Skygazing at the
park, waiting for the night to fall
May 1, 2009
International Year of Astronomy
Besides being Astronomy Day today is part of the International Year
of Astronomy. This month astronauts are to take a new camera and
other instruments to the 20-year-old Hubble space telescope. The
Guardian Weekly (February 6, 2009) called this "A New Golden Age of
Stargazing." However, that could be questionable when we pity the
inability of urban youth handicapped by light pollution from viewing
the Milky Way. Nevertheless, the youthful wonder may still occur
when first peering into a telescope and viewing the vast world out
there. That space is measured in light years -- distance light
travels in a single year (5,880,000,000,000 miles).
months ago the space telescope Kepler was launched as part of
a $600 million NASA program and it is starting to probe the
mysteries of 100,000 stars for the little twinkles of light in very
distant stars in our galaxy that show the periodic passage of
orbiting planets. With further probing in the future the
astronomers will be able to determine whether these planets are
placed in a habitable zone or orbit where liquid water can exist in
a state capable of supporting life.
Amateurs may identify the North Star or Orion or Venus but the
millions of heavenly bodies boggle our minds. Furthermore, we
marvel at the experience, skills and diligence of ancient observers
with far cruder instrumentation; they were able to determine the
Solstices, to sight orbiting bodies, and to perform their sea
travels guided by the stars. The grandeur and magnitude of creation
made them and makes us seem so small. We marvel at the more recent
astronomers who figured precisely when a comet would return, the
composition of a star or planet, the shape and size of the Milky
Way, and the complexities of the cosmos. Astronomers are true
pioneers, going far ahead of us in finding God's grandeur and yet at
times being made to suffer by those who do not understand what they
are revealing. Religious practices are often nature-based,
depending on information about moon phases, equinoxes, length of the
year, and Earth's place in the universe. From the second century
A.D. our ancestors in the faith struggled with the dates for Easter
and later the readjustments of the Julian calendar. Those
discussions continue as people argue for fixed or flexible dates for
celebrating Easter today ecumenically.
occasion we look down to the microcosm and the almost infinite
variety of creation below our feet. Then we look up at the equal
marvel of the heavens and become aware of our own finitude. With
competing financial demands for basics of life on this planet, how
can we expend funds on Kepler and other spatial undertakings? In
one sense it seems a waste but in another we need to look beyond our
present needs. I have changed my thinking on this subject in the
last few years; maybe the space program is necessary given the
questing human spirit.
Prayer: I look up at Your heavens, made by Your fingers, at the
moon and stars You set in place.
the big race
2009 Derby Day Celebration
Day this year is far more subdued, with no free breakfast at the
Kentucky Capitol grounds for all who come by for a handout. My
world is not too taken up with this Derby tradition though I do like
to listen with a sense of nostalgia to the playing of "My Old
Kentucky Home" at the start of this brief annual race. When asked
once about having horses at the homeplace by a very wealthy person
who heard I was from Kentucky, I had to admit that my family had
four horses, all work -- not race -- horses.
is Derby Day and why celebrate it? This is in part a continuation
of Old England in America and has much to do with nobility, music
and fancy dress. In some ways Kentucky wanted to continue the
privileges of the past, with black folks serving mint juleps to
white folks, who were the upper crust -- at least that is how they
thought of themselves. So much for annual displays of charm by
certain ethnic groups. We were latecomers for my folks only arrived
in the Bluegrass one hundred and thirty years ago.
most people today Derby day is a tradition worth celebrating once a
year; they place money on one or other quaintly named horse, most
of which will quickly recede into distant memory for all but the
most confirmed racing enthusiast. Fun, mint juleps, cheers and
hopes the winner will move on to a Triple Crown. Derby Day takes
our minds momentarily off pressing problems at home or abroad.
Granted, some few make a living buying, selling, training and
grooming horses for these once-in-a-while four-minute events. The
horse business goes back to pioneer days; they raced the
thoroughbreds down muddy roads in the village of Lexington or other
emerging towns. Then, as the Revolutionary War receded, horse folks
fancied that they were heirs to English nobility and so the Derby
took on an added air of privilege.
has amazed many of us is the immense prices paid throughout American
history for good racing horses -- in the thousands of dollars in the
1850s. The white-fenced horse farms that ring Lexington today
disappear one by one as rapidly spreading suburbs replace the
bluegrass turf. I guess I should be more upset about this
"destruction" of valuable farmland, except that the very fertile
land was never used for a useful purpose except to pasture mares,
colts, studs, and even geldings. On second thought, it is
greenspace. It is a recreation industry for better or worse and
attracts tourists to come and see the state that will host the world
equestrian games next year. It makes the horse people nervous if
you linger at the roadside so go to the Kentucky Horse Park if you
want to come and learn more about racing.
Day is tradition and is somewhat harmless. We need to have
celebrations as part of life, and these are all the more important
in time of crises. Yes, celebrate with gusto for this gives the
energy to take on bigger issues next week.
Prayer: Teach us, Lord, to enjoy a free day once in a while.
Chives, in bloom
May 3, 2009 Shepherding
in Times of Crises
shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.
this Good Shepherd Sunday our reflection pertains to shepherding,
but the above title omitted the word "good." That is because we
have not yet earned the Christ title of being good and much depends
on how we act here and now. As Christians immersed in a turbulent
sea of materialism, we are to manifest loyalty, concern, and the
total dedication of the shepherd to the welfare of others. However,
with millions dying each year from health and nutrition issues there
is plenty of blame to go around to those of us who are better off.
A good shepherd cannot afford to dwell on passing blame provided our
silence allows culprits the opportunity to repeat their misdeeds.
Most likely, the deeds springing from poor credit, falsified
records, misdirected mortgages, and toxic assets are being
successfully challenged. Do these corrective measures extend to the
captains of the banking industry and the mega-investors who act in
an unregulated manner?
Loyalty to our calling means that we must not be permissive. Today the return
of capital as bonuses to bungling executives (rather than demoting
them) is frightening. The very ones who messed things up are to
continue in their carefree practices by the use of tax-payer funds.
On the other hand, loyalty ought to mean accepting our civic
responsibility as citizens within a democratic society. We are
voters, guardians of the liberties of our people, and responsible
for the most needy among us. Responsibility includes adequate food,
affordable housing and a comprehensive health care program for all
(especially the 40 million Americans not covered by health
insurance). Demote the bankers.
We all are called to become concerned about the welfare of others
especially the unemployed and those who have lost retirement
benefits. To say "good bye and good luck" to these is not
Christian. As people who care, we look at the folks who are
unemployed or evicted and remember that they are in need more than
we. They are our brothers and sisters and we are shepherds, not
sheep. Our concern is for the poor, our neighbors.
Total Dedication. As Christians we are to speak up: the current
economic system could spell doom to our Earth and condemn hundreds
of millions to lives of continued poverty. Christians cannot allow
this to happen for we are dedicated to our Earth and our people as
potential good shepherds. Do we have the nerve to call for radical
change (see Reclaiming the Commons on this website)? A
consumption-driven economy of the past overtaxes the ability of
Earth to sustain herself and does not address long-term poverty.
Bringing about change is a dedicated and focused mission, much like
that of the Good Shepherd guarding his sheep.
Prayer: Lord give us the courage to assist in the difficult role of Christian
shepherding at this time of environmental and financial crises.
Phlox divaricata, common blue phlox
2009 The Gift of Wildflowers
Wildflowers are God's special gift in spring whether on our
roadsides on in distant deserts and mountains. On this website we
strive to show their beauty through Janet Powell's many photos, and
their presentation enhances our ecological messages. In springtime
Janet is quite busy taking photos of the many varieties that she
knows or discovers. In our moderate Kentucky climate zone, tree
foliage blossoms forth fully this week -- thus the window of
opportunity for annual spring forest wildflowers is short. They
bloom briefly in all their glory in unhindered sunlight, and then
they're gone with the foliage cover. When the sunshine blazes
hotter, the Texas blue bonnets and Indian paintbrushes wither and
the wild geranium is soon gone. Fortunately, in the temperate and
rainy East we have spring wildflowers virtually every year and for
slightly longer lengths of time than in arid and hotter places.
hiking, consider taking along a wildflower book and learn the native
species in forests and pastures. It is amazing how many native
species bloom in part of or throughout the growing season. Needless
to say, don't pick the wildflowers unless they are the exotic
species -- wild chicory, ox-eyed daisies, dandelions, sunflowers,
Queen Anne's lace and others that thrive along roadways. Pick an
adequate number of these, but leave the natives in place for they
often find it hard to compete and survive.
Consider a wildflower patch in your own yard. We tried one using
both native and exotic wildflowers at our Rockcastle nature center;
for the first year it was a spring and summer explosion of color but
the crabgrass smothered out many of the plants in the second and
more so in the third year. We learned that wildflower patches
require tending on a yearly basis. Wildflowers do not necessarily
come back with the same intensity, if soil conditions are not
right. There is a gray area between wild and cultivated flowers,
and so hard and fast guidelines are difficult. For instance, cosmos
is a favorite in "wildflower" patches on the Interstate and state
highway right-of-ways; it is also popular in domestic gardens. The
only difficulty with roadside beautification projects is that
highway drivers are distracted by the proliferation of color and it
divides their road driving attention.
Gardeners tell about carefully designed wildflower patches composed
of wildflower species of different colors, designed to bloom
successively throughout the growing season -- a succession of color
on a nature plot. From the early yellow daffodil to the late autumn
purple asters, one could observe a changing palette of vegetative
artistic delight. One added bit of care is the autumn seed
harvesting at frost time; this could prove a cost savings for
wildflower seed is expensive. Consider a new wildflower in the
garden for these add color and delight to your gardening -- and are
good companions to the vegetables, herbs and domestic flowers.
Lord, we thank you for the beauty of the world around us and the
gift of wildflowers to delight us here and now.
T.J. "el Jefe," zoning out for a nap, at age 19 -
a devoted pet
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
2009 Animal Care
not always kind to all animals when I was young -- and on occasion I
recall such acts of youthful misdeeds. If a bull was fenced in, we
might tease it, or scare a dozing cat, or target practice over the
head of our pet dog. I've done all of these and yet have lived to
regret such acts. Most of us learn kindness quite slowly with time
and strive to teach others so they don't repeat our mistakes.
Kindness comes naturally to some and is acquired by the more
mean-spirited through painful experience. Here are some ways to
learn and practice being kind to animals:
your pet an extra treat;
bird seed to the bird feeder or prepare a bird bath;
Speak gently to the chained or fenced-in dog down the street;
Support legislation to expand wildlife refuges and sanctuaries;
children on a nature walk to observe wildlife, or to a petting zoo,
or read to them about animals while talking with them about the need
for kindness to all creatures;
Reexamine attitudes about personal hunting practices (only hunting
if you or others will eat the killed game and in order to control
proliferating populations of wildlife);
Encourage friends and neighbors to be kinder to their pets, and
never play videogames that express cruelty to animals;
patronizing restaurants that get meat from corporate beef, pork or
Become familiar with wildlife conservation;
stray animals collected and placed in an animal shelter -- and
support that shelter with donations;
Participate in programs to control the numbers of game or other
proliferating species such as geese, turkeys, and deer;
Support wildlife reintroduction programs in your area;
Report those who abuse animals in any manner; and
Regard all animals as friends even though some will have to be left
unbothered for their own welfare and tranquility.
Lord, You created the order of our universe from which has evolved
the wonderful variety of animal life. We are better for their
presence and, in gratitude, we show kindness.
Exploring an abandoned mansion on University of
Kentucky agricultural research farm
2009 Lead Contamination
as an environmental pollutant, never seems to go away. In the past
few years sizeable quantities of toys manufactured in China were
found to contain various amounts of lead paint. This again has
caused alarm as did lead pollution stories of the 1970s.
History tells us that lead contamination helped bring about the
demise of an ancient upper Roman class who drank from leaded cups.
In 1970, lead was one of the first toxic materials I focused upon at
the Center for Science in the Public Interest. At that time the
most worrisome source of toxic lead was tetraethyl lead inserted as
an additive to raise octane levels in gasoline. Even after this
practice was halted through prodding by some of us, additional toxic
sources of lead remained from contaminated soil, road dust, paint
chips, old leaded water pipes, older pottery and crystal glassware,
and an assortment of antique leaded objects around the home. Even
old printed matter had lead in inks.
in the twenty first century, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention estimates that about one out of twenty-two American
children has high levels of blood lead either due to the child's own
present environment or through the passing of lead from a
contaminated pregnant mother. These higher lead levels can lead to
decreased growth, learning disabilities, hyperactivity, impaired
hearing, and possible brain damage. Through simple blood testing
the young person who was possibly exposed to lead poisoning can be
checked and the testing results easily interpreted. Prevention
includes keeping infants and youth away from lead contaminated soil
or peeling paint. Because so much toxic lead lingers in the
environment, it is best to be safe: provide clean dust-free places
where infants can play; keep toys, pacifiers and bottles clean; and
ensure that children wash hands before taking food or drink. If
your home was built before 1960, the chances are high that older
paint coatings contain lead. Keep peeling chips away from infants.
of these preventive measures seem reasonable enough. Beyond getting
rid of leaded objects, should homemakers attempt to remove the old
paint as a do-it-yourself project? Perish the thought! Dust that
is kicked up through this paint stripping operation could poison not
only the person doing the project but other residents as well.
Through a free state or county test one can find out whether leaded
paint is present. Through a decontaminating specialist the lead
paint problem can be corrected with occupants vacating the property
during the operation. If you suspect that your drinking water is
contaminated by old lead plumbing, get help from the local utility
or county health office.
suggests a further lead preventive measure. A child who gets enough
iron (eggs, lean red meat and beans) and calcium (dairy products)
will absorb less lead. Good nutrition is protection. For further
information see <www.epa.gov/lead>.
Lord, help us make this world a better place by taking measures to
reduce environmental dangers that threaten us.
Jacobsís Ladder, Polemonium reptans
May 7, 2009 2009
National Day of Prayer
thank You, our God, for the gift of the Church, the gathered
community of believers, who are fashioned into Your visible body
called to worship You. Assist the community of believers in
establishing peace and justice throughout the world. We thank You
for the freedom of religion that allows us worshippers to assemble
without fear, to express ourselves in prayer and adoration without
harassment, and freely to give assistance to those most in need.
praise You for the guidance You have given us down through the
centuries, which has allowed us to show forth Your marvelous deeds
to all the nations.
beg Your pardon for our offenses both as individuals within the
Church and for church communities. We ask pardon in a public manner
failing to live up to our individual and collective vocations;
being silent about the many injustices in our world and about the
waging of unjust conflicts;
not speaking up about the need to radically share our plentiful
resources with the world's hungry and homeless;
for condoning the excessive militarism of our country and the entire
We beg You with thankful, praising and contrite hearts --
give all in the Church, especially leaders, the grace to spend some
time with You each day in private prayer;
mold Your church into a glorious unity so as to be a more fitting
instrument in a very troubled world;
help heal wounds that divide our communities of faith;
give us the grace to convert church properties into environmental
models for others to imitate;
keep us from being court chaplains to the powerful;
to help us to give special attention to the poor and the voiceless
of our country and world -- the unborn, the young, the elderly, the
endangered plants and animals.
beg You to purge us of any self-righteousness and conceit, to humble
us as a united people, and to make us ever more sensitive to the
needs of all who yearn for the basic essentials of life. We pray,
especially, for our Church leaders: give them the backbone to speak
out about internal difficulties and about social problems in our
vicinities, country and world. Make them fearless and courageous
people in these last of times.
Prayer: Teach us, Lord, as Church, to open our minds to Your
presence and to soften our hearts with Your love. Mold us as Your
people into a fitting instrument to do Your work, so that Your
Church will speak out to all the world about the Good News of Your
loving and saving power.
Cultivated pink dogwood, Cornus florida rubra
May 8, 2009
of us old enough to remember that first V-E Day (Victory in Europe)
in 1945 recall seeing this as a triumph for democracy over Nazism.
However, the fruits of struggle do not endure forever but need
replenishing. Today new crises threaten that democracy in more
subtle ways: exploitation of the poor, lack of freedom of
expression, terrorism in many forms, unequal distribution of wealth,
the global warming crises, and lack of food and health care on the
part of many. A refresher course in democracy is in order:
Every citizen has a right to life and liberty, not just a selected
few, and these rights extend to food, health care, proper education
and freedom of expression;
Democracy is when all adult citizens have the opportunity to vote
and are able to elect honest people to public office;
Democracy is making food and food-producing land available for those
who are hungry and need a local supply source;
Democracy is giving citizen-workers the right to organize, and
unemployed citizens the right to a livelihood with the obligation of
finding work as part of a proper government's function as employer
of last resort;
Democracy means that greed is a vice, not a virtue;
Democracy does not recognize the nobility of the privileged rich who
are answerable through taxes for furnishing the resources to be
reapportioned among those in need; democratic process protects the
rich from their own self-destruction;
Democracy does not recognize corporations as "persons" with certain
rights; rather, as intended in the founding of this American
democracy, corporations are creatures of the state and subject to
its laws and regulations;
Democracy demands that all have a right to earn a living and the
state must guarantee that right for its citizens;
Democracy permits no tax havens in postage stamp islands and
principalities where the super-rich get away with no taxes, but
rather it creates international mechanisms to discover who takes the
loot and sequesters it within these tax havens;
Democracy encourages the surrender of sovereignty for the sake of
the larger numbers of people throughout the world;
Democracy is eternal vigilance and ongoing questioning as to whether
modern practices restrict the rights of people.
Lord, give us courage to act the way we must.
Geode station near Shakertown, KY, crumbling
target of vandals. No historical marker at this spot, nor action
taken to preserve it by owners
May 9, 2009
Historic Preservation Week
Tomorrow starts Historic Preservation Week. We like to preserve our
past, which contains weaknesses mixed with successes. I grew up
near Washington, Kentucky, the third oldest incorporated town in our
Commonwealth. It is now part of historic Maysville which has its
own history. Washington takes pride in its history and its record
of historic preservation. The local community has renovated many of
the early log cabins and brick buildings, nearby grounds, and an
herb garden. Washington was the site of the state's first municipal
water system, the first Post Office serving the Northwest Territory
(1789), the first bank "West of the Alleghenies," the birthplace
(1810) of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston of Shiloh fame,
the Marshall Key House (1807) where Harriet Beecher Stowe observed
the sale of a slave and wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and "Federal
Hill" built by Thomas Marshall, brother of Chief Justice John
Marshall. My dad's carving of pioneer Simon Kenton is in the shrine
bearing Kenton's name.
However Washington has its imperfect history. The town was the home
of prominent citizens who went over the Ohio River in a posse to
recover slaves who escaped from Kentucky and rounded up others who
were residents and not escapees; these Washingtonians were armed
with weapons and federal laws that permitted their ventures.
Captured Afro-Americans were then taken back across the river to
Washington and jailed; these acts were featured in Ann Hagedorn's
book Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the
Underground Railroad. The entire book came as a shock to me for I
had always been proud of my home town and generally passed over its
relationship to the "peculiar institution" as slavery was called --
even though slavery ceased to exist a decade or so before my
forbearers' arrival. The jail has been long gone, but one local
resident said she possessed the lock and key, which will end up in
one or other of the town's museums. History contains wrinkles.
Gradually more and more former residents come back to see their
past. So do an increasing number of tourists from other parts of
Kentucky, neighboring Ohio, and points beyond. Visitors enjoy
taking a walking tour; they inspect the buildings and gardens, the
old waterwells, and the "Medfort's Fort" cabin (1787) built with
planks from the flatboat that brought some of the earliest pioneers
down the Ohio River. Visitors are also attracted to a given number
of special events such as a Chocolate Festival, Simon Kenton
Festival, Civil War Days, and Frontier Christmas. They are also
impressed by the local folks; their work in part inspired our book
Ecotourism in Appalachia. Washington had no Rockefeller sugar daddy
as did Williamsburg, Virginia, or any federal grants. The
preservation work was performed by local people at their expense and
volunteer time, a truly homesteading and pioneer venture. Even
though its history was imperfect, Old Washington stands out as a
model of local citizen achievement.
Help us Lord see the worth of the past whether things to be proud of
or experience that we now resolve not to repeat.
Grown from a great-grandmother's stock, the
plum granny melon, Cucumis melo
May 10, 2009 Joined
to the Vine
Whoever remain in me and
I in them will bear much fruit.
(John 15: 1-8)
Many people experience a
deep sense of isolation even amid all the glory of the
communications age (Internet, cell phones, i-pods, etc.). All the
while people have a passion to have continual connectedness; they
walk about, sit, and drive while continuing to chatter on the phone
as busy and important people. The modern phenomenon of isolation
and over-connectedness may have similar or identical roots in
depression, disgust, fear of silence, anger or over-protectiveness
of a loved one. Whatever the roots, it is important that we enhance
our connectedness to God -- and Jesus' discussion of the vine and
branches are worth pondering. Neither isolation nor compulsive
chattering are good things; we need a divine-inspired balance of
rest and action.
Vines connect roots with
branches and plants quickly wilt in the mid-spring sun if not
connected to the roots. So we need the graces or sap of God's
lifeline in order to carry on through life. Jesus gives us this
lifeline in the sacramental life. First we are not isolated, for
God is with us; we can spend time with the Lord in the silence of
prayer and do not have to be either left in a state of isolated
depression, nor have to be moved to constantly find companionship in
a worldly sense. The balance of rest/action in itself is beneficial
for our journey in life. At times, we need to be pruned and thus
the two prunings of the grape-growing year: the first in late
winter rids the vine of deadwood; the second in summer before
fruitfulness rids the vine of unneeded green vegetation so the fruit
may mature. Through being connected to the Lord we are also pruned
for better fruitfulness.
The analogy of plants to
the relationship between Christ and us includes: plants need
moisture and we need Christ's grace; plants need minerals and
nutrients; we need sacraments; plants must keep erect during storms;
we need protection from the temptations of the world; plants are in
communities of fruit bearers; we are bearers of fruit in a community
of believers; plants produce seed for future plants; we seek to
extend the community through the seed of the Good News; plants are
beautiful to behold; so are we as a community of faith, the
vineyard of the Lord. The long history of our Church is one of
connectedness. The marks of one, holy, catholic and apostolic mean
we are connected. We are only three or four persons away from our
Pope. I know someone who knows someone, who knows the Pope,
Christ's visible representative. At confirmation I'm touched by
someone touched by another and another back to the Apostles and to
Christ. We are connected in space (all over the world) and in time
(for 2,000 years).
Lord, help us to see the connectedness that we need to have with
mothers, with Mary the mother of us all, and with the Lord, the
fruit of her womb. Let our sharing of the vine be our connectedness
to the Divine Family from which we reach out to others.
The berry patch
May 11, 2009 Converting
from American to Global Measurements
We may come across those
quaint English expressions that designate measurement for they are
many. What about a brace of wildlife (hunted as game)?
Every February my family gets together to make homemade Alsatian
sausage and we use "hog casings" (intestines) and find they are sold
by the hank, which is an old English measurement for yarn.
Strange words and yet our language and culture have many strange
types of measurements, some retired after centuries and some still
in use by more traditional Americans -- hands for horse
traders, jewels for gem folks, sticks and rails
for tobacco harvesters, and pecks and bushels for
fruit- and grain- growers. We prefer to be monolingual, but should
that extend to our measuring system? We differ from most other
countries in that we have a dual system, one that we would like to
abandon (the English measuring systems), and the metric system, used
by most and the international scientific community.
Americans grew up using
pints, quarts, and gallons for liquid volume;
ounces, pounds, and tons for weight; and inches,
feet, yards, and miles for linear distance.
This is not the same as the liters, grams, and
meters of other lands -- but the units are convertible though
not in easily remembered whole numbers. In fact, there was some
common sense to the English system even though it was quite complex
and involved perhaps up to 150 different sub-systems. A pound is
about a pint of water and there are about two per quart and eight
per gallon. Even for certain nuts there was a special system of
measurement, and the origins are interesting.
The ounce would be one 1/12 of a
pound troy (5,760 grains) or 1/16 of a pound avoirdupois (7,000
grains). Confusing? But a "grain" is only 0.0648 grams. Troy
weight was used from medieval times as a measure of gold, silver and
precious stones. What becomes evident is that in medieval times
measurements were often based on the substance, not on some
standardized system for all substances.
One critic wondered why our
public interest center did not spend more time stressing the
conversion to the metric system. That criticism had some merit, but
was not our reason for existence. Personally, I like the American
system because I had a sense of the pound, the length of the miles
and the area (from a small field on our farm) of an acre (the
metric folks use hectare). Temperatures are now being given in both
Fahrenheit (American) and Centigrade (global) and we
are adjusting painfully. Through scientific measurements we soon
learn to estimate a gram or a meter. Americans are slowly changing
to the entire metric system though our volumes are measured in
liters today. However, we still use an "eight penny" nail.
Distances are still in miles on the Interstate even though an
occasional sign helps us to convert to kilometers. Should
we convert? Of course, with time and energy. We will have to
change our thinking to kilometers instead of miles and kilograms
instead of pounds of coffee. Americans need time.
Lord, teach us that conversion is always needed so we can
communicate with and serve others better.
Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides
May 12, 2009
Simplify Lawn Care
The grass is growing with
these spring showers and warming sun, and that brings out the
familiar droning sound of lawn mowers. The old fashioned hand or
human-powered mower is almost a museum piece. As a youngster I
pushed an antique lawn mover over a half acre of grassy space -- a
real job. Today, most people prefer to follow or sit upon a
gasoline-powered mower and move about their lawn with grace and a
desire to soak up sunshine rays and suck in fresh air. In a
reflection written last year (May 27, 2008), I listed eight reasons
for reducing the size of lawns among which are the bother of the
loud, polluting gasoline-powered lawn mower.
mowers may include benefits: one can mow and do so more easily than
with the hand-pushed varieties; the smell of new-mown lawns is a
pleasant experience for a period after the weekly or biweekly
ritual; youngsters find mowing a way of making money from senior,
busy, or disabled neighbors. But the last two are also available to
the push mower people along with some physical exercise of which
most of us could use more. In a more modified manner the power
mowers are improving. New USEPA regulations, which have taken
effect in the past decade, have increased overall efficiency and
reduced hydrocarbon emissions by one-third nationwide through mower
replacements. California with its strict garden tool regulations
has an even better record with at least a fifty percent improvement.
Amid everything the
power-mower disadvantages are obvious: neighborhood noise is a
problem even with community regulations limiting lawn care by power
devices to specific days and times; one hundred million mowers take
precious petroleum fuel, which becomes ever more scarce; power
mowers (along with leaf blowers and weed eaters), even the more
efficient varieties, still pollute the air and contribute about
one-twentieth of the pollution of an average urban area.
Furthermore, power mowers are costly, require added time for
maintenance (tune ups), take up storage space, and involve spilled
gasoline from refueling operations.
An electric alternative to
gasoline-powered mowers comes in cordless and rechargeable
varieties, requires low maintenance and emits no fuel fumes.
However even efficient electric mowers often (though not
necessarily) take non-renewable fuel to generate and transport
electricity -- and so air pollution occurs though at a distance from
the lawn. In this simplified age the preference is the reduced or
eliminated lawn. Certainly the better engineered human-powered lawn
mower, which is easier to maneuver and stays sharper is one
alternative. Still if the lawn were wildscape or converted
vegetable garden, you could put away lawn mowers, powered or
otherwise, and convert the monotonous manicured lawn to an
alternative landscape, even an ornamental low-growing native ground
cover that avoids constant clipping.
Lord, direct our hearts and minds to simpler things even when it
comes to our individual lawns and landscapes.
Eastern tent caterpillar, Malacosoma
May 13, 2009 Contrasting
During this time of
financial turmoil and distress we find contrasting views, and ask
ourselves which ones we hold. Here is a series of those contrasts
worth pondering today:
* Greed is a virtue;
versus Sharing is a virtue.
* Profits should be
unregulated and undisclosed; versus
Profits are to
be regulated, disclosed and taxed.
* Free market and
free trade are articles of faith; versus
The market is not
free and all trade must be fair.
* Charity is a
concern and decision of the privileged; versus
Charity comes in
different styles and some can be a
of power control.
* Consumers will
be materially profit-motivated; versus
All should aspire to be spiritually-motivated
* Millionaires have
a right to become billionaires; versus
should be taxed down to thousandaires.
* Governments are
generally bad and should be limited and all
properties privatized; versus
Good government on
all levels can act fairly.
* The world's poor
are a problem and are to be kept docile, hidden and
well beyond the pale of concern; versus
The poor have the
key to rising and saving our Earth.
problems are solved solely by secular and
technical procedures; versus
Our troubles stem
from a lack of faith in the future.
* Democracy means
complete and unaltered free choice by the
Democracy is harmed
by excessive wealth.
* The privileged
know best no matter what kind of a mess the world is
The Privileged are those who are able to serve others.
* Overseas tax havens
serve a good purpose; versus
Overseas tax havens
ought to be abolished.
* Taxes are unfairly
levied on all and should be reduced; versus
get away with taxes that are far to low.
* The times are bad;
versus These are opportune times.
Lord, guide us to choose wisely and well.
May 14, 2009 Shock or
Disaster Capitalism and Environmentalism
Shock can focus attention
quite quickly, whether for an individual, an economy or an
ecological habitat. We experience electric shocks at unsuspecting
moments. The 1997-98 Asian recession, the fall of the USSR, the
Tiananmen Square massacre, 9-11 and other political and economic
upheavals were triggers for massive capitalistic privatization
programs (following the philosophy of unbridled capitalism as
espoused by Milton Friedman) with resulting billionaires and massive
profits. See Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of
Disaster Capitalism (Metropolitan Books, 2007). Natural
disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the massive tsunami
in December, 2004 also gave rise to changes that led to large scale
privatization schemes on the ruined properties of small landholding
This brings us to slower
but lightning shocks with respect to geologic time -- the
deforestation of rainforests, melting glaciers, extinction of
species, and loss of wildlife habitat. How do we keep these
ecological shocks from feeding into the agenda of the large scale
capitalistic tycoons whether, Russian, Chinese, American or Indian?
I have preferred to focus on positive rebuilding of a wounded Earth
rather than on shocking narratives of a planet going to its ruin,
but can they be ignored? Certainly a steady diet of negativism can
lead to paralysis, utter distress or denial of the issue. Positive
approaches can also be ignored and so the best way is to balance and
give equal weight to the two approaches: try to shock and encourage
people at times.
Positive financial and
ecological solutions are at time sparse and difficult to elaborate
because it will take a concerted effort to actualize them.
Financially positive responses to a prevailing large-scale
capitalism are not yet fully developed and suffer from knee-jerk
derision by a for-profit media. Defending environmental
alternatives also have their difficult moments; critics are quick to
point to inconveniences and overlook the many advantages of a
simpler and higher quality life. However, positive alternatives
(our books, Reclaiming the Commons and 99 Ways to a Simple
Lifestyle) strive to give hope while accepting the need for hard
work and the dedication required for healing our wounded Earth.
Interestingly enough, any
apocalyptic tale (financial and ecological) can be positive if
delivered in the right spirit. A faith in the future is needed for
the survival of our society and world. The Book of Revelations
(or The Apocalypse) actually combines negative calamity and
disaster (persecution) with future glory that comes through fidelity
to God and community with neighbor. This book gives us here in the
twenty-first century the spiritual resilience to survive shocking
circumstances and to come out the better for it. Godless capitalism
can be overcome; our Earth can be healed and made into a better
Lord, help us pass through the shocking situations that beset us and
look forward in confidence to long-term victory.
A young Eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus
2009 Wisdom Is in Short Supply
A multitude of dumb
things have happened to put us in this financial crisis and enough
blame exists for all. Few anticipated the depths of the fall, and
few know exactly how to get out of the mess. Where is wisdom when
the world's top bankers will deal in billions of dollars and yet
admit they are bedeviled by what is happening within their own
companies through stock options and hedge funds? No one knows how
the debts got so big nor how much they have affected so many
people. All one seems to know is the size of a personal bonus.
Truly wisdom is in short supply!
Wise people crop up in
unexpected places; they may lack prestigious degrees or not be
world renowned experts in one corner of knowledge; they may be
overlooked though they have life experiences that make them truly
wise. As we notice folks younger than ourselves in obituaries, we
recognize shortness of life, the beginning of wisdom. Reflecting on
Psalm 900 reminds us:
* Older age is an
advantage because we will not need to endure what we do not like too
much longer. The time ahead is shorter than the mortal time behind,
and yet the eternal time ahead looms before us and inspires us to do
the best with what remains.
* Older age brings less
fear with time. Certainly there are normal fears about living and
dying, but we do not have to fear achieving unrealistic dreams, or
failing to impress others. We come to appreciate the good Lord's
mercy and that is welcoming.
* Older age accepts
limitations on who we are. We are better able to understand that
some things will not be completed in this short life. On the other
hand, we have an eternity in which to fulfill that understanding.
Nor can we do everything, and so we accept that we can do only so
much -- but with a generous heart.
* Experience teaches us to
pace ourselves, to fill our time well, and yet to regard periods of
rest as meaningful in the ever shortening earthly sojourn. We know
that resting is part of the rhythm of everyday living. Resting
makes us aware that God is the Author of life and Giver of time,
both of which are gifts to us.
* "Always be prepared."
We heard that when we were scouts and it still applies years later.
The wise of heart can find opportunities, which seem to arise so
unexpectedly, and these prove to be moments of joy when we are ever
more aware of fleeting time.
Hope burns in our hearts
through the Spirit's inspiration. We take time to recognize and
confront our distracting addictive behaviors, to acknowledge past
mistakes, but to feel the warmth of forgiveness. Life is constantly
restored and thus our wisdom grows, increases and shines forth to
brighten the lives of others.
Prayer: Teach us to
count how few days we have and so gain wisdom of heart. (Psalm
Washington Co. sighting catured by "game cam"
motion-sensing wildlife camera,
Northern river otter (Lontra canadensis), making a comeback
May 16, 2009
Endangered Species Day
We should deeply feel the
loss of any plant or animal species for the richness of our planet
has been diminished by the loss. When that loss is due to human
greed and thoughtlessness, grief should turn to remorse. But we
should resolve to do something positive all the while, lest other
species follow in rapid succession as some experts actually predict
* Know and recognize the
various flora and fauna in your own backyard. Come to love the
threatened bird species that lighten our day. The whippoorwill has
its grand melody in early morning and at dusk; the woodpeckers have
distinct sounds, shapes and colors; the owls are haunting and give
flavor to the place; colorful cerulean warblers come but far less
frequently. In May the migratory birds come north and their great
variety is experienced during this period. Invest in a good
* Support the strengthening
of the Endangered Species Act so that more habitat will be
* Encourage others like
shut-ins to observe birds, especially when they have an unhindered
view of a birdfeeder; get them to tally the order of frequency of
each of the feeding birds.
* Read and teach others
about how some specific extinctions have occurred such as that of
the passenger pigeon in the Cincinnati zoo in 1915. Even the
estimates of species extinction rates vary wildly. Some species are
pronounced gone forever and suddenly an individual crops up in the
recesses of a forested area. However, expert opinions do converge
on the fact that we are in a period of steep decline of both plant
and animal species. How do we control the insatiable appetite for
forest products in areas of greatest plant diversity -- the tropical
forest? How do we keep human intruders and pollution (carbon
dioxide increases cause greater ocean acidity and reef destruction)
away from the planet's spectacular coral reefs, which are virtually
all in danger? How do we preserve bird habitats and migratory
* Insist that the movement
to curb the use of animal parts, e.g., eagle feathers, elephant
ivory, tiger parts, and furs from many threatened small mammals is
in need of support whether related to elephants of Africa or ocean
whales. Support the efforts to halt the killing of whales by Japan
for supposed scientific research -- a coverup for commercial
* Advocate for endangered
species through letter writing, talks, and articles. Consider
joining the Endangered Species Coalition <www.stopextinction.org>.
God, in the marvels of Your creative genius, You anticipated the
evolving of all the wonders that inhabit our Earth. Help us to be
good protectors of these treasures of creation.
Finding a place in the world
May 17, 2009 Holy Land: One-State Solution?
The following is an
emerging conviction that came from reading Jimmy Carter's recent
book We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan that will Work
(Simon and Schuster, 2009). Carter does not advocate a one-state
solution but only alludes to it; he quotes a September, 2008, New
York Times analysis that confirmed a strong change in preference
among moderate Palestinians toward a single state as the only way to
resolve the prolonged deadlock in peace negotiations.
The Holy Land, God's chosen
place, is to be a place of peace for all the people. This ancient
home of three great religious traditions, composing over half the
human race, ought not to be divided into separate states one of
which is fragmented and broken into non-contiguous parcels. This
small land is ONE and we should not have misguided leaders shuffling
back and forth among some pampered and some suffering folk demanding
sovereignty. The concept of oneness is not just from a cultural
tradition; it is also ecological. I discovered the Holy Land
ecology when a guest in 1992 of the state of Israel and the Society
for the Protection of Nature in Israel; the Holy Land economy
demands that all inhabitants show respect, for its incredible flora
and fauna suffers so much from militaristic posturing; this applies
to the dwarf cherry trees on Mount Herman, to the animals of the
Negev, to the seashores at Ashdod. The Holy Land craves peace with
Rabbi Michael Lerner
reacted to my one-state thesis by emailing and reminding me that
Yugoslavia did not succeed in a united condition. My response is
that a better analogy may not be multi-cultural Yugoslavia with
Serbia under its dominance; rather consider divided Bosnia, which
ought to be a single state today instead of two including the
unsustainably strung out small Bosnian Serb-led Republika Srpska
(RS) scattered around the north and west side of Bosnia and
Herzegovina. Neither the RS nor Palestine have much hope of full
statehood and it is not the inhabitants' faults.
My hope has been stated
elsewhere in these essays: that all three billion people of the
Book could at least once in their lifetimes have an opportunity to
make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. That means about one million
people per week -- an influx that would demand restaurants, lodging
and stores that would bring prosperity to all the people of the Holy
Land. What a blessing and it would not demand a competition for the
scraps of land or living space where someone else is living right
now. In reality some might say this dream is unreal because of
current conditions. Right, but the so-called two-state solution is
also unreal with increased boundary disputes, check points,
terrorism and other distractions that hinders pilgrims' progress --
and pilgrimage is a benefit to all concerned!
Lord, help us work for the day when our Holy Land will be
culturally, religiously, ecologically and socially sound and then we
will all come to visit without fear.
Dobsonfly (Megaloptera:Corydalidae), biological
indicator of water quality
May 18, 2009
Sustainability and Environment
One of those choice words
among environmentalists is "sustainability," or the ability of a
system to continue in existence through its own mechanisms. A
non-sustainable system would be one that needs to draw on more
resources than it can furnish; it becomes indebted to other systems
for its functioning. Fair enough, for someone who pays for all
purchases with a credit card may do so for a little while, and then
the house of cards collapses. Such things must change; water
aquifers must be allowed to be replenished and forests permitted to
To sustain means to keep
something going. Here the term can be so often misused because what
is kept going may not be a perfect practice as far as the
environment is concerned. A corporation may be making hefty profits
by not paying fully for the resources extracted or not contributing
to the clean-up costs for pollution rendered. Part of its defined
self-sustaining practice is profiting at the expense of the
environment, an expense that is not compensated for by the industry
that is withdrawing resources or polluting the air or water. But
the so-called "sustainability" defined by the specific polluting
industry does not refer to long-term sustainability, only to a
short-term economic advantage lasting as long as the conditions
exist to continue polluting practices through a lax regulatory
Our modern economy
has been based on a certain quality of life that is ultimately
detrimental to the planet as a whole due to the extraordinary demand
for resources. It can achieve its limited goals through a focus on
"consumption" of goods and the industry and commerce required to
keep this going. But is this really sustainable over the
long-term? An SUV has rotated on the dais of the auto showroom;
people come to see and to investigate it, to observe its class and
appearance, and to seek security in its interior; however, in
driving this gas guzzler the purchaser is consuming a limited and
vanishing petroleum reserve meant for the generations. Many of
these American buyers live for the moment, for tomorrow they will be
Some paint a religious
veneer over our fast-fading resources as did a former Secretary of
Interior who preached that these resources ought to be consumed for
the world's end was near -- and there would be no future need of
them. Living beyond our means is never sustainable; using up
before another greedy individual or corporate person gets to it is
the utter road to unsustainability. Our current financial situation
is an opportunity to rethink our goals, to ask whether what we have
been doing is sustainable, and if not how are we to improve. Are we
able to convert from a culture of consumption to one of service for
others? Can we regulate those who squandered resources or who
mortgaged beyond their means? Do we still have the time to act
Lord, sustain us with Your mercy so we can act accordingly.
Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) in bloom,
against backdrop of stormy sky
May 19, 2009 Equal
Green Energy Practices for All?
Just how green are we is
something each individual citizens is starting to ask? Most are
able to define "green energy" as energy produced from renewable
energy sources (wind, sun, biomass, geothermal and several others --
but not nuclear energy). In a growing number of states, legislation
mandates a mix of these alternative sources to be a specific
percentage of the total energy or "generating portfolio." So far so
good, except that it is far easer to fulfill the requirements in
some state blessed with abundant wind and solar and geothermal (say,
Nevada or North Dakota) than it is in others such as Kentucky or
One solution is to look
deeper in the green energy bag and discover waste wood sources or
biomass from certain cellulosic weeds or agricultural wastes. What
about methane gas "naturally" produced from landfills, which are not
really natural? The argument that the methane gas would leak into
the atmosphere and increase global warming or that it would be
wasted through flaring is cogent; this limited quantity of gas must
undergo costly processing in order to be of sufficient quality to
pipe to homes. Maybe more river dams could be tapped for hydropower
-- a renewable energy source. However, there are environmental
limitations associated with blocking more waterways, which are
natural habitats of marine life and result in flooded lands. How
about generous incentives for domestic-generated solar energy and
feeding excess back into the utility grid through net metering?
We should not forget energy
conservation. This is another way to regard greenness -- not just
in terms of energy source but also energy saved. If we are in a
state with heavy use of coal like Kentucky let us feel far more
comfortably green if we cut more deeply into domestic energy use
(install compact fluorescents, replace inefficient appliances, turn
off unused devices and cool naturally with more trees, etc.). Yes,
conservation is greener than renewables! Let us be proud of
incentives to acquire a stronger conservation ethic. A host of
educational and incentive programs will be of greater moment than
hunting frantically for an equivalent to what a breezy state with
their "high seven" wind ratings can do with wind turbines.
Instead of single states
competing with others as green energy sources, a sounder national
policy would be to develop still more efficient transmission
technologies on a grander scale than is provided for in the current
stimulus package. Another approach is more efficient use of coal
and other non-renewable energy sources and thus wasting less when
using this interim non-renewable fuel. A third approach should be
the use of heat pumps in domestic heating and cooling.
Prayer: Lord, teach
us to see enlightened energy use practices as not a sophomoric
competition but a good faith effort on the part of all Americans
according to resources at hand.
Ladies' tresses, Spiranthes diluvialis
May 20, 2009 Rainforests:
The Planet's Lungs
A forested green belt
stretches around the world from South and Central America across the
Atlantic to Africa and on to Asia and Indonesia and New Guinea.
This is a forest that has been millions of years in the making, acts
as a pair of lungs for our planet, is nurtured by large amounts of
rain and warm weather, and is home for a sizeable portion of the
world's planets and animals. Often environmentally-minded people
stress the many pharmaceutical drugs and other useful products such
as rubber, chicle, bananas, and coffee that originated or continue
to be produced in the rainforests. However, these forests also have
natural climatic effects for they help absorb water like a sponge,
cool the landscape, and enhance precipitation. On the other hand,
overharvesting and the burning of these forests have occurred in the
past few decades increasing global warming. Furthermore, the
resulting deforestation leads to changing rainfall patterns that can
affect the forests and surrounding environments.
The threats to these very
valuable forested regions of many and varied species of plants and
animals are from several sources. Some of the damage is due to
heavier harvesting of fuel wood by native populations that are
expanding in many of these lands. But before we absolve ourselves
as distant observers, let's remember that two very serious threats
are due to influences by our American consumer culture. First, wood
from the rainforests is highly prized for its use in furnishings and
building materials in the West, and this drives timbering outfits to
devastate the rainforests at a shocking rate. Much of this damage
could be repaired, but not without a long healing period. The
second threat is also consumer driven, and that is the cheaper beef
from the cattle raised on lands that were formerly rainforests.
Increased beef exports from Central American countries and elsewhere
go to make the relatively cheap burgers we consume in fast food
outlets. Often these lands have inhabitants who are protein
Three decades ago Norman
Myers wrote The Primary Source: Tropical Forests and Our Future
with a forward by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The book was an
urgent plea for people to see the immense and often unknown value of
tropical forests, and to help begin a crusade to save them from
utter destruction. Myers estimated that this ultimate destruction
could occur within one hundred years at present rates of impact.
Only recently and partly because of the current economic turndown
has the destructive pace slackened. Learn about the value of the
rain forests and encourage others to do the same. Avail ourselves
of chances to support groups who work in rain forest projects and
who have non-exploitative forest products for sale such as
shade-grown coffee; they direct some of the sales to socially just
and environmentally sound native programs (e.g., The Rainforest
Alliance, Guayaki, or the CRS Fair Trade Project
God, Creator of all things, help us extend the deepest respect for
the gift of the fragile rainforests.
Tulip poplar flower and leaf, Liriodendron
May 21, 2009
Resource Consciousness in 2009
Every act of love is a
work of peace, no matter how small.
In financially hard times
we need to look about at what we can do with love. Loving acts for
others (a smile, a visit to the forgotten, or a donation to the
poor) are all understood as being part of what is needed to love;
what is somewhat more remote is conserving resources for future
generations. This also is an act of love and a peaceworking
practice provided we do not let it consume all of our attention and
Space savings --
Excessively large amounts of space are a major resource expenditure
in materials, heating and cooling and ultimately maintenance. How
do we convince others that reducing the space we occupy is as
important as using energy-saving techniques no matter what the size
of the building? Are we willing and able to help older couples
whose children have flown the coop to down size -- and what stops us
from doing so ourselves?
Oil savings -- We
can speak of driving less, more carefully and engaging in carpooling
and other sharing techniques. Do these work well in a time of
multiple activities and distance demands? Do they apply to everyone
or are some exempted?
Reusable items --
Often the time and effort to take partly worn items and reuse them
is not worthwhile. Are there criteria on what to take and what to
avoid? Some people like to acquire junk and other unnecessary
items. Is frequenting yard sales detrimental to a true resource
Paper savings -- We
may reuse blank sides of paper and share newspapers, books, and
periodicals. But should we stop buying newspapers, especially
Sunday editions, because of paper waste? This issue is difficult
and worthy of discussion.
Air savings -- We
hear how we can help keep the air clean by having fewer open fires
or burning less plastic material. How do we get the concept of
commons to people steeped in personal goods?
-- One of our local people whom we buried earlier this year said
that during the Great Depression her mother would collect all the
uneaten food after the meal and have her kids take it to the
neighbor because that large family did not have sufficient food for
the day. Never did her family waste food! Is such a time
revisiting us, without using the big "D" word again?
Water savings --
Over time we have listed numerous resource saving techniques that
are quite effective, e.g., during drought. Should people who
apparently have plenty of water still conserve water as part of
their own personal ethic?
Lord, teach us to look about and question our everyday practices so
that we may use things better.
May 22, 2009 A
Global Maritime Corps
On Maritime Day we could well afford to consider what is needed
today: a global policing organization that would address problems on
the high seas that are not being met, namely piracy, drug traffic,
ocean vehicle safety, whaling, and toxic substance disposal on the
oceans. Piracy has resurfaced as a current problem especially off
the coasts of Somalia, an African failed state. A large oil tanker
was hijacked and the crew and ship held for sizeable ransom. Note
that foreign factory ships have taken three times the fish off of
the Somali coast in one year as to what fishermen turned pirates
have obtained in ransoms. The thousands of ships that use the
waters off of the Africa Horn make it virtually impossible for the
participating navies to offer protection for each ship making the
journey. A UN mandated Corps composed of trained regional navies
(Kenya, Tanzania, etc.) devoted to specific problem areas could
The time has come to
consider the maritime commons of our Earth covering eighty percent
of the surface area as a joint responsibility of the entire global
community, not just of the nations adjoining shipping routes. One
can hardly expect Kenya to bear the total responsibility for the
seas beyond their shores. The same applies to the critical
international waterways such as the Strait of Malacca, Strait of
Hormuz (between Iran and Oman), Gibraltar, the Suez Canal, and the
Panama Canal. We are reaching a time of emerging collective
responsibility in certain key areas such as polar regions, outer
space and fragile global cultural sites. However, one of the
greatest of these responsibilities for the commons is our oceans,
which needs its own police corps.
Improper toxic substance
disposal occurs in our oceans for people want to send wastes away:
"Out of sight, out of mind," "Not in my backyard," and the oceans
are ideal candidate disposal areas. All too often the resting place
is a poorer country, the national leaders of which may turn a blind
eye or extend a hand for rewards for toxic dumping -- as happened in
West Africa (near residential zones). Medical and nuclear waste
materials are worrisome, and so the oceans are truly vast and beyond
the watchful eye of costly home disposal regulations.
Could a "Global Maritime
Corps" be a naval counterpart to the UN Peacekeepers with costs met
in part by global shipping registration fees? Currently, not all
ships registered in individual countries (Panama and Liberia have
large registration programs) are forced to meet the safeguards that
safety and worker-conscious EU countries impose on ships carrying
cargo on the high seas. A world shipping registry may meet
opposition from some shipping companies, but maritime workers need
standardized protection. Ships should adhere to international
standards for the environment, whaling and commercial fishing
Lord help us to learn and bear responsibility for protecting our
oceans for the benefit of all parties.
Apple in bloom
May 23, 2009
Justice and Charity
When I feed the poor
they call me a saint; when I ask why they are poor they call me a
communist. Dom Helder Camara
Why are there poor folks
when there are billionaires? I have never in my life understood
this -- once the questions about millionaires. Why unjust systems?
No doubt when people are hungry we do not stand around asking
questions. When they knock at my door and ask for food (quite a
number this year), I do not ask why they are hungry unless I expect
them to give the obvious "because I have no food." Can we give food
as an act of mercy and still all the while work on changing the
unjust systems that cause the hunger? Furthermore, can we not be
doing saintly things by either handing out food or challenging
legislators to act for the poor, by exposing unjust institutions
that thrive on the unjust conditions of poorer lands and people, and
by marshalling people to demonstrate or confront vested interests?
Which is right?
How do we confront
persistent injustices? We may donate food and receive the thanks of
the hungry and the smiles of the neighbors. However, we could do
more and ask searching questions about the system that brought about
the hunger. I find that it is easier to get funds to hand out food
parcels than to get funding to continue the work on "Reclaiming the
Commons." Is it because charity is so immediately rewarding and
allows us to remain comfortable? Is there not a hidden power in
charity that forgets that the surplus was not "ours" but must be
shared with others?
A belly needs to be filled
today and yet we know the same hungry person will be back tomorrow;
immediate solutions to hunger in a world of plenty are temporary.
If food becomes more available at lower prices will this make a
difference? The rising global food prices along with lack of
employment are throwing 65 million people into the poverty columns
this year alone. One billion people go to bed hungry tonight.
Direct charity is short term; a more just system that encourages
small-time farmers with land and assistance and gives work to all
the people is a longer-term solution to hunger. Social analysis and
implementation take time.
Scripture tells us we are
to give to those in need. When living in an unjust situation that
we cannot change, giving in charity is the only way we can show
compassion. But we are a democratic society! Our failure to act in
the face of injustice is a mark against us. We could pressure our
own government though the act of bringing justice is the harder
thing to do. Jesus fed the hungry and cured the sick; Jesus also
drove money changers from the temple, confronted the power
establishment, called the king a fox, prepared his disciples to
operate for the betterment of all under threats, and accepted
suffering and death for a systemic change that continues to this
day. What do we do?
Charity in these trying times is hard enough but
questioning and confronting the
unjust system is doubly so.
Overlook near Copper Harbor, MI
May 24, 2009
Ascension: Why look to the Sky?
Why are you standing
there looking at the Sky? (Acts 1)
The feast of the Ascension
has been transferred from the traditional Thursday forty days after
Easter to the following Sunday. Our celebration occurs in the full
glory of springtime, when weather cooperates and we feel the surging
energy of new life. Questions come to mind and we continue to
wonder as occurred when I was a youth, "Why did he leave us?"
"Couldn't he walk our Earth now as a 2000-year-old?" On second
thought, the presence of someone so quaint would invoke fear not
faith. God sees things differently and invites us to see things in
a divine way. Christ comes among us; he teaches, and he suffers,
dies, and rises for us; he blesses us and ascends beyond our
sight. He reminds us that if he does not ascend the Spirit will not
come at Pentecost. We are startled by the mystery of his departure,
and doubly puzzled by what it means to be like Jesus; we are called
to be more than observers; we become other christs.
The Lord goes ahead of us
in time; we are invited to follow. This involves entering into the
Divine family, participating in bringing the Good News to others
through the inspiration of the Spirit and preparing for his Second
Coming at the end of time. In my more energetic environmental
assessment days I met a California adobe-maker at the Franciscan
mission at San Luis Rey at Oceanside; with tears in his eyes he said
I was the first visitor who showed a deep interest in the details of
his craft. I indicated that his narrative should be videotaped, but
I neglected to follow through. In some way his acquired skill was
lost with his death without his expertise having been documented.
He was an overlooked "earth healer" who deserved to have his
expertise recorded and used in preparation for the Day of the Lord.
The Ascension mystery involves our work of preparation, for we are
not to be idle while Jesus is away. We help prepare "A New Heaven
and a New Earth."
God does not abandon us for we are now enlivened and guided by the Holy
Spirit. We find God present when we pray, in the creative act of
the world around us, and in Christ's Sacramental Presence. But we
are torn as a believing community. Jesus has ascended and the
departure is bittersweet; we hate to see him go, and yet he must so
that the Spirit may come and be here. Now we enter the picture as
"other Christs," we are empowered by the
spirit to move towards the glory
of Jesus, to help glorify the world. We are a people who experience
Pentecost, are energized, take the Good News to others and invite
them to join in finishing the tasks yet to be done. Even on the
Mount of the Ascension the Apostles asked again whether the Messiah
would still come -- as a political leader. Looking up to heaven is
not enough; we must be on with the tasks ahead. "Go out to the
Whole World" and spread the Good News. Ascension is the launching
pad of humble service.
Lord, give us confidence in knowing that You are with us always, and
help us bring Your presence to others.
Little Wood Satyr Butterfly, Megisto cymela
May 25, 2009
Memorial Day and Senior Moments
I believe I am the author
of these senior moments but I am not fully sure of that either.
Senior times and moments
have arrived when --
* I think they've already
been here for a long time;
* All the work and hand
tools we used on the farm are now displayed in museums;
* Well over half of the
people on the obituary list are younger than I, as are most of the
* The "war" means either
the Civil War or the Second World War;
* Strenuous exercise
consists of taking a walk up a slight incline;
* I forget which of the
three medicines I still have to take;
* Youngsters include those
from 7 to 75;
* The journey from
is far longer than the journey to;
* Distant memories appear
clearer than yesterday's;
* I start realizing how
important it is to speak well of those who have passed on to the
Lord, for my time will be coming soon enough;
* Time no longer seems to
stand still but quickens its pace with each year, for Christmases
and birthdays are always here;
* Prayers become simpler
and more direct;
* Kind words and deeds are
appreciated though we can't remember who gives them;
* Though formerly I checked
to see whether the pants were presentable and the shoe laces tied;
now I check to see if I have pants and shoes on;
* It is worth repeating
Melville's words in Moby Dick,
"I am a man running out of
* Past worries seem quite
insignificant with time;
* We are surprised to be
able to start a new day alive and in relatively good health; and in
* We thank God for being
able to remember Memorial Day.
Fresh dewberry blossom
May 26, 2009 Coping
with Higher Gasoline Prices
This time last year
Americans saw $4.00 a gallon gasoline. While the prices dropped in
a half a year to $1.50, they are moving up again. Will fuel return
to European prices of a dollar or so a liter? The $50-a-barrel fuel
(less than $10 a few years ago) actually reached almost three times
that amount at one period in 2008 and could return through an
unforeseen blockage or conflict. The demands by emerging consuming
nations such as China and India, as well as our own U.S. appetite,
are making it more difficult for the world's oil pumps to meet
demand. One thing is almost certain: expanding demand will soon
outstrip limited supply.
Anticipated scarcity is
helping to raise prices. oil-poor so-called "developing" nations
are starting to bear the brunt of this twenty-first century
condition. These lands simply can no longer afford the gasoline
which in places has cost less than bottled water. We Americans
engage in unsustainable use of cheap fuel partly through subsidies
to the oil companies and hidden benefits for all non-renewable fuel
sources. Thus unsustainable SUV driving, ATV joy-riding, speedboat
racing, and power lawn mowing will continue while we are wealthier
than those poorer global neighbors. Don't forget, Ireland, in the
midst of the 1840s potato famine, exported grain to England.
Scarcity hurts the poor.
Paul Roberts' "The End
of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World" is a book that was
meant to bring us back to reality. How long will it take to wean us
from our oil addiction (a term President Bush used, and we discussed
on September 22, 2008)? Will we continue to divert our resources to
securing the Middle East and other oil-producing lands for national
security reasons -- even when the current administration seeks
disengagement from Iraq? Even moving to a proven wind and solar
economy will take some petroleum resources under existing conditions
(to produce components for wind turbines, etc).
Americans have a way of
waking up during crises, and higher priced fuel is a wake up call.
We are triggered to ask haunting questions pertaining to petroleum
use: Why such a large and unnecessarily powerful vehicle? Why not
drive less, combine trips and consider carpooling? Why not take
public transportation for longer trips? Why not live closer to
work? How about an electric or hybrid vehicle? Why not spend more
on car checks and upkeep? Why get kicks from motorized recreational
activity? Why do you take your home with you on a summer vacation?
Why not walking and biking to the store? Except in rare cases, we
will not embrace the simple life -- not if there is a way to avoid
the consequences. Our selfishness could do us in, and that could
take a variety of forms. An effective energy tax that would reduce
American demand has less chance than a snowball in hell -- at this
Lord teach us to know our addictions and turn from them both as
individual consumers and as a responsible people who can anticipate
and compensate for shortages.
Carolina wren young, nest made in bundle of
newspaper insulation materials
May 27, 2009
Rachel Carson's Birthday
The 'control of nature'
is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of
biology and the convenience of man.
Today is the birthday of
Rachel Louise Carson (1907-1964), that very special American
naturalist and science writer; she observed the deteriorating
environment around her and penned her observations in the books,
Silent Spring, in the 1960s. This book and her other writings
were a prophetic call for the public to start giving attention to
our fragile land, air and water. Her message was shocking and we
can only endure so many shocks. Her mention of the silence of
spring refers to the demise of birds brought about by the overuse of
pesticides which impact these and other wildlife in very significant
ways. The shells of raptor eggs were so weakened by DDT that they
would break, and this phenomenon drastically reduced the numbers of
offspring. With each reduction of bird life the joy of spring felt
for millennia through twitter and song is reduced. Sometimes
silence is golden, but not when the native birds are expected to be
singing in springtime.
Rachel Carson recalls us to
the nature that is alive and joyful; she shows us how human
activity in thoughtless ways can harm that world which has taken so
long to evolve into its present form. The Carson compassion extends
to the delicate Earth which can be damaged in such a very short
period of time. Her eloquent writing aroused a generation of
serious readers, who had not given thought to what had been
considered part of the brave new technological world of the post
Second World War era.
Perhaps the fullness in
Rachel Carson's life could be found in a book published after her
death called The Sense of Wonder" (Harper & Row, 1970), where
she leads a little child out to the great outdoors; there the child
discovers butterflies and seashores and wooded lanes with Rachel as
guide. What is so telling in this book of photographs is that our
own love of Earth needs to be transmitted to be fruitful. So much
can be done through the written word of which Silent Spring
is one of the major success stories. But equally, much has to be
done in the wonder we transmit to other individual persons so that
what we experience deep within ourselves can have expression and
This book of photographs is a
record of carrying on a tradition of love and thus of healing Earth
and in a most modest but telling manner. Not all of us are writers
of the caliber of Rachel Carson, but many can take a person out to
see the world around us and to appreciate the treasure found there.
This is a necessity, if earthhealing is to flourish on our troubled
The more clearly we can
focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe
about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.
Lord, teach us to honor those who respect nature.
Peony hybrid, in bloom
May 28, 2009 Prophetic
Response to Poverty
Some regard hearing voices
as mentally imbalanced. It may be true but not in every case.
Hearing the often faint discordant sounds of the planet may be
spiritually healthy, especially when the unsustainable practices of
our own people trigger anguish from disturbed creatures -- and we
listen and the cries penetrate our souls. These painful sounds of
Earth include both suffering human beings and the endangered and
threatened species of this planet. People who close off these
urgent pleas include the overly affluent, those who are plagued by
substance abuse and denial, and the self-centered who wander
aimlessly through life. Those blessed through the spiritual graces
of Pentecost to listen and hear should perceive the prophetic
calling in its many facets:
* We may differ from one
another in gifts, but share in a community of prophetic witnessing,
including first listening to what is being said. Prophetic witness
is not an solitary vocation as in the days of the Old Testament, but
is something we all share through our Baptism/Confirmation.
* Failure to hear the call
of the poor will weaken the fabric of our society; thus our
prophetic witness is closely connected to the renewing of Earth
herself, our nation and our local community. To miss the
opportunity to do so is to threaten and endanger our Earth, our
nation, and our communal relations.
* We must distinguish the
calls of the authentic sufferers from those of commercial and
entertainment interests that may be loud and overbearing in our
noise-filled world; the cries of the poor are unnerving and demand
an ever deepening spirituality.
* We must give priority
to genuine needs because our own energy and time are limited.
Giving priority means we must struggle to come to know what is the
right thing to do and when to do it. We discern through our ongoing
* We do not know what the
future will bring, but we have a certitude that, if the present
continues in its current path, a catastrophe will happen -- the
conditions for true prophetic action. Part of our mandate is to
make the future, not to predict it. This is a call to change what
will inevitably follow if action is not taken.
* Our efforts rest in the
hands of God. We will do our very best, and that is all that can be
expected; we know that something must be done, and we know God calls
us in our imperfect condition to be agents of change in this
threatened world. Will we live up to the noble call and truly be a
Lord, encourage us to listen, to hear, to distinguish and to respond
to the cry of the poor and thus to be prophetic people who have much
to consider during the Pentecost season.
Bleeding heart, Dicentra Spectabilis
(photo by Sally Ramsdell)
May 29, 2009 Being
Faithful is a Success Story
Was it Mother Teresa who
said it is better to be faithful than successful? She certainly
attained both fidelity and success in her long life. This priority
of fidelity sums up our stance before our Creator, but it is quite
demanding and filled with risks. Fidelity means keeping focused on
our original calling and commitments at all cost. The disturbances
and noise of daily living can and do make us easily forget. Thus we
need to be called back time and again to see the road ahead of us, a
recall that takes an ever-deepening spirituality. Fiction seems
more inviting than the strain of the really hard road ahead.
Reality is so difficult because it demands a faithfulness to
original commitments and goals even at the risk of being
unsuccessful, belittled, and irrelevant.
ventures multiply in the secular world around us but, even though
tempting, we must be faithful to our calling without fully seeing
the ultimate outcome of our efforts. We learn ever so slowly to
discount the costs of the consequences; however, this does not mean
that success is incidental. We would like to see the efforts
succeed but they may be so long-term that we will not live to see
them. With generous hearts we seek to see the work achieved, but it
begins to emerge that others may get credit and that the world is
never fair to those omitted from being credited with a given
success. We need to be satisfied to be mere sowers, catalysts, or
initiators; we may not be the reaping type and yet we must be
faithful to our calling -- for sowers are very important.
False success tempts us to
become sensational? Another Chicken Little? Should we announce
that a nuclear powerplant will experience a meltdown tomorrow or
that the New Madrid earthquake will be repeated in a year? This
will be sensational for a moment, but it will undermine the teller's
credibility, when the event does not occur. We cannot pretend to
have powers beyond ourselves, and prediction is fraught with
disappointment when it betrays the hunger for success. A true
prophetic stance does not foretell what will happen but rather what
could surely happen if we continue our current course. Few if any
of the mass media foretold the economic crisis that we are now
experiencing. Prophecy is seeing the present for what it really is
rather than forecasting the future. The "if" is that if we change
our ways, the future will be better.
Beginnings do not always
lead to success. Fidelity may be lacking -- but it could also mean
lack of energy or time or other resources. Still, satisfaction
comes in doing just what we can do well. "I'll do my best" is far
better than "I dare not try." I need to be humble for I cannot do
it all. Faithfulness to the mission carries an internal reward that
means more to the person than most anticipated successes; we are at
peace with ourselves.
The fruit of Silence is
Prayer; The fruit of Prayer is Faith;
The fruit of Faith is
Love; The fruit of Love is Service;
The fruit of Service is
Peace. Mother Teresa's "Business Card"
A lovely flower on hand-spun bowl by Marge Para.
May 30, 2009 Internet
and Spreading the Good News
In the course of our
Earthhealing "Daily Reflections" for the past seven years I must
admit changes in my own estimation of the Internet. It went from
being a curiosity that deserved a certain respect to becoming a
serious peril to the careless user and an immense promise to those
who wish to bring Good News to others.
The peril is found in the
misuse of any gift and dates back to misuse of gifts in the Garden
of Eden. The Internet is an instrument that can be obtained quite
easily by many and more easily with the broad band expansion and
more available computers at lower prices. It presents tempting
opportunities to use it for pornography, for stealing others' works,
for demeaning and destroying the name of others, for spenting more
time at game play than outdoors in nature, and for losing private
information such as credit cards. The temptations are great and
require ever greater self-restraint in Internet use.
The promise is in the form
of easy access to information and of ease of communication with
others especially those living on the other side of the planet. On
the Internet we are only seconds away from the latest weather, or an
exact route with roads and mileage from my humble abode to any
road-side location in America, or the ability to communicate at very
low cost on websites and email. For five years (1971-76) I lived
two blocks from the Library of Congress (LC), the largest repository
of information in the world. Yet right now, while living in what
some term as "nowhere," I have at my fingertips more information
than I could easily have gathered by going to the LC. Obviously,
the serious researcher will find it more gratifying than "googling"
but search engines do inform us.
The glory of the Internet
is that through proper contact we can now make a matter known to
otherwise-unavailable interested parties. Sharing in specialty
information was quite difficult in the past, but today services are
available to put into digital reading format material easily
accessible at low cost. This does not require trips to book stores
or haphazard and chance findings. The global communications tool
allows the Good News to be spread abroad -- and now lowly folks
enter the audience on equal terms.
But all good things are
mixed. The good graces of a responsible keeper of the website have
given me the blessings of fewer SPAM messages than others. I have
never yet been hit by a virus at this location and anti-virus
programs and firewalls will preserve my computer from that.
However, a major temptation is to spend more time on this electronic
medium than is required for a fast entry and exit twice a day. We
appreciate the nature of the temptations to get more and more
involved in chat rooms and other diversions. It is all out there at
virtually no cost and without anyone looking over the shoulder.
Good tools must be kept ready and in good repair.
Lord send out Your Spirit and renew the face of the Earth.
Purplerocket, Iodanthus pinnatifidus
May 31, 2009
Pentecost: The Restless Wind
Today the Pentecost season
begins -- the long span of almost half of a year given to reflect on
the gift of the Spirit in our lives. Today is the birthday of the
Church; it is almost 2000 years old and a divinely guided
institution. It is the living Body of Christ of which we are
privileged to be members. We are Church, and so we pray for the
power of the Spirit to help enliven others.
Pentecost contains a number of
points worth reflecting upon:
The Spirit first
unlocks the closed doors of our hearts and penetrates within our
The great wind
speaks in power and suddenness of profound change wrought by the
Spirit in our lives. It is a restless wind which is beyond our
prediction, and leads where the Spirit wills.
The tongues of fire
descend on each person present, and that shows the uniqueness of the
gifts bestowed on each individual by the Spirit. Each of us is
touched and expected to be ourselves but also united in helping to
form one community.
The public noise is
heard by confused onlookers. Those who received the Spirit are
impelled to go out and communicate with the crowd with each listener
hearing in his or her native language.
The gift of
communication to the larger public, rather than gifts to the
individual witness or speaker, is primary. Pentecost reverses the
Tower of Babel where human beings through self-interest divided and
then spoke different tongues.
The mighty acts of God
are shown here as the image of a living being, the Church. The
Church is coming into being through a power of God; Pentecost is
like the slap on the back, which begins the breathing process for
each new-born who emerges from the womb. We begin to inhale -- take
in the Spirit as in Church; we then exhale by going out to others
and bearing witness to the Spirit. But this is not a one-time
affair. Periodically, we need to come together as a small inner
community and inhale; we need to find new ways of expressing
ourselves and exhale; this involves giving witness to the Spirit
outside of our community liturgies.
I once saw a
tornado from a distance near St. Charles, Illinois; I did not
recognize its power, its suddenness, its ability to do $20 million
damage in a few minutes. The Spirit at Pentecost is far more
powerful, inspiring us to perform uniquely forceful deeds. However,
the impulse is part of a community, the Church, from which we take
the message out and to which we bring the good news of outside
listeners back to refresh and enliven the community. Each truth
professed in word is also to be expressed in deed. We show our
loyalty, our confidence and our enthusiasm (our God within) that
sustains us through the long Pentecost season.
Holy Spirit, inspire us during this Pentecost season.