About us
Daily Reflections
Special Issues

Mailing list
Bookmark this site

Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.


A series of written meditations and reflections



Help to keep Earth Healing Daily Reflections online


Read current month's Daily Reflections
Table of Contents: Daily Reflections

June 2009

Copyright ę 2009 by Al Fritsch

Kentucky wildflowers of early June
(photo: Janet Powell)


June was long awaited when I was a kid; school was out for an entire three months, and this meant being outdoors, going barefoot, forgetting about school assignments, visiting relatives, feeling the coolness after those June thundershowers, riding about the countryside, staying out in the long evening daylight, eating fruit right off the tree, and a hundred others things associated with a desired "eternal summer." Of course, summer came and went each year with its somewhat overlooked unpleasantries --sunburns, sweat bees, ticks, hay work, shocking wheat, and the blazing noonday sun.

I still get a good feeling about June, maybe with a long-lasting nickname "Junie." It's a freer month and extra daylight hours. When the weather proves cooperative, June yields a plentiful supply of blackcaps (raspberries), the first ripe tomatoes, green beans, and early blackberries (see June 29). It is the month carpeted with black-eyed Susans, punctuated by dragon flies hovering over sleepy water holes, sounding with crickets and crows, and abounding with the aroma of new-mown hay and moist earth after a rain. Spring's freshness gives way to summer's maturity, and is welcome, for adulthood is always attractive to springlings and all creation enjoys maturing.




The Cumberland River
*photo credit)

June 1, 2009 Participating in National River Cleanup Week?

     Spring cleaning is a responsibility of all homemakers.  Cleaning up our study desks and work spaces in order to function efficiently is a mandate for all laborers.  What about the natural surroundings that we do not individually own but are part of the commons?   An ideal principle (some would say a "rationalized statement to justify inactivity") is that those responsible for dirtying should be made responsible for cleaning.  That raises the question whether the concerned and tidy citizen should clean up rivers.  And on a broader perspective, should a citizenry that seldom catches litterers be responsible for what they do? 

     On hiking, I occasionally pick up trash and carry it back to dispose of properly, but it does make me upset.  We do not like picking up after others who, if caught, would be fined $500 for littering.  This applies to trashing rivers as well as roadsides.  For a long time in our part of America and unfortunately elsewhere, rivers became a sort of sewer system with "dilution being the solution to pollution."  "Out of sight is out of mind."  Since carelessness applied to both liquid and solid wastes, it obviously didn't take long to see what kind of toll raw sewage and litter could exact upon our wounded Earth.  Such deliberate junking of the water or land environment opens the door to still further destruction; it renders landscape unsightly, discourages tourism, depresses the spirits of residents, erodes the sense of community and affects wildlife.

     Our rivers are treasures worth preserving in a natural state. However, pristine rivers need tender loving care just like hills and forests, a lesson learned by all volunteer cleaning crews.  The junk cars and appliances are too hard to pull out without heavy equipment, but the tires and beer cans, the garbage bags and diapers can be retrieved -- though it is tough and potentially dangerous work.  Cleaning a river harmed by carelessness makes us angry to the point of throwing up our hands in disgust.  A redoubling of efforts to find the culprits and sentence them to become part of mandatory clean-up crews is what would be best, for it would be a great learning experience for them and us as well.

      Hopefully, future river damage will be less as total garbage pickup or accountability becomes mandatory.  Learning responsibility takes time and effort on the part of all whether local or distant cleaning crews.  Preservation programs depend on the local cooperation of all citizens, since constant policing of isolated areas is out of the question.  If volunteer cleanup crews feel incensed, they may be drawn into helping create long-term solutions.  The one who throws the litter needs to be responsible for cleaning it up; wrongdoers are to be detected, reported and made to clean up the mess they created.  However, others are willing to help while we await the day of greater responsibility.

     Prayer:  If cleanliness is next to godliness, then Lord teach us to approach your character by exciting all to protect our rivers.



Farmer's Market. Berea, KY
    (photo by Laura Heller, Creative Commons)

June 2, 2009    Patronizing Tailgate or Farmers' Markets

     Do your own gardening is our mantra and yet some cannot garden due to physical disabilities or other circumstances.  Thus the sources of fresh produce may be limited to them, and here small-scale local farmers can help fill a niche.  Today, most folks want to supplement their income, to grow produce, and to help distribute surpluses.  Marketing opportunities present themselves where one can meet consumers, sell fresh materials at a reasonable price, share gardening experience, and avoid the shipping cost and carbon imprint of sending foods half way around the world often through large corporate mechanisms.  Behold, the rationale of the farmers' market! 

     Tailgate marketing can be a win-win situation.  Locally grown food is picked quickly and sold fresh; selling it directly within the community enhances the local economy;  and purchasing consumers can have firsthand knowledge of the produce's origin.  Once the bare structure of time, place and conditions has been established, the producer is relieved of part of the promotion burden and direct producer/consumer interchange eliminates the costly middle person.

Both producer and consumer can split the difference between wholesale and retail prices for quality produce.  The atmosphere can be friendly with socializing opportunities: this is an easy way to discover what customers want and to teach consumers how to prepare less familiar vegetables and herbs such as kohlrabi and cilantro.

     In Appalachia, the numerous individual roadside sellers offer some real bargains.  However, a gathering of sellers in a designated market area can have advantages such as proper parking and a wider selection.  The ideal market location is crucial, for customers may get confused in trying to reach unfamiliar places.  Marketing site selection is paramount:  choose a location that is easily reached by the most people, that is safe, has convenient parking, and where people feel at ease in making purchases.  School or church parking lots can serve as marketing locations, especially when marketing during vacation periods.  Some localities require specific licenses and market regulations; they limit participants to regular local farmers and exclude opportunists wishing to unload surpluses.

     Producers' time is valuable and thus limited sales periods permit more field work.  Quite often farmers' markets offer lower prices than supermarkets with comparable quality produce.  Ideal markets are available to those with limited fresh market opportunities.  Some consumers prefer programs that are subscription type purchases of produce known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs);  there a consumer signs up to receive from a producer, bags full of seasonal vegetables and herbs delivered to a preset place at specific times.  This service is preferred to tailgating because it cuts marketing time on the part of the producer and consumer.  The farmer comes, delivers, and is back home for a day's work.  However, contracted amounts of produce may be hard to deliver during droughts.

     Prayer:  Lord help all of us food producers to find ways of feeding the nearby and distant hungry and malnourished.



High school environmental education course
      (photo by Tristan Brand, Creative Commons)


June 3, 2009     Teaching Good Environmental Practice

     Once I visited a first grade class in Milwaukee where the heroic teacher had persuaded all the students to grow beans in their individual pots at the classroom windows.  This sense of doing things with one's hands was a low-resource way of training youth to the importance of making each person's environment better in itself. 

     In the last few years our American environmental consciousness has been on a fast learning curve:  renewable energy will replace the strong carbon footprint of past practices; families and communities need to conserve resources and to live more simply;  all strive to waste less food; and grandparents are recalling the bad old Depression times when everything was reused until it was worn out.  Today, a growing sense of outdoor gardening and exercise is opening doors to engage in more wilderness hikes and vacations.  Some who are linked to agrarian roots see opportunities for urban youth to milk cows and pick fruit.  Urban and suburban families learn as groups through growing gardens and harvesting the fresh produce.

      Teachers, parents and guardians, together with youth, all are able to learn together.  Today's youths have a greater awareness of environmental damage and need for improvement than we did over a half century ago -- and they can even assist elders in learning.  Joint opportunities, such as cleaning up public areas, planting trees, using local materials for construction projects, and maintaining trails, abound.  Nevertheless, unless steps are taken, exemplary school projects can become abandoned during summer months.  On-going green practices are more challenging for schools than in homes because of shut-downs during critical months.  Still teachers can give personal testimony to environmental practices (vehicles, foods, and entertainment choices);  they can organize nature excursions, science fairs, and on-site demonstration projects.  Coordinating the teaching with nature center visits can render a more holistic ecological experience.

      Parents and guardians become true role models when they spend extra time talking about the local and global environment, initiate recycling and resource conservation (water and energy) in the home, utilize all domestic space well, drive energy efficient vehicles, engage in gardening and edible landscaping, adjust the diet of all family members, guide youth to green forms of recreation, take eco-tours, watch constructive and educational environmental programs together on television, and plan family vacations that become learning experiences for all.  Cooperative family and teacher programs may include joint weekend projects with parents and guardians serving as chaperons for extended tours -- and these learn as much as the young folks.  In fact, participating together is learning together.

     Prayer::  We praise you Lord, our patient teacher.  Help us to learn still more while teaching others so that all of us can become part of an expanding community of Earthhealers. 





Bracken fern near trail, St. Ignace, MI
*photo credit)

June 4, 2009      Promoting National Trails Day

     Outdoor walking and hiking are satisfying for a wide range of people from toddlers to the elderly, even though pacing and time may differ and allowances may need to be made for those who cannot negotiate difficult routes.  Folks in top condition target the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail;  others settle for shorter local paths that give shorter-term exercise and recreation.  Whatever the trails chosen, all farsighted hiking enthusiasts see the need for a national trail system somewhat analogous to the national highway and interstate system.  In this age of job-creation through federal stimulus packages, let's not forget about a national trail system. 

     Why are trail-making and maintenance left to the volunteer clubs and non-profit organizations when such work is really in the national interest?  We can possibly imitate our Native American cultural ancestors who conducted visits to distant tribes and carried on commerce over a rather refined and extensive trail system, the traces of which are still visible.  Commerce is done elsewhere but some visiting is still possible over trails.  Yes, how about taking vacations starting near home?  A trail system can allow convenient access to relatively distant places without the risk of using dangerous highways;  the trail use would have low carbon imprint, be quite refreshing, and be far less expensive if trails are punctuated with low-cost camping locations.  Certainly those calling for enhanced physical exercise ought to be pleased, for the chance to participate in outdoor activity in natural settings would be multiplied. Furthermore, trail vacations would be far less stressful and dangerous than using the busy highways.

     The time for a National Trail Network has come.  Let's now convince state legislatures and the federal Congress, which are fixated with such weighty matters as health funding and continued employment for those making advanced military weapons and luxury items.  A well-developed national trail system would allow people to have shorter or longer-term nature experiences in a less costly manner than parks and indoor recreational facilities. A national system would be fairer than a planned rapid rail system (in its present format), which only benefits the heavily populated corridor states.  Still trail networks have economic ramifications;  they can benefit outfitters, restaurant operators, and lodging managers.    

     The American Hiking Society (AHS) is already acting;  its volunteer trail workers and maintenance crews are developing a mini-network.  The Southeast AHS office at Chattanooga, Tennessee, has developed a detailed wall map of that region's existing and planned trails; ambitious hiking-trail network programs are using railroad right-of-ways for shorter trail systems in much of the country. National Trails Day makes us want to take the spirit of our pioneer and Native American roots and blaze a network.  Scenic trails are awaiting your coming.  Please visit <www.AmericanHiking.org>.

     Prayer:  Jesus, who journeyed from Galilee to Judea and back on the trails of the Holy Land, be with us as we promote trails today.





Litter at US Forest Service campground
*photo credit)

June 5, 2009               Camping Smart

      On World Environment Day we could talk about the global impact of our unsustainable living and expand our discussion to all areas of environmental practice where our carbon imprint is strong.  Moreover, curbing past practices requires encouraging words about simpler though equally or more enjoyable recreational methods.

     Take proper equipment.  Nothing is worse than shivering with too light sleeping gear.  A tent should be able to endure bad weather to some degree -- but no tent is perfect.  The mattress is important, even more so as we get older and seem to need more padding to permit a comfortable rest.  Sufficient clothing is always helpful for protection both against the cold and against too much sun.  A trusty flashlight comes in handy as does extra rope to hang backpacks in trees out of the range of night-stealing varmints.

     Choose sites well.  I have had a number of uncomfortable experiences, one notably in Washington state when, upon waking after a rain storm, I discovered that the tent was on the only dry island in a flooded low-lying camp site.  Ensure the site is level so as to prevent downhill slippage;  inspect the tent site well to get rid of stubble or rocks that can disturb rest.  If possible, camp away from the crowd.  Try to give yourself quality time and get to know the place upon arrival while it is daylight.  Secure access to water and toilet facilities even though camping encourages modified routines.

     Enjoy the evening.  Camp fires are nice at night but many places are not allowing them due to pollution or fire dangers.  Replace the old-fashioned camp fire with a camp stove or a bright light to read by in the late evening.  Or maybe it is time to savor the darkness and listen to frogs, crickets and the night critters.

     Cook simple things.  If you are inclined to prepare meals at a campsite, nothing is more frustrating than trying to cook a dish only to find ingredients lacking.  A far better approach is to bring the basic ingredients partly prepared before coming or to create very simple meals such as pancakes or macaroni, and to leave culinary expertise for your more furnished kitchen.

      Be respectful of fellow campers.  Nothing is more disturbing than campers staying up late, being loud, and forgetting that others are trying to distance themselves from urban noise.  I confess to having been a past disturber and now regret it.  Challenge noise makers earlier rather than later, and ask them to go elsewhere.

     Prepare for insects.  If you camp in mosquito country, bring netting and repellents.  Keep the tent closed except when entering and leaving.  My only desire to return to smoking is when gnats get in my eyes while I am hiking and camping, for smoke is a good deterrent.  But all in all, insects are part of camping -- and tend to keep unhappy campers away.  Experience insect-free camping.

      Prayers:  Lord, inspire us to enjoy the outdoors in many ways.



Full moon, faintly visible behind clouds
*photo credit)

"Father Thomas Berry, well known eco-spirituality writer, passed to the Lord this week.
                   May he rest in peace."

June 6, 20099       Observing Strawberry Moon

     Tonight is a full moon,  Strawberry Moon, a regional name for a favorite fruit of the early growing season -- delicious and eagerly welcomed.  Strawberries are meant to be eaten fresh or with cream or cereal, or in pies, jellies and jams, ice cream and flavored drinks.  Although its taste is so long relished and enjoyed, the humble strawberry triggers both good and bad memories for some of us. 

      Picking strawberries was fun for awhile.  My mother had a strawberry patch for obtaining "pin" money during the Depression years.  Being from a family that included accomplished gardeners, she enjoyed growing many things and especially strawberries.   We were recruited to assist with berry-picking though in a very busy late- spring farming season.  At first the pickings would go well -- five berries to the pail and one down the gullet.  In a short while my back ached and my belly began having enough of that wonderful fruit.  Physical pain was complicated by family friction as well.  Daddy disliked Mama's taking us from the fields to the strawberry patch at one of the busiest seasons of the farm year (haying and tobacco-setting) -- and each spring this required a certain resolving.

     Strawberries involve other problems. First their freshness is quite temperamental. Their span of freshness is limited and so the period of picking (they only last a few days ripe on the vine itself), packing and delivery is quite time sensitive.  Even with refrigeration strawberries must move quickly to avoid spoilage.  Besides, commercial berries are often covered with pesticides used for completing the process of bringing large, red, ripe strawberries to your table with nice appearance -- and that means using chemicals to help do the job.  Furthermore, migrant strawberry pickers accept this back-breaking labor; they must work gingerly in order not to bruise delicate berries.  For small farmers, picking is infrequent and unpleasant but also temporary.  For the migrant farmers such work, if they are lucky to get any, goes for weeks on end -- and the pay is not great either.    

     Eat local strawberries while in season.  Since so many enjoy strawberries, some people seek to have them when out of local season -- but is this a green practice?  Certainly local seasons can be extended by growing varieties that bear longer or at different times.  The purchase of air-freighted berries from Latin America or other parts of the world, forgetting about the carbon print of such extravagances, is certainly not ecological.  Being green means using local and seasonal food -- and most of us live where strawberries can be grown only at certain times.  Accept the fact that fresh, organic and local strawberries taste better and become a treat for this time of year.

     Prayer:  Lord allow us to observe each full moon that comes, to appreciate the season that it ushers in, and to live fully in the enjoyment of that season to the fullest.




Violet wood-sorrel, Oxalis violacea
*photo credit)

June 7, 2009            Radiating the Trinity

     You did not receive a spirit of slavery leading you back into fear, but a spirit of adoption through which we cry out, "Abba!" (that is, "Father").                  (Romans 8:15)

    On Trinity Sunday we often hold back:  how can we enter into this Mystery from our humble station in life?  However, we must be reminded that through our baptism we are part of the divine family. We are to radiate wholeness in a harmony of hands, head and heart that reflects the harmony of the Trinity.  Our hands gather in and mold the clay of our surroundings; we seek to use them better, and in doing so we express satisfaction in words from the mouth.  The products of our hands and head are not meant for us alone; through loving hearts we share our works and experiences with others. 

     Action, reflection, and application are like the Trinitarian "procession."  The more our inner lives are in harmony, the better we are able to radiate the God, Who is within.  Earthhealing enters the Trinitarian mystery; through the work of our hands we re-create a damaged Earth;  through our rationale we strive to halt deterioration of our environment and initiate restoration;  through heart-felt efforts we apply known and proven results for the betterment of other creatures and especially suffering humankind.

       Do natural non-human creatures radiate the Trinity?  Yes, all do and what is more important is that it takes an effort for us to observe and be influenced by their trinitarian imprint through a vision of faith.  We admire the beauty of other creatures; we interact with them and this makes us better in so doing; we begin to see the power of the Creator working through their unique characteristics; we feel a sense of belonging to a community and this gives us a sense of new life, a sense of God working in and through us; respect for all of creation allows us to overcome our troubles and gives us hope that healing of wounds can occur; we experience the depth of participating in the divine family;  we are more able to observe, love and extend our love and respect to others.

     Prayer:  All Good and Holy One, You establish balance and harmony on this Earth and invite us to protect and enhance it.  Teach us to become caretakers of your creation.  Allow us to spread the Good News, to work without losing heart, and to be good homemakers for a healthier Earth.  Teach us to care for all things -- the trees, the wildlife and the garden seedlings.  Inspire us to participate enthusiastically in the Earth's regenerative process by turning waste into resources for new life and to halt the squandering of precious resources that really belong to all.  Finally, help us experience your creative Presence in the spring season now coming to full maturity.





Fort McPherson, Nebraska, old mobile home reused as office for tent
campground, decorated with neatly potted flowers

*photo credit)

June 8, 2009            Sightseeing Values

     Today, three of us are beginning a sightseeing and fact-finding trip to follow the route that Pere Marquette, Louis Joliet and companions took on their expedition of discovery of the Mississippi River system in 1673.  Why such an auto trip?  We are limited on the amount of time we can spend;  this auto trip is being made by three, not a single driver; the trip involves achieving several goals at one time including a meeting I must attend.  Furthermore, how can we know what flora and fauna were observed by Marquette without really repeating part of the same scenic path at this precise time of year when he made his expedition?  Should all sightseeing be justified?  

     First, sightseeing has unique advantages:  it expands the mind through new experiences;  it liberates us temporarily from our mental and emotional ruts; it is relatively low-priced compared with other forms of entertainment (except for the fuel involved); and it produces less stress, if not trying to cram too much in too short a time.  When sightseeing through walking, hiking, jogging, biking or canoeing certainly the fuel costs will be eliminated except the travel to get to some launching or pick-up points.    

     Some sightseeing can be done on public transport and can thus minimize non-renewable energy use.  A bus or train heading to the desired location can be a good place to sit back and look at the countryside -- provided we choose to travel light and comfortably.  Nothing will irritate the sightseer more than the little worries about baggage.  Don't travel too light, for wearing uncomfortable shoes in place of those we left at home can also be irritating.

     Sightseers must be refreshed.  Settle details with companions before the trip starts.  Discuss the journey in order that all know what to expect.  Some may enjoy sitting at a cafe and watching crowds; others want to move on.  Balance resting and moving.  One may rest while another may chose a leisurely walk -- golden sightseeing opportunities as well.  Reduce stress by avoiding crowded situations.  Start very early in the day before everyone else stirs.  If driving, road time may need to be limited so that drivers do not become excessively tired, for that can be dangerous.  Another difficulty is that sometimes the sight itself may be distracting in a good sense;  Interstate flower plots may attract and distract the driver.           

     Choose fewer locations so as not to crowd the itinerary.  Forget about seeing everything.  Spend quality time at a given place and see it very well.  I never saw everything in Rome;  however for a day in 1972 I accompanied the late Jesuit classicist, Ed Miller, who was doing academic research in Rome on the only visit I ever made to the Eternal City.  Ed invited me to go with him as he took pictures and notes on a limited stretch of memorials along the Appian Way.  We didn't go far, but the day stands out in my memory, for I saw a small part of Rome in very great depth. 

     Prayer:  Help us, Lord, to balance the need to move about with the need to use all things including our travel resources wisely.






Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis)
            (photo by Sally Ramsdell)

June 9, 2009        Honoring Centenarians

     On this Senior Citizen's Day we recognize those who have moved through the prime of life and are now part of the ever expanding community of the very elderly.  Their status is accepted either as a vengeance or a blessing.  Sufficient age teaches all of us to live with the diminishment of mobility and agility and to do less strenuous exercise.  We elders must undergo drivers' retesting hurdles; we are reminded that we are forgetful; we simply do not hear or see as much.  However material blessings include discounts and senior menus, deference to the elders, and occasional compliments.

     The senior does not panic as much because of past experience; citizenship remains an ever-expanding responsibility;  freedom to be plain spoken exists along with a sense of history to back up claims; we have less to lose when there is so little time to gain more.  Recalled past mistakes become opportunities for exercising better judgment.  The youthful universe actually increases as a higher proportion of the population becomes younger.  Also the opposite becomes more diminished.  When I was ten, our eighty-some year-old neighbor (see Joe Davis, story on this website) was ancient;  today only the ninety and hundred year olds seem ancient.

     We are told that those who want to live to be one hundred years live longer.  In the inverse, those who do not care to live will give up more readily, and this shortens lives.  Practicing a ministry of gratitude allows the elderly to enjoy life no matter how long our allotment of earthly time.  Longevity is not always the result of our own doings, a fact that is evident when we meet younger people who struggle with cancer or heart disease, or attend a young auto-accident victim's funeral.  Life is fragile, unpredictable, relatively short, and a gift to thank God for.

     In this modern age we observe public health and lifestyle improvements that give rise to a rapidly expanding crop of seniors in the United States.  That is not true in some countries such as sub-Saharan Africa or Russia, ravaged by AIDS or other diseases and now experiencing life span declines.  With growing numbers of senior citizens, priorities tend to change and education issues take a back seat to health concerns.  Seniors can imitate the same self-centeredness as younger eager folks by focusing on maturity issues of health care, housing, and retirement benefits.  We need to be reminded that citizenship extends to the entire community, not just to the wants of a particular generation.

      Centenarians are a blessing and grateful ones a double blessing; their way of living is worth imitating; their observations are generally insightful;  their mile-markers deserve public celebration.  Most cultures treasure their elders and ours must do the same.  American seniors vote frequently, clamor for benefits, and break the silence; centenarians sometimes do the same.

     Prayer:  Lord, a hundred years are as a day to You, but not to us.  Help us see the value of the time given to us as gift.






Native Kentucky rose, Rosa satigera
*photo credit)

June 10, 2009       Separating Church and State

     We Americans take our separation of church and state seriously.  We do not want an established church with privileges and we respect the rights of citizens to worship as they deem best without state interference.  Church and state do meet and even clash on occasion.  I have offered prayers at the Kentucky House of Representatives on a number of occasions.  Church institutions accept state fire codes and building regulations and comply with norms for the common good.  To allow workers to have one day off, it would be more cooperative if "blue laws" requiring one free day a week were imposed as in former times.  However, how far should cooperation go?   Should we install illegal devices to deactivate cell phones in the interior of church?  Should we shelter or should we expose illegal aliens?  Should church- related snake handling be outlawed?  Should we denounce the materialism of a consumer culture?

     All said and done, we generally approve of those who protect our separation of church and state provided they do not harbor hidden biases that seek to deflate the moral power of the Church to speak on matters of faith and morals.  On the other hand, church speakers who imply that those who vote for or against certain candidates have improper intent and ought to be cut off from a church community may transgress the delicate separation boundaries.  The deliberate targeting of religious places as partisan political stations is where the separation seems to get mixed up -- though the Church must speak out on moral issues that have political implications and the state must defend the rights of all citizens.  The abortion, embryonic stem cells and same-sex marriage issues involve different degrees of legislative, judicial and executive activity as well as church-related demonstrations and pressure.  We recall the nineteenth- century anti-slavery movements, which were church-inspired, and recall the support of the American Revolution by church communities.   

     Separation of church and state takes on a new dimension in the twenty-first century with Moslem groups demanding certain restraints on people in the press, or the freedom (in France) to wear head scarfs and religious symbols in secular schools.  Sikhs want waivers on American military dress codes to allow bearded soldiers to wear turbans.  Federal prisoners report that Christians are not allowed to wear rosaries, although others can exhibit their religious symbols.  Each case deserves a sense of fairness.   The current federal Faith Initiative also tests the walls of church and state by asking who is employed at the subsidized organizations.  Religious school vouchers are allowed in some places and denied in others; certainly it seems fair for student safety that proper transportation, health benefits, and protection be provided.  What is interesting in all these issues is that church/state separation is a dynamic process, not a stationary wall that never needs reexamination and modification.

Over and over we are aware that the political and the spiritual are always near at hand.

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to recognize the principle of separation of church and state and encourage a process of improved cooperation.





Yellow salsify, Tragopogon dubius
*photo credit)

June 11, 2009       Returning Phoenix: Nuclear Power

      Proponents of nuclear power continue to dangle the promises and enticements of nuclear energy before the general public.   Why?  The answer rests in the inability of the nuclear industry to make a "profit" without heavy governmental subsidy of technical development, construction, insurance and ultimate disposal of waste materials.  When $50 billion in funding is sought from the federal government we should look carefully at this taxpayer waste and national security problem.  Nuclear power must cease because--

      * Nuclear power is expensive -- Far from early claims that this source would be too cheap to meter, this would be an expensive source if all costs were borne by the industry itself.  Government subsidies make nuclear power competitive with other fuel sources;

      Nuclear power is not needed --  Sure, we need non-carbon emitting fuels, but solar and wind with equal subsidies can easily replace any demand for risky, costly and technically sophisticated new nuclear powerplants.  Let us not forget that a serious effort at energy conservation would save this country any need for new powerplants for at least a decade - the precious reprieve needed to move over to a truly renewable energy economy;

     Nuclear power is risky --  The safety guarantee is not perfect no matter how much improved the engineering.  The waste materials still have to be disposed of properly and that problem has not yet been solved.  The threat of terrorist attack is always present;

     Nuclear power requires fossil fuels --  Don't kid yourself with wanting to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions.  Nuclear power has actually demanded fossil fuel energy sources in order to dig the uranium ore, process the material (one of the heaviest users of electricity generated from coal has been the Paducah enrichment facility), transport the materials to plants, and eventually dispose of the waste.  To present this as an absolute alternative to coal is fallacious and misleading; and

     Nuclear plants are potential sources of bomb materials --   With all the recent controversy over North Korea and its bomb-making capability, we must realize that civilian nuclear facilities have and will continue to be sources of weapons-grade materials.  We can hardly approve a double program of nuclear energy production and retention of weapons by some nations and forbid it to other nations.  We must examine our current practices.

     Wind, the fastest growing energy source, has no emissions problems and does not have nuclear risks.  The only thing windy about nuclear power is its claims, and these are insufficient to allow more of such multi-billion dollar plants along with their cost overruns.

     Prayer:  Lord, give us the courage to tell things as they are, and to continue the practice of opposing nuclear power facilities that we undertook some forty years ago.






Tender young buds of Ruellia strepens
*photo credit)

June 12, 2009         Juggling and Multitasking

     Jugglers gain our admiration and applause, for they do things many of us find extremely difficult.  I admit I can't juggle one object well, much less many.  My only unique ability is to balance the end of a garden hoe by my little finger and walk a fair distance.  So much for unusual skills, but perhaps we sell ourselves short.  Napoleon would simultaneously engage a half dozen writing assistants by walking around to each and dictating six different letters as fast as each could write; he was a mental juggler.

    On second thought we all do some juggling and yet either we do not recognize the skill or are to embarrassed to brag about it.  We may not flip objects into the air and catch them before admiring onlookers.  Our juggling may be more serious and requires another type of dexterity.  My mother, as housewife, cook, food canner, chicken raiser, vegetable and flower grower, cow milker, entertainer, tobacco growing assistant, berry picker, euchre player, and listener, could out-juggle anyone I've ever seen.  With a food turner, she could chop up already boiled potatoes for frying in a hot skillet while talking or listening to others -- and do other things at the same time.  Now that was juggling.  She never hesitated to rise early and also at any time of night, if anyone needed help. 

     We all inherit some multitasking skills from home life or school work.  We may work on several ideas or books or special projects all in the course of the same day and never regard this as juggling.  Some of us have more than one job and that takes juggling schedules;  others will drive and eat and listen to the radio and maybe even talk on the cell phone all on the same jaunt to or from work -- these feats should perhaps be outlawed;  others of us will meditate and do routine exercise at the same time or read and eat a meal at the same time -- better than doing them as a driver in congested traffic.

     Looked at in this broader sense, we juggle but do we do so efficiently?  We may hide the practice from others because they expect greater demands from us in one or other area of our work.  Certainly multitasking while attempting to study or to concentrate on a needed task is virtually impossible.  Teachers and employers may rightly expect more.  Does our spiritual life get proper attention when we juggle the cares of life throughout the day and night?  Do we take time off and rest and simply abandon the juggling act so as to give time to God?  Juggling can be entertaining, challenging, demanding, and skillful, but it can also distract us from issues requiring greater concentration.  We can certainly highlight moms and dads of young families, but shouldn't we think twice about imitating them.  It is far better to evaluate our use of time and ask about whether we have a healthy balance in activities.  We need time just to drive, rest, read, study, or pray.  Hear the porch sitter:  "Sometimes I sits and thinks;  sometimes I just sits."

     Prayer:  Lord give us insight into when to rest and when to act, and help us to devote enough time to each in its own turn.






Flag day celebration, closeup
       (photo by Matt McGee)

June 13, 2009         Celebrating Flag Day

     Though I do not fly flags or banners, I like to see them flying from neighbors front porches and entrances.  Certain fluttering cloths are quite colorful, are adapted to the seasons, and give a sense of cheer to the entire domicile.  The home flags tell about the resident's willingness to communicate with others.  Thus these home flags become distinctive symbols of the owner's individual personality.  Quite a few commercial and other institutions afford the flag a prominent place on their own grounds.  Often this demonstrates a type of patriotism, saying, "I'm a true patriot; are you?"  Over the years many in the military have died or suffered injuries from keeping the flag flying in fierce battle;  others returned in a flag-wrapped coffin; still others had their hearts stirred when they saw the flag flying after calamity.  We say much with our national flag during this current longest American War.

    Some commercial businesses fly some of the largest American flags imaginable with massive flag poles to keep them flapping in the breeze.  It is their mark of solidarity in this time of national conflict and financial recession.  Since the custom of taking flags down at dusk has lapsed, current proper etiquette says that these flags ought to be flown with a light beaming on them.  This is not always the case but it ought to be done.

     In 1976 I lived in Washington, DC, on the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence; I observed a flagman on the roof of the Capitol building running flags up and down the pole.  Undoubtedly a number of people wanted a "flag" that flew over the Capitol on July 4th, 1976, but what did one second of flying mean?  Sometimes our flag waving has about as much significance as that hyperactive flagman's work.  We want to be seen with a flag, but spend little time regarding the significance of flying it.  Yes, we should show the flag, if we want our land to be free and our outreach as a nation to be caring for democratic aspirations and the well-being of all people.

     Let's celebrate flag day by asking some searching questions: is the Patriot Act truly patriotic?  Are the causes we fight for true causes or mere subterfuges for those who want to make profits out of our land?  Are we truly expressing freedom in what we do as a nation?  One of the best ways of celebrating this day would be to read John Perkins' book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Berrett-Koehler, 2004). This tells about how others -- bankers, business persons and governmental workers -- wrap themselves in Ole Glory and yet undermine the welfare of the poor and indebted nations of the world.  We need to see how our lack of regulations has led to situations that only cause more misery to some of the most indebted lands.  In 2009 let's celebrate Flag Day differently; let's reflect on how we allow threatening financial situations to arise and continue in our current economic and political situation.  Don't we need a Third Way?

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to avoid empty forms of national symbolic actions, and still see that we as a people have a proper role to play in healing our troubled world.






Rainbow over Anderson Co., KY
*photo credit)

June 14, 2009        Building Up the Body of Christ                           

     Let our praise be full and resounding and our soul's rejoicing full of delight and beauty, for this is the festival day to commemorate the first institution of this table... And so we, in accordance with his holy directions, consecrate bread and wine to be salvation's victim.   (from Sequence of the Feast of Corpus Christi)

       Today, we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ.  For a majority of Christians this is something to celebrate, because this is the heart of our community worship, the center of our focus, the sacramental presence of the Lord in our midst.  We worship together and in doing so we are building up the Body of Christ; we are becoming a people bringing Jesus to others.

     The Exodus account tells the story of how Moses sacrificed young bulls as a peace offering to the Lord;  he sprinkled part of the blood on the altar and another part on the people saying, This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all the words of his.  Sacrifice is at the heart of the mystery of the Old Covenant and of the New as well.  Now we accept and enter into the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary in an event that becomes eternal through its extension in space and time.

     We gather together and celebrate, but that can not possibly be a building up process when some have an oversupply of goods and others are denied the basics of life (a crime against humanity).  We are resolved to do better.  Within our holy and liturgical gathering we are called to share with each other in a spirit of gratitude or "Eucharist" and to remember the saving works of Christ.  This commemorative act becomes a precious moment when past remembrance of sacrifice in sacred history and future anticipation of new life meet together in one time and place -- the NOW of our Christian lives.  The Host (spacial unity) and the Liturgy (temporal unity) merge into a single oneness wherein we become united in the Body of Christ.

     Furthermore, this table of divine and human meeting is the foreshadowing of our sharing at a world level when the past (history of human struggle) and the future (a more perfect Earth and future eternal life) come together at a present moment.  Our gratitude is for gifts given in the past;  our thanksgiving is expressed in "Eucharist,"  words opening up to saving deeds of which we are parties.  We do not rest with merely saying "Thank you," but in going out and living the life we are committed to renew and improve.  Our gratitude is expressed in future deeds,  and the nourishment to do this comes in the Bread from Heaven.  Thus our celebration is for actions to be undertaken in union with the Lord and in building up the Body of Christ.

     Prayer:  Teach us Lord about the mystery in which we participate and inspire us to give the respect that is due for the gifts given and in gratitude for the power to change a troubled world for the better.  You make us builders of the future and give us the nourishment to do so.







Fresh flowers from the tobacco plant.  Pin Oak Farm. Woodford Co., KY
*photo credit)

June 15, 2009    Engineering Pharmaceuticals from Crops

      Deriving medicines through use of plants as substrates is a hope for many who are determined to reduce medical prices in an age of sky-rocketing medical costs.  In this twenty-first century, attention has been drawn to commonly grown plant sources.  Some researchers have turned to corn, soybeans, and other food crops to produce drugs, vaccines and industrial chemicals.  However concern arises that these "pharma" plant products could be inadvertently allowed into the food stream, and the enzymes, hormones or diagnostic compounds could reach the wrong people.  Cost reduction is important; side effects of different forms of genetic engineering are equally so.  Although commercial uses are in the future, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has granted about two hundred permits for field testing.  The question that is raised is whether a flow of pollen from one crop to another could contaminate the vast farming belt of a hundred million cultivated acres in America's Midlands.

     It is ironic that innovative processes meant for healing could contaminate our food supply.  This is likely since three quarters of the pharma crop field permits from 1992 to 2004 were for those two mainstays -- corn and soybeans.  Also permits have been granted for use of rice, barley, alfalfa, rapeseed, safflower, wheat, sugarcane and tomato, all foodstuffs or plants from which food is derived.  Contamination could enter the food chain in many ways through this variety of products.  Several years ago the Union of Concerned Scientists asked the USDA to halt the outdoor production of genetically engineered pharma crops immediately, until a system could be put in place to protect the U.S. food system and food industry. ("A growing concern," Catalyst, Spring, 2005, p.5, available at: <http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_environment>).  This issue is still being discussed and awaits detailed regulation.

     Using tobacco as a pharmaceutical source is a far safer approach.  The third highest number of permits given by the USDA is for use with tobacco.  People don't eat tobacco.  Unlike pharma-corn, the tobacco is not specifically genetically engineered.  The subject of the engineering is rather a tobacco mosaic virus, which uses the tobacco plant as a host.  Testing is done in areas removed from food cropland and under specific controlled conditions such as greenhouses and isolated fields.  The engineered virus produces Aprotinin in the tobacco plant infected with the virus, whereas Aprotinin can be produced directly in a corn plant seemingly stuck in a sea of cornlands.  A key to leaving food crops alone is to use tobacco, to the delight of the few remaining tobacco growers.  However, the pharmaceutical industry often favors corn and other food crops because they are raised by experienced farmers, they are inexpensive to grow, the genes are easily manipulated, and the dried seeds or kernels can be stored without breakdown of the engineered chemicals.  However, such farmers live amid other food-growing farmers and so contamination is highly possible and has occurred in past genetic engineering endeavors.  Let's keep our food safe! 

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to treat all creation with respect.





A grandma, working in her garden at age 90
*photo credit)

June 16, 2009           Gardening Intensively

     Sometime in June, after all the summer plants (tomatoes, peppers and squash) are growing and spreading their foliage, we realize that little room remains for any late additions.  We have to garden more intensively by reusing for summer cucumbers and tomatoes the space that spring radish, onion, lettuce and spinach areas occupied.  A few boast that a one-hundred-square-foot area per person could yield sufficient vegetables and herbs for a year.  I doubt this, even in the best of conditions including season-extending gardening, heavy composting, proper water conditions and of course intensive cropping.  I attempt to raise half of my needs on three times that space (300 square feet) and feel quite satisfied if and when that is achieved.  Some of my intensive gardening suggestions include:

     * Give time to proper planning and design whether that be a container garden on a patio or roof or a vacant lot or backyard.    Plan for when particular plants will reach full maturity and even consider autumn crops to be planted in summer months;

     * Walking or working space can be covered by the natural spread of the growing vegetables since it is more needed in planting and in the initial stages of growth. Just walk among them with care.   The mature plants' growing space must always be anticipated and so put squash at the edge so the final plants overhang untilled space.  An onion grows vertically; its companions may take more spreading space. 

     * The amount of sunlight during different seasons and the amount of shade from nearby trees and buildings affect what is grown;

     * Plant closely so that all space will be covered by adult  plants without crowding out the next generation of plants; 

     * When space is at a premium, choose crops that require less (e.g. leafy greens versus green corn).  Trellises allow cucumbers, beans and peas to grow more vertically, thus freeing up space for lower-growing varieties.  Plant taller plants at the north side;

     * Allow plants to thrive in well tilled, organic soil with earthworms to enrich soil through greater penetration of air and moisture.  Natural fertilizing and soil enrichment require composted materials, nitrogen materials such as diluted urine, light applications of wood ash, and mulching. 

     * Many gardeners like to introduce mulch of various types in order to smother weeds and reduce tilling demands.  I agree, and prefer either straw or living mulch such as hairy vetch or the growing plants themselves;

     * Utilize raised garden beds for better drainage and aeration as well as ease at working the garden.

     Prayer:  Lord, give us the sense to respect the growing limited space available for the hungry world and to use our land wisely.




A collection of common household chemicals
*photo credit)

June 17, 2009          Dealing with Poisons

     Outdoor poisons exist and people frequently come in contact with them during summertime vacations and other ventures.  The chance meeting happens quite often unexpectedly and yet we must act promptly to assist the victim who ate a poisonous mushroom or had an insect bite that causes a severe reaction.  In some cases the mishap will occur far removed from emergency medical assistance, and so the first aid may even be a matter of life and death if not severe discomfort. 

     In nature we find more than the rash of poison ivy, which can be quite irritating to some.  Certain poisonous mushrooms and other plants like laurel are around us at times and so, "natural plant tasters, beware!"  Don't ingest what you don't know.  I was known to taste plants, and an Israeli guide came up and told me, "I saw you taste wild fennel in Judea but, remember all green plants here in the Negav are poisonous." 

     Whether outdoors or indoors some people get poisoned with some commercial substance either intentionally or accidentally ingested or touched.  Clues must be recognized quickly: the condition of the victim as to what he or she responds to whether happened or is now occurring is important (not possible with the very young); the presence of poison or container or the chemical odor; or some of the aftereffects such as dilated pupils or vomiting.  The focus centers on what we non-professionals do immediately.  Yes, call 911.  They tell us that if victims are conscious, get them to drink water or milk.  Don't give oils. I once saved my poisoned dog by forcing her to drink a mixture of egg and milk.  Save poison container and vomited material for analysis, and do not contaminate contents.  For those becoming unconscious, keep airways open and give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if necessary.  Do not give fluids in this condition;  position the head of the victim so that vomit drains away.  If the person is in convulsions, position the victim to prevent injury; don't try forceful restraint.  Physicians advise us not to force hard objects or even fingers between teeth.  If no medical help is around or one cannot contact an expert by phone, and if the overdose is a medicine, the best advice from the American Red Cross is to induce vomiting.

     We add the normally advertized caution -- keep poisons out of reach of children, and yet we know the ability of the youngsters to "reach" is beyond our imagination.  Some may advise storing anti-poison substances, but, except for epsom salts (a laxative), they would be of little use.   However, that is not advised after ingesting a strong acid, alkali or petroleum product.  Commercial chemicals and unknown plants can prove harmful and even fatal.  Respect more than just plants with white berries.  Get rid of commercial poisonous substances -- this is good reason to practice organic gardening (no pesticides are around).  Practice caution with all chemicals. 

     Prayer:  Lord, You have made us stewards of creation, which  must be treated with respect and care;  help us always do so.






Enjoying a pasty on a picnic in the Upper Peninsula, MI
*photo credit)

June 18, 2009      Enjoying International Picnic Day

     With all our troubles how can we take time to encourage, much less enjoy, International Picnic Day?  That is a good question when we regard our troubles in a very narrow and biased manner.  When we see that others of our brothers and sisters throughout the world are also troubled, then maybe our extended family relations cause us to look more closely as to how a picnic may be a way out -- a sign that we can overcome adversity within a world family context and not through some brilliant theory or enlightened leader. 

     Local picnics have potential for being pleasant and bonding.  We say this even with memories of past uninviting weather or insects or disagreeable remarks.  Yes, our entire collection of past picnics includes some very pleasant memories.  One I remember quite well took place in Alsace on my 69th birthday in the little wine-famed town of Hunawihr, Haut Rhin (France).  My brother Frank, sister-in-law Mary and I had cheese, fruit, French bread, sausage, and of course wine in a public gathering place; we observed kids jumping off a low shed nearby with squeals of delight; we were accompanied by wine gatherers washing out their vessels in the late September twilight.  We remember certain picnics particularly well, including the place, food and peoples, because we thoroughly enjoyed these memorable events.  

    International Picnic Day becomes an opportunity to gather those who are of an international community in one place and to celebrate our cultural differences and how these enrich us by their presence.  The informal picnic table at park pavilion or the cloth spread on lawn, beach or woodland floor becomes a more perfect form of togetherness much like Christ telling all to sit down and enjoy the multiplication of the loaves.  The "International" aspect of a picnic can give it a special flavor.  New residents will find the picnic a perfect way of breaking the ice and coming to know neighbors.  Cultural dishes can be shared and the ingredients noted and discussed.   Barriers of difference evaporate, and the fellowship extended to the fearful and shy.  A well-designed picnic gives a chance for added mobility for the restless, and an opportunity to get to know an expanding community.  It does not require formal attire or a rigid schedule, for too much planning can be counter-productive.  However, picnics are not utterly spontaneous for they require some promotion and even additional contact to ensure that the reluctant are willing to come. 

     Picnics can be successful far beyond expectations.  We can have the chance to break out of our  troubles and to circulate, move about, allow children to play together, and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine of the last of spring.  Tree foliage, possibly berries and nearby wildlife can add a little flavor.  Let's make picnics memorable occasions.  Perhaps one on this coming Father's Day would work quite well.

     Prayer:  Lord, give us opportunities to meet, promote and have picnics to which various groups come and enjoy themselves.  Let these be precursors to events that enhance world brother- and sisterhood.








A summer view, water's edge. Hematite Lake (Land Between the Lakes)
*photo credit)

June 19, 2009      Saving the Climate at Low Cost 

     Most of us consider the cost of halting and reversing the trends towards climate change as being very high in times of financial crisis and rising health care costs.  How can we pay to address the global warming and other climate change problems?   Some say that we do not have to pay a high economic cost.  A recent study by McKinsey and Company as reported in Acid News (No. 1, March, 2009, p. 13) demonstrates that global warming can be kept below the critical 20 C rise at a cost of well below one percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP).  However the action must be done now.

     Every year of delay adds to the challenge, not only because emissions will continue to grow during that year, but also because it will lock the economy into high-carbon infrastructure.

     About two hundred opportunities are listed across ten sectors and twenty-one geographic regions.  Implementing these recommendations would result in reductions in carbon dioxide level by 40% of 1990 values by 2030 (a 70% reduction from "business-as-usual" levels).  This is a reduction level necessary to stave off the worst scenarios (higher temperatures, rising oceans, and more storms) of anticipated climatic change.

     Three relatively low-cost factors would be given attention:

     a) Sustainable renewable energy (wind, solar, etc.) could provide one-third of global energy needs;

     b) Energy efficiency could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than a quarter; and

     c) Deforestation (a major driver of climate change) in developing countries would be almost fully halted. 

      James Laepe of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says, "The McKinsey study shows once and for all that taking action on climate change is both urgent and affordable.... The figures show clearly that not only can we move to a low-carbon economy, but that the costs are manageable.  Adopting these measures will be a major step towards avoiding the worst effects of climate change."

     "Pathways to a Low Carbon Economy" can be downloaded: http://globalghgcostcurve.bymckinsey.com

     Two things worth noting in such a discussion: employment costs occurring in curbing non-renewable energy applications could be but are not necessarily recovered by renewable energy jobs;  costs in current energy practices do not reflect the damage done to the environment through pollution -- and this is a high current cost. 

     Prayer:  Teach us Lord to be reasonable in all our practices, to be conservative in use of resources and to count costs properly.






A skyward view
*photo credit)

June 20, 2009     Preparing for the Summer Solstice

     Tomorrow will be the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.  For all who cherish sunlight this is the apogee of outdoor activity whether gardening or driving or hiking (or playtime, if young).  Thus it is truly a day northern naturalists of all ages celebrate.

     Cancer is the fourth sign of the zodiac, which is entered by the sun on this day.  Many of us are unmindful of astrology or the position of Leo, Gemini, or the constellations.  But the word "cancer" strikes us for another reason, for the illness elicits fear in all and becomes a life struggle for so many.  This form of human misfortune comes in many forms, and thus we feel relieved when declared free through annual checkups.  Thank God!  Can we believe that physicians of a century ago did not know what lung cancer was -- even though 400,000 will die from smoking related diseases this year alone in our country (not all lung cancer).

     All crave the sun's rays to some degree, for we all need sufficient Vitamin D -- and sunlight triggers its production.  Some people are naturally better protected than others, with skin pigment that will allow them to darken easily and not be too affected by the direct sun's rays.  Others are fairer skinned and need additional protection from the summer rays.  None of us like to hear that too much ultraviolet light could affect the skin, cause it to age and wrinkle, and even trigger skin cancer which takes its toll.  In this country skin cancer is a surprising killer of thousands each year.

Get to know about actinic keratoses (AK), basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and malignant melanoma from literature developed by the American Academy of Dermatology <www.aad.org>.

     The amount of damage caused by direct sunlight is sometimes disputed.  Less debated are the ill effects of tanning salons that are used by people who generally want a winter tan.  We don't want to take the trade away from small business people, but some services are questionable.  Customers are misguided into thinking that this protective tan will give them a sense of well-being and prepare them for beach and boating activity in the summer season.  Instead, it can have devastating and irreversible effects on human skin.  If one needs a tan, consider using a sunless self-tanning product.

     The Golden Rule says, "Do to others whatever you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12).  In the golden season of sunlight we could resolve to share concerns about skin cancer.  Let us each resolve this summer to generously apply sunscreen, wear protective clothing, seek shade, use extra caution near water, snow and sand and protect children from excess sun rays.  Turning one person away from the effects of a tanning salon before it is too late is a worthwhile undertaking this summer.  And welcome the Summer Solstice.  

     Prayer:  Oh God, You give us our brother the sun to give us light and warmth and to help things grow.  May we respect this fellow creature and protect ourselves from overexposure to sunlight.







Sunet at the end of a hot summer's day
*photo credit)

June 21, 2009     Recognizing God's Power Without and Within

     Who can this be that the wind and the sea obey him. (Mark 4:41)

     By now in life most of us have experienced severe weather and we take precautions when the sirens sound and the tornados approach.  When we were children growing up, my mother would light a blessed candle when the electricity went out, the hail battered the roof with a terrible sound, and the wind howled.  I recall a terrible interior silence we experienced as a family when considering our crops being battered and our livelihood fading before the onslaught.  We were so powerless and totally dependent on God, our protector and strength. 

     That sense of powerlessness and dependence comes to us when caught in a flimsy boat on a choppy lake or when seeking to escape from a wildfire or rising flood waters.  We may also recall making our own sort of "May Day" under our "perfect storm" circumstances.  Perhaps our reading a gripping story or experiencing a movie where others are seeking to cope with such conditions is sufficient for us to get the message.

     We turn now to today's Gospel story (Mark 4:35-41), and the disciples awakening Jesus who commands the storm, "Quiet!  Be still!"  And he adds a question to his disciples after this powerful rebuke to the storm, "Why are you lacking in faith?"  Perhaps the storms of life that we all experience are worthy of comparison.  Do we have faith to weather storms?  Are we able to look beyond the present financial recession and change our own habits?  Do we believe that God will guide us through the so-called "war on terrorism," the challenge from global warming, the threatening foreclosures in our community, and the health care mess that Americans experience?  Do we reaffirm that the Lord expects us to have faith in times of trouble?

     Even in stormy times like these we can be thankful for many things:  the ability to avoid the storms and seek relative safety; the calmness and courage that we can exude to relatives and neighbors;  the sure knowledge that there is eternal life after the storm; the confidence that God is our rock of refuge and is with us through it all; and the power that comes in admitting our own powerlessness and yet spiritual empowerment through God's grace. 

     During troubled times others look to us to observe our faith in the future -- and so we find storms are perfect opportunities to give witness to our faith.  We discover that those dying of fatal diseases and injuries can manifest extraordinary courage that becomes some of the most valuable lessons in life; these souls who weather the storms of their own lives approach the judgment seat of God with open arms and eager anticipation.  Why?  Because they do not fear dying and what that entails.  They gently say, "Fear not, you of little faith." Yes, there is power in their words and deeds -- and this is divine power.

     Prayer:  Teach us Lord to see our powerlessness in storms and your power within us to assist others in weathering these troubles.









Odd insect (Family Reduviidae - Assassin Bug) on thin-leaved
coneflower, Rudbeckia triloba

*photo credit)

June 22, 2009        Stinging Summer Insects

     Among the unpleasantries  of summer, many list all sorts of biting and stinging things.  For the most part a good principle is Leave them alone and they will not hurt you -- but how do you tell others who are scared by insects?  I find that many stinging insects apart from mosquitoes have to be threatened before directing their venom on hapless individuals.  Maybe people should respect insects and not try to swat them or duck and scramble about to avoid them.  Stay cool for they do not want to harm you.  They sting to fight back, though some wasps and others seem more aggressive at times.

     While director of the ASPI Nature Center, I took semi-annual tours on the frequently used paths and among scattered buildings to remove wasp or hornet nests before the human traffic began in late spring.  This was our record that we had made an effort to remove any possible causes of sudden troubles, should an allergic visitor be stung by a wasp while walking around the grounds.   Our hope was, "Don't get hurt and don't harm the wildlife -- and that includes the hornets."  Actually the stinging insect that bothered me most was the autumn yellow-jacket that seemed to want all the food one would have at a picnic table.  Likewise, stepping inadvertently on one of their nests could make them quite angry.  Mud daubers are often mistaken for wasps and eliminated although they are really among our non-stinging friends.  Honey and bumble bees will not harm us, if we don't get in their way or threaten them.  They are busy and we are not their pollen-bearing targets.  Just get out of their way.

     Sometimes we have to deal with stinging insects directly.  In the past, my utter respect for hornets too near buildings would make me launch an early morning raid on their nest with a flaming torch, because they can quickly strike back when aroused.  Wasp nests were removed by dousing them with diesel fuel or kerosene, far superior to commercial pesticides (and less toxic) and far less costly.  When hit by a kerosene squirt or moisture cloud, most of these winged insects will fall straight down.  When the application is quickly delivered to the nest, the colony is disposed of in a concise manner.  

     Some people may be highly allergic to these bites and should have Benadryl or other safeguards at hand.  Highly susceptible visitors to nature settings should carry these remedies in backpacks when on hikes and leave some within easy reach of companions.  We had one scare during my quarter of a century in nature work when the wife of a worker visited and had to be taken to the local hospital due to a wasp bite.  People differ in how they react to these stinging insects; however, in some cases the allergy or difficulty is said to arrive without any prior experience by the victim.  Mainly stay clear of possible nests.  Don't be so stupid as to attempt to smell a flower in which a bee is working.  A bumble bee bite on the nose can be quite irritating.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to respect all of nature, and especially insects that could hurt us, if we meet them in the wrong manner or the wrong time or place. 






Shinleaf, Pyrola elliptica
*photo credit)

June 23, 2009       Staying Alert to Environmental Sleepers

      Some environmental problems have been addressed with a certain amount of success: airborne sulfur oxides, mercury in water, and lead from gasoline near roadways (now banished).  However, other areas are overlooked and these include greenhouse gases that involve problems confronting us today.  Overlooked problems include:

     Space expansion -- The overbuilding of interior commercial, educational, worship, and domestic space in the past two decades has resulted in immense increases in resource demands for heating, cooling, construction and maintenance.

     Exotic Species -- The purchase of and the introduction in other ways of exotic flora and fauna have opened the way to introducing often uncontrollable (invasive) pests, which can threaten the native species.  This introduction is regarded by some as the most serious environmental problem of the twenty-first century and is the product of carelessness and greed by commercial interests.

     More home gadgets -- In the kitchen an old refrigerator is replaced by a highly efficient one using half of the energy; the old frig is relegated to the garage as a beer storage unit.  Did appliance energy expenditure go down?  No, it increased 50%.

      Unregulated pets  -- The prowling cat can take down many birds over the course of its lifetime; millions of wild animals are lost to the loose felines and canines in our urban and suburban areas. 

     Nuclear power -- The most prominent reemerging and overlooked problem is nuclear power (June 11).  Several environmental writers have broken with tradition and have come to favor nuclear power to counter global warming by carbon-containing fuels.  The proponents include James Lovelock, developer of the Gaia Theory, StewarT Brand, founder of Whole Earth Catalog, and the late Hugh Montefiore, who was a trustee of Friends of the Earth.  These became convinced that nuclear energy's record is improved.  Brand says that the problems such as waste storage, accidents, high construction costs, and the danger of weapons-grade material falling into the wrong hands are surmountable -- as though a non-cooperating environmental movement is what causes them to persist.  They have said that Three Mile Island and Chernobyl will not happen again.  Really?

     Resource and energy conservation, better regulations and renewable energy alternatives are better ways to go for reasons so often mentioned.  Supporters know nuclear power reemergence needs government support for tax breaks, hastening the licensing process, insuring against calamities, helping to pay for the enrichment processes, guarding the transportation of wastes, and providing for disposal/storing of wastes for generations to come.  It is simply not able to exist on its own without taxpayer support.

     Prayer:  Lord make us alert to how we can address existing and reemerging environmental problems.





"Veggie" burgers, over hot coals
*photo credit)

June 24, 2009           Eating Right

      In writings several decades ago the phrase Follow dietary guidelines gave the impression that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had the last word in diet.  However, the food pyramid of that period has been put to rest and a more complex system installed in its place.  That is described in many current information outlets.  Rather, let us attend to diets based on the following "eating right" factors:  access to nutritious affordable food;  food preferences and tastes; seasonal availability; age and current amount of physical exercise; proximity to cooking facilities or prepared food; sufficient time for food preparation; and personal needs related to allergies, blood pressure, illness and cholesterol levels. 

     Some of the older guidelines such as the USDA pyramid of several decades ago still apply in general:  eat a variety of foods including selections of fruit, vegetables, etc.; maintain an ideal weight since over half of us fall into the category of overweight and beyond;  avoid too much fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol (fried foods); get adequate fiber (whole grains, vegetables and fruits); avoid too much sugar in the many commercial products that appear so tempting; avoid too much sodium; and finally "if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation."  

      *  Consider the doctor's advice and treat yourself to a more healthy menu on all occasions.  We do not want to engage in a debate over the various well known weight reduction diets.  If we keep the weight under control, the debate is moot.  But must Americans suffer from a plentiful supply of lower priced food and must eat what they can afford.  Others seldom cook and avail themselves of fast food restaurants with tempting menus, a host of smorgasbords, buffets and all you can eat places. 

     *  Admit that we change food diets over the years due to new varieties and loss of appetite for certain foods.  Now is the time to consider reducing red meat, saturated fat, excessive salt, and refined-sugar foods.  Think twice before we buy the snack food.   

     *  Admit that as we get older we do not have the heavy carbohydrate requirements of youth -- the quick energy fixes.  Avoid the impulse to eat what the crowd likes.

     *  Eat what you grow and grow plenty of healthy vegetables, fruits and herbs.  The brassicas are full of needed nutrients and so grow cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, kohlrabi and cauliflower.  Much depends on the creative ways we fix our home-grown produce so that it is appetizing for all.

     *  Snack less and then only on more nutritious food: not beer, sugared soda and chips but plain popcorn, peanuts, fruit and vegetables.  

     Prayer:  Lord, food means so much to all of us;  help us get the right items and consume them in moderation.





Wildflowers of Montana
*photo credit)

June 25, 2009     Learning from Custer's Last Stand

     I visited the site of Custer's last stand on the 110th anniversary of that tragic event and was filled with sorrow, shame and desolation.  The Montana landscape appeared peaceful enough in the rolling treeless hills.  The locations of each fallen soldier brought back in imagination the gun smoke, waves of warriors, battle flags, and shouts and curses all in one.  For all these reasons the peace-filled atmosphere gave way to thoughts about senseless conflicts that could have been resolved peacefully.  There was much tragedy to the event that took place in Crow reservation territory 133 years ago today.  General Custer and his military groups were in the process of subjugating the Native Americans of the Great Plains.  He had a career with some success in Civil War campaigns, but he overestimated his ability to bring all these native people under governmental control.  The events on that fateful day were due to his lack of understanding of the forces allied against his small unit. 

     That massacre was not the only tragedy; a second greater one was that the United States was slow at learning lessons near the one-hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  The Civil War had been won only a decade before, and the aftereffects were being played out throughout the South.  Military solutions were regarded as sure solutions to all social and cultural problems.  Self-righteousness and a growing sense of progress were intermingled.  New inventions such as the telephone and new land acquisitions (Alaska) made the rising American star seem unblemished even in the squabbles with the Indians.  The haughty campaign of subjugation of a native people hardly paused, for, in a matter of weeks after the Custer defeat, veteran field-tested military companies were brought in and the conquest continued with greater intensity.  Forgotten was respect for the Native Americans' rights to land and independence.  Had a peaceful solution been tried, the fighters at Little Big Horn would not have died in conflict.

     Equally tragic is that the Little Big Horn coalition of Native Americans that had successfully withstood Custer was not sustained. Rather it crumbled before the American military might and the Great Plains Native Americans essentially lost their livelihood, their lands, and their sense of military prowess, which had just been gained in battle.  Henceforth the Native American power would retire before the onslaught of the American army.  Can anyone celebrate Little Big Horn?  Can we learn national lessons from past behavior?  Was the event on June 25, 1876, repeated in Vietnam and is it again being repeated in the Middle East?  Is the military approach in Iraq or Afghanistan the way to proceed, and does history teach us anything?  The Custer's approach was not satisfying then and it is not likely to be successful today either.  Diplomacy is always better than conflict and citizens ought to speak up for -- No more war!

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us Americans to learn lessons from history and to be fair and willing to settle  all our differences diplomatically.





Exploring the wilds of Medicine Bow National Forest
*photo credit)

June 26, 2009       Presenting the Gift of Peace

     Although the Iraq conflict is winding down after six and a half years, the warfare in Afghanistan is still being waged.  When will we again be at peace, or do we relegate this set of affairs to a volunteer army and the military alone?  As a nation we say "peace," but do we really?  Is peace possible with our approval and support of our overarching military/industrial complex?  Do we distance ourselves from the fray and blame the war on others?

    Peace is our hope, for it is an anticipated gift for individuals and a nation as a whole.  We, as individuals and communities, yearn for peace and seem to call for it.  However, do we question the profit-motivation that includes sending arms south of the border to arm the drug cartel warriors in Mexico?  Do we look at the multitude of automatic weapons in this country?  Perhaps we Americans think we have a constitutional right to bear arms and so should we only allow muzzle-loaders that the framers of our constitution considered to be "arms?"  Today, we would witness far less gun violence if the only arms that citizens could possess were these muzzle-loaders.  Remove the other guns and the ammo associated with them; certainly Congress would have to contend with a powerful weapons production and marketing lobby along with the National Rifle Association.

     Peace is a process requiring patience, ingenuity, and cooperative effort.  That is not a totally human undertaking for these qualities that constitute authentic peacemaking are gifts from the Holy Spirit.  To be peacemakers does require our active participation, but we act in an enlightened fashion -- and must acknowledge the divine source of that enlightenment.  Our individual peace begins in the soul and moves out to external expressions, and that fundamental peace that the world cannot give on its own is from God.  We find peace with the Lord in the totality of our faith experience, and in an atmosphere of journeying together with others seeking peace.  If we are disquieted and our souls are in flux with many anxieties, we are hardly able to initiate and maintain the peacemaking process.  God's gift of grace can permeate our stony hearts and turn them to peaceful ones.

     World peace is fragile and easily swept away by violence, selfishness and greed.  It takes an enduring love of our fellow human beings to break through the clouds of despair, anxiety and doubt.  In order for this world peace to be permanent, we must use some of the one and a half trillion dollars consumed each year in defense and military use.  Beating swords into plowshares means:  feeding the hungry, giving employment to those not working, treating the ones suffering from diseases, and protecting the innocent.  The song to "give peace a chance" is more than a mournful plea.  Military planning does not ensure true peace and avoids dealing with the causes of conflict.  Military action on its own is just a pause before the next battle.  From non-violence springs true peace.

     Prayer:  Lord, let us hear once more, "Peace is my gift to you." Help us to present and popularize viable alternatives to warfare.





Enjoying the sensation of warm sand along the shore of Lake Superior
*photo credit)

June 27, 2009         Remembering Helen Keller

     Helen Keller, born on this day in 1880, overcame her difficulties in a spectacular manner.  She was sightless and soundless and yet overcame these immense barriers to traditional education through diligence, enthusiasm, courage and hard work, and the assistance of good patient mentors.  We are impressed by people who accept their conditions and can live fairly normal lives, get advanced degrees, go to and from work on busy subways, and act as independent agents even though they are physically challenged in various ways.  We hear about handless people who write, play musical instruments and use their computers with their feet.  A neighbor near were I grew up lost limbs while in the military and yet came back to civilian life and raised a family and farmed in a rather routine fashion.  He gained our deepest admiration and I was privileged to conduct the ceremony at his wedding. 

     The Helen Kellers of the world make us aware of the gifts we have with limbs and seeing eyes and hearing ears.  We can appreciate gifts of sight and mobility given by God, through those who lack some of the normal means of carrying on -- and Jesus said, "He (the blind man) was born so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:3).  The blind and immobile often have a deeper sense of gratitude than those with full use of normal organs and limbs.  We need to consider these folks as mentors;  they encourage us to overcome minor handicaps, though we often hide, ignore or deny that these handicaps exist.  Watching people overcome major hurdles inspires us to tackle our personal problems with a renewed vigor.  If Helen Keller could make it through a high quality life, so can we.  She became a role model for us all, and we hold her high when some seem discouraged by speech, hearing, learning or social defects. 

     We tend to blame people as though in blaming them we are excused from doing anything for them.  Though the challenged people do not always seek our assistance, we can still be sensitive to their needs and willing to give assistance on occasion.  We have much to learn, even how to interact with people who are blind or forced to use wheelchairs or walkers.

      Also on Helen Keller's birthday we note the great strides being made to secure physical aids for physically, mentally, emotionally and socially challenged individuals.  These technical devices range from computerized word recognition programs to motorized mobile chairs, and from seeing eye dogs to better hearing aids and eye care.  A major industry has developed and engineers have come up with some ingenious inventions.  The attention given, in modern design and construction, to handicapped lifts, entrances, restroom facilities and pavements is a result of the American Disabilities Act legislation and implementation.  We are more aware of others and we are drawn to assist them through better doorways and elevators.

     Prayer:  Lord teach us to see in others who lack physical gifts that seem so ordinary that these functions are your gifts to us for which we need to be constantly growing in gratitude.






A best friend for life!
*photo credit)

June 28, 2009          Improving the Quality of Life

     I will praise you Lord, for you have rescued me. (Psalm 30)    

     God is the giver of all life and we are all partakers in that physical precious miracle of life.  God's generosity is proclaimed all the more now that we have been offered the promise of new and eternal life through the resurrection of Christ from the dead.  To proclaim new life means that we understand what the Book of Wisdom says;  God does not make death nor rejoice in the destruction of the living (Wisdom 1:13-15).  The sacred writer has in mind the spiritual death due to sin, but we see life and death in their entirety -- physical and spiritual.  God formed us to be imperishable and that means having an eternal fullness of life; through baptism Jesus now invites us into the divine family and that includes eternal life.  

      The story of raising the little girl to life (Mark 5) starts with a desperate father (Jairus) who believes in Jesus' healing powers;  he begs him to come because his little daughter is critically ill.  On their way another healing occurs, which delays Jesus.  Then a messenger arrives to tell Jairus that the little girl is dead.  Jesus tells Jairus that fear is useless, a message he gives often in the Gospels.  "What is needed is trust," and that is what is needed to gain a higher quality of life.  Upon entering the house, the arriving party find professional wailers are at work, and they ridicule Jesus when he says the little girl is only sleeping.  He enters her room and tells her to get up, and she does so immediately.  Little girl, I tell you to get up. (Mark 5:41).  At the conclusion of the miracle  Jesus tells the parents to give the little girl something to eat -- for Jesus is sensitive to her needs.  To satisfy hunger is to enhance the quality of life.

     We profess a fullness of life through sharing.  This comes by doing what St. Paul begs the Corinthians to do and giving attention to the needy.  We must always share our livelihood through charity with those who are lacking in physical necessities; we share our good graces and effort by assisting in democratic ways those who require necessities. 

     We do not have the power to raise people from the dead, but we can help offer them a fuller quality of life even while they suffer.  All of us must endure physical death, a fact that grows in importance with age.  We help improve the quality of life, when we encourage the critically ill to offer their sufferings with Christ on Calvary, an eternal event made ever present in the daily Mass.  The end of life can be life-giving especially at the moment of mortal departure. "Life is the childhood of our immortality," Goethe says.  We affirm life to the dying, to those on death row, to the mother tempted to terminate a pregnancy, to the desperately poor, and to sufferers from substance abuse.  We can live fully; we can die joyfully.

     Prayer:  Lord we are hungry for the Bread of life, for in order to help bring fuller life to others, we ask you to help improve the quality of our own lives.






Blackberry pie, made from fresh berries
*photo credit)

June 29, 2009         Picking Early Blackberries

     The early bird and the early blackberry picker have much in common, for the early specimen always tastes better.  Those of us who have our favorite briar patches know that in different places berries will ripen at different times; the blackberry-bearing span can be as long as six weeks -- if we know all the right locations.  I find the earliest just before the end of June about the time of the end of the wild raspberry ("black cap") season.  Appalachian Trail hikers note that elevation changes have much to do with the ripe berry season, which can extend over several summer months.

     Let's use the term "taste berries," because as we age we find picking many berries to be a chore.  That practice borders on hard work, even though when young in the Second World War period we could get a whole quarter for a gallon and a dollar for a bucket of berries.  At that time in life the monetary incentives always made the thorns, thickets, scratches, sweat, ticks, and occasional black snakes a little easier to endure.  Berries were best right off the vine but the picked ones had value as well.  I had a dog that liked blackberries, provided I picked them for her -- though her offspring had no use for them.  She would be fed from my left hand while I would gather for human consumption with the right hand.

     Blackberries take such an effort in older age that we appreciate those who make the effort to pick berries for others -- a most generous gift.  Berries in smaller amounts freshen the breakfast cereal bowl or serve as topping on ice cream.  In more plentiful quantities, berries can be transformed into a blackberry pie or cobbler; and in still larger amounts they may be turned into homemade jam or jelly.  My mother would preserve blackberries whole and these were a delight in the middle of winter, a long time after the growing season.  Now these berries can be easily put into a freezer and the juice can be thickened and turned into a syrup which can add zing to pancakes.

     Blackberries are so common in much of temperate America that we take them for granted.  They are often the first to populate and give a sense of productivity to barren landscapes and cleared land under utility lines.  Blackberries are dependable but flourish best in years with adequate moisture.  Blackberries are hearty and when we tramp down the briars to get to the ripe fruit, the new briars seem to thrive with the added space for next year's crop.  The taste of blackberries varies, depending on the portion of the season and the land on which they grow.  They are tolerant of both shade and sun.  Furthermore, when blooming in May or hanging heavily on the canes, blackberries give beauty to the countryside and a sense of well-being to even the poorest land. 

     Prayer:  Thank You, Lord for the gift of blackberries, for these humble creatures teach us how we ought to discover our place in the universe -- people with a distinctive inherent richness, who can beautify barren places, and who can offer refreshment to others at certain periods in our lives. 






An evening drive by africultural fields, Ft. Kearney, Nebraska
*photo credit)

June 30, 2009         Mandating a World Grain Reserve

     A crime against humanity occurs each time a human being dies from lack of proper food and nourishment.  Thus the reason for the strong word "mandate" in the title of this reflection.  Each day some three thousand unfortunate human beings have their lives cut short because of lack of food -- and all the while many live in utter luxury and do not think twice about wasting food and other resources.  God forgive us!  In the past year food prices spiked both because of higher fuel costs and because one-fifth of our American corn crop was converted to ethanol to help run our gasoline guzzling vehicles.  God forgive us!  Just a single wintery year (these have occurred occasionally in the past) without a major grain harvest would be horrifying for this world's poor.  Golden fields of grain are the sign that well-being will be with our world for another year, but the Earth's people live with a slim food surplus. 

     What is one way to address the current malnourished in Africa and parts of Asia and Latin America?  Ideally the best way is to furnish the malnourished with nutritious, locally grown food.  However, in many places drought, war and disruptions cause the need for food to exceed the ability of local farmers to provide sufficient quantities.  In such cases (and they occur unfortunately with regularity) the need for immediately available food is urgent.  We all would starve waiting for a crop to mature.  We must have our daily bread today.  To prepare for such cases of urgency, an emergency grain reserve must be available.  In 1981, through the efforts of "Bread for the World" and other groups, the United States set aside a supply of grain exclusively to be used to avert famine around the world.  That reserve still exists but is not stored in extensively dispersed areas of the poorer nations where need could or does suddenly arise (Sudan, the Horn of Africa, Zimbabwe).

      Storage depots do not come without a price, for they must be built and maintained.  Reserves may be a boon to traditional grain producing nations and still harm local producers in the parts of the world targeted for distribution unless a broad-based procurement program is instituted.  Filling storage areas with locally-produced grain is ideal but is not always possible.  The malnourished can be targeted through special feeding in health clinics, churches, and school lunch programs.  The UN World Food Programme and associated groups should maintain such facilities with the cooperation of the host nations.  Where possible we should support local food production and discourage one-crop corporate farming in food-production regions.

     Storage should include more than grain:  namely dried beans and other legumes, cooking oil and powdered milk.  Gathering, storing, and replenishing as well as distribution in time of need all require proper supervision and protection.  Natural and human-produced calamities occur all too often.  Short- and long-term food needs exist and satisfying them takes a major effort on the part of many.

     Prayer: Lord teach us to cooperate with You by giving to all access to their daily bread.



Copyright © 2009 Earth Healing, Inc.  All rights reserved.

Albert J. Fritsch, Director
Janet Powell, Developer
Mary Davis, Editor

[Privacy statement |  [Accessibility Pledge]

Use FreeTranslation.com to translate this page into