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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.

A series of written meditations and reflections

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Table of Contents: Daily Reflections

March 2010

Earth Healing Daily Reflections - Fritsch - Calendar March 2010

Copyright © 2010 by Al Fritsch

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Harbinger of spring, Erigenia bulbosa
(photo: Janet Powell)

March Reflections, 2010

   Yes, it is true;  March comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb.  March will give way to the gentleness of April: sprouting grass, returning birds and showers.  We have endured a harsh enough winter and are now prepared to welcome the exodus to springtime.  We would like to distance ourselves from the argument of some that the winter just experienced is a forerunner of other climate change problems containing extremes of various sorts -- the "lions" of the twenty-first century.  Within this Lenten season we can become more aware of our actions' consequences as we bring on the threats in our times.  

      The winds of March point to the power of God's Spirit working in us.  Preparing for spring means listening as well and feeling the breezes of the hovering Spirit.  Images of windmills, kites, and sails may combine power and gentleness, possibility and reality.  The Spirit of God is like an electric circuit.  Will we respond properly, or will we be too distracted to focus on what needs to occur?  Will we continue to misuse nonrenewable resources, or will we use environmentally benign wind energy, and use it well? 










Sunflower at garden's edge. Whitley Co., KY.
*photo credit)

March 1, 2010   Garden for Economic Reasons 

    Over the past few years these daily reflections have offered every conceivable reason for gardening -- from personal reasons (spirituality, physical exercise, psychological health, and food security) to community reasons (role model, education, neighborly relations, ecological management and resource conservation).  We often neglect the economics for the gardener's household -- the savings in food purchases due to available, organic, fresh local produce.   

      Selection is important.  Those who begin to garden will generally sow and plant what they like best.  However, they soon learn that local, traditionally home-grown crops are lower priced at the very time that their own garden crops are ready to harvest.  Why use valuable, limited garden space for growing sweet corn when neighbors do a better job on more land?  At the very time, summer greens may be high priced at local stores or farmers' markets.  Decide to grow these instead. 

      Variety of vegetables and herbs is a savings.  If we grow only beans, they will come on at one time and we will soon tire of eating them, and so give them away or preserve them in some fashion -- all good uses.  However, if we were to plant fewer beans and use the same ground for twenty additional varieties of vegetables and herbs, we would tire less and find variety in summer.  Try to think ahead to having a thirty-variety garden this year.  It does take planning and extra work.   

      Extending the growing season is another planning agenda item.  If everyone in a family of four were to eat a daily salad from fresh, home-grown ingredients, savings could amount to at least $1,500 per year.  The big "if" includes actually growing veggies and herbs throughout the year either in a cooperating climate, in a sufficient greenhouse, or under temporary seasonal coverings to protect the selected plants.  Some autumn crops cannot submit to winter's winds and chill;  others, such as collards and many existing root crops, can remain or thrive in moderate winter months.    

      Preservation of surplus is too obvious to discuss, and yet can be the most neglected planning item.  When the neighborhood is full of summer produce this year, it will be difficult to conceive of the end of the production -- and yet thrift calls for drying, pickling, canning, freezing or bringing materials to the root cellar.  Going beyond the daily fresh salad includes some main-meal dishes of preserved surplus.  Additional food savings will soon accrue.  Surpluses extend home-grown vegetable dishes to non-growing times.  Ultimate savings cannot be figured, for time spent in the garden includes recreation, mental health and other good and non-monetary values.   

        Prayer:  Teach us Lord to be a saving people and to regard this as part of our ultimate respect for our God-given resources. 



Carduus nuttans, European introduced species, now invasive exotic plant.
(*photo credit)

March 2, 2010   Accept Responsibility and Unintended Consequences 

       A basic principle of any moral treatment of wrongdoing is that the act is more than something purely individual, as though  consequences end only with me or you.  Instead, everything we do is social and even cosmic to some degree, -- our good or evil deeds.  Thus even when the wrongdoing is inadvertent, it is still a reality that hurts the total environment in which we live and interact.  We seek forgiveness and restitution for personal misdeeds; we as responsible beings recall that social consequences also require restitution and reconciliation with God.  We may be sorry for exploiting a resource in a polluting manner but merely expressing sorrow does not end the process; the aftereffects must be remedied and damages repaired.

       Such satisfaction for past wrongdoing is part of the "indulgence" battles of past centuries in the Church but, unlike cap-and-trade policy (the permission to pollute).  Those suggested or prescribed good works were for wrongdoing already performed (not as a few environmental spokespersons grossly misinterpret to be a false medieval "permission to sin").  In fact, by accepting a correct theological stance (restitution for past mistakes) the spokespersons could improve arguments for refraining from polluting, due to overlooked consequences already showing themselves in climate change.  A correct theological and historical interpretation is that there are broader and often hidden effects of the misdeeds that we perform, and we become painfully aware of these with time.  We enjoy smoking or driving while drinking and yet lung cancer or wrecks could and often do result -- and their consequences must be reckoned with.

      Unintended consequences may even occur when "greenish" folks demand biofuels, and forget that rainforests are being destroyed for plantations to supply the palm oil, or that orangutan habitat may be destroyed.  Some strive to solve global warming through seeding oceans with iron filings or emitting massive amounts of vapor into the atmosphere; further research may discover that unintended ill-effects (e.g. reduction in rainfall in a critical area) may result.  Our actions are global in scope.  I was once asked about a pressured air device to unplug clogged drains and told the manufacturer that young children could sit upon it and the blast up their rump could kill them; the device was never marketed.  Recall that Thomas Fairchild, a nurseryman and devout Christian, feared God's wrath, because he tinkered with nature by cross- pollinating sweet Williams with carnations and producing the world's first human-produced hybrid. (The Brother Gardenerss by Andrea Wulf pp. 6-7).  We may chuckle about Fairchild's scrupulosity, but still regard his respect as worth preserving. 

      Prayer: Lord, teach us to be more aware of the consequences of our actions, and be willing to repair the damage done by us and by others of our human family with whom we take some responsibility.   







Tender wild greens make tasty fresh salad.
(*photo credit)

March 3, 2010   Create a Different Salad Every Day 

          I delayed discussing this venture until now because it could have possibly petered out with time and lack of ideas.  It seems harder to create a daily new salad than it was to carry out last year's venture of a daily soup (see Special Issues for "A Different Soup Every Day").  In preparation one must contend with high-priced winter salad ingredients (though I still hold my food bill to the average food stamp recipient's allotment and share it with an Indian orphan's food bill).  Refusing to purchase or prepare meat products eliminates the possibility for home-made ham, chicken and turkey salads.  Furthermore, these winter salads require fresh foods, often from distant places; and cold winds, ice and snow, and no greenhouse, make this an added burden.   

    I did start the New Year with the very last of the fall garden (twelve veggies from among the leaves:  garlic, broccoli, collard, turnip, and radish greens, kale, mustard, spinach, Brussels sprouts, carrot, and a sprig of surviving dill and sprout of kohlrabi).  The next day's salad was the surviving outside greens plus dandelion and indoor parsley.  Immediately afterwards we had a streak of very cold weather that ruined much of this surviving garden.  However, this change of events generated a New Year's resolution to create a better all-weather garden in 2010. 

      Why different salads?  The basic thesis for different soups is that one can live with nutrition, local production and low cost in mind and eat in a rather healthy way with variety -- the spice of life.  The challenge came from a veteran health care person who said I would have to resort to the regular Appalachian fare of cornbread and beans -- certainly a mainstay of my first economy- year, 2008.  However, the soups were possible even though some were variations on the basic ingredients of vegetable soups.  Some ways to meet the challenge of variety salad ingredients are: 

      * Gardening -- We can grow veggies in a backyard garden for about nine months of the year with special care in early spring planting, summer watering, and autumn frost protection.

    * Wild-gathering -- We have basic wild greens (poke, dandelion, and many others) as well as mushrooms, blackberries, persimmons, black walnuts, and many other foods for the taking.  Granted, more congested areas are less blessed with such varieties.   

    * Preserving surpluses -- Ways include refrigeration, pickling, food drying, canning and preserving in root cellars.  These methods allow the extension of the salad ingredients beyond the normal growing period, and they are still nutritious.

      * Growing a variety of herbs -- Those who want the same salad day-after-day will not enjoy this exercise.  Different tastes are more highly valued by some of us.  The good part of a salad is that it need not be the full meal, and thus only a taste or small quantity may be sufficient for a given day.  

      Prayer: Lord, make us enjoy the challenges of living ever more simply so that others may simply live. 




Reflections in a garden pond.
(*photo credit)

March 4, 2010   Is Hunger a Form of Terrorism?

       Confronting hunger with an empty stockroom can be a form of terrorism -- with all its raw emotion and trauma. How do we advance food security in a hungry world and do this in a way to distribute justice to all?  On some precious occasions in the past year, someone has come to my door needing food for his or her family.  I feel that Jesus is visiting me in the form of hungry people, and telling me we cannot be complacent about sharing food with others.  We must recognize that God has done great things for us -- and we must share with others.  Certainly when opportunities arise, our two parishes have been more than generous, both at holiday times of the year and when people suffer shortages at the end of the months or through some form of mishap such as a house fire.    

      Ethiopia and parts of the Horn of Africa are suffering from severe drought that is harming livestock and has led to poor grain and other food harvests.  Whether a famine will develop later this year can not be determined as of this date.  However, people who indulge in waste of food or luxurious consumption of resource- intensive food materials must reflect on that ultimate question:  "Did you feed me when I was hungry?"  Our answer that we did not see the Lord hungry is not sufficient.  For our own salvation we must see the hungry and do something about it.  Otherwise in this sea of hypocrisy we become terrorists. 

      A simple fact is to be proclaimed when it comes to food shortages and the resulting hunger:  a person who does not have food tomorrow suffers from a form of terrorism, for to starve is to be terrorized.  We who are sated with access to quantities of food do not experience this form of terrorism -- only the reaction of the unemployed and hopeless who regard their own contribution to the world as blowing themselves up, a desperate message to a world of haves and have-nots. 

      We can be inadvertent terrorists and do not hardly admit to it.  Our reaction to terrorism is to kill terrorists by military means.  If we hold our cool and look at this realistically, we find that permitting the commons of the world to be apportioned to those with power to "possess" and never to take measures to remove their wanton surpluses and waste is to become a party to terrorism.  To allow a world of greed and waste is to terrorize the poor of the world -- and we democratic people, both our nation and as individuals, are going to be held accountable for what we are doing wrong.  To waste food or to fail to share our surpluses is to participate in the total act of terrorizing the one billion people somewhere in the world today.  We do not want to put ourselves into the shoes of the poor African mother with her hungry brood on a dusty road hoping to reach a refugee camp.  She is terrorized as starvation stares at her -- and we are all partly to blame. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to promote food security at every level possible, so that when we meet we can look you in the eye when the final question is asked. 







Cloud on the horizon. Washington Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

March 5, 2010   Encourage Green Antinuclear Advocates 

      On this World Day of Prayer we ought to pray that the environmental movement stays true to its commitments and goals -- that the green movement does not yellow into cowardliness. 

Helen Caldicott, Australian pediatrician and one of the foremost antinuclear activists, comments that she was essentially ignored at the Copenhagen Conference in December even by many so-called green movement people.  The chance to hear from traditional antinuclear advocates was virtually nil, because the green movement's organizers are waffling due to the bombardment of propaganda by the nuclear power industry.  The basic message is that the need for clean energy to combat global warming includes nuclear power -- and therein many greens are turning yellow. 

      The argument used by these wafflers is that nuclear advocates will join forces with them;  together with nuclear industry lobby money, the renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower and some biofuels) folks and energy conservationists WILL stop the coal, oil and natural gas interests cold.  Look the other way:  forget that nuclear wastes are still to be guarded for thousands of years, that even low-grade nuclear fuels acquire their own carbon footprint in processing, and that the expensive powerplants (eight billion dollars or more each) need to be guarded and maintained properly to avoid serious accidents or terrorist threats.      

      Charles Ferguson in "The Long Road to Zero:  Overcoming the Obstacles to a Nuclear-Free World," Foreign Affairs, Jan.-Feb., 2010 (pp. 86-94) argues that our efforts to restrain nuclear weapons proliferation mistakenly includes the encouragement of nuclear powerplant construction.  In essence, this increases the opportunities for non-nuclear weapons countries to upgrade nuclear materials to the enrichment levels needed for weapons-grade materials.  Instead of containing the proliferation of weapons this might actually enhance their distribution.  

      Ferguson comments that, to displace only one-seventh of the projected greenhouse gas emission increase by the year 2050, would require one new nuclear powerplant to be connected to the electrical grid every two weeks.  Some critics might quibble about the size of that projected demand for expensive nuclear power, especially with the rapid advances of lower-cost wind power between now and then; such a sizeable nuclear power increase would bear a price tag of over eight trillion dollars.  This sum could instead truly advance renewable energy use by that time with little or no ill-effects.  He also observes that the time lag (about a decade) demanded to get the nuclear plants into production could be filled with alternatives installed more quickly.  Ferguson concludes that the current nuclear security agenda will not prevent further nuclear proliferation or stop terrorists from obtaining fissile materials.   

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to move in the direction of zero nuclear materials and to do so quickly. 






Sawdust caught on strands of spider web.
(*photo credit)

March 6, 2010   Avoid March Madness 

      Why not write each year on the madness that affects us in this part of America, when basketball teams move from tournament game to virtually inevitable loss, for most in a relatively short time.  Is it because we are infected by a disease of late winter before the season opens to outdoor participative sports?  I wish that were the complete answer, but some people who often go to seed for lack of regular exercise are the most adamant spectator enthusiasts.  Why the screams and stress that trigger possible heart attacks? 

      As an advocate of physical exercise I believe we should all spend one hour a day getting some form of exercise whether stretching while sitting in a chair, or jogging, or biking, or using a rowing machine.  I applaud those who engage in participative sports both for their own health and in loyalty to their school or civic group;  I support spectators who cheer on the participants.  However, how much exercise occurs through cheering, or how much participation in sports occurs as a spectator?  Also, when does one in a larger academic institution become a "professional" for the school's money-making purposes?   

      Virtually all agree that there are limits to spectator sports. Rowdy and drunken fans at European football (soccer) matches are not to be allowed or imitated -- though some American events are starting to look the same.  What about parents who strike and threaten umpires?  These are hardly role models for the youngsters at play.  In fact, the rage of fans is certainly not good for their health or that of neighbors with weak hearts.  Stress is enhanced and not relieved by such high pressure events -- and yet it is meant for "fun."  Is it?  Why not cheer good competitive performance by opposite sides as well as on the part of our favorite teams?   Good spectators ought to applaud the athletic achievements of the opposite team.  Maybe instead, we are all touched by the pressure of the indoor gym, the tensions of drums pounding and cheerleaders arousing yells from the partisans who travel distances to urge on their team.   

      My failure to mention seasonal madness previously had much to do with entering the spell for my favorite teams.  With older age and less tolerance for seasonal madness, I now can cheer favorite teams from a distance for a brief moment and then go on with other issues worth more focus.  Maybe too many people engage in modern bread and circuses -- and prefer the blood of games to that of past warfare.  Neither is worth advocating.  Spectators create tense situations through catcalls and boos; let them get on with some personal physical exercise and leave the sports' participants to do their own thing among themselves.  Having said this, I confess that our regional teams with high national ranking make me break down and watch at least some basketball games on the Internet in March.   

      Prayer: Lord, teach us to act rationally and not allow even brief periods of sports events to lead us astray.  Make all of us see that spectator sports do not substitute for physical exercise. 





Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) and tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)
share a nourishing treat.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

March 7, 2010    Learn about the First Missionary      
                                       (John 4: 5-42)

      Today's story of the Samaritan woman at the well is a story of someone coming to faith -- a story that is deeply connected to the Lenten liturgies.  Jesus leads all of us and does not hesitate to meet and converse with those regarded as hostile.  Jesus does not lead his disciples on the traditional detour route around Samaria from Galilee to Jerusalem.  Rather he takes the more direct route, the route similar to that we must take to spread the Good News.   

      While the disciples are off purchasing provisions for the meal, Jesus engages a Samaritan woman who comes to fetch water at Jacob's well, a watering place for centuries.  Again his directness transfers from travel routes to conversation.  Jesus is immediately able to connect with the Samaritan woman's search by triggering her to ask questions.  He says he has a life-giving water, which will last forever.  His mission is to the marginalized, and to some degree all her Samaritan community fits this category.  Jesus startles her, for he knows her past life;  he does not dwell there but says he is the means to salvation, with no apologies for her own limited beliefs.  

        The woman says she sees he is a prophet and is immediately drawn to the power of Jesus.  She leaves this watering hole to become the first evangelist, the one who takes Good News, now received with enthusiasm, back to her home community.  She does so with the handicaps of being an imperfect human being, and known as such by her community.  However, she is a person who is deeply sincere and willing to extend her faith to others.  Her message is so convincing that, even amid her known imperfections, these people follow her back to Jesus.  The Samaritan community hurry to meet Jesus firsthand.  They are drawn to Jesus by a magnetic force, the innate sense of living water that many creatures can smell from a distance.  The local people invite Jesus to come and accept their hospitality, for they thirst for what he has to offer.  

      Upon returning, the disciples are the late learners.  They are people with the cultural biases of the times and have avoided the very persons Jesus finds so easy to talk to.  The disciples are students who will become more perfect missionaries after the Resurrection and Pentecost.  They are astonished that the physical hunger of Jesus is transcended by a spiritual hunger for an entire world, a field ripe for the harvest.  Doing God's will is food enough for Jesus, and his hope is to prepare missionaries to extend his zeal by spreading Good News.  Some will sow;  some will reap; all are learners who need experience in order to participate in this cooperative endeavor.

     Prayer:  Lord, "I thirst" rings out as a desire to share resources with all people.  Remind us again of the saving waters of Baptism when we dip our fingers in holy water.  Let Lent's traditional "Scrutinies" prior to Baptism teach us to be messengers who follow the Samaritan woman, taking a needed message to others.






A container of freshly-picked mulberry fruits, a summer treat.
(*photo credit)

March 8, 2010  Advance Food Security 

      Advancing food security is a measured and rational action.  Through addressing the food security of the world we are ironically addressing our own long-term national security.  By removing terrorism in all its forms (March 4), we are liberating the world from the grips of food insecurity and poverty.  Thus by not reacting in a militaristic manner but through sharing resources, we take positive steps to address hunger both on an individual level and as citizens in our country.

      We act as a democratic people with a sense of responsibility for the resources that we are privileged to have under our own citizen control.  We are no longer cowed and intimidated by the rich and privileged; we must control the common gifts given and cannot permit them to be misused, e.g., taxpayer money going as obscene bonuses to investment brokers.  We are most moved by the statement Christ will say to us at judgment:  you fed me when I was hungry.  Perhaps this is as much a collective statement as an individual one, and is being addressed to affluent groups today.  Nations are called to answer at the judgment seat of justice. 

      Globally, we need to consider the food security policy as pertaining to each and everyone of us, and thus ensure that grains are available in regions that experience food shortages.  Our national foreign policy must be part of a global foreign policy:  greed and waste of precious resources cannot be tolerated by a free society.  If we tolerate them, we eventually will lose our freedom to totalitarian regimes that show intolerance to all our freedoms.  

      Nationally, we need to challenge our elected representatives to abandon policies that turn corn, sugar and other food crops into biofuels.  We must call for establishing regional food storage centers for use in famine periods, and assisting small farmers in poorer nations to improve their own local food production and tend land properly as a contribution to reducing global warming.   

      Regionally and locally, we must develop programs through which we highlight our own food sources through farmers' markets, fairs, food exchanges and gardening programs to turn lawns into edible landscaping.  Let us make gardening more of a community project and offer incentives to those who are able to introduce the practice to neighbors with ample lawn space to grow their own food.   

      Individually, we ought to consider ways to cut back on eating high resource foods (processed foods, heavy meat diets, and promotion of animal products).  Lent is a good time to consider radically sharing our food with those who are hungry and thus to reducing food purchases.  We ought to promote giving to global, national and local relief agencies.      

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to radically share, but in creative ways to attract others to do the same; keep us from segregating ourselves from them through unshared privileges. 





Common chickweed, Stellaria media.
(*photo credit)

March 9, 2010  Expose Affluence Slipping into Bankruptcy

      The tautology of the affluent --

       "We get our money from the gettin' place."

     The beggar asks --

        "Where is your gettin' place?"

     The affluent reply --       

         "Why that's where we get our money." 

      The pessimist says:  a society that bails out bankers and allows them to use ill-gotten tax money to pay bonuses lest the rotten banks cannot retain their "bright" stars is well on the road to bankruptcy.  Such a society fails to grasp the current world situation.  Certainly those who have received their privileged position by pull, ivy-encrusted degrees and well-greased legislation that allows the retention of wealth, are "leaders" -- in the downfall of our democratic republic.  The very mentality of a privileged people who cannot see where we are heading is a form of blindness, which means we could be bumbling our way into the inevitable downfall up ahead.

     The realist asks whether these pessimistic words are counterproductive -- only if you think the status quo is good and ought to continue.  Change is inevitable, so let's make the best of it.  With our U.S. government spending at the rates now occurring, we simply cannot continue being policemen of the world and allowing our billionaires to go on being undertaxed.  The optimist may expect inevitable change for the better.  However, the hope of the realist is that, for better or worse, we shall make changes soon before it is really too late.  All the while there are burdens that have not been fully implemented, namely health access, proper education and work for all citizens.

      Questions flood the life of the realist:  why the unchecked spending for military ventures?  Certainly those in harm's ways ought to have proper provisions, but a more serious question is:  why are they still in harm's way?  Why fight in lands where the people do not want us to be present?  Where do vast oil reserves figure into the foreign policy equation?   Why are we at the beck-and-call of the Eisenhower-coined military/industrial complex?  Are not the arms race and all those military bases throughout the world causing the United States to travel on a road to bankruptcy?    

      Our country has been used to being affluent.  I have lived long enough to recall neighbors who thought the genteel southern traditions still applied to their households;  they were living above their means and simply didn't know it.  Had they been realistic, they would have provided for the future and not lived each day as in the past.  What applied to such households can apply to nations; our country is no exception.  We must live within our means and still provide essentials for the world's needy.  

      Prayer:   Lord, teach us to be realistic and to know where we are going and how to be just in apportioning our limited resources. 






Buffalo Mountain wind farm, near Oak Ridge, TN.
(*photo credit)

March 10, 2010  Promote Renewables, Not Nuclear Power   

      After a brief drop in electricity consumption (4.72% in the first nine months of 2009, mainly from a reduction in coal-generated electricity) we may expect that a resumption of past annual growth rates will reoccur in 2010, mainly through rapid growth in wind-generated electricity.  Two components of the American energy supply picture are emerging this year:  a renewable energy economy is doable and is coming rapidly; and an expansion of nuclear power facilities is outside of the economic reality of our nation, and is not worth the investment that recent legislative proposals are suggesting.  

      Renewable energy is making great strides at far lower construction costs than those of new nuclear power facilities.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) renewable energy sources (hydropower, biofuels, biomass, wind, geothermal and solar) provided 10.51% of total U.S. energy production in the first nine months of 2009;  renewable sources also provided 10.21% of net U.S. electricity generation during the same period.  For the same period in 2008 the renewable energy total was 9.18% and for that period in 2007 was 8.72% of net production.  The growth in actual amounts generated came mainly from hydropower and wind sources.  The total renewable energy mix consists of hydropower (35.16%), biomass (30.72%), biofuels (20.25%), wind (8.17%), geothermal (4.52%), and solar (1.17%).  

   Nuclear power is costly as well as inherently unsafe and comes with disposal problems that have not yet been solved.

New plants may still cost as much as nine billion dollars each, though the Koreans are pushing a more economical light water reactor at five billion dollars.  Will safeguards demand undisclosed cost overruns?   Our nation cannot afford these plants, nor really can the rest of the world.  With natural gas fuel costs stabilized, the actual price paid for electricity from this gas is now equal to and will be lower than that of electricity generated from nuclear power.  This is so even with all the hidden subsidies by the government, which must bear some of nuclear fuel's costs: waste disposal, added security and insurance against possible major calamity at a nuclear powerplant.  As solar and wind become cheaper through lower priced materials, these sources will be competitive with nuclear power facilities.

      If the money to be used for loans for massive nuclear powerplant construction were shifted to renewable energy sources, one could expect to meet demand for electricity at lower prices and more quickly than one can with any return to nuclear powerplant construction (halted in America since the 1980s).  With a combination of energy efficiency measures along with renewable sources, gaps in the complex energy supply picture can be filled. 

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to use the things we have at our disposal and to use them wisely so that all may share in the essentials of life. 





Fresh apple blossom.
(*photo credit)

March 11, 2010  Observe Johnny Appleseed Day  

     Today we celebrate one of those early pioneers of sustainable homesteading -- John Chapman or Johnny Appleseed (1774-1845), a frontiersman who planted apple trees throughout the Midwest, especially in Ohio.  My brother Charlie has a thriving apple orchard near Newark, Ohio, in the precise territory where Johnny plied his trade.  Charlie's apples are disease-resistant varieties guaranteed to have no commercial chemical residue.  Charlie knows what Johnny knew, namely  that apples please all the senses with their exquisite taste, shiny colors, pleasant aroma, and slick feel.  Even the sound of biting into an apple is appealing.  You can't do that with a banana..

     In some cultures the terms "apple" and "fruit" are interchangeable, and the specific apple, while originating in central Asia, is widely disseminated in all parts of the temperate globe.  In America, the apple is fruit king;  American apples come from heritage types and occur in various sizes, colors and flavors.  Each of us has apple favorites.  John Adams liked his apple jack and others like their summer or fall apples crushed, smashed, squeezed, baked, fried, dried, distilled, cooked down, or eaten raw.  Apples are used for making vinegar, cider, applejack, apple brandy and apple juice, for flavoring candy and for being candied, for making stack cakes, apple butter, jelly, sauce, apple turnovers, cobblers, cookies,  and the favorite "it is as American as apple pie."  Picking apples is work for some, and a holiday for others.  When frost was on the pumpkin and the fodder in the shock, it was apple butter-making time -- second only in popularity to butchering and maple sugaring, but a little less work at a nicer season.  Cider-making was almost a religious rite in New England.

     My apple-related memories go back -- climbing my favorite apple tree, going to the cellar for apples in winter, and taking our annual excursion to the Browning Apple Orchard (owned now by Frank Browning, NPR Paris, France, reporter's family).  What makes an apple popular?  First, it has a long shelf-life and defies rapid spoilage; it grows in various climates; it ships well; it is not overly pulpy and dries easily as homesteaders know; it is versatile in cooking and baking; it is often lower-priced than other fruits; it contains vitamins and fiber; and, finally, people like apples. 

     There are apples and apples.  Growers strive to produce a perfect specimen; they use chemicals to ensure that no defects or worms are present and that the appearance is perfect; but here is where environmental problems arise.  In contrast to bananas and oranges, apple peels are often eaten -- and a mere rinsing will not remove the agro-chemicals present.  Furthermore, purely organic apples are difficult to grow and are expensive.  The low-priced commercial apple is the mainstay fruit of many.  We must go beyond appearance and choose apples wisely. 

      Prayer: Lord, apples have been with us since Eden; help us to choose and use them well and to share them with the "appleless." 







View of the sky near Newberry, MI.
(*photo credit)

March 12, 2010  Proclaim Air as Commons                   

      The breezes of March remind us that air is truly earthy in its composition, plentiful, life-giving, vulnerable, worthy of our protection and part of our shared commons.  Because air is so essential, we all have a right to the highest quality of air possible;  NONE of us has a "right" to contaminate this life-giving substance in any way.  Use of air that belongs to all includes the responsibility for cleaning up fouled air.

      We know that the atmosphere can be damaged with relative ease.   Outdoor air polluting sources include industry, powerplants and motor vehicles.  Industrial air pollutants from particulates to nitrogen and sulfur oxides have been major air contaminants.  With the advent of coal-fueled, steam-driven pumps and engines and metal smelters emitting sulfur oxides, modern industry has polluted the air.  Coal and oil-fueled electric generating plants have only exacerbated the problem.  Since we know that clean air is essential, we become aware that people and other breathing creatures suffer from poor quality air.  Victims suffering with asthma, emphysema, and other respiratory diseases gasp for breath.  Many victims require breathing tubes leading to oxygen tanks as though the fresh air that was considered so much a part of our world is now accessed, through commercial enterprises, from oxygen canisters -- and not at major polluters' expense.     

      Harmful emissions from the millions of petroleum-fueled motor vehicles have added ozone, carbon monoxide and other major contaminants to the already polluted air.  Emission control devices required on current vehicles have reduced this pollution considerably.  Acid rain, resulting from air laden with sulfur and nitrogen oxides, corrodes monuments, harms vegetation and causes respiratory damage to humans and animals alike; this acid rain corrodes metal roofs and can contaminate rainwater.   

      Indoor air pollution is a global problem and involves everything from smoking to use of wood, dung and coal in cooking stoves.  These devices are used by between two and half and three million people;  they generate smoke that causes respiratory and eye problems for cooks and other residents, especially the very young and very old.  Good ventilation and exhaust systems are often lacking where such cooking stoves are used.  The World Health Organization reports that 1.6 million premature deaths (half children) occur each year due to the use of these defective devices;  these stoves are linked to increased incidence of cataracts, pneumonia and even tuberculosis.

      We  cannot trade off the right to pollute this air.  Any person or institution that pollutes has the responsibility to clear up the air, not continue the practice unattended.  As citizens, we ought to call for clear air as birthright throughout our world.

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to protect our fresh air for all people to breathe deeply and use respectfully for the common good. 





Sharing space in the canopy.  Pine grove in Red River Gorge, KY.
(*photo credit)

March 13, 2010 Be a Good Samaritan Day during Hard Times 

     It is not easy to help the person who is in the proverbial ditch, but some are there.  We can at least help those who help the person -- and still there is no easy way to bring quick solutions in so many of the ditched cases.  Some are afflicted in more ways than the injury in the parable, and so we mention suggestions: 

      Visitation -- Those home-bound, through either illness or old age, can be relieved by a cheerful visit.  They can be buoyed by the good news that their offering of suffering for specific needs (including one's own) will go a long way to improving the conditions of our world.  Help them see that a cheerful offering of their own condition is a saving deed when united to the Lord's Calvary event. 

      Resource awareness and invitation -- Depressed and abandoned individuals can be invited to church and to programs that are directed to treatment of an ailment -- AA programs or drug rehabilitation or smoking cessation.  Some who have lost a loved one need to be introduced to bereavement programs.  Sometimes we have to take the time and go the extra mile to talk with the afflicted person.  The Good Samaritan takes a responsibility on himself or herself -- and this will not be forgotten.

      Continued Contact -- Prisoners really need our support, both for our friendship here and now and our help in preparing for the future.  Certain post-prison programs are operative in many parts of the country.  Our own contacts through email and letter-writing allow those who are released to settle and find work.  

      Being alert -- Some people are particularly skilled at noticing those in the ditch, as the parable says.  Their alertness extends to doing charitable things and being known so that others come to them for assistance when they have lost a home through foreclosure or joblessness; the victims could use immediate assistance but find it hard to beg.  Some caregivers are more approachable than others. 

      Advocacy work -- Today those who hurt are outside of health and other service areas and are passed by.  We need to pressure governmental agencies constantly to discover and offer services to those who are voiceless and have little or no political power.  The illegal migrant needs protection;  so do those who do not qualify for certain forms of health care or who need work even if it is lower-wage infrastructure maintenance or reconstruction.   

      Homeless and direct charity --  The poor are always with us, and in these hard times they seem to be all the more present, if we simply open our eyes and look out.  Soup kitchens, homeless shelters and food agencies need our support and assistance. 

      Prayer:  Lord, allow us to be attentive to the needs of those who fall by the wayside of our ever more busy world.  



Propagating roses from cuttings, a meaningful endeavor.
(*photo credit)

March 14, 2010  Laetare Sunday: Witness against Materialism        

     He was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.    (John 9:3) 

      The mid-Lent Sunday is a day of rose vestments for we find joy amid somberness of life.  It is one when being fully with the Lord involves great risks, and yet is one of great joy and peace of soul.   Of all the passages in the New Testament, this Chapter impressed me most in my spiritual youth.  What honesty and integrity, what fidelity and love!  Today's story is a journey of a blind man to faith -- a single individual's coming to Christ, and then enduring the persecution that is to follow.  He is not affirmed by his own family who distance themselves and say he can testify on his own.  He is not affirmed by the establishment that ridicules him for affirming Jesus as healer.  He is thrown out of the protective screen of Jewish religion needed to be within the law of the Roman Empire, where being ejected makes one an outlaw -- and fodder for the lions. 

     Many of the saints stand out as people willing to take great risks and, yet as solitary witnesses, were to find God's goodness.  Examples include St. Thomas More in England, Joan of Arc in France and Franz Zaggerstadder in Austria.  All these gave their lives in order to witness to the truth.  Beyond these are millions who must forego material excess and witness through sharing with the poor.  Let's go beyond today's singular witnesses and look for those of us blind in our past and now receiving sight to see what is going on in our world.  Today, we must witness against a system of "materialism"  (whether capitalistic or communistic) that stands ready to destroy our Earth and its people.  Many Christians prefer to accommodate and to go along with this system, afraid of what may follow.  However, even if ostracized and looked upon as overly emotional or lacking in some type of economic expertise, we must still find here the wherewithal to stand up and be counted:   

      Materialism is the prevailing political and economic system of our day that tolerates and encourages the escalating of wants by those who enter a higher economic class;  it promotes a massive exploitation of resources in a futile attempt to satisfy those wants through sequestering resources reserved for satisfying legitimate needs of the poor.  Demonic powers make every effort to lure people beyond essential needs to a series of wants that will deplete our world's resources and cause pollution of every sort.  This materialism is embodied in a system, where the wasting and polluting privileged class diverts resources from the needy through their own selfish and addictive quest to satisfy wants.   

      Prayer:  Holy Spirit, heal us from our material blindness and give us the courage to resist a "prosperity christianity" that distracts us from the fundamental sharing of resources that must occur here and now.  Help us expose and speak forthrightly about the ravages of modern materialism. 




A burst of color on late winter forest floor.
(*photo credit)

March 15, 2010    Be Acquainted with Tea Parties and History 

      On the Ides of March we might consider conspiracies good and bad in our American history.  During the night of December 16, 1773, a group of Boston citizens disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians; they raided ships containing tea on which duties were to be imposed, and they threw 342 containers of tea into the harbor. Thus was celebrated the Boston Tea Party.  Some want to imitate that event through citizen-action that sprang up in our country in mid-2009, and involved holding meetings throughout the country.

      It is hard for fiscal conservatives to disagree with the modern tea party people.  Still we must ask the question:  is the modern party-goers' dislike for our federal government due in great part to having been propagandized by the very powers who have placed our nation in such a fix?  The modern tea party folks call for the support of the very ones who caused the weakening of our financial structures in the first place.  Real tea party people ought to be against the imposition of unfair duties on our people not by distant governments (George the Third) but by distant privileged modern "Georges" who have absconded with the wealth and secured it in tax havens in distant lands.  Rather than equating eighteenth-century oppression with our current government, surely they ought to be loyal to our local and even national government, and focus attention on the globalized power elite.

      Along with our early American revolutionaries, I believe that a good government closer at home is certainly better than no government at all.  Taxation without representation is still  a good cause and "no taxation" because of political privilege by the wealthy must be addressed by citizens at all levels. Good democratic government is far superior to a "nobility of influence" that allows banking interests to give their bonuses to their confreres because they want to retain them -- and a number might be better sent behind bars.  Our country is outraged and yet, despite some feeble efforts at reform, the unregulated practices that brought on the near financial collapse of 2008-09 continue to occur before our eyes.  Where are our regulators?  What does it mean to look first to ensure the proper care of bankers who want to impose duties on citizens and pay little themselves?  Those of us who are fiscally conservative and yet seek to distance ourselves from the extravagances of capitalism may be a minority, but we must become a majority in order to save our country and world.

      May I propose to the tea party imitators that they dress in whatever costumes they desire, but go after the real culprits, the bankers, military industry executives and bonus seekers who are so privileged that they can pillage the treasury of our country and make little or no accounting in the process.  Dump the untaxed salary "contracts" in the harbor and call for reform through proper governmental regulation.  Don't be hoodwinked by propaganda.

      Prayer:  Lord, help us direct our righteous anger at all times in the right direction. 






Grape hyacinths (Muscari racemosum) in March.
(*photo credit)

March 16, 2010     Thank God for March 

      Every month has many things to be thankful for and we can only start to tap the resources that are available. 

      Return of the birds.  The swallows return to Capistrano and all the many migratory birds start winging back from hotter climates to our advantage.  Thanks to the Lord, for they are a blessing. 

      St. Patrick's Day.  If nothing more, the humor of the Irish does spice our overly serious world of problems and concerns.  Let it be for a little while! 

      Earthworms.  In times of spring plowing, the birds would follow the plow and get there when the worms were unearthed in order to feast on the plenty of Earth.  These objects of feasting work soil. 

     Sport Tournaments.  The excitement about sporting events is far better outlet of energy than taking up arms or fighting others.  This sports competition does have its good points provided that all know that only a game is at stake. 

      Early greens.  We need to eat nutritious early plants for we lack sufficient greenery in winter time.  Things are growing again. 

      Daffodils.  These gallant yellow sentinels of spring open the way for us to enjoy the coming season.  

      Serviceberry.  Some of the first blooming trees tell us that winter is ending and we can expect better days ahead. 

      Breezes.  The cold blasts of an expiring winter remind us of the power of the wind that is a key to supplying clean, cheap future energy to make needed electricity.  

      Wind generators.  The humming sound is not harmful but tells us that we are committed to clean, cheap energy that is already furnishing abundant power. Thank heavens, for these are a proper answer to dangerous nuclear powerplants and dirty coal-fired ones.  

      The Lord in our Midst.  We need to remember we are not alone in the struggles that we undertake to save our wounded Earth.  The Lord is with us. 

      Spring.  We are ever so thankful when it comes. 

     Psychological balance.  To have reasonably good mental health is a gift worth special thanks.  We have survived the cold weather and are preparing for the coming months.  Balance includes a look at the past as learned experience and the future as a sign of hope. 

      Prayer: Lord, help us extend a ministry of gratitude to all.







Violet wood-sorrel, Oxalis violacea.
(*photo credit)

March 17, 2010      Green St. Patrick's Day

      Yes, it is St. Patrick's Day again and I am prepared to celebrate.  However, as a graduate of St. Patrick's High School but without a drop of Irish blood in my veins, I have a certain ambivalence when it comes to celebrating the day.  I do and do not like to overdo things, even green things.  Yes, green beer is nice today, but one meal in New York on this day in 1962 (when the cooks dyed all the food green) was somewhat overdone.  Do you enjoy green steak?  All in all, painting the world green took on a special mission with ecological mandates in vogue.  We can eat  organically grown foods, plant edible landscaping and make lifestyle changes with a smaller carbon imprint. 

      Some speak of green-to-gold, those profit-making gimmicks that target the environmentally conscious.  Others of us (see March 10) seek to confront a "green" movement turning yellow with fear of pressure from a resurgent nuclear power industry.  However, greening can be serious business.  It is good to start a garden but not to use commercial pesticides or abandon the effort midway through the year or plant the wrong exotic species.  One Santa Clara resident changed her entire yard from exotic bluegrass lawn to native plants that grew tall and healthy in the dry climate.  Neighbors objected at first but her humor and good will won, and they began "xeriscaping" their lawns as well. 

      Greening is never perfectly conceived or executed.  Garden sites can be better selected, tilled, planted, and harvested.  However, each novice gardener must not expect perfection to come in one season.  The greening process may require outside assistance.  We want to gather wild plants now that the landscape is in the spring greening mood.  However, some mushrooms are poisonous; some plants are good for spring greens and others are not.  Get the proper information in order to make greening an entertaining exercise. 

      Greening can involve good physical and mental health.  Surprisingly, most regard physical environment as apart from their own lives; but greening landscape, housing, and waste disposal can become a community exercise.  Why do so few break away and get the needed physical exercise?  Is it because they have ceased being participants and prefer to be spectators and couch potatoes?  Greening involves holistic health patterns that are balanced spiritually and physically; greening includes serious and entertaining activities, smiles and laughs, and jokes and serious conversation.  The mix makes the color green -- provided the balance does not involve what is overdone or harmful. 

      Prayer:  Lord, thanks for raising up models like St. Patrick who show us the need to convert our ways for the better, and even in doing so to acquire or retain an Irish sense of humor. 




An evening hike with a beloved pet.
(*photo credit)

March 18, 2010       Critique Animal Protection Policy 

       During the earlier part of this winter, the BBC had a series of discussions on the manner in which we treat animals, especially in the light of our food habits and the rapid growth of livestock and meat production and consumption.  In striving to reduce personal meat consumption, we find that forms of gradualism or incremental change are not sufficient today.  We are facing a rapidly emerging world that demands fast food burgers and western- style prepared foods involving large quantities of meat and other animal products.  However, new policies are arising.   

     Penalties for animal cruelty are becoming commonplace, with a growth of proper respect for all animals.  A hunter culture had a certain sense of respect that was damaged by a commercial desire for animal furs and the subsequent depleting of wildlife.  The more radical animal rights groups consider meat-processing plants as slaughter (a pejorative term) houses and even relate the practice to that of the holocaust with people accepting the "open secret" of something terrible happening that is overlooked; for them it is like going along with Nazism.  The animal rights people speak of ten billion head of livestock killed each year as part of this uncontested slaughter -- and say that more humane ways of growing and terminating the lives of these creatures are inadequate. 

      Gradualism is opposed by more radical animal rights groups, because the policy leads to partial victories that will be accepted as a long-standing norm.  For instance, halting the caging of chickens does not lead to abolition of chicken factory farms -- only to some modifications publicized by food chains.  The same critique of gradualism extends to animal research, and especially  experimentation with primates and other specific animals.  Opponents of gradualism agree that partial victories have occurred, but that complacency leads to retaining modified practices that are unacceptable when it come to total animal protection. 

      Vegetarianism is a wave of the future in a food-short world.  Modern scientific studies show that animal products are not necessary for better human health.  Culturally people show greater dependency on meat products due to past requirements for fresh flesh and slender food choices at times of the year.  In fact, from a health standpoint, excessive consumption of animal products today, based on recent cultural preferences for fast foods, can lead to heart problems, gout and diabetes and other illnesses as attested by the American Medical Association.   

      A paradigmatic shift in thinking may be required to change current attitudes towards animals.  However, when many people are required to make major diet changes due to certain health conditions, they are able and willing.  Will animal rights groups succeed to bring about change through gradual or radical means?    

   Prayer:  Lord, teach us to radically share the resources of this world and to do so with animal protection also in mind. 






Shiitake mushrooms.
(*photo credit)

March 19, 2010       Value Forests in Many Ways 

     Today is World Forestry Day.  We emphasize again the  immense value of forests beyond that of simply furnishing timber to profit-making operations -- as though gaining a profit is the greatest achievement of our limited and struggling economy.  We need to recall that forests mitigate climate, retain moisture, store carbon dioxide in a living storage system, cool the surrounding landscape, and furnish food and cover for wildlife.   

      Non-timber forest products. In our region, forests provide such non-timber products as papaws, mayapples, persimmons, crabapples, wild cherries, wild plums, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, wild  strawberries, cranberries, elderberries, hickory nuts, walnuts, butternuts, hazelnuts, acorns, mushrooms, lambs- quarters, ramps, wild garlic, watercress, teas (sumac, sassafras, mint), locust pods, wild honey, and maple syrup.  Exotics such as kudzu are there for the taking and exterminating if that is still possible.    

      Sights, not just products.  Furthermore, forests as they stand, and merely observed or entered for hiking and sightseeing, can add value, which can include economic consequences due to enhanced tourism -- in fact, sightseeing is the number one tourist "activity."  Scenic forest vistas are popular attractions for visitors, and thus cause for employment of lodging and restaurant workers and police and park attendants.  

      Climate modification.  The destruction of forests releases about one-fifth of added carbon dioxide, and thus the reforestation process is utterly important for climate improvement.  Plant trees!  And there is more.  Let the forest be!  Both of these mandates have individual and community elements and are worth fostering.  But there is more.  Those with public or private forestlands need to employ resources for the proper management and preservation of these valuable lands.  Judgment calls are different in various regions and with the condition and makeup of the forest itself.  Some need thinning or replanting or removal of certain exotic species.  Proper forest management is a key to success.  

        Public funds for forestlands.  The ecological value of a forest for the common good demands that incoming tax funds be directed to maintenance, policing and reforesting projects.  We never give forests a quantitative value but the actual uncalculated worth of preservation and enhancement may mount into billions of dollars.  If someone is mounting an operation to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for the good of all, the operation deserves some reimbursement, especially if it is an unfair burden on a few for the benefit of the many.  Protecting the world's forestland can be paid for by levying taxes on use of non-renewable, carbon dioxide-emitting sources such as powerplants. 

      Prayer:  God, Creator of the forests, make us see both their beauty and their worth, and take proper measure to protect them.  








Hardy hellebore (Lenten rose).
(*photo credit)

March 20, 2010     Attend to Chores on the Vernal Equinox

      With springtime one could think of a vast array of things to do, but let us limit ourselves to some, choose to do a few, and encourage readers to create their own lists.   

      *  Till the remaining portions of the spring garden spot.  Make 2010 a year for an expanded garden and even enlist the assistance of others if that is needed. 

      *  Give a second thought to growing more of the veggies and herbs used this year.  My magic number is thirty, but why limit oneself even to that?   

      *  If the weather is right, air out the house.  While in the airing mood, do the same for clothes kept in the closet and surplus blankets and bedding.  Once you have started, the other household fabrics may need to be aired as well. 

     *  Lent will be over soon enough so prepare for a spring party with the purchase, trade or preparation of things for celebration. 

      *  List household needs in preparation for warmer weather;  think of light bulbs, mild cleaning agents, soap, utility containers, gardening tools, smoke alarm batteries, camping supplies, and vacuum filters and bags.  Now be prepared to try to find needed items at the neighborhood yard sales.  

      *  If you must purchase items listed, how about frequenting spring yard clearance events?  At least, take items to a neighbor's place for possible exchange or sale.  Refrain from adding junk, and thereby make the decrease of clutter a victory this spring. 

      *  Consider removing the plastic from sensitive windows and doors (if spring has nearly arrived in your region) and washing the window frames and window panes. 

      *  It is time for spring cleaning and that includes vacuuming rugs, removing cobwebs, dusting and polishing the furniture and scrubbing, sweeping or mopping the floors and porch space. 

      *  Check the car, and maybe this is the day to clean out the interior, and wash the vehicle to rid it of road grime and salt. 

      *  Pick some greens such as dandelions if ready for a good start in this spring season. 

      *  Prepare a spring reading list and include those only-partly-completed books. 

      *  Complete the order for additional trees for this year.

           -- Now sit down and rest;  don't overdo it.-- 

      Prayer:  Lord, give us the energy to spring into action. 






Splash of green on early spring forest floor.  Mercer Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

March 21, 2010    Reflect upon the Account of the Adulterous Woman

     But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger.     (John 8:5)

     They brought to Jesus a woman caught committing adultery, and the condemnation was for stoning;  they were really using the woman as a mere pawn in seeking to trick Jesus.  As a woman she was to suffer while the male adulterer went free.  But here both Jesus and the woman are being judged in life-threatening circumstances -- but one is innocent and the other perhaps guilty of the offenses of which she is accused.  The Roman law did not allow Jewish people to inflict the death penalty, while the inoperative Mosaic law said an adulterous woman should be stoned.  If Jesus says "yes" to the Mosaic Law, he will defy the Roman law, and if he assents to the Roman law, he disobeys his religious tradition.

       Why does Jesus start writing  -- the only scriptural reference to his performing this art?  Some say he is bored by the scribes' and pharisees' attempts to trip him;  others propose that he is writing the sins of the accusers -- or at least they think he may be doing this.  He says that if there was anyone among the accusers who has not sinned, he should throw the first stone.  They go away, beginning with the eldest.  Does self-righteousness erode with age as we approach the judgment seat?  Jesus is left with the woman; he does not condemn her, but tells her to sin no more.   

    First, this is an argument against the death penalty, not just because on occasion those convicted have been unjustly sentenced, but because human judges should not take on the power of life and death.  Who are we to judge?  Punishment through incarceration is enough, and the convicted person may repent his or her ways and proceed to do good even within prison walls.      

      Second, the story shows the mercy of God, for each and every one of us would find it difficult to hurl that first stone.  God has given us another chance, the time we have here at this moment, regardless of our sinful past.  Jesus asks the woman to repent and live a good life.  This is where mercy takes precedence over justice, and forgiveness gives way to new life.  Jesus is always with us even in the darkest moments of life.   

      Third, Jesus teaches us not to condone the sin while showing mercy to the sinner.  We need reform and ought not to be the first to "stone" criminals or terrorists.  Crimes include the sequestering of common resources and a failure to share these with people in many parts of the world  -- a form of terrorism in which we participate at least in a remote way.  Modern terrorists commit heinous crimes, and we condemn the wrongdoing and still love the agent.  Reform our lives both individually and communally, for sin involves all of the human family. 

   Prayer:  Lord give us a sense of proper critique in which we do not cast stones, but rather shower blessings on all.  




An expanse of spring greenery.
(*photo credit)

March 22, 2010     Redirect the Contrasumers 

      While at Stockholm in 1972, during the first United Nations Conference on the Environment, I became convinced that individuals could make a difference and that more than governmental policy and resolutions were necessary to stop environmental degradation.  Technical solutions to air and water pollution through public and private agency interplay were needed, but they were not the total answer.  Institutional action had to be balanced by personal change -- thus the book, The Contrasumers: a Citizen's Guide to Resource Conservation.  Some have urged me to write a sequel, and yet the book was already too theoretical for me.  Action was needed. 

      Thus our hesitancy to continue the theme was filled by exploring appropriate technology.  It was a long practical period of three decades in which we explored and fine tuned techniques for resource conservation such as those we presented in 99 Ways to a Simple Lifestyle;  they included the techniques in gardening and solar energy that we promoted at our resource centers and through Healing Appalachia and Ecotourism in Appalachia.  However, time tarnished the impact of "greening individuals," not because it could not be done, but because so few would voluntarily do it.  We influenced the choir but not Main Street.  In fact, if the addiction to consumer products is as real as we suspect, it is virtually impossible to get many rationally-drawn results from the rank-and-file on resource conservation issues.  The elements that have a direct bearing on the environment, namely, autos, appliances and spacious homes, are our privileges that we exercise as usual. 

      Thus the need is for a new "Contrasumer," but not one who is willing simply to make rational changes and hope the addicted will follow.  Modern contrasumers realize the limitations of voluntary individual or community change.  However, more radical change has its opponents as well.  Some will call the enlightenment to act, even alone if necessary, as taking the law into one's own hands -- forgetting that the wealthy have power, access and influence on lawmakers and have obtained their ill-gotten gains and taxpayer bonuses through mischievous behind-the-scenes manipulation of the legislative process.  Authentic modern contrasumers must exercise their civic duty to save our planet through creative activities. 

      Terrorists seem at times to be the only ones who see the power of social change through destruction of vulnerable sophisticated systems such as airplanes and motor vehicles.  I have argued that the modern economic system exists on the fragile assumption that the unemployed, hungry and marginalized will remain in their place while the privileged persist in destructive activities.  Former friends have taken exception.  I now see that the modern contrasumer can make a difference if the action is non-violent, well-placed and clearly understood.  Publicity is needed, not so much for approval (celebrity popularity) as for public provocation and reflection -- the mark of a true prophet.  

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to be effective witnesses to the Word. 




Beautiful spring beauty...
(*photo credit)

March 23, 2010      Protect from Information Overload 

       All of us experience information overload at some periods of time.  The only two world's fairs I ever attended (and even some state and local ones) produced a sense of information overload.  The same thing can happen if we are going on a tour or to a museum.  or even reading a highly informative book.  We begin to sense that modern life promotes information overload.  We hear from experts that the average person receives twelve hours of information per day (some double-counted the time through multi-tasking) or obtain an estimated hundred thousand words a day through ear and/or eye -- a good-sized book -- via TV, radio, Internet, cell phones, iPods, emails, conversation, books, periodicals and newspapers.  Some of this comes to the ears and eyes, but never penetrates any deeper. 

       Selected information is good; overload is bad because selection has broken down.  Some say that for years people have engaged in or heard conversations all day, and that this has amounted to information overload without use of modern devices.  It is like the operator of a busy event allowing people to interfere throughout the event.  Thus the phenomenon is not new but it is oppressive when not regulated -- like the television that plays at least six hours a day in a home though seldom watched.  It is bothersome and makes us ask:  are we selecting and controlling information well? 

      Choose sources well.  Certain sources can be omitted.  Some of us non-TV users find TV news is simply overloaded with ads;  others consider many periodicals as too abbreviated to deliver good information.  Others prefer in-depth articles and books as a better way to get information.  A presidential briefing each day is a way to keep the leader from being overloaded, but it still concedes much power to the news guardian as prime gateway to information. 

      Cultivate the discipline of intake at specific times only.  Constantly listening to a radio or contacting others by cell phone is not only unhealthy, but also tends to give us too much information.  When going to a church or entertainment, please cut off the instant information source.  Most events other than emergencies can wait until you get out.  

      Allow quiet time to reflect and give time to meditation and prayer -- silence is golden.  My lack of a cell phone baffles people even though I consider the silence to be a prized possession worth guarding.  On occasion we may miss something, but turning off the cell phone or land phone while sleeping or praying does have a good effect.  More should take advantage of such precious moments.  

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to be informed but not overly informed, for so much of news is really clutter.  Help us to discern properly what we need for these times and to choose our sources wisely.





Learn your local wildflowers. Harbinger of spring (Erigenia bulbosa), Mercer Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

March 24, 2010     Commit Yourself to Ongoing Education 

        We should constantly seek to continue our education until the day we die -- and maybe that will continue eternally as well.

Staying a student in some fashion is needed for the creative person, who learns new fields, better techniques, and a deepening spirituality.  Each of us should refuse to allow ourselves to dumb down and sink into a regime of ball games and inane television shows;  we must be active, read more and reflect on what we have gathered in and assimilated.  However, speaking in generalities has limits.  Concretely, what do I do for my ongoing education? 

      Here individuals differ considerably.  Some professions demand improved techniques (surgery, horticulture, computer programming etc.), and thus ongoing education may involve hands-on demonstration and experience.  But many fields and methods may not involve assembling in one location to interact with an expert.  First, transmission methods allow for Internet or television access and thus avoid the time- and energy-consuming travel that becomes harder with age.  One admits that social intercourse in a one-on-one situation is most helpful in some educational pursuits.  However, many of us receive education through personal research, reflection and reading or accessing information in various ways. 

      The educational institutional racket is deeply ingrained in professional educational demands -- but is it right?  Colleges and universities love to offer courses and increase enrollment in many fields.  But for some people this is not the venue of their own growth in knowledge.  Why should one go to a lecture that could be seen or heard on video- or audiotapes or found in literature read at one's leisure?  What makes it better to go long distances and endure unfamiliar lodging when the same could be acquired in one's home at far less cost?  Even personal conversation -- a major learning device -- could be done via teleconferencing, phoning, or the use of Skype.   

      As long as my eyesight and hearing permit, I am committed to reading a host of books and periodicals, as well as material on the Internet and listening to serious programs on the radio.  I do not get much from most lectures and would far rather read what the gifted lecturer has written.  When we consider that note-taking in academic institutions during the Middle Ages was popular, because materials and literature were extremely difficult and costly to acquire, we question the lecture method today.  This is especially true when considering professional education.  Just as a mature person need not make a "preached" retreat, if the Spirit moves him or her otherwise, so a mature professional person ought to choose the method of ongoing education as well as the amount of subject matter.    

      Prayer:   Holy Spirit, continue to inspire us to continue the learning process, for this defines us as rational beings, willing to grow and mature throughout this mortal life.  Help others to give us the space to grow as we deem best. 





Heaven and Earth meet as clouds clear from the West.
(*photo credit)

March 25, 2010     Incarnation:  Let Earth and Heaven Kiss 

      Send victory like a dew you heavens, and let the clouds rain it down.  Let the earth open for salvation to spring up. Let deliverance, too, bud forth which I, Yhwh, shall create.

                                   (Isaiah 45:8)  

      We each become an incarnation of the meeting of God coming from heaven and Earth, opening for salvation to spring up.  Thus the saving process comes from two directions, from Earth (on which we live) and from Heaven (to be our destination).  The mystery is deep, for God has done so much for us.  The entire forty-fifth chapter of Isaiah, from beginning to end, tells of the sovereign power of the Creator.  However, that is only part of the divine mystery no matter how much we are creation-centered in our spirituality.  It is not a complete mystery without seeing that redemption has occurred, and that we are invited to be participants within that redemptive act;  there is a cooperative element in which we find ourselves today through the grace of God.   

      We have compassion for our suffering Earth and find, in the act, that we can do something -- that it is not too late and that salvation can come through our participative endeavors.  If the case is hopeless, our only final recourse is to call upon God to save us, as Earth is swept away.  However, the Incarnation came in time after years of preparation;  so too do we come in time after much preparation and education.  We are called to spend some moments of our lives entering in through our work;  we join as members of the Body of Christ in the divine work of salvation, for redemption is not a past event alone but an ongoing process to which we are invited. 

      Heaven and Earth do kiss because God walks again with the descendants of Adam and Eve.  Distances have been shortened and a transcendent God is experienced as a more imminent one.  If we see the creative hand of God here and now, deepen our respect for what God has done for us; we also enhance our respect for the integrity of all creation -- people, plants and animals and the universe itself. The hand of the Creator is accepted in praise and adoration; the handiwork is respected as fruit of the Creator.  But adoration does not exist in a passive manner only;  if we are truly respectful, we will not allow anyone to disturb that creation, not because we are distant from it or near to it, but because to desecrate Earth is to show disrespect for God the Creator of all. 

      We enter into the saving redemptive act because God became one of us, and as part of the divine family we participate with the risen Lord.  We act as the hands of God in the ongoing redemptive process and see a renewed world, a new creation, a resurrection-centered spirituality.  Now we spring up, give hope to others, and await the New Heaven and New Earth.  

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to see the full impact of the Incarnation event in our lives as healers of our Earth. 









A lone crocus blooms on the edge of field readied for development. Grant Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

March 26, 2010     Question "Development"    

      At the height of the Cold War nations were divided into "First World" (western countries allied with us against the USSR), "Second World" (the Soviets and their allies) and "Third World" or all the remainder that were normally poorer countries.  Later, after the Berlin Wall fell, divisions were made between "West" and "East," but that grouped Japan among the poorer portion where, as the second largest economic power, it obviously did not belong.  The "North" and "South" divisions were also not mutually exclusive.  The term "developed" and "un- or under- developed" is regarded by some countries in this second category with sophisticated and ancient cultures as being pejorative.  Later "developing" referred to such nations as China, India and Brazil, since their emerging economies gave them a special status.  Today, "richer," "emerging" and "poorer" economies give a new threefold division.   

      In these groupings of nations "Development" has been regarded as the height towards which nations ought to aspire.  Oddly enough, from an ecological consideration, our Earth cannot sustain all of this aspiring "development," for it is simply unsustainable.  Authentic development, as Benedict XVI says in his recent economic letter, must be life-giving, and some of the free market economies with concentrated wealth and privilege are blatantly undemocratic. 

      The word "develop" means to improve upon, to make better, to become more systematized.  However, a country that will suppress its subsistence farming, crowd many into urban slums and exhibit rising levels of unemployment and mass outmigration is hardly on the road to development.  Some so-called developed countries have quite unsustainable levels of natural resource consumption.  These systems are malfunctioning, not developed;  they squander resources at the others' expense.  If less wealthy or politically powerful nations aspire to such resource use and consumption practices, that does not mean they are on the road to development, but only accelerating the unsustainable practices of materialistic models.

      Such terms as "developed" versus "undeveloped" or even "developing economies" ought to be regarded as indicating the acceptance of a system that is pejorative of those not meeting certain materialistic standards.  In recent years we have a flurry of designations of groups or "clubs" of nations, e.g., G-7,  G-8, G-20, G-70 and even G-2.  Some lands are militarily powerful; some are more wealthy than others, and persons rich and poor are the best designations.  The Democratic Republic of Congo is vast but powerless.  Somalia is a failed state with no functioning government for almost two decades.  Placing these with other UN members in a single category is erroneous.  For the sake of discussion we have to make categories, and so "rich" and "haves," composed of arrived and arriving, versus "poor" and "have-nots."  

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to designate new ways of describing our national groups so that we indicate the need to redistribute the resources among the family of nations. 






Bobwhite Quail (Colinus virginianus).
(*photo credit)

March 27, 2010     Celebrate North American Wildlife Day 

      When I consider that the nobler animals have been exterminated here (New England) -- the cougar, panther, lynx. wolverine, wolf, bear, moose. deer, the beaver, the turkey, etc., etc. -- I cannot but feel that I live in a tame and, as it were, emasculated country.     
                                                                                                                             Henry David Thoreau

     Wildlife in all its forms is certainly threatened, as Thoreau noted after the long period of killing for fur and the active hunting of game.  He understood as do we today that we need to protect and celebrate all animal life: fish, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and insects.  Wildlife has much variety, but the sheer numbers or varieties have led in the past to callous disregard for conservation.  We must see these creatures as companions and co-inhabitants of our limited but sufficient continent.  Wildlife deserve our respect as friends and teachers::

     Make room for wildlife.  A neighbor of mine has left standing a rickety old barn that is almost falling down.  However, even though it is a potential risk to wandering trespassers, he told me that a doe and fawns winter in the somewhat snug shelter, and he wants to protect them.  I like his caring ways and hope that this care for creation extends to sanctuaries and bird boxes.

      Speak kindly of wildlife.  Vocabulary may help us appreciate wildlife more.  For instance, to "hunt" wildlife sounds somewhat challenging and sports-wise;  to go out and "kill" or worse to "slaughter" wildlife is maybe even repulsive.  A "lair" can be a threatening and fearful word, whereas a "nest" or "habitat" has a more comfortable sound.  A night "noise" or "shadow" may involve a nocturnal animal out moving about, not a danger. 

      Learn from wildlife.  All creatures can become our teachers. if we only open our eyes, hearts and minds to what wildlife give.  Their example of frugality, cleverness, diligence, companionship, and loyalty can help us all to grow in love and mercy.

   Bless wildlife.  Blessing wildlife can be a group or family undertaking, for all benefit from wildlife as a community undertaking.  Formal blessings for the survival and progress of our native wildlife have a place as well, for without prayerful care wildlife cannot prosper with the widespread environmental threats from deforestation and global warming/climate change.

      Keep a proper wildlife distance.   Skits, movies, story-telling and songs are worth emphasizing.  Zoological gardens have a place, but we prefer parks where animals roam free.  Walks and hikes in the woods in various seasons could be accompanied by observation of birds and those animals that come into our range.  It is more important, however, to satisfy ourselves with movies or "virtual proximity" to many animals that do not like us to trample their territory.  Why must we go to polar bear country when we can learn how these animals are threatened due to current weather conditions?   

      Prayer:  Oh Creator of all, the process of evolution, which You initiated, has given us a wide variety of animals that can be admired. Give us the energy and concern to protect all wildlife.  




Palm Sunday in a small Honduran community.
(*photo by John Donaghy, Creative Commons)

March 28, 2010      Wave Palms Thoughtfully 

      On Palm Sunday Jesus enters Jerusalem.  We realize the risks involved for he is known as a healer, teacher and prophet.  To be known may mean that people are curious about who he is, for healers are welcome, teachers are worthy of a hearing and prophets are provocative.  Thus the residents of Jerusalem come out, though it is uncertain where their allegiances lie.  Prophets have a way of challenging the people who may become resentful about what is heard.  Celebrities are often adulated; models are seen to be imitated; heroes are quite often welcomed; names of important people are used by ones who want some of the adulation; people strain to get within the photograph of someone famous; they are fickle enough to demonize or canonize people even before they die. 

      The questions each of us asks on Palm Sunday are:  Where are we?  Are we shouting hosannas to the King?  Are we willing to accompany Jesus throughout the defining week of mission and on to Calvary?  However, on closer look the "we" are so often misled by celebrities who may prove to be only skin deep in attractiveness, for we do not know the complete story of each.  We are people who easily suffer from superficiality and name dropping.   

     Weighing the call to be authentically Christian is different from going to a concert to cheer a rock star. Certainly from a liturgical standpoint it is okay to wave palms, but only if we are committed to sticking through the ups and down of being a Christian.  Today, it is difficult to profess our faith openly.  In our age when fewer Americans define themselves as Christian, it may be more difficult to practice what we preach.  During Holy Week we ask about our own practices as individuals and as communities. Do we --

     Give praise to God in many ways and within Creation?

     Speak with respect to and about God and neighbor?

      Profess our faith through attending services regularly?           

      Honor the just laws of the land?

     Become peacemakers with people and Earth herself?

     Support life in all its forms?

      Challenge the thievery of misused local, regional, national
              and global resources? 

     Bear true witness to and about others?

     Use the Internet properly?

     Refrain from expanding our wants list of allurements? 

      This listing is not exhaustive and so we ask further questions on our own practices.  We know it is easier to parade with palms than to stand beneath the cross on Calvary.  We need not be eternal optimists on glory days, nor forever distressed at Calvary.  We are Sunday or Resurrection people with our joy and sorrow, victory and suffering, crown and cross.   We need balance in life.

      Prayer: Lord, give us the sense of your glory, but help us know that to wave palms is not the total picture of life;  we must be willing to take the thorns in stride as well.   







Waiting for March winds to unfurl the flag.
(*photo credit)

March 29, 2010      Perform Public Acts of Piety 

      The archbishop of Westminister urged his congregation to renew a variety of acts of piety that were performed in the past -- and are no longer popular in our ever-more-secular society.  An act of reverence indicates that believers acknowledge the need of doing something extra to show dependence on God, the Creator and Ruler of all things. This is a particular religious practice, the expression of which depends on the cultural traditions or habits of the people.  It may be a simple body movement or attire -- bow, genuflection, wearing a cross;  it includes special devotions or ways of praying over a period of time such as Moslems' daily prayers or Catholics saying the rosary or making the stations of the cross, or Protestants' period of prayer before meals with head bowed.  Some general acts of piety include: 

      * Salute the flag if in uniform or simply stop and sing along with the Star Spangled Banner.  

      * Defend public acts of piety as spiritually healthy, for these teach people of all ages respect and reverence.   

      * Remain quiet and respectful during times of public tribute to fallen heroes.   

     * Extend respect to all creation -- plants, animals, historic sites, and common resources. 

      Piety is needed by healers lest the caregiving suffer.  A good healer is a pious person, but that piety may express itself in individual and often hidden ways.  Interestingly enough, types of piety vary much with individual caregivers.  Some address others with reverence, give them special attention, or show concern through hugs and special acts of kindness.  Sick people come to prize these acts of respect.  The sick room becomes a sacred space and giving special attention to spiritual conversation makes the healer aware of his or her own limitations and need for assistance in the work ahead.  We cannot do things alone;  we need help; we need God's help in the work being done, especially healing work.

      Once a companion asked someone who signed himself and prayed in a public place why he did that.  "Couldn't you have prayed without making an act of piety out of it?"  The reply was that food was such a gift from God that some thanks needed to be shown.  "Yes, but why public?" the friend continued.  "Because in being public I want you to know that we all need to give thanks -- including you in your own way."  Granted, this answer may not have been perfect but it came from the heart and addressed a need for tolerance in manifesting public acts of piety.  One should not be quizzed for doing something, or for failing to do something public, but tolerance demands that we give space for public acts of piety.  

      Prayer:  Lord, give us the courage to manifest public acts of piety even when others may ridicule them.   







Photo taken on a hike to check on progress of a beaver dam.
(*photo credit)

March 30, 20100    Affirm Healthy Habits 

      Isn't Doctor's Day a perfect time to talk about healthy habits?  Doctors should promote proper health and not simple attend to those who suffer from the "horsemen of death": smoking, drinking and drugs, obesity and lack of exercise (all of which we Kentuckians are plagued with in one or other fashion).  David Frum in an article in CNN Opinion (12/28/09, "Unhealthy Habits Are What's Killing Us," gave a listing of shocking statistics on why America with its costly health care system (60% more per person than other advanced nations) has a life expectancy that is 29th in the world.  Yes, and we Kentuckians know the four horsemen

      Affirmation comes in many ways.  Last year I gave a funeral for a parishioner who was beloved by all relatives and friends --but died from the ravages of smoking.  In the eulogies after the Mass his close friends included smoking stories that were humorous enough, but I wondered why.  I still do not have an answer but it had much to do with them -- they seemed to be affirming that they had survived risky action but had lost a friend in the fight.  Whatever the motivation, it made me think about how we can affirm good habits?  Certainly our new book, Tobacco Days:  A Personal Journey, seeks to give examples of affirmation for one of the horsemen who is killing 400,000 Americans and four million worldwide each year.

      Perhaps bad American habits occur because we are individualistic but free people; we have plentiful supplies of certain substances; we are prone to overuse God's gifts and this leads to the triumph of the horsemen of death.  Furthermore, within an atmosphere of each being allowed to do what he or she wants, community actions have only limited effects.  Certainly sin taxes are imposed on tobacco and alcohol, drugstores and doctors try to limit prescription drugs, fast food places are required to locate over 200 yards from a school, and physical exercise (gym) is required of students -- but communities can only do so much.  We suggest certain safeguards without being intolerant of bad habits.

      Stop advertising medicines and drugs to such an extent that people think they can make judgments on intake; raise insurance rates for smokers to help bear the burden of illnesses related to tobacco use;  remove driving privileges from those who drink and drive; and place a tax on soft drinks so that the consumers of these needless sugar-filled beverages will help pay the costs of obesity.   Families can help promote good habits by making these something to be imitated rather than by over-stressing the disadvantages of bad habits.  Individuals, who do not drink and drive; or keep, use and promote minimal medicines; or who purchase, cook, store and grow healthy foods; or expect and require smoke-free homes, will go a long way to reducing bad habits -- and thus enhance the life expectancy of relatives and friends. 

      Prayer:  Lord, make us the promoters of good habits, knowing all the while the devastating effects of bad ones.  





Puppy greets visitors from behind secure fence.
(*photo credit)

March 31, 2010    Welcome the Census-Taker                      

      If you are a one-hundred-year-old American or just born today, this is the day before you will be counted in a ten-year census -- and this is constitutionally mandated.  The United States certainly did not invent the census, but the process has come to be a valuable tool for ensuring that national resources are known, assessed, and justly distributed.  The counting has been fairly uneven over time; and, from early days, when Native Americans went uncounted and slaves were only counted as three/fifths of a person, we developed a history of increasing inclusiveness.  Today, undocumented workers and illegal residents are often suspicious of this ten-year national exercise, and yet census- takers and collectors are bound to confidentiality in regard to individuals.  

      Certainly census-taking is a chore both for the one doing the tabulation (who is at least paid) and the one giving information.  Those of us who have used census data in researching past residents have discovered that inaccuracies are often present.  I discovered that one person, the father of a neighbor, was listed with three variations on his first name for three different censuses -- in 1840, 1850 and 1860.  However, once we accept such discrepancies on ages, income and education, the cumulative information from a series of censuses gives a valuable pattern of who we are as a people.  

      Having pursued a long-time hobby of compiling the ethnic composition of the United States, I await the 2010 tabulations.  I have all the data for the states, counties and some major cities in the 1980, 1990 and 2000 censuses.  We have the last on this website, "Ethnic Atlas of the United States."  If we live so long, we now want to develop a moving picture of the differences in ethnic composition with results from the 2010 census.  This may be a wishful goal, but our computerized version of maps from previous censuses can be readjusted with the proper care to reflect the changes.  The Hispanic picture has been in such a flux along with the status of Asians and certain Middle Eastern groups that the results may be worth presenting to the public. 

      The message here is to cooperate with census-takers for they are striving to do their best -- which is also a patriotic duty.  Our American census is used by government, business, academic and civic groups for setting priorities and distributing needed services.  The House of Representatives' reapportionment is based on state-by-state and national totals.  Every person ought to be counted for the good of our welfare as a people.  Defend the practice, for we have a right to be included and our country needs to have all included.  Let's welcome those who have to do the job, and let's make it easier for them.     

      Prayer:  Lord, give us the grace to welcome strangers, even those who are census-takers. Inspire us to spread this sense of hospitality to our neighbor as well.

Copyright © 2010 Earth Healing, Inc. All rights reserved.

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

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