention and concentration, one finds a host of good teachers on this Earth. Let's go out and learn from them.
When we perceive creatures are around us, we establish a basic communication, an interaction, a teaching/learning relationship. This communicating allows us to grow in healing skills that include respecting and protecting our troubled Earth. When people lose touch with nature through pavement and destruction of wilderness, they ignore theological lessons needed for basic humility in order to be like Christ. When people live closer to nature and are less influenced by urbanization, they have opportunities for contact with enriching teachers. What we need to learn is that teaching and healing go hand-in-hand. To heal Earth we need to learn from Earth, and the more astute we are at learning, the better Earthhealers we become. July is an opportunity to reaffirm our healing arts and to be open to the process of gaining experience.
A herd of cows, congregating at a pond
July 3, 2020 Trying to Make July Tolerable
Some of us are more summer than winter people. However, we sympathize with those who find it difficult to endure either the extremes of cold or heat. We summer folks admit that more die directly from heat extremes in our country than from freezing weather -- and that is extending to the entire Northern Hemisphere through climate change. When hot weather arrives, the role of people who succumb to heat (sometimes including young athletes on playing fields) seems like a battle listing. The key words were "died from heat...," because in winter many succumb to related ailments such as pneumonia and flu that are triggered by chills and cold weather. The summer tolls could be reduced by attention to certain details. Here are some suggestions:
* Stay cool. The hottest part of midday is not the time to hike, garden, jog, or play games -- if you must work outdoors take your good time. Really, this is when we ought to find a cool space to nap or rest in the shade. Let's take a classic siesta.
* Keep hydrated. It is not a time to fast from water or non-alcoholic drinks of any sort. If you sweat much, try to replace the electrolytes found in appropriate drinks. Spread the same suggestion to others who neglect carrying a water bottle.
* Read a little more. Mid-summer is really a perfect time to catch up on all of the heaps of literature you have been putting off. Each book completion is a summer achievement.
* Air out the house at night. Avoid overuse of energy-consuming air conditioning. I use none in my residence, but my large surrounding trees and vegetation help. For safety's sake use AC sparingly. Open house at night, and close off during the day.
* Eat less. July's heat makes the temptation to restore body carbs and fats a little less attractive. In fact, this is an ideal season to trim down, for that helps us endure the heat.
* Have a cool treat. This could be ice water, chilled watermelon, or a good tomato.
* Rise early. Accomplish outdoor chores before the sun is in the middle of the sky in its daily arc. Do what needs to be done in the early hours, especially when the sun has just risen and there is dew on the grass.
* Inverse Internet periods. Many like to spend times of dark before the computer screen. "Inverse" means the hotter daylight times are better for emailing, blogging, googling, and scanning than traditional night time work, which is best used for resting.
Prayer: Lord, help us to continue to pray even in the hot weather, to take all precautions due to the heat, and to find some opportunities to reflect on summer blessings you have received.
Cloud uplift on a hot summer's day, beginnings of nature's fireworks.
July 4, 2020 American Independence Minus Pretensions
The story of the American Revolution is retold many times and is celebrated by countless fireworks and multitudes of cookouts and patriotic speeches. We should ask sincerely, "What does July Fourth mean today?" Let's not fool ourselves; this is the twenty-first century. Long ago our nation became independent from the apron strings of Great Britain though it took two wars to do. Our nation thrived in splendid isolation for over a century until European conflicts expanded into two world wars -- and our country was drawn squarely into the middle of both and remained afterwards as the self-appointed "policeman of the world." History moves on, and our country is now threatened with financial insecurity in ways never before imagined. Are we so utterly independent?
Looking deeper, we discover that our struggle for independence takes on a twenty-first century character. If we went from these united states to the United States in the first two centuries, now we ought to accept our globalizing role. From federalizing scattered colonies to unified benefit of all, now we consider the possibility of uniting a community of nations into a federated world body? Here our insight in union will be enshrined in our letting go of nationalistic ways and accepting a global power greater than the United States. Granted, patriotic words will fly and not all will follow their revolutionary ancestors in their struggles for union. The process is inevitable but slow, and we may not live long enough to see its positive fulfillment.
We can be fooled by excessive property and passing fame, by wasting abundant materials, and the fiction that our resources are endless. However, the sooner we assume a true "independence" that is not pulled down by material allurements and see plainly where we are, the better we can be leaders. Our goal is not to conquer others but to march together with them. Yes, we could be called to greatness, a call to be the first to see that going it alone is neither sustainable nor a path to security. Our brothers and sisters throughout the world look to us to show that the movement to freedom, first espoused in the 1770s, is to be extended to all peoples -- especially the hungry and those lacking health access.
Privilege comes in many ways. It is defined by more than who is the wealthiest, best educated, most notable, or who is able to travel independently by car in a vast land. Privilege has a deeper spiritual meaning, which refers to being the first among equals who finds the means to be strengthened in unity of purpose and goals. America was early in recognizing and acquiring basic freedoms; we became aware of the need to work for continuing to be a free society. The time is right to cherish our basic independence as well as abandoning any pretensions to greatness; we need to work with all peoples to acquire a global interdependence.
Prayer: Lord, keep us focused on reality; let us not bend to idle musing about a fictitious yesterday; now and tomorrow ALL deserve freedom from want -- and make see our role to play.
Ephemeroptera, delicate summer beauty
July 5, 2020 Meek and Humble of Heart -- And Also Angry
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart. (Matthew 11:29)
During the July Fourth weekend we ought to reflect upon our attitudes about citizenship. Is it possible to get enraged about what is happening to our overlooked needy brothers and sisters, and still be people who are meek and humble of heart? Let's consider the coexistence of meekness and confrontational emotion.
A yoke is something that ties one down to do work -- and still it can be either an individual yoke for carrying water or a team yoke for pulling a load together. We can even consider all yokes as really team ones with the Lord as the hidden teammate on those called singular. We learn from Jesus by imitating him in the way he carried his burden of caring for others. We note in the Gospels that Jesus was public in his confrontation with leaders of the temple precincts, that he acted through prayer in the Spirit, that he never waffled but was straightforward, and that he accepted the risks and consequences of his confrontations. Actually a combination of all these elements leads to being meek in openness and humble in using the simple means at one's disposal.
We all have our crosses. Individually, we are invited to accept our "cross" and ask the Lord to join in the yoke of carrying it without complaint and with cheerfulness and good will. However, all Scripture has a dual dimension, and there is a social aspect, especially to this seemingly personal situation. Our crosses can become civic and not just personal duties, worthy of sharing with others in similar circumstances. As team players with fellow citizens we do not allow another's individual burdens to be isolated from public concern and solidarity. In fact, in such cases meekness and humility involve awareness of others' conditions and our willingness to support them in their struggles.
We learn from Jesus to see the situation at hand clearly. We recognize oppression (a condition many affluent people overlook), and we can show compassion and offer a healing hand for the oppressed in the form of liberating deed. Jesus drove out moneychangers, because they had turned a house of prayer for all the people into a den of commerce for their own self-gratification. One level of the perfect ecologist is to give personal attention to burdened individuals. On the other level, we humbly accept the risk of confrontation that includes the possibility of losing. Here meekness means a willingness to accept consequences, to do so with righteous anger, and still not to be carried away by emotion. The way of Jesus includes a perfect balance of all emotions, allowing each to be operative in its turn and to be sensitive to the needs of all in the process. We can't afford to lose our cool and be a burden on the already burdened.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be meek and humble of heart, but not to lose the anger triggered by injustice to our neighbor.
Prickly pear cactus, Opuntia humifusa,
native Kentucky species
July 6, 2020 Is Credit-Card Enslavement a Wakeful Nightmare?
I went to a motel at Corinth, Mississippi on a stormy spring night a decade ago. That night, camping out was impossible. The clerk at the town's Econolodge pointed to the signs behind her that stated that they only accepted lodgers who were credit-card holders. I told her I had cash and "I do not believe in credit cards." In the state religion of Capitalism, one must believe in credit cards or you cannot survive. "If I had to have credit cards I would be beholden to the banks -- and owned by banks, which declare by a credit rating whether economically I live or die." The rain poured down in sheets outside, but the clerk stood firm -- "No card, no lodging." Fortunately, the neighboring motel did accept cash and that clerk admitted that others had told the same tale. My formal complaint to the Federal Trade Commission was that this platinum-award-winning motel didn't honor American currency.
This incident triggered additional thoughts: we are enslaved to banks and yet slavery in this country is outlawed. These banks enjoy the honor of defining our acceptable behavior through their own credit ratings whether we ever had a debt in our lives. Since no organization I ever operated had a debt, we have no "rating." To be without a credit rating is to be a non-person, a person bereft of economic life, even if that life is an affirmation of a system of greed. In telling this tale I discovered that others regarded my reaction as abnormal, and that living with credit is the normal route to ordinary citizenship.
Credit is now routine and to have paid bills for debts is the sign of stability and acceptable citizenship. But why must one be indebted? There is an easy answer. Debt is the mark of acting properly with this society, and credit is related to one's conduct in a longer-term indebtedness. Our currency has given way to the "credit card" held by one of the few major banks controlling our land with an iron grip. If you want to function and have economic life you must be indebted and willing to pay off mortgages and other debts at monthly rates. In turn, the banks are to make profits, to reward their executives with large salaries, and to conduct any business they desire since they are too big to fail. If they fail, they expect taxpayers to enter into deeper collective debt in order to ensure their continued life.
The patience of non-credit card holders (the few of us left) is worn out when helpful souls try to explain to us how we are to kow-tow to the system in order to survive. They tell the young to get indebted quickly, so they can build a good credit rating as good slaves to the system. If they become dutiful peons, they will be rewarded with a future and, if fortunate, they may become successful captains of the system. In their way of seeing the world they ask, "What more is there to expect in life?"
Prayer: Lord, my prayer is not that my barriers be removed, but that I am able to stand by my convictions and present them dispassionately to others.
Indian hemp, Apocynum cannabinum
July 7, 2020 Giving the Emptying Plains Back to Buffalo
As a person who considers the bovine family my "spirit creatures," and by being born in the "Buffalo Trace" section of Kentucky, I have a special affinity for the buffalo. More importantly, this affinity includes freedom to roam at will by the buffalo (or more correctly American Bison see Sept. 12, 2014). These animals roamed the Great Plains, were a food and clothing source for Native Americans, were drawn annually to salt springs such as the ones near my Kentucky home, and became an integral part of North American folklore. The Jesuit missionary, Pere Marquette, was perhaps the first to describe buffalo to Europeans in detail.
I once suggested to a Great Plains monastery that the monks ought to substitute bison for their cattle-raising operation. This was not received well. Only then did it become apparent that this was a threat to the status quo traditional range-dwellers. A rejoinder to their opposition is that bison meat is truly an economically viable alternative to beef because it is rich in protein, lower in fat, cheaper to produce, and this form of livestock is native to, and can easily withstand, the rigors of the Great Plains winters. However, buffalo growers need good fencing, because these animals have in their genes the instinct to roam. On the other hand, recent breeders have inserted more domesticated bovine genes into buffalo, which dampen their roaming urges.
History is really on the side of the buffalo. Rescued by attention to native species restoration, a remnant herd has now increased to hundreds of thousands, but nothing like the estimated 80,000,000 at the time when Lewis and Clark took their first expedition to the Northwest in 1803. The tide is turning, and what could happen in the twenty-first century is that buffalo replace cattle on the Plains. Is this an idealistic effort to return land to its more natural state? This is a practical acknowledgment that harsh winters with snowdrifts and harsh summers with hundred-degree-plus temperatures are agreeable to Great Plains buffalo.
With the propensity to roam reduced by genetics, when contented with company, proper feed, and water the modern buffalo is not tempted to bulldoze fencing. However, a more ideal buffalo habitat includes a broader expanse than mere pens or small fields. The American Prairie Foundation (APF) and associates are buying up large blocks of rangeland in depopulating sections of the region (Montana and other neighboring states), and defencing, allowing broader space for the buffalo to move about. However, the answer is not to overly confine a discontented buffalo or forget about fencing, especially for males weighing one to two thousand pounds.
What about the global movement to plant protein? Animal protein will be food for years to come. It is far better to raise bison and move away from cattle for utilizing the Great Plains.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to respect others and promote their freedom to move about and fulfill their basic dreams.
The basil plant, repellant for flies, mosquitoes, and
July 8, 2020 Biofuels for Vehicles Versus Food for the Poor
Biofuels are considered as "renewable" by some, but do they truly fit the definition? In the quest to be energy independent the more agricultural nations regard converting cropland into corn or sugar for biofuels as good use of land. In the recent decade upwards to 40% of corn from the Midwest farmland has been turned to biofuel. Granted, that corn residue can be used for animal feed; however, even while less profitable raw corn could be shipped as grain to food-insecure lands and turned directly into food.
The diversion of that vast supply of grain to biofuels has helped maintain higher food prices on a whole variety of products from cereals and baked goods to fresh and processed meat. Potentially, foodstuffs being converted to biofuels also include staples such as cassava and palm oil. Some of these crops are being grown on land once covered by forests and clearance of land is exacerbating the global phenomena of climate change that is affecting our planet at an accelerating speed. All the more unnerving is that traditional food surplus, needed to supplement shortages from the vicissitudes of nature (floods, earthquakes, and droughts) are sparse; storage bins are low and food prices high.
Let's look more deeply at the use of corn-turned-to-ethanol fuel for vehicles. Many of these vehicles are inefficient and many are driven for purposes that are luxury at best. The affluent population could drive more efficient electric vehicles, refrain from excessive air travel, walk or bike for many errands, could afford to have their subsidized ethanol eliminated, and allow billions of dollars to be diverted to environmentally safe wind and solar renewable energy; the renewables can become part of a system that charges the growing number of electric and hybrid vehicles.
Growing corn for vehicle fuel is not a wise use of resources and land. It takes mostly fossil fuel-derived energy to maintain the tractors and machinery to convert seed into ethanol products, even while this process has been made more efficient over time.
Perhaps to reduce immediately utilized surplus grain the farmers could be encouraged to grow other commercially profitably items such as soybeans, vegetables, hemp and oil-bearing crops. The masterplan in a resource short world is to convert more and more cropland into foods that are directly used by the hungry masses and not to pass this through animal feed for meat and other animal products that take far more resources including cropland.
Biofuels have been considered a mixed blessing when developing a viable mix of renewables (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, tidal, and hydrogen fuel) to replace fossil fuels. When the biofuel comes from substances that otherwise could be wasted then there is an advantage, but don't include on this list growing corn for ethanol fuel.
Prayer: Lord, help us see the light, namely, that not everything defined as renewable is good for us at this time.
Early summer squash blossoms
by Sally Remsdell)
July 9, 2020 Checklist for Reducing Stress in Difficult Times
Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; it is about dancing in the rain. Sally Ramsdell's byline
Life is mortal, and living contains its own inherent threats -- a stray bullet, a cell-phoning driver in the other lane, a falling meteor, an unexpected illness. While we live we are subject to handicaps and situations that come in the way of life, yet we should not let these hidden threats overwhelm us. It is always wise to avoid known threats and take positive steps as a sign of our respect for life. The following are found in this series:
Sense the divine presence.
Share food with the poor.
Donate to worthy causes.
Avoid alcohol beyond moderation.
Avoid drugs -- only take legally prescribed ones.
Leave credit cards behind.
Seek to be and remain debt-free.
Maintain the vehicle in proper condition.
Avoid driving too fast.
Get plenty of rest.
Eat nutritious meals.
Consume proper portions.
Think positively on all issues, even health ones.
Stand up for all life.
Take fire prevention steps.
Know your escape routes.
Activate a home alert system.
Keep alarm systems activated.
Keep the mind active with real puzzles.
Think ahead to the next project.
Invest in local, civic and social capital.
Keep car in good operating shape.
Do daily physical exercise.
Walk if you can.
Submit to regular physical checkups.
Stay intellectually alive and connected.
Read a book a week.
Eat slowly, eat well.
Get plenty of sleep.
Make an annual retreat.
Review funeral arrangements.
Prayer: Lord, help me keep this list, make it known to others, and encourage them to make their own as well.
Reflection on Imitating Christ
The maturing summer beckons us to continue reflection at a deeper level of group participation. We center our attention here and now on the potential of the WE in our midst, our fellow human beings who hesitate about being authentic healers of Earth, teachers and activists. What is our best approach to imitating Christ as perfect ecologist: direct confrontation, clarified information, gentle encouragement, expert assistance, compatible associates, or combinations of these? The divine presence emerges in our life's summer journey. Springtime brings freshness, exuberance and enthusiasm while we are still wet with the waters of baptism. Unfortunately, springtime is a time of individualization and emphasizes our personal salvation even while we are surrounded by a living community. "Love others as you love yourself," as the Lord who loves all commands us. Let's move from imperfect levels of self-love and embrace our often-discouraged neighbor.
A Practical Variety Principle is understood by foresters (the mix of woodland species), farmers (different crops as insurance against single crop failure), gardeners (variety of vegetables, herbs and other plants intermingled with flowers), business people (diverse operations for the sake of economic health), and those seeking to promote cultural harmony (diverse authentic expressions of cultural roots); all are healthy and enhance the whole community. In different fields variety is a healthy and harmonious goal. Does this foreshadow our future participation in the communal divine nature -- a foreshadowing of autumn activities?
Jesus as Perfect Ecologist: Now let's penetrate more deeply into Christ's ministries in the light of the Enneagram system of dividing human personalities according to distinction of basic types. (Reference: Robert J. Nogosek, C.S.C., Nine Portraits of Jesus: Discovering Jesus through the Enneagram. Denville, NJ: Dimension Books, 1987). Nogosek reasons that since Jesus as God-man is without sin, he should have all nine personality types found in human beings; we find these qualities as showing forth in the Gospels presenting Jesus as teacher, healer, and activist.
Jesus as Teacher: Jesus shows a sense of discipline in the Sermon on the Mount. His message is one of being perfect as he is perfect. Jesus shows that he lives what he teaches by working hard and being exacting on himself. Jesus is tolerant of others, such as the Samaritan woman at the well; he accepts the sinful woman who washes his feet with tears. Jesus is a disciplinarian with a kind and merciful heart. Jesus calls for wisdom; he teaches the disciples with authority the need to be wise, to pray, reflect, plan ahead, and set defined goals; he says a house founded on sand will collapse, but one founded on rock will last. Jesus seeks to pray to the Father; he is not perturbed when interrupted; he sacrifices rest for the needs of others. As teacher he has a sense of loyalty and responsibility; his priestly prayer at the Last Supper shows that he wants his disciples to be loyal. Jesus gives Mary his mother to John; he says to render to God and to Caesar their own things; he evokes the first commandments to love God and neighbor; he goes to Jerusalem to face impending death threats.
Jesus as Healer: Jesus is a sensitive healer: the woman touches his cloak in hopes of being cured and power goes out of him; Jesus uses both words and gesture when healing the blind and lame; Jesus raises the little girl to life and tells her parents to give her something to drink; and he shows this affection for Mary and Martha at the tomb of their brother Lazarus; he weeps over Jerusalem, and agonizes in Gethsemane. Jesus avoids self-pity by always coupling his rising from the dead with his suffering and dying, and he never regards himself as a lone tragic figure. He tells his disciples to take their daily cross and follow him. Jesus is serene and a person of great tranquility; he is filled with peace, walks on the waters, calms the storm, comforts Mary Magdalene, the Emmaus disciples, and frightened disciples calling for "peace be with you;" he calls to Peter to be faithful; his passion is one of utter serenity, especially as he stands accused by the High Priests before Pilate. As a sincere healer Jesus is jovial and cheerful; he goes to parties, eats with friends, takes dinner with publicans and Pharisees, defends his disciples' lack of fasting while the "bridegroom" is with them, prepares breakfast for exhausted fishermen, multiplies loaves for hungry crowds, and ordains apostles for continuing liturgical banquets.
Jesus as Activist: Jesus comes to the poor, undertakes his mission and confronts those who oppress others. He has no resentment, no lust for power and no cantankerous spirit; he is a truly balanced activist. He is deeply solicitous and a person for others; he defends Mary's practice of listening against her sister Martha's busyness; he cures Peter's mother-in-law who thereupon expresses hospitality; he rescues the embarrassed hosts as at the Cana wedding. Still, Jesus as activist manifests a sense of ambition, for his ministry to succeed. He gathers crowds and addresses them; he is a leader choosing his collaborators to go forth into the whole world. In the face of rejection in his home town, Jesus simply moves to new fields; he does not allow the fickle crowds to come and make him king. Jesus as activist shows assertiveness; he cleanses the Temple, he is courageous in the face of opposition; he confronts the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees and reacts to sinful behavior with gentleness, not further confrontation, e.g. with the tax collector Zachaeus and with the accused adulterous woman. He is assertive, not overly assertive.
Teamwork seeks to find all these qualities present to varying degrees among participants, though only rarely in a single balanced individual -- peace-loving, solicitous, loyal, properly ambitious, sensitive, assertive, disciplined, wise, and jovial individuals. The human situation is not filled with perfectly balanced team members, but rather includes those who deny, excuse and escape from their callings, avoid personal development, or who go to extremes in the use of one or other quality. A good team works together and compensates for the weaknesses of individual members.
Canis latrans, a mother coyote,
Washington Co., KentuckY farm
July 10, 2020 How Do We Address the Power of Corporations?
We can have a democracy or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. We cannot have both.
Justice Louis Brandeis
The current federal Administration has been far too cozy with the wealthy and with large corporations, even though at times there is talk of doing something about it. Much attention is given to squeezing funds from WIC programs to Pell summer grants, virtually all assisting the poor or lower income individuals. All the while, the disparity of wealth keeps widening in this country. This is more than cruel; this cries to heaven for God to hear.
Beating up on the down-and-out is part of the insensitivity of an age of affluence in which those not yet reaching such levels seem to be satisfied to aspire to be rich some day, and so invest in the lottery. Many of us were enraged a little while back when we heard that certain corporations while profitable have paid no income tax and even get some "tax relief." At the same time the CEOs make 400 times that of their lower employed. There are many deadbeat corporations and the total evaded taxes may be to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars lost to the coffers of the rich each year. Consider that the total tax havens of the global superrich contain about $24 trillion (equal to our national debt).
As long as such cruel unfairness continues, one can expect a growing disrespect for the American democratic process. If one is wealthy enough, with proper lobbying and excuses, this person or corporation can get by without paying taxes and with nest eggs coming to the door. Considering that the malnourished die by the millions each year, many are getting away with murder when what could be given as essentials are sequestered by the rich. A lesson from history is that patience can run short and violence may very well ensue. Differences of such proportions when suffering lower-income citizens dutifully pay taxes and endure high fuel prices. A day of reckoning is coming.
Many may say the topic of inequality is too complex for this election year and should be delayed. Others say it must be treated here and now. As our nation careens towards financial bankruptcy and the debt limit is being negotiated every year, one must turn from fiction and fantasy to the raw reality that action must be taken as ASAP. Putting this off threatens our democracy at its very core, for the legislation of those who are paid by the rich will only ensure continuation of the status quo. Fair taxes would be the perfect remedy for a nation that has financial ailments of such a severe order. This should not be a partisan issue for all want the taxes to be fair and yet minimized where possible. True patriots must deliberately be of service to the superrich by relieving them of their excess through fair taxation.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see reality and to act accordingly with the proper, merciful confrontation that is most needed now.
Western salsify, Tragopogon dubius
July 11, 2020 The Right to Potable Water
Human health and quality demands that the plentiful supply of potable water be accessible to every human being. Some demand the right to water for essential purposes and some demand their water "rights;" unfortunately, others are silent to what is their basic right. Certainly there are differences between those demanding essentials and those demanding their "property" for affluent purposes. Infringement on water rights includes control of access, overuse of water resources, and pollution of water quality. Control of quantity and quality of water involves a number of agencies, and can become an involved issue; domestic access to adequate potable water is often limited by barriers that must be removed, and so cooperative and political actions at all levels from households to community water districts to international agreements on limited water resources are needed.
For the thirsty, taking urgently needed water has a prior right over those who have control of water resource for profit making. Such taking by the thirsty is not stealing, for essential needs come first -- not some legalistic property right. To fill a swimming pool with potable water at low cost while others of lower income have to pay for bottled water would be called a gross injustice -- but it happens in the world in which we live.
We as citizens must feel a responsibility to help resolve water conflicts. Proper water distribution demands systems for delivery of high-quality water to points of need with minimal waste occurring. In theory, water is free; in practice, fees may be charged for source maintenance and protection, delivery, apportionment, and policing of end point use. Reclaiming our water commons involves taking:
* Taking of needed water could be encouraged when the have-not is deemed powerless. Will this reach levels of armed conflict?
* Taking those who waste or pollute water to court is a growing possibility, as well as reporting those who waste water to enforcement personnel. This includes taking nations who dam water upstream and halt the free flow of water for traditional use by downstream parties to world court.
* Taking up the cause of people who would otherwise see their public water supplies privatized with fees imposed where free water was formerly available needs confrontation.
* Taking on "water rights" groups (generally agricultural users) to renegotiate contracts, when essential needs of urban people are not being met, may be needed with some changes in irrigation practices and agricultural use for less demanding crops.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to "take" gracefully for all who thirst for fresh and unpolluted water.
Pastured cows, grazing
July 12, 2020 Becoming Efficient Sowers of Good News
Imagine a sower going out to sow (Mt. 13:4)
Many of us sow seeds and yet we "broadcast" in such a manner that the seeds are not always fruitful. Our hopes are that the land accepts the seed and in the natural process it gives a yield. On closer examination we find that we have much to do with the productivity of the seed, and so the sower has to act properly -- though this extends beyond the original parable.
Some seed falls on the end of the communications path and the words get picked up by bloggers and those who tweet bits of news, and so do absolutely nothing with them. The poor with whom we work are simply forgotten in the noise of the information blizzard all around us. Many seeds are being sown from all directions.
Other seed falls on patches of rock, sprouts, and withered for lack of soil. This is the affluent who are totally insensitive to the needs of others. These throw a little sprig of charity at the poor, and pass on, for their material cares consume their days.
Other seed falls among the thorns, the cynics of the world around us. These people ought to be able to make it fruitful, but their barbs and close connections with similar friends choke out the message of good news and thus no progress can be made.
Finally, well placed seed falls among the sincere, those willing to sacrifice their surplus so that all might be able to have the essentials of life. These are the fruitful hearers, who in turn can replicate the message manyfold.
We return to the sower, for good seed being sown is expensive and needs to be as productive as possible. What we learn from the parable is that sowing has different levels of production, and yet the last of the four is the fruitful one. The attention of the sower must be focused on productive areas of the arena of media and the public. Not all are willing to receive the message, and extra effort at attempting to convince them could be fruitless.
The extended parable means that we can be disappointed when we see our words dismissed, overlooked, and even laughed at by the cynical. We must focus on the good ground and thus have confidence that seed can be fruitful if sown among the sincere poor. The message is that fruitfulness is possible; the challenge is to hone the sowing to be directed to this target audience. Once the cynics or the insensitive are identified, we ought to see that our efforts should not be wasted in appeasing idle twitterers or cynics. Let's direct attention to those who can make the best with what is available. Ease of communication is a gift; let’s use it well.
Prayer: Lord, make us good sowers of Good News, realizing who will truly receive the word and focus our attention on them as much as possible.
A very, very small mushroom, species
July 13, 2020 Keeping Renewable Energy Decentralized
Approximately four acres of parking space at the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens are now covered with solar arrays. This is good because parking lots are wonderful places to gain solar energy that will furnish one quarter of the Garden's energy needs. Many other parking lots as well as warehouse roofing in this nation could recharge electric cars using solar energy. By the millions now homes and other buildings are potential space for solar panels to help recharge electric cars and electric home appliances. The renewable energy philosophy is to think renewable, think local, and think convenient all at the same time. Wind farms deserve promotion especially offshore of heavy population centers such as our Northeast and California. While larger scale, they are regionally local and avoid transporting fossil fuels or even extensive long-distance grid systems.
Renewables are arriving and are cost effective and now both wind and solar energy sources are competitive and even becoming lower in price than coal in its rapid decline from a being a major energy source. For too long we never counted the toxic substances and carbon dioxide emissions as well as health of miners as part of the fuel total cost. Decentralizing energy turns focus away from large centralized power plants (including multi-billion dollar nuclear powerplants and seeks to bring energy production/consumption closer to home.
A roof array of solar panels (like the 32 panels on our St. Elizabeth of Hungary church complex) indicates that local energy is being produced on the spot even when tied into the electric system; however this distributed system does not require expanded electric transmission. Producing energy even on renewable farms miles away leads to massive expansion of rights-of-way and new transmission lines -- and inevitable transmission losses. All of America's energy could be produced on those parking lots and roofs if we put our minds and resources to it. Added to this is the bright prospect that new roof coatings will bring down solar production costs dramatically -- by at least half -- within a decade. Much depends on how well the feed-back of surplus energy will be integrated into the utility controlling the transmission network.
Using methane collected at landfills as fuel is one global- warming-reduction procedure for escaping methane has 23 times the climate- change effect of a comparable amount of carbon dioxide. Methane is an interim fuel while awaiting renewable and local energy sources to replace coal and petroleum sources. Recall the potential for energy sources: small-scale hydro at existing dam sites, wind turbines on the Great Plains, biofuels at forest, industrial and agricultural waste sites, AND utilization of roof tops and parking lots for recharging electric vehicles. Renewables need not be at large land plots; they can be come from local sites.
Prayer: Help us, Lord, to think more locally and with conservation of resources in mind.
Watering system, home-brewed
July 14, 2020 The Jury is Out on Fracking and Shale Gas
Natural gas from shale formations is hot, very hot. Such deposits are found in many parts of the world, including parts of 24 of our American states. The potential, when compared to oil fields, is immense. We mentioned that landfill methane (natural gas component) should not be allowed to escape, for it is 23 times more effective in global warming than carbon dioxide. However, while shale gas is naturally contained, it could be released by hydraulic fracturing or "fracking." The impact is where the jury is still out: How much will escape in processing?
Years ago, we thought shale fuel was dead here in Appalachia, since digging up the rock and procuring the oil product would take more energy than the final fuel content. However, leaving shale rock materials in place and extracting the gas (and oil) through hydraulic fracturing has proven to yield immense quantities of fossil fuels which are proving quite profitable. However, the picture in an age of severe climate change is not perfect.
Fracked fuels yield carbon dioxide emissions. Cornell University researchers found that fracking for gas contributes as much, or even more to global warming, than does coal, because some amount of methane escapes unutilized. After EPA researchers were forced to stop analysis to find escape amounts, we are in the dark as to quantities of methane is 23 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Toxic substances are or could be found in water emission. Today the Haliburton Loophole passed in 2005 to keep from disclosure of the contents of franking operational fluids is a gross inconvenience when some of these can be harmful to people in contact with contaminated water. This contact is already proving a source of concern for people living near where fracking fluids are injected back underground.
Land disturbances are not as severe in fracking as in coal mountaintop removal, but communities are disturbed by noise and congestion through use of heavy equipment on local country roads.
Earthquakes are fracking-induced by insertion of materials in certain strata of rock, and this unexpected phenomena is more than bothersome in such states as Oklahoma and other places.
Without better knowledge of the extracting process we are currently unable to make a complete environmental judgment. Prudence requires that we go slow when it comes to new energy sources, even though the amounts of gas and oil extracted turned the U.S. from a net energy importer to net exporter in this century. In fact, the U.S. is now the largest oil producer to the fracking process. Its economic benefits versus environment.
Prayer: Lord, teach our people to go slowly enough to weigh all issues with care, thinking more widely than the profit margin.
An evening hike, approaching sunset
July 15, 2020 Recognizing the Need to Count Important Matters
Teach us to count how few days we have and so gain wisdom of heart. (Psalm 90:12)
Interestingly enough, the inspired psalmist understood so many centuries ago that limited days could indicate the need for a wisdom stemming from "counting." Quantitative measures do have a meaning in life and ought not be discounted by non-counters. Jim Vizzard, a Jesuit activist of the mid-twentieth century, used to say one needs to make a retreat, "I'm not God, You're not God," and accept the spiritual results. In other words the above title recognizes that subject in quantitative terms and, being human, we ought to have some feel for quantities. In part, that is because, with each day, life span is shortening and our ebbing energy can almost be measured. Youth may think of spans and resources as limitless but that is not true -- our span is measurable, even if we are unsure of exact length of the current span of time.
Knowing ourselves means that we cannot continue to do the exerting things (jogging, skiing, partying, excessive driving, etc.) that we were so proud of and could be counted when younger. None of this counting was wrong, and often had a goal of competing against oneself. Wisdom could result from the spiritual considerations of even our physical efforts that fade or are imperfectly performed. The object of aging is to see advantages in taking on areas of spiritual motivation, and to recognize them early to gain "wisdom of heart," a virtue needing affirmation.
Wisdom is needed in our lives for many reasons: to pace ourselves in the work we plan, the vacations we intend, the gifts we give, and the time we tweet; to let others know that they are exceeding their own limits and that resulting stress will only hurt them; to tell policy-makers that their expectations are most likely unrealistic and that drive them further from reality in planning for future applications; and to not get stressed ourselves when we conclude that certain plans will not now, or perhaps never, be reached in our lifetime.
The need for wisdom is better seen when we have only a few days left. Others may wait to take up matters later since they feel (falsely) that they have plenty of time. However, we are like team members with only seconds remaining in the game of life, so let's make every second count. Each day calls for a more perfect performance. Our prayer must be a resolve to do the best we can, and yet admit it is not a perfect success. Our fidelity is what counts now and always -- not some unrealistic measure of success. While we learn to count our days, let's challenge all -- including ourselves -- who count wrong things: books, perks, wealth, cars, house-size, friends, press mentions, invitations, Facebook friends, etc. It is enough just to count the few days left even when we don't know how many there are.
Prayer: Lord, allow me to repeat the above quotation: Teach us to count how few days we have and so gain wisdom of heart.
Almost full moon, July.
July 16, 2020 Suggestions for Improving an Annual Retreat
All of us whether extremely busy or not, need an extended period of time to reflect on how things are going. We need to get away and not be bothered by routine activities; we need to be free from abrupt phone calls or door bells, from intrusive electronic device notices and responses. Some seem to endure the response to the need while others of us look for a traditional time (mine is now) or place to seek a time to converse with the Lord. After 64 of these I have suggestions worth sharing:
1. Set a place and time. Though other things can intrude on occasion, setting this makes upcoming annual retreats possible and not delayed to a distant future.
2. Abstain from external matters. Enter the event with a resolution not to do external business matters during the retreat span. The only exception is the spiritual duties of religious observances, which is part of ordinary life. Leave unrelated reading material at home.
3. Isolation is needed. Consider a cut-off from the rest of the world. Tell associates and loved one where you will be and that disturbance will only be in the most extreme cases. Daily connectedness should be limited in order to be with God.
4. Goals may be burdensome. Sometimes we need to answer a specific question, and that is an immediate goal but not the conclusion. Leave answers to the movement of the Spirit.
5. Limited conveniences are helpful. This does not mean to seek the lap of comfort. In fact, differences in daily routine can intensify a sense of gratitude for gifts given. However, curbing sleep or fasting may prove too distracting. Some require more comfortable retreat house settings than do others; others find the grand outdoors a true blessing.
6. Silence is golden. Some retreats are preached and should not be dismissed -- if one is moved to make this variety. I prefer a silent retreat away from phones and Internet.
7. Keep a record if so moved. I must confess to never looking again at most of them, though recording is part of my retreats.
8. Enjoy the outdoors. It is important to see that God speaks to us in the beauty of nature and among the wildlife around us. We need to be open to the moments of such conversation.
9. Travel light rather than with excess baggage. Take comfortable clothing and personal items, but leave extras at home.
10. Prepare to arrive at a resolution.
Prayers: Lord, give me the grace to make a good retreat.
Earthhealers Discover Earth as Teacher
We seek to learn how to be good Earthhealers, and we can learn much by looking at Earth herself; many elements are present to help us make needed individual and social change. We soon learn to use both practical means (appropriate technology) and nurturing modes of compassionate action; the two are complementary. Our challenge is to overcome the shadow side that inhibits change and to move forward with ways to generate a renewable economy. A compassionate and open healer is able to walk sufferers through the stages of denial, excuse, escape, self-reliance, burn-out, fence sitting, spinning wheels, cynicism, or insensitive affluence (see Appendix associated with this exercise). Likewise, we must expand our horizons and discover that Earth herself helps us mature.
The Earth is our teacher if we are open. Ideally, Earthhealers see Earth -- as related, victim, gift, beneficial, mystery, prophetic, resilient, intelligibly designed, and cheerful. The more these characteristics can be recognized, the greater the spiritual health and wellbeing of healers. Through eco-compassion we share with those in need; we listen to them, encourage their participation, and help them on their journey of faith. The following nine listed Earth qualities correspond to the characteristics needed by people who are candidates for environmental cooperative endeavors as discussed last week in reference to Jesus as perfect ecologist:
* Earth as related. The kinship of Earth and people is profoundly ecological -- and theological. Are not all beings on Earth interrelated in both origin and well-being, and is not the health of each organism, whether human or otherwise, intertwined with that of other beings on this planet? This interrelationship exists now, in the past and in the future. Earthly creatures share a common bonding for they are made of the planet's dust, transform Earth by their interactions, bask in its glory, and suffer in its agony. We are related and thus share in community.
* Earth as victim. We have reflected on the environmental crisis and Earth's troubles due to human greed and insensitivity. We are called to be Good Samaritans and care for our troubled Earth. Our solicitude extends from all human victims of wrongdoing to Earth herself, and we treat this planet with compassion. We perceive Earth as suffering and fragile mother who must be protected and safeguarded.
* Earth as gift. We are all amazed by the bounty and beauty of God's creation and seek to reflect on the entire interacting organism. Good stewards realize what is entrusted of special worth, and that includes the entire Earth on which we live. Each of us need to be loyal stewards for the short time given, thus making it all the more imperative that we use our time well. The more we realize the bounty and beauty, the more we see how much we must commit ourselves to preserving and using it wisely.
* Earth as beneficial. With an increase in geological and ecological information we see Earth's abundance of riches for all, but it takes good motivation to conserve and use them properly. Earth teaches us about the delicate balance of oceans, atmosphere, and living organisms, global aspects that are influenced by human activities -- a concept simply unknown a mere century or so ago. Carbon dioxide is needed in the total life cycle, but its balance can be upset through combustion of non-renewable fossil fuels.
* Earth as mystery. This Earth fascinates everyone who observes and loves nature: young and old, primitive and scholar. Earth is an unfolding of the mystery of creation and continues to baffle us. What brings marine fossils 700 miles from an ocean? How do hurricanes arise? What causes air or ocean currents? Mystery is at the heart of one's journey to God, and Earth contains great mystery. Lovers of Earth wonder at times. Some mysteries are able to be penetrated, but they will give rise to deeper ones.
* Earth as prophetic. Earth is oppressed and exploited and awaits its own liberation. The reality is for all to observe. If the imbalances become so great, Earth rebels and becomes unlivable. While Earth is not vengeful as one might interpret a stern or heartless creature, it is still able to be so transparent that it tells the truth. The planet beckons us to learn about it, to see that it has no powers to predict the future, but it can tell us that, if we do not treat it properly, worse things could happen.
* Earth as resilient. Our Earth is capable of rebounding from a devastating catastrophe. While we can learn much from studying our planet, still it may not be too comforting, since rebounding takes centuries and millennia and not mere human lifetimes. Resilience shows the complexity of Earth's natural functions, but it does not give solace to island nations in Oceania; these may be inundated before our youth reach old age through a rising ocean and melting glaciers. While Earth is somewhat vulnerable, we are called to respect our ancient but resilient mother.
* Earth as intelligently designed. Evolutionists battle those who place trust in a Creator of immediate design, but each has a point worth considering. God designs through the evolutionary process. Wisdom is contained in the fullness of Earth's maturation, its natural cycles, movement through the heavens, changes of seasons, continental drift, and a host of other geological phenomena. We glory in what Earth tells us about an intelligent Creator and fitting natural theology, as well as a foundational Earth science.
* Earth as cheerful. Celebration is very human, and Earth is worth highlighting. Earth's jovial nature is more subtle, but can be detected even in the whimsical seasonal changes that occur. Funny how it is that all creatures know intuitively whether we enjoy their presence or not, and Earth herself reflects the cheerful and joyful character of her Creator. Amid the pandemic we have just faced, our planet smiles with sunshine and flowers and showers. We gain much by welcoming Earth's cheerful countenance.
Appendix: Overcoming Earthhealing Shortcoming
The Earthhealing process is hindered by those who avoid any participation or those who participate, but do not do so fully. Those who avoid the process include deniers, excusers and escapees. Those who confront the issue with a limited response include: those who mistakenly regard themselves as self-reliant; those who become burned-out; fence-sitters, who will not yet take a stand but await their moment to assert themselves; wheelspinners, who lack the discipline to get the job done well; cynics, who can dull intellectual enthusiasm needed to carry on; and the average cheerful affluent person, who does not see the seriousness of the current situation while embracing a limited environmentalism.
The "parable of the sower" (Matthew Chapter 13) speaks of seed (the word of God) landing at the edge of the path and eaten by birds, other seed falling among the rocks and sprouting but having shallow roots, and still other seed dropping among the briars and being choked out. There are parallels with how deniers, excusers and escapists treat the environmental message they hear.
"I can't believe there is anything wrong with our Earth. It all depends on what color glasses you are wearing. For me, I have a comfortable life that exceeds that of my parents or grandparents. No one is going to make me change what I am doing. We overuse the word "crisis," even though it appeals to the public media. On the other hand, I can't and won't believe there's any reality to this environmental "problem." If more time were spent making a good economic climate for our businesses, more people would be fully employed, and more money would be made."
A hardcore, but diminishing group of people deny that Earth is in trouble. They may do so through total silence and inattention to the subject, or they may deliberately consider denial as part of their personal agenda: "The ecological crisis is a creation of notoriety-seekers and paranoid pseudo-scientists." Surprisingly, deniers fall into somewhat the same categories as those who disbelieve religious faith -- for they are environmental crisis agnostics. How do we motivate deniers, other than through nurturing and gentle prodding? Those who articulate their denial can be answered through intellectual enlightenment. "The Antarctic interior ice is not melting" can be countered by saying that temperatures have not yet reached melting stages, but the outer continental margins are sloughing off as part of the melting process associated with global warming. The so-called reasoned denials should be answered point by point and without fanfare.
An extreme form of denial is motivated by economic profit. People whose living depends on being able to ignore environmental hazards would prefer to ‘leave well enough alone.’ They may describe themselves as living "sustainably," when they are referring to current unsustainable practices, thus distorting the term as well as their own judgment. A rare few even advocate a perverse practice of immediately exterminating an endangered animal on their own property before the environmental regulators arrive. It's ironic that publicizing and describing a threatened species may actually increase its endangerment. But deniers go to great lengths when their perceived economic wellbeing is threatened.
Such denial may be caused by mental, physical, economic, social, or political conditions, or a combination of various ones.
At the heart of denial is the fear of loss of something held dear; and this is not just for a few people, but for a great number who at least deny for a period of time. It may be caused by a newly discovered illness, impending death of oneself or a loved one, financial difficulties, or an uncertain future. Deniers simply seek to mask their fears and the possible threat to the status quo. A temporary state of denial may have to be handled through compassionate presence. Denial often includes both problem and lack of solution, and thus both are to be addressed together.
Serenity. A peaceful and serene attitude can go a long way in times of major turmoil and crisis. Consider the serenity of Sir Thomas More at the time of his trial, for not supporting Henry VIII in 1535. Serenity in such cases shows our firm belief in the U.S. motto "In God we trust." Peacemakers and the serene may include certain peaceful primitive people, naturalists, ecological homesteaders, contemplatives, animal and tree lovers, and a variety of craftpersons who feel a kinship with Earth and its creatures. All are preservationists in some manner and at least implicitly make this a component of their lifestyles. Seeing that there are solutions, if we steady the course, gives such people a serenity needed by all Earthhealers to function properly.
A nurturing or gentle approach works wonders for all deniers of a personal crisis situation. In a similar way, many refuse to confront pollution problems, the decline of resources, or climate change. Deniers need pastoral advice, a helping hand, people who are not accusatory, but have a clear vision of the situation and are familiar with meaningful solutions. Those who can assist must show compassion for deniers -- and this can work wonders. The serene are those realists who say, "No, the illness is present and is really serious, but let's move on to what can be done."
A more proactive or even shock-treatment approach may work in certain instances of denial of environmental solutions, not problems. An Earthhealer seeks to convince deniers through rational argumentation by introducing scientific evidence. This may open a discussion over the nature and extent of this evidence. Rather than trivializing the seriousness of an environmental crisis, the ensuing discussion can be elevated to a moral level by calling for prudence when data is incomplete. Refraining from environmental damage requires a lower degree of current scientific evidence. Leading deniers to a morally higher ground works better than forcing a capitulation of their tentative position.
"I am unsure about the degree of damage to Earth. I can't hazard a guess as to the seriousness, because I am not an expert. Let's call on ecologists and fair-minded experts to help assess the problem and implement proper solutions. What I know for sure is that I am no expert and refuse to get involved. My best excuse is my distance from the battle, and others' proximity to it."
When it comes to medical or environmental questions, many of us regard the qualified person as better equipped to make practical judgments than we are. However, this somewhat false humility is used by those who seek to absolve their responsibility, especially when they would prefer to step back and be a follower. Often the condition is only exacerbated by the crippling effect of living an institutionalized life and allowing others to make the practical decisions that actually require full citizen participation. Many of us seek excuses for not acting, and we think it is sufficient to know the situation and go no farther. Even preachers, teachers and commentators confuse knowing and doing, or speaking and acting; these regard knowledge as a sufficient contribution toward achieving solutions, placing a higher value on articulation than on helping to solve problems. They stand above the fray of messy battle; they may be perfectionists convinced of their inexperience; they feel an imperfect job is no solution, and lack confidence in their own abilities to contribute to solving the problem.
With no exception, environmental work must involve us all. Those with energy must clean up their immediate surroundings; those who maintain dwellings and offices are expected to keep the internal environment orderly; all residents and workers must refrain from wasting resources; students must be eager to improve the world's conditions; even those too ill to do meaningful work can offer their sufferings for success of others and for Earth herself. No one is excused, for environment is not just another issue to be handled solely by experts. We live and affect our environment in some way; we all have responsibilities and need to overcome our inherent excuses when it comes to environment.
Solicitude. Excusers clearly see their own personal powerlessness, something that could be quite praiseworthy. Also, they respect the expertise and strengths of others; again laudable. However, they cannot face the need to do something in a solicitous manner, to address false humility -- a type of pride in itself. They distance themselves from the struggle and may think that simply being aware of a problem is sufficient. They do not see that each person must become engaged, even with the possibility of short-term mishaps and failures. And they will most likely remain baffled by global environmental problems that are impossible to solve alone on an individual basis; we need others to help.
Here again the nurturer may help excusers see themselves for who they are. Don't we all have a problem with facing serious issues? Don't we all see problems, but can miss the problem of our non-participation in what is essential? Making excuses is a step above pure denial, for it contains the glimmer of hope that other people may advance possible solutions; excusers think paternalism will lead us to the promised land. But an added advantage in responding to the excuser is that our persuasiveness is based on our community of sharing; we are all among the global concerned family who face crises together; this pandemic is a good teacher.
Dom Helder Camara was asked, "What has been the greatest, most challenging obstacle in your struggle for justice?" Sabra McKenzie-Hamilton reported that the archbishop paused, extending outward his feeble arms as if to emphasize the enormity of the Cross, and then without the slightest hesitation, touching lightly that luminous part of himself where his heart reached out to God... "Myself," he replied. (Reference: The Catholic Worker, June, 1995). Dom Camara knows that there is no distance between himself and the suffering of the Earth-Cross. He offers no excuse, but comes to grips with the area of his deepest disarray -- himself. That movement away from excuses takes honesty, self-possession, and a healthy recognition of responsibility. We have either committed ecological damage or, in silence, have allowed others to do so.
Rational attempts at changing the excuser work best in light of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), who seeks no excuse, but acts immediately upon seeing the victim on the road side. Good Samaritans include those of the health profession, rescue workers, police, governmental environmental regulators, soil conservationists, reclamation workers, those who respond to floods and accidents without a moment's notice, Habitat for Humanity volunteers, and a host of others. They do not ask for recompense or any sign of expected gratitude, seeing neighborliness to be responding to the immediate task and helping. Implicitly they know that living in harmony with Earth and addressing the common good demand their personal involvement. We must all be Good Samaritans, though it's easier said than done. At least, we know why we make excuses, and are called to bite the bullet of responsibility.
"Don't tell me any more sad tales. I have enough problems of my own and can't take any more. The cup runs over, and I am almost overwhelmed. Don't make this the straw that breaks the camel's back. I have this hobby -- habit or enticement --, and it gives me enough diversion to cope with stressful conditions, for all of us deserve an escape valve. If everyone would do the same, the world would be in better shape. You'd do a better service, if you would tell them all to discover their own escape mechanisms."
Alcohol imbibing, gambling, money-making, working, abusing drugs, excessive socializing, shopping, buying cars, boats, or planes, travelling, performing crafts, going to movies, watching television, eating, sleeping, gossiping, going to school year after year, sitting, dreaming, and even writing can become some form of escape but, for the most part when taken in moderation under ordinary circumstances, can be beneficial. Abraham Lincoln thought his frequent theatergoing as "strange, but I must have some relief from this terrible anxiety (Civil War horrors), or it will kill me." Doris Kearns Goodwin in Leadership (p. 229), says that theatergoing was not pure escapism for Lincoln, but a way to decipher the problems confronting him. Escapism can have multiple motives: a form of recreation, an ability to put one's mind at rest, a lack of stamina to endure a stressful situation, or a fleeing from some form of social responsibility.
Christian fundamentalists focus on the early Christian beginnings from the writing of Chapters 6 and 7 of the Book of Revelations (Wars with the Parthians, murders by emperors, and persecutions) and relate these to current conditions. People need to fall back on something that is firm and grounded in their prior faith experience, and thus seek to escape from the present crisis. Sincere fundamentalists tend to escape from the nitty-gritty of life's raw edges, but are tempted to a righteous plane above the rest of humankind. By divorcing themselves from the pack, they can attain sure salvation and make a grand miraculous escape from this dysfunctional world. Throughout history escapist cults have come and gone, showing the tendency to avoid dealing with reality, especially at times of great upheavals such as the Roman persecutions, the Black Death in the fourteenth century, and famine and natural disasters in every century including this pandemic.
Loyalty. Reasoning with escapees is like trying to have a rational discussion with a person with a drinking problem while touring a pungent-smelling distillery. Observing the distillation process and preaching sobriety do not address addiction. Curing all forms of substance abuse takes will power -- not rational argumentation. Personal commitment and renewal can help to counter the escapist tendency, but this may be more easily addressed by a nurturing person who wishes to help through non-oppressive methods. The Alcoholic Anonymous approach of understanding one's powerlessness and the need to reach out to another is the right road to control. Now apply such methods to the environmental escapee. Point to good stewards: farmers, gardeners, landscapers, foresters, grounds tenders, monitors of natural resources, game wardens, road crews, park police, homemakers, janitors, and others. Proper spiritual grounding requires a loyalty to the task at hand and to the Lord of history.
The prodigal son parable (Luke 15:11-32) shows the way an escapee can be welcomed back into the healing process. To fail to forgive and only look back on the fault itself does not help the escapee. Certainly it's difficult to follow the example of the forgiving father and welcome escapees into the expanding healing team, for their personal experiences can be models for those under similar stresses. Rather than taking on a self-righteous attitude, the case can be made where the ex-escapee is truly needed in enlisting others to the broad environmental crusade. A series of pertinent activities, political programs, social networking and spiritual interactions are worth considering.
Let 's look at ways to help address Earthhealer weaknesses and assist them in becoming more fruitful -- a hundredfold or sixty or thirty.
"People just don't respond to what I have to offer. It is the fault of this age and its many distractions. I certainly see the environmental crisis, can partly blame myself and others for this mess, and know there is no escape from our duties. If we only organize properly, we can do the job well with gusto. Discovering and confronting those who trample on our environment gives us the energy to do something meaningful. Failures are the result of our lack of organizing skills, not properly explaining the problem, or failure to focus media attention to the issue. I know I can do it if I only try a little harder."
Do-it-yourself is a characteristic of one type of social activism that does not deny, excuse, or escape; instead, it opens up issues that call for people to address matters with relish and enthusiasm. Those involved are concerned with suffering people who are being denied social justice. Generally, the success of this sort of activism is thought to be dependent on how hard people work and on the degree of dedication, enthusiasm and competence that activists bring to the issue.
Problems are usually longer-lasting than budding activists realize, and they won't be resolved in a short time. Ambitious self-reliance is a goal of the highly motivated and exuberant; their optimism feeds on the craving to prove self-worth. Earth's environmental problems are a challenge for the can-do spirit. No problem is too great, if people just put their minds to solving it. However praiseworthy, the overly optimistic may overlook pitfalls and shortcomings. A tendency to deceive oneself is present unless one trusts in the Lord, for the environmental crisis is complex.
Reasonable ambition. Granted, an ambitious dream of success is far better than denial, escape and excuse. But in some ways misdirected activists can deceive themselves; success takes time, patience, and an uncanny level of objectivity. The success may require evaluating failures and false starts. Unfortunately, financial sponsors are partly to blame in wanting immediate concrete achievements -- and after a while, achievers believe their reports and tend to stretch the truth.
Ambition, properly placed, can prove successful by working in a cooperative fashion for long-term goals as evidenced by researchers and professional lawyers, technicians and even athletes. These seek sustained mastery in their fields; however, when problems are complex, they must reach out and seek God's help for longer-term success. It takes more than self-reliance; the environmental crisis demands teamwork -- and God's grace.
"I affirm the seriousness of threats to our environment and I've given my all over a period of time. I have been generous to a fault, and after making this almost super-human effort I now see that I can do no more. I need to rest awhile or regard the past as enough for my contributions. My system is shutting down and I have no energy left to continue the struggle. My gears are frozen. Leave me alone, for I pause now and have done my part. Take over."
Sensitive people acknowledge the deteriorating condition of our world. They may show this through their art (visual, dramatic, musical, culinary, or verbal expression). They are emotionally committed to use energy and expect others to see the world through their eyes and be energized as well. When their expectations do not materialize, they either try harder or spiral into a depressed state that can paralyze them. Many creative people work hard and give their all to effect change, but their romantic dreams have not materialized. Their personal energy levels are taxed and wane, and what they considered to be budding and dramatic successes are now ignored or belittled by critics. They start to see their limits.
For a time, they continue burning the midnight oil in their creative pursuits; if they only work harder and inspire others to do the same, the tide will turn. But things do not change as anticipated. The real world is full of imperfections; springtime enthusiasm wanes in summer heat. The burning-out comes in the form of exhaustion, even while denying that energy is ebbing. Sleeping less gives way to added stress. The burning-out soul neglects to seek advice of a confidant, preferring to hide his or her condition from others who could assist. Victims refuse to pace themselves, for that would admit defeat. Inwardly they cry out for help.
Balanced Sensitivity -- When aware of a burning-out person it is wise to recommend medical and psychological assistance, or to go to friends or relatives or authority figures and see whether some meaningful treatment can be initiated through their efforts. Often, victims, being strong individuals, are convinced they can handle their own lives at this point, when they can't. While they can see the external environment is dysfunctionally treated, they fail to see that it applies to their interior environment as well. As Jim Vizzard, SJ, an early advocate for social justice on farm issues would say to burning-out candidates: "I want to give a retreat to you titled: I'm not God; you're not God."
Is it too late to energize the burned-out? Never. They may not want to listen, but the challenge is to awaken them. Recovery is possible if all believe it is; it may come through a rhythm of rest and activity, of a sabbatical and gradual immersion into the issues, and a recognition of existing talents and gifts. Celebrations become important, even to celebrate healing our wounded Earth. Faith in our future includes believing the burned-out can recover. Their valuable experience is worth sharing with others and our sensitivity and compassion can make this occur.
"I am not one for wasting energy running around like a chicken with its head off. I see the problems, the excuses, and the escapists not facing up to their responsibilities, and it all makes me sick. Believe me, organizers are not successful either, because they do not trust in the Lord. And the poor souls who are burnouts are only to be pitied. God will take care of it all. We don't need to do any more. If anything, I'll say a few prayers and rest, knowing that good will triumphs in the long run -- while I wait.
Fence sitters detect flaws among activists and consider articulation of these as a contribution to the environmental movement. They say they will continue sitting until problem areas are clarified -- but will that ever occur? They value their supposed integrity at all costs. The fence is a good perch on which to sit aloof, in order to survey and reflect on the situation before moving to action. It's deliberate, but it could be slothful. Sitters may be postponers who desire an opportune time to enter the fray. In fact, they do not want the other imperfect people to control their destiny, and so that is why they take a public perch just next to where the action occurs; from here one can engage in action when the time is right. Whittling wood is the counterpoint to being burned-out. They may prefer, "Why hasten about when the end is near?" to "Why not hasten about and arrange the house for the Lord's coming."
Authentic prophets do not sit back and wait, but are moved to assert themselves; these include advocates, defenders of the oppressed, whistle blowers, those who seek petitions for change and who are willing to sign them in oppressive circumstances, the ones who overthrow money-changers’ tables in the commercial temple, those who resign rather than work for an oppressive system, the beaten but still speaking, and those who work with and among the poor. Prophets are like yeast, leaven, catalysts who bring about change. In democratic societies, prophets may take on political leadership roles as agents of change. True prophets are enzymes in the living ecosystem who call forth and accelerate action. The prophetic witness must confront the reluctant general population and especially target the fence-sitters.
"I see the need for action and must do something now. Okay, so I won't do things perfectly, but I am not to be faulted for lack of trying. If I enthusiastically start to take action, I may influence others to join. By taking immediate action I am fulfilling my responsibility. So, I spin wheels as a form of action. Can this be faulted when I see so many idle whittlers and fence sitters, so many in escape or denial of the problem or excusing themselves as not able to act? Observe my earnest desire to work in some little way. Personally, I can make a difference."
What about individuals who do not deny, excuse, escape, know they are not totally self-reliant, nor pace themselves carefully, and see the fallacy of quietism that thinks God will take care of us? Meet the willing overly energetic activist! This is the one who will straighten hose for fire fighters and give a packed lunch to departing explorers as a rousing bon voyage. The Greek myth tells of the King of Corinth who was condemned to spend eternity in Tartarus (an infernal abyss below Hades) rolling up a hill a huge stone, which would roll back down to the bottom each time he neared the top. Was this a useless expenditure of physical energy? This stone-rolling exercise was later Christianized and behold the well-intending monk -- but the stone returned to its starting place.
Certainly the "holy roller" was in good physical shape, gained a healthy appetite, obeyed the wish of a superior, and showed himself to be a model of obedience. But what about a social benefit? What about helping people or planet? Busy work prevents concerned people from grasping the immediate need for meaningful work. Psychic and physical energy are expended in the hope for some sort of results. Foolishness, when renewal is needed.
Proper discipline. To bring about a profound renewal of Earth requires that workers do meaningful well-focused activities. Jesus says to be as cunning as the devious steward in the parable, applying the cunning quality as proper discipline to good ends. Be in top condition and rested enough to act. If ill or elderly, then pray for the grace to keep activists moving in the right direction. If possible, be effective agents of change looking for success.
The ideal is balancing work and rest and relaxation. The monks of the Dark Ages realized that technology, when properly integrated into community life, afforded time from the drudgery of continual work to be given to prayer and rest on Sundays and feast days. Time-saving technology needs further development in our overly busy world. Depending on one's spiritual inclination, a certain surrender is required, at least the surrender to the need for help by and through others who will provide teamwork. What proves grace-laden, appropriate, and disciplined is what deserves pursuing. Discipline is a learned experience for the disorganized, but enthusiastic, person. Natural wheel-spinners can be directed to use their energy to do meaningful activity and be emerging Earthhealers.
"I have worked in the environmental movement, but after much give-and-take and few results I cannot help but be cynical. Of course, I don't deny the obvious, don't waste time making up excuses, nor do I destroy my life through false escapes. Forget jousting with windmills, avoiding burnout or burn-up, resting too comfortably and expecting God to do my work, or spinning my wheels needlessly. Forget it, and let nature take its course.”
Cynics are the descendants of a Greek school of intellectual thought that held virtue to be the only good, and stressed independence from worldly needs and pleasures. A derived modern group is critical of the rest of society and its material interests and manner of proceeding. Modern cynics may focus on the "material interests" involved in attempting to save and heal our Earth, and thus withdraw from the current environmental fray into themselves. Cynicism may take an abrasive form of light conversation about serious matters, or even a biting and bitter humor. At the heart of this sharp-tongued critique is a lack of confidence or doubt that effective change can occur. Cynics belittle both collective or individual efforts and can find fault with a "Green New Deal" and other proposed programs within a seemingly dysfunctional society.
Some cynicism occurs through loss of faith in the future. When hopes are dashed, the cynic is hurt and asks whether things are able to improve; they may seek to draw others into sharing their disappointments. Cynicism is often a form of doubt and may welcome the hidden agenda of a veiled attack on accepted environmental values. They may follow the proverb "A fool can ask more questions than a wise man can answer." Cynics may want to communicate and make the world listen to them; they deserve a hearing and a serious response that takes them to a more positive and higher plane of thought. The healing community has much to contribute to encourage talented people who have slipped into cynicism to testify that they (a believing community) have trust in the cynic's power to be renewed; all of us can grow when seeing light beyond the horizon.
Needed wisdom. It is a mistake to confront cynicism antagonistically. Sympathetic and compassionate understanding could do far more to help them heal past shortcomings and acquire new found hope. The cynic is a hurting person who needs loving kindness and solidarity. Cynicism stands in contrast to enthusiasm, which is something almost spontaneous. In dialogue, the cynic's message could be countered without direct confrontation, but still with a positive approach. Enthusiasm is the "God within" and becomes an atmosphere which draws Earth healers closer to their authentic inner being -- and hopefully to influence others to do the same. The cynic in all of us is best approached wisely and sympathetically, for there's a hidden call for help. Accept cynics for who they are and emphasize the need for their talents in the important work ahead. They are talented enough to contribute to saving our wounded Earth and we need their help at this time.
"I enjoy the good things of life and why not? I hurt no one by my activities. My character is such that cheerfulness is needed in this overly serious world -- and my life of fun and games is a counterbalance to the concerns of others, for I add sunshine to our cloudy atmosphere. With cash I spend; with a car I travel; with health I live it up. I even donate to environmental organizations. I intend to purchase a vehicle that uses less fuel next time, maintain my current vehicle well, and I'll consider someday going totally electric. And I am a good green citizen who recycles."
Righteousness is always a challenge. This American has a host of energy consuming possessions, along with excuses for their necessity. Often a latent fear lurks behind this easy-going attitude, for material possessions are not secure -- nor is the future. For such people there is never enough stashed away for the rainy day. The gusto of life incites the affluent to flit from one form of enjoyment to another, in an unsatisfactory quest for the "pursuit of happiness" as cited in the Declaration of Independence. The overriding philosophy is not to add up one's resource expenditures, but to keep happy and contented. The goal is self-gratification, along with good friends to affirm one's lifestyle.
Balanced joviality. Should the American way be challenged even in times of pandemic? Materialists can be shocked out of their complacency with this global disaster. However, one seldom realizes the resilience of the easy-going person to such mishaps, which are usually so disastrous for the overly-stressed. A kinder and gentler shock treatment could be the connection of the affluent person to truly poor folks. Often the one who can best perform this task may be a jovial-type companion, who is willing to help combat affluent insensitivity as a sympathetic brother or sister; social responsibility starts to emerge. Often a light-hearted approach to serious situations can work, and a jovial soul can wake another to deeper social concerns and a potential contributing member to the Earthhealing community.
Jovial people testify to the goodness of God's creation and seem to welcome an expansive love of life. They include: lovers of good food, people persons, entertainers, conscientious consumers, comics, dramatists, musicians, adventurers, and enthusiasts who discover the smiling face of Earth. These folks grace us with their presence in times of tragedy to make the bereaved smile and sing. They are Earth's cheerleaders, uplifting us and professing that humor is also part of the total testimony and utterly important for our human ecological balance and our ongoing efforts at healing our wounded Earth. What is more healing than a good laugh? And who can be healed faster than those who have or enjoy a sense of humor and cheerfulness? Let those who seek to enjoy life find a broader vista through the cooperative efforts of those who can make one laugh when it is greatly needed, as in this time of pandemic. Let's even dare to laugh at our crazy former energy-consuming ways.
Ripened mulberries from garden tree
July 17, 2020 The Elite Versus the People
Elitism springs from various sources: from those who think they are elite; from those who honor those who think they are elite; and from those who aspire to someday be elite. However, the need for elitism does not exist in every culture, only in those that have an exaggerated sense of individualism. When societies demand the elite, they seem to spring forth, but ought they? Is this the last vestige of an anti-democratic spirit?
The elite individual stands sharply in contrast to the democratic citizen, a person who is one of many. The elite is a specially privileged person through some at-least-temporarily- acceptable classification: blood line, wealth, power, fame, academic degrees, or intellectual acumen. From the Republic's beginning, some misguided people sought to make George Washington an elite king by reason of his military exploits. Plutocrats arose early in commerce; they soon gained notice in the young republic -- and never left. Today, elitism appears in many ways: membership in exclusive clubs; places of honor or recognition at events; mention in press and other media; the curriculum vitae as a means to recognition and employment; notable places of residence or brands of vehicles used; and declaration by some as "authorities."
Elitism becomes undemocratic when the voices of common folks are relegated to a lower rank than those of the elite. Should voice be based on the loudest or the most sonorous or erudite? Failure to hear over the clamor of too many voices can be difficult. So is failure to tax the wealthy elite fairly, for fear that they may lose their ability to create jobs. Placing the theoretical judgment over the practical is a form of elitism; they must be in balance. Disarming elitism is often the task of humorists: the bar drunk ought to be quizzed at the end of the year along with the greatest economist regarding the possibilities of the coming year; the final predictions will most likely be quite close in accuracy between the two.
Yes, we need experts, but we do not need elitists. Experts are a little ahead of others in time, though not in space. Others follow because that is the natural course, not because the leader is elite. On the other hand, the elite stand out not in leadership but as seemingly above the multitudes, and thus seek special status. Elites are thus by nature anti-democratic. The reason for their existence is that the public allows their royalist tendencies to manifest as celebrity; many people want elites because they desire outstanding individuality even if they know they themselves lack it. The battle over a title for the president was resolved democratically in "Mister" President -- a citizen. Few recall that the first American Catholic bishop, John Carroll, suggested that his title be "Mister Bishop." It was only a suggestion!
Prayer: Lord, give us a sense of knowing the scourge of elitism, and help us to imitate Jesus who washed the feet of the Apostles, and asks all of us to serve others similarly.
Sunset over rural Kentucky land
July 18, 2020 Militarization of Space: Another Problem?
With all the rocket activity, drones and exploration we are aware that Space has become a new frontier. Wide open spaces seem so attractive, whether vast stretches of land in the West or outer space amid the twinkling stars. Young people are attracted to space probes, vehicles, and future travel. However, space programs are expensive, and it takes constant media hype to keep such programs funded in tighter financial times. The added problem is whether there is a military component of space programs -- and we know that our military budgets stretch in many directions.
Space was never far removed from warfare from cannonades to hurling missiles. Napoleon in the early nineteenth century, and later Civil War generals, sent up hot air balloons for observation; World War One had airplanes for observation what later served as carriers of bombs. The Second World War graduated quickly from Blitzkrieg to massive air raids, to V-3 rockets -- making Libyan no-fly zones almost seem child's play. Star-wars-type fiction was all present in twentieth-century books and films, and still in the past half century there could be some truth to it. Space missiles were placed in silos ready to destroy another super power in a matter of minutes. In 1957, the USSR placed Sputnik I into orbit and this shook our country to its core. The space race dealt more with satellites and exploration, but wasn't there an underlying military purpose? Spy satellites have now been so perfected that they can distinguish garden vegetables anywhere on Earth -- at least that's the boast.
President Reagan's "Strategic Defense Initiative" became an acceleration of space militarization. The Soviets followed with their own programs. However, through the 1987 Salt II Treaty neither super power was to place nuclear weapons or any other kind of weapon of mass destruction into Earth orbit. With the demise of the Soviet Union the space contest seemed to halt for a time. However, is this really true? What about the hidden technical work of allies or potential enemies?
Now the attention is on China as a potential hostile enemy, and the suspicion that it is on a path to Militarization of Space. Likewise, is the Pentagon sitting on its laurels? Further questions surface: Are these presumed programs directed to surprise attack or knocking out the other nation's satellites in the opening hours of a "Taiwan Crisis." Space has been used for communications systems from CPS to all forms of space exploration and research laboratories under the joint cooperation of various nations. Space does not currently have a high priority in American budget considerations, but would a scare by a proposed Russian or Chinese program launch a second space race? Is there still time to declare space as off limits to weapons? These are unanswered questions.
Prayer: Lord, give us light to see the space commons as a global concern and in need of being made weaponless for the safety of all.
Spiders' webs, naturally green building materials
July 19, 2020 Tolerating Weeds amid the Wheat
Let them grow together (Mt. 13: 24-30)
People respond differently to the presence of weeds; some are almost violent in getting rid of them immediately; others are tolerant, trying the patience of the tidy-types; others have more important things to do. We all may react differently if the weeds were deliberately sown, or if we actually see a disruptive person sowing weeds. What if weeds are not material things so much, but rather human attitudes that change their everyday practice? What if weeds are GREED? Again and again, we observe what the greedy have gained, and know greed has already been sown -- and is being sown at this very moment.
The greedy are in our midst, and this is a problem (see the reflection July 23, 2017, "Weeds and Tolerance"). There are two problems with greedy weeds -- how to handle the greed that is operative today, and how to stop the greedy from perpetrating new acts. One dramatic way of conquering greed is to kill the greedy. However, this Pol Pot-Cambodian approach would ultimately eliminate all people, for none of us is perfect -- and really, would depopulating the Earth solve the problem of greed or any fault for that matter? Uprooting is not ours to do, for the greedy will be punished some day by the hand of God. However, we can restrict the effects of current greed on society.
Greed as "weeds" shows itself in attention to accumulating luxuries when essential needs by the poor go unfulfilled. In what way should we "tolerate" the misspent luxuries in our midst, while over five thousand youngsters die each day from lack of proper nutrition to ward off opportunistic diseases? Let's make the greedy aware of the unfair nature of their practices. To what extent must we have forbearance and be patient with our fellow human beings, even when they are overly greedy? We can certainly point out greed and show it is the opposite of selflessness and love; we can take steps to teach others the limits of greed and how they must avoid such practices; and we can challenge a system that treats greed as a virtue and actually promotes it.
Should we allow current sowers of greed to go unchallenged? Greedy ways are being championed today in a society bent on material profit motivation. We can point these out and challenge the sowers of greed. Silence and permissiveness are not proper forms of tolerance when we seek to halt the act of sowing. We can control situations that stop the greedy from sowing more. We can safeguard the innocent in the wheat fields and do so with determination, but this goes beyond the parable. We can say "no" to certain "weedy" acts that hurt others, and know when these must be resisted forcefully.
Prayer: Lord, make us worthy to challenge the greed of our world through your Bread of Life. Though we are imperfect, make us worthy to confront evil boldly, and be willing to contest it properly, all the while showing mercy to those who are greedy.
Fruit from a volunteer squash from her
(photo by Sally Ramsdell)
July 20, 2020 Tackling the Overpopulation of Cattle
For a person who chose a bovine spirit creature, one would expect this author to talk much about his many years of feeding, milking, and herding cattle. Actually only herding is found in these essays -- and part of this silence is related to ambivalence. While I like cows and calves and grazing herds, still we must face the fact that we place too much emphasis on cattle as food source (beef and milk). A 2006 report by the United Nations estimated the world's cattle population at 1.5 billion, or one for every four humans. However, cattle mature far faster than humans, and possibly will experience higher population growth in coming years as more of the world consumers choose burgers and milk shakes.
Grain utilized directly for human consumption is far more efficiently used than grain converted to animal feed first -- and then for animal products. Direct consumption should include the grain now utilized in biofuel production (around 40% of annual U.S. corn production). The farming lobby will hasten to say the leftovers after ethanol go into animal feed -- and that is true. However, as food prices continue to rise throughout the world, decisions in one major grain-producing nation affect other lands as well. All of us could curb animal products within our diets and thus allow more feed grain to be used for human consumption. It is easier to ship grain to another country than to ship cattle or beef products. Furthermore, forests are being decimated as they are converted to pastureland for profitable cattle-raising.
Cattle raising also has an impact on climate change. Cattle produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Beef production is responsible for 18% of the methane production in the U.S. Milk production is a concern as well, though milk production may be regarded as more justifiable than beef from a health and environmental standpoint; the animals are not killed in the process. Nevertheless, milk cows produce methane also. I can recall blasts of flatulence from our milk cows that sent manure jetting forth, smashing into milk parlor walls eight feet away. Animal milk production is still popular; however, let's consider soy milk and other nutritious substitutes.
Another approach that could reduce cattle methane production by up to 30% is to change the animal feed. A Union of Concerned Scientists report, Raising the Steaks: Global Warming and Pasture-Raised Beef Production in the United States, speaks of pastures planted in birdsfoot trefoil (a legume that enriches soil as well) as one such feed change. However, do you expect farmers with bottom-line problems to be concerned with reducing animal methane? Additionally, the U.S. Agriculture Department may not be willing to furnish financial incentives and technical assistance in this time of budget reductions. Far better is to promote plantburgers and eating whole grains along with fruit, nuts, and veggies -- requiring little methane generation.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to eat nutritiously and yet resourcefully.
Countless droplets of dew, jewels from
July 21, 2020 First Bull Run: Reflecting on Civil War Issues
Today is the 159th anniversary of that first great Civil War battles in northern Virginia. Two inexperienced armies clashed, blood flowed and would not cease until 620,000 soldiers and others had lost their lives in four years. Those of us who reside in border states ask ourselves the never-to-be-answered question: what side would I have fought on? When younger and romanticizing history, the side of the underdog, states’ rights and confederate revolution sounded good to me; I might have decided for the Confederacy. However, when I considered the unspoken slavery issue and the need to preserve the Union, I might have been inclined for the Union. For Kentuckians, decisions were difficult and neutrality seemed proper -- but it did not last long.
The South had an immense appeal. I was born two miles from the birthplace of one of the South's five full Confederate generals, Albert Sidney Johnston, who was nearly victorious at the Battle of Shiloh, and through a gunshot wound bled to death without getting attended. He was one of 11,000 Confederate and 13,000 Union casualties in this indecisive slaughter in Tennessee in early April, 1862. The glamour of the South during the early part of the war attracted me. Also, since our farm was part of the former estate of a Revolutionary War veteran, General Henry Lee, I was an admirer of Robert E. Lee, his distant relative. I suspect I read virtually every popular book on the Civil War and southern veterans of that war. However, I lost my interest in Lee late in life when I visited his tomb at Washington and Lee College in Virginia and saw black and red banners that reminded me of Nazi symbols.
The North would have been more to my personal tastes had I been born a century before and have been of military age. Only my maternal ancestors were in America at the time, and in photos of my great grandfather and his nine brothers two have Union uniforms on (they lived in Appalachian southeast Ohio). The sentiment in my part of Kentucky was certainly divided, but the John Hunt Morgan raids did bend the county towards the Union (though the people utterly despised federal military rule of Kentucky during the war).
In hindsight, we were blessed by not having to make choices regarding which side to fight for in 1861-65. Most likely our family would have been split (see The Brothers War on this website about neighbor Joe Davis). Current struggles should take us from the hypothetical yesteryear to the not-yet-realized tomorrow. Many have strong political, economic, and social opinions on national and global issues, just as decisions years ago. In fact, in today's political climate one finds it difficult to even talk about a valid southern side to that war or any memorial or monuments. However, we have our divisive battles: Where do we stand on the disparity of wealth? Can we obtain universal health care? What about pro-life and pro-choice issues?
Prayer: Lord, teach us to discern the Spirit in matters of immense importance in saving the union of our human family.
A late summer storm
July 22, 2020 Thunder and Lightning: Taking Proper Precautions
Thunder frightens people and pets; however, it is not the thunder but the accompanying lightning that should concern us. Any person living in Kentucky knows how severe these storms can be. My mother would light a holy candle when the storms commenced. Thunder signals CAUTION; lightning presents the power of an electric bolt. Yes, lightning strikes are rare, but can cause more deaths and injuries (about 400 in America annually) than the chance to win a major jackpot. Yes, lightning does strike twice in the same place. Yes, trees are not good protection from lightning storms. The raw truth is that we should respect lightning and not attempt to fly a kite in an electric storm like the experimenting Ben Franklin fortunately succeeding in doing.
* Observe the weather. Listen to news broadcasts. Some radios are triggered to tune in to local weather bulletins. Take advice given for the protection of people and property.
* Get indoors away from the storms. Stay out from under trees. A car is a safe place as well, provided no trees will fall on it during the storm.
* Unplug computer cords and other electronic devices. Remember to do so when leaving the home or office during these stormy seasons. I take the added precaution of placing updated working files in another room of the house in case lightning strikes. A friend lost much of his doctoral thesis by such a strike. Another friend had his television studio damaged by lightning twice. Longer-term files ought to be stored in a distant place in case the building is struck and burns down.
* Plan new buildings with care. Due to respect for the power and propensity of lightning, I once suggested that an Appalachian group build their new guest house further down the slope away from potential lightning strikes; they ignored the recommendation, built the building there anyway, and a guest was killed a few years later at that spot by lightning.
* Install lightning rods on isolated buildings, especially when located on high places. My earliest recollections include the installing of lightning rods -- a major Great Depression investment -- on our farm buildings. Our family's tobacco barn was at the highest part of Mason County and the rods saved it during one lightning strike. The strike traveled down the rods splitting siding near the ground due to a loose connection -- but no fire.
* Teach youngsters to take precautions but not to be excessively fearful, for lightning is natural and severe storms in this part of America must be endured.
Prayer: Lord, protect us from the storms of life.
A skyward view above marsh vegetation
July 23, 2020 A Problem of the Commons: Resistance to Antibiotics
There is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.
Alexander Fleming, developer of Penicillin
What Fleming predicted over a half century ago at his Nobel Prize reception is unfortunately coming true. The reasons for this growing resistance can be given as convenience, laziness, perverse financial incentives, and sheer bad luck. James Hughes of Emory University says that about 50% of antibiotic use is unnecessary or inappropriate. Misuse in a variety of ways contributes to the advance of resistance and yet at any given incident the doctor considers this current patient, not future global problems. For example, antibiotics are used against bacteria, not viruses, and yet patients press doctors to prescribe them for viral common colds. Self-indulgence makes people into breeding grounds for resistant bacteria.
Poor countries use more and more cheaper drugs, and resistance grows. In many ways, the overuse of antibiotics developed over time, with no major concern by prescribing doctors or patient pressure. However, the greatest use (80%) and misuse of antibiotics is in livestock operations, where perfectly healthy animals are dosed with antibiotics as an incentive for faster growth and cheaper meat product, resulting in the evolution of the resistant superbug in livestock raising.
Tuberculosis used to kill millions and numbers were reduced to tens of thousands through use of antibiotics. However, victory is not total; resistant strains of bacteria are occurring that require treatment with stronger and more costly antibiotics. One additional problem is that there is little incentive among major pharmaceutical companies to invest in stronger antibiotics. Many of the resistance problems are more concentrated in poorer nations that could not afford costly alternative drug treatments. Furthermore, profit margins are less for some antibiotics, because few doses, not numerous ones, are generally sufficient for a cure. Smaller companies are doing research, however, though complications constantly arise among patients being treated. The Infectious Disease Society of America proposes offering tax credits, guaranteed markets, and prizes for new antibiotic development.
Amazingly, the tragedy of the commons stands out in this health issue; gains from overdose of antibiotics are private, whereas losses are public. It is similar to enclosing common lands, polluting fresh air, privatizing water supplies, or capturing the Internet. What the commons demands is respect and a strong civic and social sense for the benefit of all.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to use all things well; help us see that the great medical weapon, antibiotics, can be easily misused through careless application.
Cooperative Actions Strengthen Common Goals
July is a perfect time to test cooperative endeavors related to environmental action. With the current pandemic lingering and even expected to possibly expand in greater force, the demand for a balanced personality in hot weather is a primary challenge. Personal obstacles in self and others must be recognized and addressed for the sake of mutual sharing. Individuals and groups need to show flexibility and still cooperate in funding, programs, publicity and promotion. Through working together, we recognize differences and yet discover similar goals and aspirations. Joining in successful undertakings, whether face-to-face or through virtual exchange, requires fuller exploration during this crisis.
In our culture, environmental groups may have some of the same ambitions and faults as for-profit organizations, but shouldn't they abandon competitive ambitions, for pushiness and rigid self-interest have no place here? Transparency calls for publicly agreed environmental goals: stopping pollution in all its forms, reducing waste, conserving resources, and transferring energy from non-renewable to renewable sources. For the greater part, the environmental community has worked for phasing out non-renewable sources (coal, petroleum, and nuclear production) in a reasonable period of time. A minority still expect that nuclear power will be made safe, but they lack proper waste disposal and expect high cost of constructing power facilities; enthusiasm dampens.
People in different places perceive their local environments in different ways, both culturally and individually. Some are quite creative and are comfortable and even energized in knowing they are different. Others borrow from their neighbors without thoroughly integrating insights into their own time and place. Rather, each should discover his or her elementary environmental sense of the HERE and NOW, a relativity worth reflection. That takes on-going knowledge and awareness of local flora and fauna, wind directions, climatic patterns and geological highlights.
Relative space. Our local climate and bioregion differ from others; I may be limited in my global perspective, though through reading, conversation and travel I broaden my horizons. On the other hand, my unique eco-spirituality rests on local and personal interactions with plants, animals and people within this temperate zone. Furthermore, I am aware of bird songs, wildlife habitats, seasonal flowers, moon phases, and daylight lengths. All such knowledge contributes to my individual unique eco-spirituality. So must I include a broad-based socialization embracing all my neighbors. Affluent people who segregate themselves within their locality through green zones or gated communities may recognize local natural phenomena, but their eco-spirituality is impoverished through the deliberate separation from other local social groups.
Relative time. Relativity applies to time as well. Someone's understanding of local environment is based on season, climate, areas of interest, degree of outdoor activity, age and social consciousness; these change through the year and over the years. Through our church life we learn that times of day and seasons of the year make profound differences as well in the manner in which we celebrate our spiritual life. Our spiritual moods in spring differ from those of autumn. Even the barometer reading says much about our daily moods, as does the temperature and humidity.
Complementary types of personalities. No single individual psychological type (of the nine categories listed in the last two weekly essays) will serve as primary healer. We need teamwork and that means more than specialists of a single psychological type. We are enriched by a wide complement of individuals knowing themselves through spiritual maturation and willingness to work together. Sometimes individuals have habits that bother others, e.g., some will say they will not work with smokers. Addressing such issues forthrightly is important, such as limiting space for smoking rather than insisting the individual go cold turkey. Resolving local differences is encouraging; bigger ones can be successfully addressed and WE thus can grow in solidarity.
An emerging perspective. Christian life flourishes in various parts of Earth, and diverse cultures are needed to flavor an emerging global eco-spirituality; the "eco" reflects the place, time, and personality of people engaged. Healing involves a cross-fertilization of all space (a global perspective covering all parts of Earth), times (a continuous history of salvation), and peoples (all psychological types containing various talents working together). Christ is with us HERE and NOW, and thus we perceive the WE in our many and varied personalities. Maybe the scientific dictum at the end of each general research project fits here as well when healing our Earth -- "More research has to be done."
July Summary. The focus of July is to follow Jesus as perfect ecologist, and assist others in team-healing our wounded Earth. We become aware of weaknesses within a community of sincere people who value each other's individual contributions. In striving for a renewable economy, we strive to renew our lives and address our shadow sides. Healing our Earth is more than a private matter; it is a social investment, a give-and-take with and among others.
If our addictive materialistic culture holds us back, ought we to focus solely on changing individuals rather than a society? Stop! We must address both areas, for they are interlocked. We await social change of great masses of people; we need individual agents of change, so that collaborative practices can be identified, evaluated, and encouraged in order to accelerate the change demanded. We seek leadership qualities knowing the field is broad. Healing starts with balanced and open individuals who are candidates to be agents of change. These are not ready-made experts, but must undertake a slow and steady maturing in the job. Become a leader in encouraging leadership qualities in others so that they also can be agents of change. There's work ahead.
Busy ants transport precious cargo.
July 24, 2020 Let's Work to Eliminate Hunger Now
The reason hunger is not being tackled right now is because you and I, and much of the literate world, are not hungry. Additionally, the ones who are hungry now have no power to press their point. We ought to recall that at the turn of this century the goal of eradicating hunger seemed feasible to global relief agencies and UN officials. There was hope to reduce the 750 million to 375 million by 2015 and then continue further reductions. Today the total hungry verge on one billion and perhaps will increase with higher food prices and foods shortages resulting from climate change.
We know hunger in our own local Appalachian communities. In fact, programs are now in place during the summer months for youth who are not in school and receiving their regular breakfasts and lunches. A number of our elders are too proud to beg and yet are short of food at times in the richest and most food productive nation in the world. Why is this so? Do we not see the tragic effects of hunger on human health and well-being?
Tackling global hunger increases the challenges immensely. This year about one-sixth of the world's corn is expected to be used to make biofuels for vehicles -- many of which lack good fuel efficiency. The hungry cry to heaven and so every effort must be made to prepare foods that are accessible and at low cost. Many plants can be used as soups and could be mixed with basic soy and whole grains -- creating palatable and nutritious dishes. Furthermore, more efforts must be taken to convert edible products into readily available foods that do not require cooking or mixing with possibly contaminated water.
Millions of young children under the age of five die each year from an inadequate diet. One low-cost approach is to create a prepared "wonder food" that does not require cooking, can be distributed easily, is low-cost, and is fast-acting among very hungry people for short periods of time. Such a product is made by a French company (Nutriset) and is called Plumpy'Nut -- a material that has the sponsorship of UNESCO. A single packet costs as little as six cents. This superfood is a mix of peanut butter, vegetable oils, powdered milk, sugar, vitamins, and minerals. The Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) is highly acceptable by all including hungry children who suffer from malnutrition, and are at the point of being susceptible to opportunistic diseases. Some call Plumpy'Nut a miracle food and compare it to penicillin -- but use over a period of time could cause problems. (Some are allergic o peanuts and others have lactose intolerance). An added advantage is that RUTF does not require trained health personnel to administer. Often, children do not get adequate diets because mothers, who bear much of the physical work load, are malnourished.
Prayer: Lord, forgive us for burning the materials that could feed a hungry world in the vast fleet of private automobiles. Make us all the more anxious to help all hungry people.
Droplets of morning dew on Eastern white
pine, Pinus strobus.
July 25, 2020 Ten Reasons for Small-Scale Hydropower Now
A new renewable energy economy is emerging; this means Renewable energy needs our attention as we settle on a responsible energy mix that still furthers the abandonment of fossil and nuclear fuels ASAP. All benign forms of renewables must be emphasized and especially that first in one in time, i.e., hydropower. I live almost within sight of one of these potential hydropower sources (Dam location 12) on the Kentucky River that is now being fully utilized. This small-scale hydropower deserves further attention:
1. Plentiful sites exist. A multitude of small-scale hydropower sites are scattered in all states; some 90,000 dams exist as of last count and many could produce hydropower (a potential capacity of 12,000 MW).
2. The cumulative resource potential is immense. Currently, some 97% of the dams are untapped for hydropower generation.
3. Small owners are generally in charge. Many of these sites are in private and local community hands and thus development would directly benefit the local community and investors.
4. Such small sites are more benign than large-scale sites. The development of small-scale sites does not require new flooded areas; larger dam sites are the bane of many local communities throughout the world. Such developed sites result in major disruptions of wildlife habitats and migration routes, along with displacement of human populations (numbered in hundreds of thousands in the instance of the Three Gorges site in China).
5. Cost of development of sites is low with respect to amount of power generated, and thus payback for investment is rapid in contrast to nuclear power or even large-scale solar farms.
6. Safety and security issues are not major concerns as are at nuclear sites where stored materials require constant monitoring.
7. Rapid development is possible. Source utilization in this age of petroleum-supply uncertainty must be rapid. In contrast, nuclear power takes years and even decades to develop. If energized, existing dams could supply 7.3 GW of energy by 2025.
8. A remedy for intermittent power exists. While the energy supply is somewhat continuous in given periods of plentiful water supply, there is an intermittent character to it. However, small-scale hydropower is generated at night when the sun is down.
9. Environmental damage associated with existing dams has already occurred; development of small-scale hydropower has the least impact of any land-based renewable energy sources.
10. Toxic emissions do not result from hydropower production.
Prayer: Lord, help us understand the potential of water.
Bee on flower of St. John's wort.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
July 26, 2020 Invest in the Treasure of Spiritual Motivation
The kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from the storeroom both the new and the old. (Mt. 13:52)
While monetary investment is not my forte; if you must there are a whole array of financial consultants to help offer expert advice. We cannot judge another's investment decisions, if he or she earnestly wants to prepare for old age or a dependent's education. However, for those who consider capitalism an abomination, investment could be directed to land for growing crops, alternative non-monetary communities, residential property, small businesses or crafts, and expertise for realizing income in senior days. Money is not the only material investment, but is needed for college/hospital bills. Our time, efforts, and love are of far more lasting effect and are worth investing.
Advancing from material concerns to spiritual ones does involve investment as Jesus often teaches us -- a preparation of storage of spiritual goods and practices. Jesus offers an entirely new order of motivation, a spiritual option that goes far beyond material gain. We discussed how material security is an illusion (August 4, 2019), because spacious homes crumble, fields erode, and expensive vehicles need servicing. The span between needed "treasure" to meet material obligations and moving into areas of excessive and foolish material concerns is narrow and can easily be crossed over. In the examples from today's Gospel passage, the use of wisdom must be extended and focused upon spiritual investments.
These spiritual investments involve focusing first on God's work and then directing our energy to the performance of required duties. Hurdles arise but we remain confident that God will see us through difficulties. Spiritual concern looks beyond the self to a wider audience of needy people. When we invest our attention and concern in others who are less fortunate, we gain a perspective that allows us to confront our own difficulties with less stress and tension; we become sensitive to the needs of those who have less than we do and grow in the virtue of selflessness.
Our spiritual motivation takes on two fronts: individual conduct in family responsibilities and the welfare of neighbors in need; and a social responsibility that strives to change the political and economic system of a selfish society that overlooks those who have less voice in policy-making. We seek to confront materialism by pressing for the removal of excessive gains of those affluent people who are obliged to share their excessive resources. We must go a step farther, and promote the truth that riches do not belong to the wealthy but to the human family, and excessive hoarding is destructive in our society. Challenge youth on the road to material success to see the futility of the false promises of excessive profit motivation.
Prayer: Lord, help Congress to compromise so needed changes can be made to allow for fair taxes and responsible budget pruning.
Spider depends upon the flowers of
Philadelphia fleabane, Erigeron philadelphicus, for support.
July 27, 2020 Benefits from Redistribution through Fair Taxes
The mantra of "No New Taxes" is the best piece of propaganda ever perpetrated by the superrich; these people influence the media and those who spout the message to realize that "no new taxes" is different from "only fair taxes." We hear and read the horrors of the overtaxed but rarely hear about the disparity of wealth between them and the undertaxed, who need to meet a fair tax assessment. Widespread benefits that could accrue from global fair taxes are:
* Tensions would be allayed through a reduction in the disparity in wealth;
* Worldwide hunger and lack of potable water could be reduced through subsidizing small farmers to assist in agricultural expenses associated with local food production and improvement of local water systems;
* The Global Development Fund and other United Nations programs would have the revenues from fair taxes for their expanding agenda;
* A global public housing program would employ thousands of workers, require use of local building materials, and add money to the local economies;
* Reduced military expenditures would shift more problem resolution to diplomatic and financial activities, and the military personnel to peacemaking duties;
* Terrorism would be reduced along with the security measures now existing to counter terrorist assaults;
* Enhanced democracy would occur through direct election of candidates as well as limits on campaign spending;
* Renewable energy alternatives would be established;
* Employment would increase with attention given to improvement of infrastructures (roadways, irrigation, high speed railways, park areas, and food and water treatment systems);
* Health and educational facilities and programs would be expanded to cover basic needs of all people; and
* Motivation would be purified to where profit motive becomes a spiritual and not a material goal.
Current financial conditions reflect a Monopoly game in which one owns all the hotels and the rest hope for the luck to avoid landing on one of these rental properties.
Prayer: Lord, help us to discover the spiritual power to assist those in need to take what is rightfully theirs.
Monarch on joe-pye-weed
July 28, 2020 Summer Drinks Revisited
There is more to making summer tolerable (see July 3rd) than just increasing liquid intake. However, we need some further reflection on which liquids to focus our attention.
Water is the primary summer liquid worth recommending. It can be iced when needed, and a lemon slice added for flavor. In cooler times, warm beverages compete well, but we all need steady replenishment of good quality water. However, some do not like the taste of their municipal water and can't always afford bottled water, nor ought they choose this option, for all drinking water ought to be free.
Soft drinks are summer favorites with many, especially youngsters who are quite active and thirsty. Soft drinks are expensive, even with what appear to be frequent sales at lower prices. Habitual soft drink consumers acquire health problems and gain excessive weight. Commerce, enhanced by catchy advertisements and ubiquitous coke machines, make these items into multi-billion-dollar sales items here and abroad. Soft drinks are generally carbonated, contain massive amounts of sugar, and are dyed by substances over which the health jury is still out. Once the soft drink industry overwhelmed small local producers, container problems resulted, because it was uneconomical for the big corporations to deal with returnables -- as they did with our weekly soft drink treats in the mid-twentieth century. The main cost is the two-way shipping; returnables cost time, effort and terminals for collection. A major container disposal problem arose, for not all containers are presently recycled.
Herbal drinks are a favorite of the economic- and nutrition-minded. These need not be heavily sweetened, but may contain herbal sweeteners. I suggest home-grown mint (apple, chocolate, spearmint, or peppermint) steeped as sun tea; this can be supplemented with a dash of lemon juice and sweetener as desired. Herbal drinks often lack added chemicals and carbonation, cost virtually nothing, and quench thirst quite well.
Traditional beverages still have their place -- coffee and tea can be iced. The use of coffee has many health advantages; besides keeping drivers awake, heavy coffee drinkers experience lower prostate cancer rates. Keep sipping in summer.
Harder drinks have their place in special celebrations, but alcohol is to be avoided in summer's heat. Even beer, that summer drink of baseball fans, has its place in moderation. A better practice than moderation is not to drink and drive and refrain from alcohol in summertime. Alcohol levels can slip up on us, especially when driving. Plan ahead as to when the next driving episode is to occur.
Prayer: Lord, you are the fountain of living water. Make us treasure you and the drinking water as well.
Black-eyed susan in summer's garden
July 29, 2020 Reclaiming the Commons: A Simple Formula
The readers’ edition of "Reclaiming the Commons" is available through Brassica Books as found on the Internet. This book addresses the commons associated with air, water, land, culture, health access, education, communications, intellectual materials, silent space, commerce, and movement of people.
The seemingly complex problems of relinquishment and enclosure, along with a plethora of groups attempting to bring about local, regional, national and global equality can obscure the issues. This is true if the basic solution is not kept clearly in mind: the commons must be reclaimed. Many methods from community food access to literacy training all contribute to the reclaiming process, and contribute to a need cooperative and global effort. To become too entangled in the minutiae of details may miss the point that all need to help contribute each in his or her own way. This struggle is a revolution of the lowly taking what is rightly theirs, and not a gift from the privileged. To do this will require participation in the democratic process, which has been compromised at times, but is still basically intact.
The problem is centered not on intellectual assent to a complex rational process, but requires the willingness to assert ownership in the name of the many. This "many" is often erroneously understood as left wing, secular, violent, or disruptive. Such images are the result of media controlled by the status quo and its desire to keep existing systems of power in place, and continue harm to our Earth and human democratic communities. The lowly can rise but this requires leadership by agents of change. The formula is simple:
Fair taxes involve everyone, especially the rich; tithe the tax havens -- 10% per year until these funds have been reapportioned.
A simple fact emerges: the disparity of wealth is the source of the greatest terror in our world. It causes luxurious expenditures by the privileged instead of these resources used as essentials for those in need; it rejects the power of democratic processes to work with power flowing from all citizens; it fosters a false incentive on the part of people aspiring to be better to try to imitate the wealthy in acquiring spacious homes, exotic travel, resource-intensive food, and devices that consume electricity; it leads to global insecurity and the need for military presence due to terrorism that is induced by the wealthy; it curbs maintenance and improvement of infrastructure due to the lack of public funds; and it leads to gross indebtedness especially by students and the unhealthy. A billion people without food security for tomorrow's meal is the harshest form of terrorism.
Prayer: Lord, help us to spread the message and to incite changes that will give meaningful results as the commons, which you gave us all, are returned to the people.
Gardener's helper - the lady bird bettle
(photo by Walter Para)
July 30, 2020
Do We Have Time?
My friend, I do not HAVE time,
for to have is to hold,
and time, for several reasons,
is not something you can hold:
First, time does not belong to me --
and having is belonging.
Second, having time requires that I grasp for it
like reaching for a floating goose feather;
The very breeze created by my hand
sends the floating feather helter-skelter,
and it takes everything I can do to grasp it;
once grasped it is only a crumpled feather.
Third, time flows and does not stand still.
Our past time is history now, of which we learn --
and have faith that it's worth the learning.
Our future time is not yet, but we help make it --
and have hope that we can truly do that too.
Our present is the fleeting moment and hardly time,
a gift from God, something that we truly cherish.
Really, love is what we've got --
and it affords us the instant to share with others;
For time is not ours to have, only ours to share.
Barbed wire fence, Texas farm scene
July 31, 2020 Discernment of Spirits
It is not every spirit, my dear people, that you can trust;
test them, to see if they come from God, there are many
false prophets, now, in the world. You can tell the spirits
that come from God... (1 John 4:1-2a)
Growing inequality in our world calls for global corrective measures, and this inequality divides those who should be working in solidarity. Over 2,200 billionaires in U.S., China, Europe and a scattered other places exist and act legally with low taxes and excessive privileges; at the same time the vitality of Earth herself is being threatened by rising levels of CO2 and released methane from melting perma-frost. Many of the privileged benefitted from a fossil fuel economy that robbed the Earth of resources and yields the pollution that is causing global climate change. All the while at least 10,000 global deaths (often children) occur each day for lack of essential food and health care. Failure by governments to do anything about this situation is diabolic forces inherent within our materialistic culture.
Nations have guardian spirits just as individuals do. A serious spiritual discussion involves both good and bad spirits, for such distinctions are part of our Jesuit charism of discerning spirits. Diabolic influences back the acceptance of a few with untold wealth and billions without the essentials of life. This existence of stark contrast is a direct affront against a Creator who bestowed plentiful resources for all to share. The very vitality of basic human relationships along with that of the planet herself demands that discernment occur under these unique circumstances. If nations have good spirits as guardians, nations can also be plagued by evil spirits that help create chaos. All the while "religious" leaders hesitate to speak out about personified evil, "the Evil One."
Exorcism is a way of liberating individual victims of the power of the Evil One. This method is a continuation of the powers manifested by Jesus in his public ministry (in driving out evil spirits) and has been continued for 2000 years within the Church he founded. Down through the ages some with a deep prayerful sense have been designated by church leadership to perform the act of exorcism on those possessed by the devil. This is even occurring with greater frequency in this century and has been given special attention when the Catholic teaching facility in Rome recently opened its doors to ALL Christians to understand the techniques and requirements for the difficult task of the spiritual exercise of exorcism. The issue today includes numerous individual cases.
A spiritual discernment is necessary in speaking of changes in the current economic system. The Good Spirit is sought by believers who are empowered through acknowledging their own weakness and need for Divine assistance. In the depth of understanding individual powerlessness comes the streak of grace to be emboldened and able to go forward with God's help. Power comes in realizing that the Evil One can be overcome even in the depth of political and economic revolution -- and that good can conquer with the grace of God. From powerlessness with humility before God comes immense spiritual empowerment.
Church leadership is imperative where diabolic possession exists, for the task of exorcism is difficult. The Church must break silence on the power of evil. Divine help is needed for ridding person or nation of the devil. In order to create a new economy our nation must be exorcised. Without this spiritual exercise the Evil One simply exposes the changing group to inherit the same greed they are trying to overthrow. Many people, even believers in God, shun from talking about the Evil One, and ultimately this "one" is the evil mentioned in the "Our Father." Greed rules and must be defeated; health of the planet and society are at stake. In order to save our planet from destruction at the hands of greed we must enlist the Good Spirit in this battle for survival -- and without the power of God we cannot succeed.
Prayer: Lord, inspire our religious leaders to consider the exorcising of our nation.
Experiences of Summer Vitality
August is inspiring; however, even in the midst of a pandemic, we are expected to stay-at-home. Instead of traveling we have an opportunity to be introspective. This enhances our service and can encourage our neighbors who are stressed by current health conditions. For those who can't reach out and touch nature easily, please consider videos, books or periodicals for virtual viewing.
The full glory of August is celebrated on the 6th with the feast of the Transfiguration -- a feast focusing on Christ's exaltation, along with his consolation as he prepares to enter Jerusalem and his passion and death. As we pass through these stages of the pandemic, we too need the transfiguring consolation that is found in August's glory. Our setting may not be the incredible beauty of Mount Tabor, but we do our best, for foliage all around us is in its zenith. No matter how glorious, we realize that it’s passing, and green will soon turn to golden. Spiders build cobwebs; migratory birds are clustering together with their chatter, and mornings and evenings are less harsh than in July. Subtle change is in the air; and we need our consolations.
At this time of deeper introspection let's address our inner restlessness. We yearn for what only God can give. We return to mystery -- a mystery within, all around, and beyond, all coalescing to make us who we are. That Mystery beyond is a deep underlying experience of God's presence, which may approximate what Karl Rahner calls the "mystical moment," namely the awareness of God touching us, even though there is no explicit experience. Mystery opens our hearts to others, and especially to God who is the absolute Mystery, incomprehensible and impenetrable. We seek mystery to add to interior balance that contains an inherent restlessness. We are moved to ask, Are our reflections both inspired and inspiring; inspired by the Spirit, inspiring deeper involvement with Earth and people?
Fascinating Insects. Idler, go to the ant; ponder her ways and grow wise; no one gives her orders, no overseer, no master, yet all through the summer she makes sure of her food, and gathers her supplies at harvest time. (Proverbs 6:6‑8) They toil and work, whether ants, or tumblebugs, or "waspers," or yellow jackets. Life is short for these insects, and they seem to know it, and teach us to know our life's shortness. August's shortening days and cooler morns and evenings tell us that summer is not endless; autumn is emerging, plants coming to seed, cobwebs everywhere. Busy insects tell their story; they are part of communities -- anthills and hives -- all working together for the common good. Monarch butterflies flit about the milkweed stand in preparation for an upcoming two‑thousand-mile migratory trip to Mexico. Hummingbirds seem busy with wings fluttering faster than the eye can see; methodical bumblebees move from flower to flower.
Engaging in Nature's Conversations. In August, fields exult in soft misty morning haze, intense blaze of noonday glory, lengthening shadows of evening, and nights with creepy natural sounds detected by a well-tuned ear. At night we can hear corn growing, as blades unfurl with their creaking sounds -- a truly mid-summer sound. We attune our senses: fish splash in the creek; leaves rustle in the breeze; varmints rustle about; birds flutter when it's cooler. Listen to nature's symphony and enjoy it. My Aunt Toots, a green-thumbed gardener, once asked, "Is it wrong to talk to plants?" Answer: "Why not, for they are looking for a good conversation when happy." Some talk to their pets, others to wildlife, and so plants may hear as well. I once overheard a Jesuit on his morning prayer walk saying to a begging squirrel, "I'm sorry little fellow, I haven't got anything to give you." He was mistaken; he was giving his love in response to the animal's invitation -- a moment of joy. God speaks through all creatures and they, in turn, invite us to converse. We enhance creation by re-presenting Divine Presence.
Visiting the Summer Kitchen. YHWH smelt the appeasing fragrance... (Genesis 8:21a). August's bounty announces food-preserving time. In good seasons fruit abounds -- cherries, plums, blackberries, peaches, grapes, and summer apples -- ingredients for juicy cobblers. Mama was proud of her day's work and would show the jars lining the marble counter top, cooling before carried to cellar storage; her varied preserving efforts included sweet and dill pickles, relish, pickled pears and watermelon, mincemeat made from green tomatoes, as well as strawberry, grape, blackberry jam and jelly, apple sauce and Damson plum marmalade, which became the basic ingredient for her famous Christmas puddings. Pre-AC days turned kitchen preserving into an earthly purgatory. What love!
Tasting Wild Plums. Nature's exceedingly wide variety of wild foods invites us to sample unique tastes: fruits, nuts and seeds, berries, greens, herbs, saps, edible mushrooms and flowers. These wild things are the "manna and quail" of our age, naturally present and, if we accept the divine invitation, ready to be discovered and sampled. So often, just a single taste is enough for the year, lest we become gluttons. Wild provisions are to be taken as a sampling, a simple moment of delight; perhaps we can invite others to taste nature's bounty as well. By selecting wisely, we can ensure the wellbeing of all wild plants.
Appreciating the Foliage of Summer. August 2020 is a time to stay-at-home as required to halt the pandemic spread; it’s a retreat-like situation. Hopefully, this is of short duration, but we must endure with fortitude. Rather than reflecting on our isolation, let's see this as an opportunity to come closer to God, who is always present to us. The full intensity of plant foliage beckons us to show appreciation to the Creator for all we have to give us joy. Even our capacity to receive a gift is a God-given gift. Our natural response is to extend appreciation by serving others with an ever more sincere heart. Thank God for natural beauty during this glorious season!