October 1, 2006 Total Dedication to God
You rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Sometimes we hear some challenging readings in the Scriptures
(Numbers 11: 25-29) Would that all the people of the Lord were
prophets! and (Mark 9, 38-43, 45, 47-48) If your hand is your
difficulty, cut it off! Today's are such. In the Book of Numbers
we see that God's gifts are generously bestowed on those whom
others may overlook, and Moses had the openness to see this. If we
are just as open we will see God's gifts going to many we tend to
overlook as well. So often, we are so wrapped up in our own
talents that we fail to see that our gifts are God-given.
St. James closes his letter with powerful words on the
responsibilities of material gifts. He speaks with immense clarity
on wealth and its misuse in our world. It may be said that wealth
in James' day was different from wealth now, but was it? Wealth is
having more possessions than others in the community. Actually
today, as in times past, excessive wealth must be exposed,
controlled and redistributed, because it has a corrosive effect on
our democratic system. We, as voting and responsible citizens,
permit some people to become financially powerful to the detriment
of others. Their economic power soon overshadows and influences
political power, and the wealthy overwhelm the once democratic
system by their influence that belongs to all the people.
Affluence makes people insensitive to the needs of others.
St. James spoke about it at length. Wealth gives a bad example.
Others in the world have until recently wanted to imitate us in the
Americanization of the globe. Only since 9-11 has this changed.
In an effort to fight terrorism and defend our privileges, America
has become quite unpopular in parts of the world. Much of this
unpopularity comes from an elitist attitude that needs addressing.
We must follow the example of St. Francis, who stands in
contrast to our weaknesses and who used his spirit, cheerfulness,
insight, presence in the Lord and sense of gratitude to help others
come to God in a gentle way. He moved people to aspire to heaven
rather to fear of hell. It is love of God, not an imperfect
contrition that motivates the best. But Francis did more. He gave
up the allurements of the world as embodied in his family, wealthy
merchants of fine cloth. Francis did not follow the fashion of his
day but rather did the opposite. He showed that simplicity was the
better example, not Would that I be a millionaire to give to the
poor; rather Would that I could give love to the poor, not wealth.
Rededication: How do we radically come to God, not by self-
mutilation but by full dedication. We must make radical changes in
our lives, if we are to remain dedicated to God in a world where
the culture is predominantly materialistic and the pressure immense
to conform to the system. The divine invitation is to a
conversion, a radical change of heart, a rededication to God.
October 2, 2006 Yom Kippur and Fighting Anti-Semitism
On Yom Kippur we think of our Jewish brothers and sisters in
this country and throughout the world. It is a time of celebration
for our distant relatives in the faith. This year has been more
difficult for many due to the confrontations in Gaza and in the
border areas in Lebanon. In the Holy Land in 1992, I spent an
uneasy night hearing the explosions of the bombing runs on
Hizbullah a few miles to the north. Warfare is quite difficult for
all, and so our hearts go out to all the people in the Middle East.
Many of us were disappointed by our American government's foot
dragging when it came to an immediate cease fire. So much extra
death, especially among the innocent civilians in Lebanon and
Israel. Continued death and military destruction yield no victors,
and all peacemakers throughout the world must work harder.
Paul Oestreicher, an Anglican priest, wrote an article, "Let's
Not Feed Anti-Semitism" in the Manchester Guardian Weekly (Feb. 24
-March. 2, 2006). He is of German Jewish background and speaks in
ways many of us would find difficult. He recognizes the presence
of anti-semitism within Christianity's long history and he shares
the historic guilt of all the churches. But as a Jew, he feels
very deeply when the Iranian president speaks of wiping out Israel.
Father Oestreicher is equally disturbed when many citizens of
Israel speak about the Palestinians "in the way a great many
Germans thought and spoke about Jews" when he had to flee before
the Second World War. He quotes Golda Meir that "there was no such
thing as Palestinians...they did not exist." He is upset by the
continued Zionism of the past and present. "It makes me fear for
the soul of Israel today and the survival of its children
tomorrow." He "despairs of the Israel I love. Its people are my
people. The Palestinians are my neighbors." He adds that Jews in
the diaspora are afraid of saying what they know to be true for
fear of being thought disloyal, namely that the state of Israel has
become a cruel occupying power and "its policies feed the cancer of
anti-semitism." He concludes that America might not permanently
defend this land and Muslim sectarian conflict might not continue.
Only an Oestreicher could speak that way, and the message
forces us back to the board. Stopping anti-semitism demands a two-
way street, and change is required on all sides. All of us have to
change our attitudes and find ways of living together. As I have
written a number of times, my dream is a Holy Land where all are
neighbors and all work so that people of the three great world
Religions of the Book can come together peacefully and have at
least one pilgrim experience in their lifetimes in that sacred
place. This suggests the internationalization of the holy places,
and yet offers the enterprising inhabitants opportunities to
furnish services required to give all pilgrims (a million per week
if every adherent could see the Holy Land once in his/her life) an
opportunity to visit without any fear of warfare. A world of a
peaceful Holy land is devoid of crusades, anti-semitism, Zionist
ambitions, nation destruction, and nuclear retaliation. Give peace
a chance! It is especially a propos on the feast of Yom Kippur.
October 3, 2006 Sanctuary
One meaning of "sanctuary" is a place of refuge, protection or
asylum where, in the ancient tradition of Christendom, fugitives
from justice were immune from arrest in churches or other sacred
places. With the specter this year of arrest and deportation of
undocumented workers, sanctuary is becoming a real possibility.
Will the English "common laws" that were transferred to our legal
system in the United States be tested, for sanctuary was part of
England's history in medieval times. Today, church leaders are
announcing that their church workers should defend the undocumented
and not cooperate with legal authorities in crackdowns leading to
deportation. Is sanctuary a real possibility?
This raises pastoral questions for many of us who know workers
who fit the category of "undesirables." Should we conform to a
system that could be quite unjust toward innocent and hard working
migrants? Should we speak out against illegal profiling that
challenges the presence of these people? Should we raise the
hornet's nest of differences within congregations by offering
"sanctuary" for the ones who are targeted? And should we press for
the review of "sanctuary" requirements of the past that in some
circumstances included excommunicating the law enforcer who dared
to enter sacred space to get or prosecute the fugitive?
These could be academic questions except that in the
existential order we know people who are subject to such
deportation. It is not a speculative matter but one of legal
enforcement here and now. The problems of theoretical "sanctuary"
are easier than those of the practical order. Who feeds the
refugees? How long will they desire to stay? How can they
function as citizens when they have no rights? What about medical
access? How does the person receiving sanctuary relate to the
entire church community? Who is to obtain legal assistance for
them? Isn't this a temporary measure at best, for the asylum must
continue to function in its customary role?
I would say that I used to think of sanctuary as a concept
that is much needed in a world that imprisons those who abandon
military practice by becoming conscientious objectors of a
particular war. A neighboring nation that offers sanctuary is one
outlet; a local institution within the nation is quite another.
What seems so radical on the theoretical level could become a
nightmare on the local level like "our parish." If publicity
becomes an educational tool for correcting unjust deportation
practices, a local sanctuary is highly justified; if legal
authorities refrain from nabbing the asylum seeker, but keep an eye
open to when the person will leave the grounds, then the sanctuary
has little lasting impact. The conclusion can only be --retain the
practice of sanctuary as a teaching tool; discourage it as a long-
term solution to the illegal immigrant problem. Spend more time
and resources on lobbying for laws that address the issue more
successfully. That may be the best that citizens can do. But at
least open the possibility of sanctuary to all parishioners.
October 4, 2006 Francis' Blessings
On this feast of St. Francis, the patron of ecology, we may do
what was suggested last year (bless animals), or talk about
Francis' unique contribution (2004). But let's also expand the
notion of blessing to all creation as a fitting tribute to Francis
and his spirit. On the other end of the spectrum we know and hear
curses rendered to everyone and everything, and we see that the
destruction of the Earth is a type of curse expressed in deed. We
must counter these curses with universal blessings.
Bless the Earth that gives us life --
our womb and tomb,
our secure surroundings,
our color and strength.
Bless the heavens --
the vital sun that gives us light and warmth,
the gentle moon that softens the night,
the stars that show us direction and grandeur.
Bless the waters --
slaking our thirst,
cleansing away the grime,
flowing, sparkling, gurgling in delight.
Bless the air --
that flows past us,
that allows us to breathe,
that dilutes the pollution.
Bless the fire --
we need to heat our homes,
to cook our meals,
to boil our water.
Bless the plants and fruits --
that brighten the surroundings,
that furnish us food,
that give us good scents and flavors.
Bless the animals --
always giving us comfort and affection,
never failing to guard us well,
always being at our service.
Bless the people in our lives --
relatives and loved ones,
companions and friends,
strangers willing to help in need.
Bless the angels of heaven --
who protect us from harm,
who watch over each of us,
who stand before the throne of the Almighty.
Bless our God --
Should we presume to bless the Giver?
Should we bless or simply receive the Gift?
Should we give special blessing to the Giving?
Francis would bless all, and so should we.
October 5, 2006 Closing the Church Doors
A few months back I noted a rather large group at the Ravenna
Methodist Church just down the street. I didn't realize until
later that it was a closing service, and old friends and the
thinning stalwart members were meeting for the last time. There is
a thriving Methodist church in Irvine a few miles away and so the
church was closing its doors.
I always have a special regard for Methodists since John
Wesley was influenced by the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius,
and so we share some common spiritual roots. Also the particular
old church building signaled that Ravenna had its better days in
times past when the town was a railroad center (it still has
several 100-car coal trains standing in the yards filled with
Appalachian "gold" destined for powerplants in Georgia and
Florida). Considering its large size, the church served a large
railroad community. I also liked the small herbal garden that
included an immense variety of herbs, some from the Holy Land, --
with gravel paths, seats, trellis, and labeled beds. Now the herb
beds have been dug up and the lawn somewhat neglected -- and a
sadness extends to our neighborhood.
It hurts to close places. A chapel or church closing always
affects rural people just as the closing of an ethnic parish is so
difficult for urban residents. In our diocese we have had three of
our Catholic chapels reduced to "oratories" used at funerals and
other special occasions but without Sunday services. A fourth at
Perryville, the site of the great Civil War battle, is being
permanently closed. In all four instances there are other Catholic
churches with Sunday Liturgy within the respective counties and not
more than a half hour by car for the attendees. But I have had the
privilege of leading the Liturgy in all four and remember each
place as very special. The little church at East Bernstadt is in
my estimation the most beautiful in the Mountains, and I hope it
and its cemetery will be cared for well into the future.
It is good to keep places open. It means so much to rural
America that every effort be made to keep these sacred places open
and able to be used. If due to insurance and the drug problems,
the places need to be locked, at least furnish keys to all active
parishioners to enable them to pray there when they are so moved.
Undoubtedly, keeping these churches open is an extra concern,
especially since our urban churches are being expanded in size, and
new and bigger ones are being built. But the small places have a
place in the hearts of the people, even if we are to return only on
an annual feast day or for weddings or for funerals. The links
with the past are of utmost importance to the continued faith of
the community. Often church leaders forget the power of small
places and associated events in someone's life. Thank God for
little places, where people are so often visited by the Lord when
in prayer. Such small sacred space meant so much to great saints
such as Francis, Ignatius and Joan of Arc. There they made their
major decisions. Such places still mean much to a lot of us as well.
October 6, 2006 Autumn's Dangers
I go out and hear them congregating
all speaking at the same time -- winter comes
maybe so, maybe so.
How am I to interrupt their animated chatter?
They fly within the leafed tree in a flutter;
just as abruptly they depart for another place;
Is it the intuition of impending seasonal change,
or induced excitement of sheer number.
When they pass over in such number,
I shield my eyes for fear
their dropping might miss the good Earth
and hit me right between my eyes.
Autumn scene from a small-town farm,
(Photo: Janet Powell)
2006 Solar Reflections
Throughout October and especially today is the period of solar
tour days in numerous parts of the United States. A quick website
search will tell you the tour nearest to where you live -- and
these opportunities are becoming more popular each year. A host of
solar homes and institutions in virtually every climate zone are
open for you to inspect carefully and ask questions of the owners
and users. The tours include more than passive solar buildings --
photovoltaic (PV) panels, solar greenhouses, solar-powered
vehicles, solar hot water systems and a host of other applications.
With three dollar plus gasoline and forty percent jumps in heating
bills in the past year, more and more people are looking to
alternative energy sources, and rightly so.
My book with Paul Gallimore, Healing Appalachia: Sustainable
Living through Appropriate Technology, will be published in a few
months by the University Press of Kentucky. This will tell of a
host of solar applications along with details and references for a
number of other appropriate technologies in this region. The
appropriate technology community is in the middle of a large number
of breakthroughs in these solar applications, many of which are
moving from research to commercialization. In fact, the big
drawback in the solar field has been the high cost of the devices.
Solar has not delivered the reasonable economies provided by wind
power, but this is changing fast on two fronts:
Solar shingles as alternatives to free-standing PV panels have
undergone noticeable improvements in both technology and price
range. Lower income people are soon going to insist that they be
on homes in the south and the demand will extend further north as
the prices come down further. With generous solar credits coming
in 2007 in California and hopefully other states, the incentive for
new housing construction to include solar shingles makes the
application quite promising. Retrofitting with these devices will
be a little slower, because home owners are reluctant to put them
on their already finished roofs for fear of leaks caused during
installation. But one can envision that a sizeable portion of new
homes will have solar shingles by 2020.
Solar electric cars can be expected to have far lower priced
batteries, which will hold charges longer. These batteries will be
on the market in a short time. They promise to be a major
alternative to drivers who are currently plagued by high fuel
costs. Right now existing solar PV panels can recharge one's solar
car at only the cost of amortization of batteries and solar
equipment, but soon, with the use of low-cost efficient shingles,
that cost could be within the range of current gasoline prices --
and there is no global warming or pollution involved in either
application apart from some in manufacturing the equipment.
The age of renewables has arrived and yet it will take some
time for wind and the sun to be totally utilized. We can shorten
that time by helping to popularize solar and wind applications.
October 8, 2006 Of Man and Wife and To God
May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.
Genesis 2:18-24 is part of the second Genesis narrative, and
the one in which husband and wife are distinguished as partners and
co-equal (made from the ribs of man or of one flesh). The term is
also used by David to the elders of Judah that "you are my bone and
my flesh." The need for a partner of the opposite sex is the norm
for the human race. Our parents had such a relationship, and many
who read this also have one, and know its value and merit. Woman
is a partner and worthy of the deepest respect, and not the
subjugation imposed on women in the culture of the Middle East at
the time the Scriptures were written. The Biblical account is
really an affirmation of equality in it fullest expression. Men
are not above women but one with them, co-sharers in being created
to God's image.
Hebrews 2:9-11 speaks of the extended family which is what the
first reading ushers forth through the partnership of marriage.
But here our family extends beyond physical bonds of flesh and
blood to include the family of God, the deep mystery into which we
are called to enter through our Baptism. Jesus is not ashamed to
call us brothers and sisters and make us part of the Divine Family,
now called to fullness in the divine life initiated by baptism.
This immense calling to the Divine Family requires a lifetime of
reflection and service. Only the Bread of Life is sufficient for
the immensity of the tasks before us as brothers and sisters in
Mark 10:2-16 is a story of the marriage commitment as
presented in the sacrificing and serving era that Jesus is ushering
in with his coming. He sees the human race as a stable unit,
centering in this partnership of husband and wife, which is
supposed to be a lifetime commitment. It was because of their
hardness of heart that the people were permitted by Moses to
divorce, but that is not the wish of God who wants commitment to be
a covenant sign of the love God has for the people. This
commitment is not to be taken lightly, which is why full consent by
both parties is required, the openness to having children is
expressed, and hospitality is the trademark of mutual love.
Through stability of marriage, we acknowledge that God constantly
loves us and that both our family units in marriage and the Divine
Family unit in baptism are to be the cornerstone of a Christian
civilization. Through this human exchange the married couple
returns gratitude for God's love for us.
Reflection: The married couple are the backbone of our
civilization for they are the building blocks of all of society.
The couple stands for us all in our relationship to God; through
establishing a loving homestead they lay the foundation of the
proper ordering of all of creation. They represent our trusting
commitment to God who radically shares with us.
October 9, 2006 Credit: Pleasant Weather Does Not Last Forever
Those of us who were born in and experienced the ending of the
Great Depression have horror stories to tell about how money was
made, saved and expended, which seem to many like ancient history.
I won't retell such stories right now -- elsewhere perhaps. What
I view with greater horror is the ballooning household debt that
accompanies our growing national debt. I guess our nation could
default by act of Congress, and many including foreign debtors
would be just out of luck. But that involves economic catastrophe.
A consumer debt of over eight trillion has grown to where
cumulative savings are now about wiped out. Some folks of moderate
income have credit card debts of $10,000 along with house mortgages
and monthly auto payments. They better work hard and stay
In some ways these folks are living on credit that is barely
sustained even by higher incomes. But we constantly read about
layoffs and downsizing of the auto industry, and seemingly secure
blue and white collar jobs being eliminated. Anytime the economy
slows down the risk becomes all the greater even for those who pay
back their credit card debts in full each month (a minority of
American credit card holders). As homes once purchased at $50,000
tripled in value, the owners saw that refinancing for an additional
$75,000 (hedging their bets a little) was "wise." So there was an
additional seventy-five grand of mortgage debt for that indefinite
future and much money for remodeling, vacations and a host of other
American history is fraught with indebtedness from founding
fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to the Civil War and
the grand auto loans of the 1920s. But history also has a down
side that includes recessions, depressions and days of reckoning.
What people are doing today is ever so similar to the mistakes made
in the past. Oddly enough this credit binge has been fueling the
national economy. As long as the credit rush continues, buying
continues, and commerce makes and sells products and services. In
this sense, credit fuels our supposed secure state. While the pay
down on debt (including interest) approaches one-fifth of total
disposable income, people are still willing to pay and spend -- but
is the economy on a solid base?
What could be around the corner is a slowdown that could erupt
into a terrible letdown -- but I may be wrong. However, the
gambling is the bad thing. No one should base a livelihood on the
gamble that nothing like this will happen. Our financial integrity
is at stake. Unfortunately, a growing irresponsibility and
gambling mentality extend beyond personal finances; they enter
into the way we see our moral responsibilities, our use of natural
resources, our stance in the world, our respect for the
environment. Irresponsibility erodes our moral bearings. To allow
the life on credit to gain a complete hold over us verges on the
sin of presumption -- that God will get me out no matter how badly
I act. Is this a solid base for human action?
October 10, 2006 Environmentalism and Churches
When we speak of the Church as an instrument assisting
Earthhealers, we naturally look for ways in which that is possible:
Model in environmental action. Church institutions and
agencies may practice what is preached by respecting God's gifts of
limited and fragile resources through refraining from purchase,
recycling, and reuse and by maintaining only energy efficient
vehicles and buildings.
Educational source. The Church sponsors services,
publications and Internet outlets and programs that can teach a
conservationist ethic based on a proper understanding of moral
demands in care for Earth. Greed and waste are challenged by every
religious tradition, and selfless care and, in turn, proper respect
are proclaimed by them.
Source of encouragement. The Church gives encouragement
through services, prayers, sacraments and all liturgical functions
in such a way that believers are inspired and discover the ever
deepening mystery of God in their own lives. When people hear only
terrifying news of environmental destruction, they may become
depressed and then more than ever need words of encouragement.
Inspiration to the disabled. Many people cannot take an
active role in saving Earth, but can offer their prayers and
sufferings for the good of all. The Church encourages those who
are unable to become involved to play a vital role in the entire
mystery of salvation through their whole-hearted offering of their
sufferings for the good of the whole enterprise or local programs.
Networking. The universality of the Church can work towards
Earthhealing in a very special way, for surplus resources can be
shared by those who are lacking basic needs. We find that often
the "back water" places have dynamic church structures where people
can voice their concerns away from oppressive governmental agencies
or groups motivated only by self interest. Such far-flung church
networks can become first alert systems as well as feedbacks as to
how well relief and development projects are implemented.
Model of collegial activity. Church leaders who work together
harmoniously with a common goal become a model of how the
Earthhealing community can undertake and achieve its mission. The
global Church can teach joint decision making.
Subsidiarity. This principle, which is operative within the
Church community, allows the lowest level of a hierarchical
structure to make decisions to the broadest degree possible in
areas of local governing decisions. Each succeeding level has
space for such governance to the greatest degree possible. Here
encouraging local self governance is part of the total Church
mission and prepares for healthy local communities that enhance
Earthhealing at the grassroots level.
October 11, 2006 Showing Respect
I often wonder whether youngsters or adults show less respect
today than in times past. Do we only imagine that there is less
respect exercised today? Instead of quibbling about trends let us
emphasize ways of showing deeper respect. The following is a
checklist of sixteen "do I's" that may allow me to compare just how
much my own respect has eroded in the last few years:
* Do I thank people for generous service even when I am not
expected to do so at a checkout counter or on receiving a message?
* Do I dress properly for a special occasion, or am I informal
when the people at the funeral or wedding want me to be slightly
better spruced up?
* Do I show proper respect when visiting a place of worship
either of my own faith or of another's?
* Do I shake hands and attempt to learn the name of the
stranger who is being introduced?
* Do I speak with courtesy on the phone (commercial
solicitation may be an exception, especially a computer message)?
* Do I show courtesy on the highway and allow another to enter
when I am slowing down or halted at a stoplight?
* Do I hold the door open for others, especially those with
little children or in a physically challenged condition?
* Do I show patience at an airline counter or when standing in
a line of any sort? This is the pitfall for many?
* Do I tip generously or at least a little?
* Do I show indignation when it would be just as easy to speak
softly and with courtesy?
* Do I greet people at least with a smile?
* Do I stop and show respect when a funeral procession is
going by on the highway -- a beautiful ancient tradition?
* Do I stop talking when the National Anthem is being played?
* Do I maintain silence when asked to do so or speak softly,
especially if talking on a cell phone next to another?
* Do I seek to protect wildlife when I have an opportunity, or
do I do what the majority of drivers are tempted to do, namely run
* Do I stop and help a visitor who is genuinely puzzled?
October 12, 2006 Mystery and Restlessness
We wonder what it was like on the Nina, Pinta and the Santa
Maria as Columbus' crew journeyed across the mysterious Atlantic
looking for that shorter route to the Indies. For that matter, we
wonder about all voyagers into the unknown. Do we forget that we
are on restless journeys of faith into the unknown? We are all
drawn by Mystery and yet we are tempted to insert other causes,
names, idols, and crusades in our inability to define absolute
"Mystery." For to define this strange word is to control it, and
set what is unlimited into our own human limits.
Mystery as magnet. Why do we continue to search? It is
because, as St. Augustine says, we cannot rest until we rest in
God. We are being drawn by something and we know not what.
Accepting Mystery is comforting in one sense: we can discover our
own limits and accept this. Even if Mystery is the source of our
restlessness, it does give us encouragement, direction and bearing.
Gradually we come to realize that our journey is not one of
conquest but one of surrender to the God who calls us. We can only
have glimpses from the distance through God's revelation to us of
Who God is. And even here our heart must accept being drawn to the
influence and embrace of Another Whom we cannot see.
Mystery as atmosphere. Much of our affluent age is one of
haughty arrogance. We think that we can create a world to our own
likeness with no reference to Another. On the other hand, a sense
of Mystery is an atmosphere in which one breathes the fresh air of
freedom, not to do whatever one wants, but to do what God wants in
the utter expanse of openness to whatever comes. To do what one
wants is to close one's mind to the possibility of eternal quest
and limit oneself to the lifeless idol of self. To be open is to
find Life showing Godself in the world, for Mystery is infinite and
now we reach out in anticipation to that infinite vitality.
Claustrophobia gives way to healthy air and the atmosphere becomes
breath-taking, or better, breath-giving. The Giving of Mystery is
the Spirit -- and God opens up to us so fully that we find
ourselves immersed in Love beyond all understanding. For this Love
encourages us in further quest for ultimate Mystery.
Mystery as heart. Mystery is not agnostic. Even admitting
that we cannot penetrate Mystery does not mean we confess lack of
knowledge -- or abandon desire for knowing more. We know God
through revelation; we desire an eternal journey of knowing and
loving. But we do not know absolute Mystery and this is a
"negative insight," a turning elsewhere to where meaning seems to
be possible -- namely in the recesses of the heart. The prophet
Ezekiel spoke of conversion of heart. Our path to Mystery is a
journey not principally of mind but of heart. Mercy, not
sacrifice; love and not hearts of stone; these are the indicators
that the quest for Mystery is a movement of heart. We must halt
the rat race for knowledge, fame, and fortune, and pause and open
the restless heart. This is not to be overcome but accepted, not
eliminated but embraced. Even our restlessness is truly mysterious.
October 13, 2006 Good Money, Bad Money
On Modern Mythology Day it may be wise for us to consider the
myths that "all money is bad money" -- or "all money is good
money," so what's the use, take it all. I hold the opposite
position: some money is far better than other money and some is so
tainted that it should never be accepted. Granted those with
indefinite ethical standards may see no difference between good and
bad money. But on the other hand, if we use money in any form, we
must not think it is all bad; if we are awake enough to know money
sources, we know some money is tainted or given by those with a bad
reputation, or ill-designs, or subversive intentions as to how they
want the money to be spent.
Argument one: It's all in the end use. Some say everything
depends on how the money will be used and thus we can take any
money. Really? I guess such gullible moneytakers consider that
stolen money could be used for charitable purposes -- and that
makes it acceptable. If someone has been offered stolen money and
with no effort to give it back to its original owner, closes
his/her eyes and takes the money, he is the party to the theft. An
exception may be the thief's inability to give the property back
and so it could be accepted for charity; that may be acceptable but
a rare case. Stolen money does not become "good" money because of
beneficial end uses, which always abound as endless opportunities.
Argument two: No one else knows the source, so who cares?
Like all bad rumors, money sources become known since there are
many people who are on the look out for scandal of any sort, and
funding sources quite often fit that category. For the agent
responsible for a charitable enterprise, the tainted sources must
be avoided lest the credibility of the institution or agency be at
stake. And besides, it is wrong to accept just any money. The
fact that the receiving group abides by ethical principles and has
the freedom to refuse tainted money is a salutary characteristic.
Argument three: Don't ask, just take. In this case,
ignorance is bliss. This sounds more respectable than the second
where the taker knows or highly suspects the source. Certainly we
cannot examine every source of every dollar given and take some and
give back others. That is not the point here. Sizeable donations
to non-profits should be traced to the source due to reporting
obligations. Thus not knowing a source could be a sign of
irresponsibility and lack of ethical considerations.
Argument four: don't question, just take. This is a
variation of the above but again shows a lack of fiscal ethical
integrity. Some think we in public interest groups are crazy for
not accepting corporate money -- but, though in the minority, I
still think refusing is the best thing, especially if one must be
critical of such funding sources. Taking government money (really
it's taxpayer money) is sometimes problematic. Government agencies
may vary as to expectations, and so a moral judgment is in order as
to the source and intentions.
October 14, 2006 St. Teresa of Avila
Most of us ought to be reminded about great saints of the
past. One such is St. Teresa of Avila (1515 - 82) whose feast is
tomorrow.* Teresa founded the Discalced ("barefoot") Carmelites
and wrote deeply about her spiritual experiences. Her works
included: The Way to Perfection, Meditation on the Song of Songs,
and her best known, The Interior Castle. She struggled mightily to
get her way of seeing the world accepted but her hard work,
practical skills and deep devotion paid off in the long run.
Teresa is one of the first two women (also Catherine of Siena) to
be declared a "Doctor of the Church" in 1970.
Teresa came from an aristocratic background and entered a
convent that had residents who were wealthy and living on
endowments that made for a soft and cushy "religious" life. The
atmosphere was relaxed, and the social life was not really removed
from the world around them. Teresa's disapproval mounted during
her two decades of unreformed Carmelite life. In 1554, while
praying before the crucifix, Teresa underwent a profound conversion
and concluded that she could not bear to be rich. For the next few
years Teresa experienced a difficult period of misunderstanding and
even persecution but by 1562 had broken away with 15 other sisters.
The group formed their own reformed convent.
One of Teresa's insights was that the convent could be
supported by "insecure" alms and work of the nuns and not by
endowments brought to the convent by individual wealthy women.
This was a leap of faith in that as in any other age. The
understanding was how can women with limited opportunities live out
their lives without a certain fixed investment and income? For
Teresa and her companions, the casting of themselves before God
even for their very livelihood was a sign of wanting to be poor
with the Lord. Teresa was breaking with the comfort-laden
Renaissance lives of upper class Europe of the 16th century, and
she had the courage and charism to draw others to agree to be
countercultural for the sake of the Gospel.
Teresa was a forerunner of those who are drawn to live a life
with the uncertainties that accompany those billions of people in
the world who do not have their future livelihood assured. Her
motivation of radical trust in God and a spirit of poverty
prevailed and grew with time. She challenged the concept that the
providers of comfort for those in religious life are doing favors
for the ones who live such lives; from her experience from within
the unreformed convent Teresa realized that over-comfort hurts
religious fervor. The difficulty was that in professing her
insights, she was vigorously opposed by those in high places who
regarded her as a suspect radical and one who was challenging the
established religious state of affairs.
* Note: On the day after Teresa's death (October 4, 1582, by
the old calendar) the Gregorian reform of the calendar occurred,
and thus ten days were dropped for correction.
The serenity of a Kentucky waterfall
(photo: Mitchell D. Green)
October 15, 2006
The Act of Letting Go
Today's Gospel reading (Mark 10:17-27), in which Jesus tells
us to act in the prudent manner written about in the Book of
Wisdom, overshadows the other readings. Each of us must be willing
to let go of what we hold dear. The rich young man tried to be
impressive and called Jesus teacher. We can call someone "father"
or "teacher" out of respect, but not with the honor deserving God
alone. Only God deserves supreme honor. Jesus tells the rich man
to forego wealth and loved possessions, if he wants to be perfect.
The Law referred to here is the Jewish law and tells us that
the moral teaching that we hear when young is still fully operative
just as the Commandments were in Jesus' time. The law is to be
kept but, as Paul teaches, it does not give life. Charity, or
giving up all if one wishes to be perfect, describes the heart of
those who give up their freedom and self-centeredness to raise a
family. Some regard it as an exaggeration that Jesus is speaking
of being unable to enter in the Kingdom of Heaven as rich. A camel
can hardly pass through the eye of the needle. Is this a narrow
gate in the Jerusalem wall or maybe an argument for purgatory? For
all is possible with God in salvation -- even for those who would
otherwise be lost if God's love is not with them. Peter wonders
how anyone can be saved. With God's power all things re possible.
Saints are models for us to follow. We have the age-old St.
Anthony in the desert who lived to be a century old and is said to
have focused his meditation on one Scripture passage -- this one.
The more recently canonized St. Margaret Clitherow (1553-86) was
married at age seventeen and a young mother at thirty-three when
she was martyred. She was an outspoken critic of the Elizabethan
reign in England, and was imprisoned three times. Her stepfather,
the Lord Mayor of York, may have aided in her arrest, and made no
effort to stop the trial and sentence of death consisting of heavy
weights on her body until she was dead. She died with great
courage and willingness even to letting go of her family.
We are witnesses. We each have a certain area of letting go
whether rich or poor, powerful or powerless, in the eyes of the
world or of ourselves. We are not to be taken in by affluence and
the desire to be pampered children throughout life. We need to let
go of school loyalties, home life, a past imperfect life, our
health and youth, even one day down the road -- our very life. It
is to treasure greater things at that "hour of death" -- the most
important moment of mortal life. Modern life is full of
pretension, false hopes, addictions to material things. A modern
St. Francis confronts addictions, knows the power of allurements,
and challenges the improper demands placed on the Earth to satisfy
material wants -- not needs. Corporate money buys elections;
advertisements create addicts out of consumers; educators, clergy,
and lawmakers are unwilling to speak forthrightly; those who live
simply are often marginalized. All the while, the world's
wealthiest three billionaires hold more wealth than the bottom six
hundred million in this divided world. All must let go.
October 16, 2006 Peace and Justice Week
I have written much on peace issues (peacemaking, peace poles,
etc.) but never on "peace and justice" as such. The reason is that
all too often people who pursue this combined issue arena delve in
too many negative issues -- and in bad times like these we need to
accentuate the positive. The truth is that justice issues cover
every field, and the sources of the many conflicts in our war-torn
world involve areas of injustice. How can we be positive with
places like Bosnia, Darfur, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, and Somalia
conjuring up images of bloody conflicts? Can we celebrate any
peace and justice issues for the year 2006? Maybe some:
* Bosnia and the former states of Yugoslavia are coming to
grips with war crimes and are slowly rebuilding quite shattered
lives through UN-sponsored projects. More criminals are being
prosecuted in the Hague than ever before;
* United Nations members and not just the Organization of
African States are accepting the responsibility for refugees by
attempting to send peacekeepers to Darfur. More UN peacekeepers
are operating today throughout the world than ever before;
* The Arab states, Iran and the West are helping to rebuild
Lebanon to the tune of several billions of dollar, a real increase
in relief effort by many of these nations;
* Liberia and Southern Sudan are now in relative peace,
children soldiers are being disbanded in East Africa, and hopes are
running high in Africa even amid continued violence. And Libya is
paying off its debts for past terrorist sponsorship;
* Amid all the terrorist threats and attacks still the
Ukraine, Georgia and Montenegro have made peaceful transitions
without bloodshed, and the Basque separatist movement, North
Ireland, and even Kosovo have not been making violent waves in
recent years (keep fingers crossed); and
* In Paris in March several proposals were made to have a
currency tax to assist the world's poor including UK's Gordon
Brown's proposed International Finance Facility (IFF), which is
estimated to possibly raise $10 billion/year for the poor. Jacques
Chirac, the French President, is pushing through his parliament his
initiative for an airline ticket levy (ATL) that could raise $5
billion/year. The third concept is to levy a tax on foreign
currency dealing that could raise an additional $40 billion dollars
to help meet and exceed the $50 billion annual UN goal.
Not every injustice will be corrected, and yet positive steps
are emerging with international relief activities, debt
forgiveness, peace-keeping forces, courts of Justice, efforts
against drugs, and a global conscience. We must not let the
temporary failures blot out the good being done at this time;
rather, we simply must give good news its well deserved spot.
October 17, 2006 Amazon as Food Belt?
The Amazon always seem bigger than life for all of us although
most of us have never seen it. Could it be that the conversion of
what ecologists call the "Earth's lungs" or the Amazon Basin into
a food-producing belt for hungry people is occurring? As we noted
last month (September
21, 2006), Tim Flannery in The Weather Makers
says that the collapse of the Amazon rain forest would lead to
irreversible global warming. And are his concerns coming true?
As I am composing this essay, I hear that 3,000 cloud seeders
work in China dispersing silver iodide by plane or cannon to seed
the clouds and produce rain to check their encroaching desert,
which has now covered one quarter of the nation's land mass. This
is due to overgrazing (too many sheep and goats), deforestation,
and depletion of water supplies. In that great nation, an area the
size of Rhode Island goes to desert each year. At the same time
I am rereading an article by Jonathan White in the Guardian Weekly
(January 20-26, 2006) entitled "A Hunger Eating Up the World" that
refers to China's insatiable demand for soy beans. This demand has
increased South American exports to China 570% since 1999. and
China is now Brazil's second market after the United States. In
fact, White describes this appetite for protein for the Chinese
people and livestock as "creating a gold rush that is deforesting
Satellite images show a shrinking of the Amazon from all
development (roads, commercial areas, and deforestation for ranches
and croplands) by 1.7 million hectares a year (6,560 square miles).
From an environmental perspective, one finds both the Chinese and
Brazilian trends quite disturbing for the statistics do not include
the losses in other forest or the losses of other arable lands in
the fast urbanizing and commercializing world. To lose former
productive lands gives rapidly growing economic powers like China
a strong incentive to look elsewhere for raw materials and to
purchase these at virtually any price. To lose forestlands means
that the conversion of carbon dioxide to carbonaceous wood is
slowed down and global warming is accelerating. Doubly (or triply)
disturbing is the fact that the converted Amazon lands are not deep
soils and these can be easily exhausted in a short period of time
through pesticide-laced intensive farming. The picture is
ultimately a lose-lose situation. So much for yesterday's
Those of us seeking hopeful signs among the current custodians
of the planet may be disappointed. However, here are some possible
signs of hope: a recognition of using soybeans for food surpasses
using them as biofuels; an awareness among many people that using
soya products for food instead of feed is a far more efficient use
of protein resources; an awakening of the Brazilian government to
preserving the Amazon (though much converted cropland is currently
off limits); and an occurrence of global warming at a far faster
speed than anticipated even five years ago -- and so steps must be
taken on a global level, especially by the United States.
October 18, 2006 Recording Elders as Holiday Gift
It is not too early to think about holiday gifts, if the
ideals take time to implement. As we mentioned there are great
benefits to recording veterans (August
23, 2006), so we could expand
the arena to include all older or sickly people who are still in
good use of their minds. Over the years at ASPI we conducted
several projects that recorded people speakers of specific areas of
interest such as chestnut trees and gardening methods. While
specific projects have immense value, there is still a more generic
one that extends to older people who are nearing the end of their
mental if not mortal life. Recording others shows a special care
for them and their memories, which are so much a part of who they
are. Younger relatives can find this an ideal project for gaining
respect for elders and showing their own willingness to do
something special, namely, a recorded gift that will be most deeply
appreciated due to care and love expended in the recording.
Photographs are a great way of capturing precious memories and
should not be relegated to a low place. The advantage is that
cameras are most readily available to the wider population. Any
form of recording may prove intimidating unless performed after
getting the subject to relax and in a light-hearted manner. The
mark of a good recording person is that he or she can speedily make
the subject relax -- for time is precious and the opportunity may
never return again. Photographs can capture this moment of
relaxation so well.
Audiotaping is another but more sophisticated recording
method. Equipment is generally accessible or can be purchased at
a very reasonable price. Likewise the recording is far less
intimidating for the recorder and the one being recorded than is
videotaping. If properly performed with verbal description of
place and background, this method can generate wonderful
replication of the elder's spirit and handiwork. One drawback down
the line is that listening to the tape is generally less
entertaining than watching it on the computer or television screen.
Videotaping takes more time and more expensive equipment but
that is more accessible than may at first be thought. Many
schools, libraries, friends, or equipment rental places have such
equipment that can be borrowed for a period of time. Semi-
professional help with technical recording may also be available.
Writings, as we are aware on this feast of St. Luke, are the
traditional manner of recording thoughts. A well written report on
the interview can still prove to be a treasured record.
Added benefits. Besides being excellent Christmas gifts to
the one recorded, such recording teaches the recorder to value
captured moments among the elderly, skills at interactive dialog,
and the need for planning for a successful session. Likewise the
record is of value at depositories such as the
Kentucky Oral History Collection and as keepsakes for relatives.
October 19, 2006 Wildlife of the Month: The Squirrel
Autumn is the season of the squirrel. Like much wildlife, we
see more of the squirrel all about than we did when we were young.
They certainly were plentiful in pre-pioneer days but the gun
eliminated surplus bushy-tails. Among my favorites are the flying
squirrels, which seem to be evolving enough extra skin near the
front appendages to allow for a floating action from one tree to
another. For many years my residence in the woods was graced by
their presence -- and their acrobatics were a sight to behold.
Some verbs taken from animals are pejorative (to hog, pig out,
horse around, cat (around), rat (slang), goose, cow (make timid),
get someone's goat (annoy), etc.; others have a more neutral
sense: to duck, snake, dog, and, yes, squirrel. This last means to
store away, and generally indicates for a period when needed.
Granting the busyness of this little varmint, we should think of
squirreling as a much needed operation, lest the beast not survive
the winter scarcity.
Really the squirrel is a rodent of the family Sciuridae and is
best loved if observed from a distance. Proximity breeds contempt,
especially in those whose attic spaces have been invaded by
squirrels. Squirrels have an uncanny way of stealing bird feed
even with some of the best safeguards devised. At the nearby state
park the squirrels have learned some amazing acrobatics, namely to
jump from a distance to a hanging bird feeder and invade the place.
Squirrels can appear innocent when they come begging for food.
They sit on their hind legs and beg so longingly for a handout that
no one can really resist. My long time friend, Art Purcell, and
his family, have befriended the squirrel population in North Los
Angeles using shelled peanuts. The squirrels' ability to quickly
dispatch with those shells is utterly amazing and how much of an
appetite for more and more. I guess their nervous movements burn
up plenty of energy. The squirrel's quick turns and movements, as
though undecided as to where to go, actually make them vulnerable
to being rendered roadkill by speeding motorists.
I can see that hungry people could hunt squirrels in the
autumn when the squirrels are fat -- and I do not fault such
seekers of food. My ire is directed to dove, rabbit and -- yes --
squirrel hunters who regard the killing of these little birds and
mammals as sport. Let the coyotes use their hunting skills and
appetites to control the squirrel population, but let squirrels be
here as long as they can stay around. The presence of squirrels
makes us realize the joy of wildlife and their need for our
protection. Their presence also reminds us that winter is coming,
that we need to store away what we can for the icy season, and that
often the storing requires much skill and focused attention.
Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus
October 20, 2006 Prayer and Community Action
There are two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
We need to pray for the success of our mission. This can be
done privately in the recesses of our home or with others. Here
the prayer can be done in union with people in the Prayer of the
Church throughout the world or in formal settings with a number of
people (e.g., a Liturgy, prayer service or choir). When it comes
to communal work, the community's prayer is all the more important.
We cannot sit back and expect God to work miracles in which we are
mere observers. However, through faith we can expect the miracles
of grace that make any vast undertaking a success. While not being
passive to miracles, I tend to agree with Albert Einstein that
everything is a miracle. Christians believe that the movement of
all back to God is a miracle. We are a vital part as cooperative
miracleworkers knowing that Christ tells us that we can expect even
greater acts beyond those of his own wonderworking.
Believing in miracle-working is more than wishful dreams; we
are called to help bring about miracles of grace through our own
faith. But this is not a faith that says "goodbye" and "good
luck." Instead we vow through our baptism to work as faithful
people. We have to have faith enough to move the mountains of our
own disbelief and the despair on the part of many that collective
action will ever succeed. We know that it is difficult to work in
communal undertakings because of the self-interest on the part of
spoilers who can paralyze cooperative efforts. This is exactly
where and when we turn to God and expect that the storms of sea can
be calmed through prayer. We survive in a small lifeboat together
where we must work out the saving of the Earth as one community.
The despair of some can be overcome by the hope of others, for
that is the power of the risen Lord. But we are encouraged more
through prayer together -- the Prayer of the Church. Some recite
or sing these prayers in community or choir and others privately
but in communion with all throughout the world. In this joined
prayer, the Miracle of God's presence becomes more apparent to us
with each passing day. It is not a zapping from above but an
emergence over time. Our communal prayer life is an integral part
of our whole life, a growth in maturity and proximity to God and to
godly work on the part of all Earthhealers.
A positive attitude is a product of a faith-filled community.
This harkens back to enthusiasm as the criterion not just for
individual initiative but to communities as well. Maintaining that
communal enthusiasm is always a challenge. We know it cannot be
done simply through gimmicks, public relations tricks, and enhanced
social entertainment -- though all may help. The main ingredient
is authentic communal prayer, which must spring from humble hearts.
October 21, 2006 Calling Other People Names
When I feed the poor they call me a saint; when I ask why
they are poor they call me a communist. Don Helder Camara
Hardly any of us are free of calling someone a name of some
sort or being called names -- some we resent and some roll off like
water off a duck's back. We may call someone a saint and yet that
is a stretch of the imagination; or we may say they are "charity
itself" when they are a bunch of thieves or people who chiseled low
income workers out of a proper salary. "Blood of vipers," "fox,"
"stubborn people" and other such terms are found in the New
Testament and declared by the best of folks. To give names is not
wrong in itself but we could offend another and be uncharitable.
Almost all of us regret a name calling at one or other time -- so
care must be taken in several arenas:
Ethnic designations. Ethnic names abound. Some words are so
racist (such as "nigger" or "spic") that we hesitate to even write
them here; others can still cause a certain sting -- "dago" or
"pollock;" still others such as "micks," "wasps" and "krauts" have
now outgrown their sting and are only historic at best. One that
is taken by some as neat, but is stinging to others is "hillbilly,"
"Okies," and "redneck." During times of war we hear such slurs and
even recall them in headlines in the papers referring to "Nips,"
"Japs," "Gooks," "Huns" and so forth. Perhaps it is best to
relegate such terms to history, and some may say I am breaking the
rule right here by resurfacing them. However, such terms crop up
at unexpected times and cause us or others embarrassment.
We "Jesuits" use this to designate being members of the Society
of Jesus but that originated as a slur. The dictionary still lists
"Jesuit" as a crafty schemer, cunning dissembler or casuist. It
took considerable searching on my part in writing The History of
the Jesuits of Kentucky to determine that an 18th century German
named Christian Priber, who worked among the Cherokee and was
called by the British a "Jesuit," was really given this name as a
derogatory term due to his ability to organize Native Americans.
I wrote to the director of the Jesuit Historical Institute in Rome,
Fr. Charles O'Neill, recalled the name from his own research days;
authorities have called Priber a Jesuit and quoted one to another
with authority -- though Priber was no Jesuit, nor even Catholic.
Verbs too: Verbs can be used as slurs. To "Jew someone down"
is such a slur and yet the term has common usage in non-Jewish
areas-- but should it? To "gyp" or cheat is a colloquial term with
a stereotypical application against the Romany people. History's
long memory takes us back to the fifth century A.D. barbaric
invasions when we refer to "vandalizing" a place. Most English
speakers are unaware that knowledgeable Catholics still can become
disturbed by the pejorative meanings associated with "to be
dogmatic," "to pontificate" and "hocus pocus" (meaning magic but
referring to "Hoc est Corpus Meum" -- words of Eucharistic
consecration). And there are still plenty more examples.
October 22, 2006 The Folly of Seeking Glory
Lord, let your mercy be on us as we place our trust in you.
Glory-seeking is a part of our daydreams, or even our hopes at
given times when someone says something laudatory about something
we achieve. The temptation is just below the surface and then we
are drawn back to reality, which is all for the better.
The Gospel (Mark 10: 35-45) tells us of glory seekers who are
not the explorers or the adventurers or the soldiers of fortune,
but rather those closest to Jesus, his very disciples. James and
John are products of their pushy mother who nudges them on to seek
glory when the Messiah, who is to come in all his glory, is in
their midst. Remember, even at the Ascension, Jesus' disciples ask
once more whether the political Messiah is coming to establish his
kingdom. Even to the very last moment before Pentecost, the
disciples awaited a position as right hand staff in the political
kingdom of their anticipated political messiah.
Willingness to suffer. Christ espouses a totally different
philosophy from one of power in a political sense. His message is
one of suffering and service. Suffering scares all of us, just as
it was hard for Jesus to go up to Jerusalem and eventually to
Calvary. All our being rebels against such an undertaking for
glory road seems so much more enticing. However, Jesus promises
success through suffering, by drinking the cup of pain and of
judgment. Archbishop Romero of El Salvador exemplifies one who
learned to sacrifice for others after being asked to baptize the
baby of a rich family in their hilltop villa because they did not
want to be included among the peons in the valley church. He
refused to give them or others a deference based on wealth, and
paradoxically this started him on his road to Calvary.
Willingness to be of service. We need to learn to sacrifice
and include in our service the following Christian characteristics:
openness and profound listening to the will of God in focusing on
those in need around us; compassion (suffering) with the people we
provide with service and humility in seeing the limitations of our
ministry and any success as gift from God; and a deep desire to
identify with the ones who suffer most in our world. Our
aspiration must be to be least among those whom we serve -- and
thus we are more able to imitate Christ in whose name we bear the
banner of serving others. The word sounds so neutral for service
is used for everything from the military to auto maintenance, from
waiting at table to being a politician.
Glory in acts of kindness. What we often forget is that ways
of being of greater service are often found not only in
professional choices only but also in day-to-day acts of kindness
and good will to our suffering neighbors. This gives more glory to
them than to the server -- but then isn't that what glory is all
about -- glorifying all who are created to God's image.
October 23, 2006 African Agony
Fourth World Day is everyday. We have talked about the fact
that Africa is overlooked (January 8, 2004). In the thirty-three
months since that treatment there have been a Congo (DRC)
nationwide election -- with some fighting, more Somali troubles,
the whole Darfur refugee catastrophe, continued AIDS deaths at one
million a year, and on and on. In some nations progress is
beginning to appear (see last week's entry). We know that boatload
after boatload of immigrants fleeing the continent are finding it
increasingly difficult to reach the Spanish settlements in Morocco
and the Canary Islands, with suffering and many drownings. A
settlement is occurring in southern Sudan but the west of that
unhappy Country is going through more convulsions, which the United
Nations seems helpless to overcome. And the horn of Africa is
certainly Lazarus at the door step. Agony of all sorts reigns in
this massive continent of over 800 million people.
The numbers in agony appear mind boggling. While the unhappy
state of the Middle East is daily news with tens of thousands of
deaths; however, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has
witnessed a lengthy war (civil and otherwise) that has claimed an
estimated 4,000,000 lives or an average of 1,300 a day for years at
a time -- and virtually no press coverage. We asked in the
previous reflection to give funding and public attention to the
African continent. We need to repeat that request again.
The continent is in need of food supplies, especially on the
Horn of Africa as the famine continues and seems to spread. In
danger spots the African continent is in need of an effective
peace-keeping force, but that is hard to raise without involved
logistical support. Zimbabwe, the most unhappy nation in the
world, appears in agony with an insensitive administration
unresponsive to the people's needs. What outsiders can do there is
highly problematic apart from constant pressure to allow relief aid
to enter freely. Nigeria with its billions of dollars worth of oil
may be heading for an internal revolt because the local people have
not experienced any benefits from this wealth, which is being
Bright rays of hope are springing amid the agony. Charles
Taylor, the Liberian despot, is being brought to justice; Libya is
paying its debts and has renounced terrorism; South Africa seeks to
come to terms with AIDS treatment; copper and other raw materials
are bringing record prices for hard-pressed producing countries
like Zambia; the child soldiers are being brought home; and so
good things are happening. But the really Good News is that people
can rise up and take charge of their own lives and do not have to
wait for more affluent foreigners to come and assist. It is
important that continued attention be given to this continent. The
sense of faith shining from that continent puts a rare smile on the
entire depressed world. If amid all that agony Africa can smile,
we can learn the lesson that it is time we forget our petty
problems and look out for those with really big ones.
October 24, 2006
Nuclear Power: Global Myths and Facts
Six times in the past three years we have presented essays on
nuclear power generation issues. We published our book
Hour in 2004 and an Update two months ago
(on this website). The
regular reader may ask, "Why beat a dead horse?" The answer is
quite simple: nuclear power is far from dead -- and that is why we
persist. People perceive of nuclear power as vigorous at the
global scale with over 400 generating plants and more than 20
plants planned for the U.S. alone. Here are some myths and facts:
Myth -- Nuclear power facilities will continue to expand with
renewed interest in the United States and elsewhere.
Fact -- A number of major western European energy producers
are phasing out nuclear power (Germany, Sweden, Belgium). The UK
will experience a drop in nuclear power from 19% of current
electric production to 7% by 2020 as older reactors reach their
expiration dates. Many European plants are nearing their
Myth -- France is leading the way to a safe nuclear future.
Fact -- The nation is having second thoughts about its
commitment to a nuclear future. Apart from power generation,
nuclear problems from waste to fuel cost have shaken French
confidence in the past year. Earlier this year a study showed that
200 nuclear tests conducted over a 30-year period have caused long-
term health problems for the people in French Polynesia, with
rising rates of leukemia and other forms of cancer -- and some
groups believe there has been a major coverup of facts.
Myth -- A major portion of the global energy demand is now
coming from nuclear power generation.
Fact -- Once we consider that energy expenditure is far more
than electricity generation (fuel for land, sea and air vehicles;
space heating of homes; gas for water heating, feed drying and
cooking; industrial processing, etc,), it becomes obvious that, at
one-quarter of total electricity production in the world (liberal
estimate), nuclear power only contributes about 3 percent of the
total global energy picture. And the contribution of wood/charcoal
for home cooking is conservatively included here. Phasing out
nuclear power could easily be compensated for renewable energy
replacement along with energy conservation practices.
Myth -- Uranium oxide is low priced because of decommissioning
of older military weapons.
Fact -- The oxide moved from $7.25 per pound in 2001 to $47.24
today. Only half current uranium comes from mines; the other half
from former weapons and from reprocessing fuel. Though some
conversion has occurred in decommissioning of USSR and US weapons,
still, it is not clear that all uranium is moving to peacetime
uses. Certainly it appears that Iran and North Korea are moving
towards enrichment of uranium to produce weapons-grade materials.
It has been our contention that nuclear materials of whatever
intended use are enticements to global weapons' proliferation.
October 25, 2006 Teachers of English
English is rapidly being accepted as the principal source of
an emerging world's lingua franca (in Italian this literally means
Frankish language), which actually refers to a basic language that
incorporates words from a variety of languages and used by
commercial and traveling groups. Thus English is today's
lingua franca and is spoken by more non-native than by native
people. Some 200 million Chinese are learning English right now,
and the total students in the world may be double that number.
Demands. Earlier this year ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
went to Wales for an intensive course in conversational English as
he prepared to return to the private sector. He knows he needs
English as an international lawyer. Others need the language to
fly airplanes, navigate the oceans, communicate over the Internet,
sell or buy consumer goods, do scientific research, and engage in
a host of other activities. This accelerates the great demand for
qualified teachers. However, ideally teachers should be bilingual
people who are familiar with the culture and language of students -
- but that may be asking for much with so many English teachers in
demand. In fact, many of the very young learn much of their
English from their playmates when coming to English-speaking
countries; of course, they still need trained teachers to help them
advance. The advantage is that youngsters' ears are more attuned
and their youthful tongues are loosed for the "th" sound -- and
they have far fewer inhibitions then we seniors.
Popular requests. Advertisements for native speakers to come
to some overseas institution and teach the youth or adults crop up
in many of our periodicals. The native speakers have the so-called
advantage of not knowing the language of the place to which they
are destined -- only the willingness to work with kids or those
eager to learn. However, foreign language professionals find this
outlet for the untrained and energetic wanting a foreign experience
to be fraught with difficulties. First, the untrained, not knowing
the language of the people, can fail to address phonic difficulties
and mispronunciations that abound with the learner. The untrained
may also fail to realize that idealized "standard" English is not
what they are teaching through their regional variation and slang.
Untrained people going overseas are often there for short time
periods and with no time to absorb the culture. When I was at the
University of Texas, I tried to teach a Romanian fellow chemist who
wanted to learn colloquial terms. It became evident that language
teaching was not my forte, for our language is so nuanced that
merely listing word differences could tax a person. English
teaching demands written and oral drills which were way beyond my
level of patience. Teaching language is for the professionals.
Recommendations. It is wise for the United States government
to expand language training through grants and scholarships both at
home and abroad. The world would benefit. Also establishing a
standard English basic vocabulary would be most helpful -- as well
as expecting natives to use it in conversing with foreigners.
Autumn ripened berries of
poke weed, Phytolacca americana
(photo: Janet Powell)
October 26, 2006 Six Arguments for a Greener Diet
Each month we highlight an organization that we hope our
readers will consider supporting in some fashion. I would like to
list one that I helped co-found thirty-five years ago, has been
faithful to its original mission, and has flourished, namely, the
Center for Science in the Public Interest
(CSPI). We started this
organization in 1971 as a focus by public interest scientists on
issues that needed special attention during the infancy of the
environmental and consumer movements. In 1977, I and two
associates split off Appalachian and some energy programs and
formed Appalachia--Science in the Public Interest with hopes that
other regionally based groups would sprout up as well. CSPI has
grown through the years, especially on food and nutritional issues,
with its Nutrition Action and Nutrition Action Healthletter, both
receiving national recognition on many occasions.
Michael Jacobson, director of CSPI, has just published a very
readable book entitled Six Arguments for a Greener Diet -- and the
arguments are certainly convincing. These issues include the
following: 1) less chronic disease and better overall health, 2)
less food-borne illness, 3) better soil, 4) more and cleaner water,
5) cleaner air, and 6) less animal suffering. Some of these are
more obvious than others. The first, second and last are quite
evident when one moves to more locally grown organic fruits,
vegetables, nuts and whole grains and away from meat products; the
improvement of soil and water occurs through fewer corporate
farming practices and elimination of certain commercial pesticides
and fertilizers. The air seems a little harder to pinpoint, but
this is readily understood when realizing: that livestock and
manure (mostly hog lagoons) generate the amount of global warming
methane equivalent to the emissions of 33 million carbon dioxide
spewing automobiles; that manufacturing of fertilizer generates
global warming gases; and that nitrogen oxides result from
degradation of manure and from fertilizer applied to cropland. The
book has a wealth of information along with a number of
recommendations that all of us need to consider seriously; it is
available from CSPI for $14.95 and it can be obtained by emailing
For further materials produced by CSPI one may wish to write
to them at 1875 Conn. Ave., N.W., Suite 300, Washington, DC 20009
or visit their website <cspinet.org> for more
October 27, 2006 Weather and Signs of the Times
What is it going to be like today? This weekend? Weather
predicting is not an exact science. When young, we followed the
lead of our parents and learned quite early to know the weather by
going outside (don't try it inside) and looking at the sky and
feeling the breeze or humidity. A judgment based on the
combination of elements was generally right, except we could not
predict if that thunder shower would fall on us or on a neighboring
part of the county. Today we would depend more on the morning tv
or radio weather report -- but I often suspect that the accuracy is
not very different, only no one has done a precise scientific
comparison of prediction techniques.
The jingle goes something like this under a variety of forms:
Red in the morning, sailors' warning;
Red in the evening, sailors' greeting.
Red sky at night, sailors' delight.
[This line is puzzling because color is hard to see at night.]
The explanation is as important as the predictability of rain when
we see that redness in the morning. We learn that the color is
from reflection of light and certain cloud formations. The high
pressure has passed in the morning and thus the redness. In the
evening it is the high pressure indicator and that generally means
good weather is immediately ahead.
On a non-weather note, Christ reminds us that we observe the
weather quite accurately by looking at the sky, and so we should
observe the other signs of the times. As autumn moves into full
gear and the end of the Church year is only a month away, we need
to see the signs of the times. Knowing what to look for is
important in our journey of faith (not just when to carry the
raincoat). We need to know the obstacles to our faith journey and
realize the political and economic scene as well. I prefer not to
take an alarmist approach by listing hurricane seasons, earthquake
frequencies, and other natural or human made disasters such as
depressions and impending wars. The end may not be near.
Apocalyptical alarms have limited value and must be
interpreted properly. However, people read them differently and
may just continue what they are doing, right or wrong. The signs
of the times are worth observing, but the immediate conclusions to
draw from them are not so obvious. Certainly if signs shown
impending global health problems we should take note and change our
ways, and prepare to confront the issues with proper resources.
The global warming alarm requires a cautious approach, not panic.
And fire alerts can only be yelled so many times to achieve
Reading the signs of the times is worth our while, but the
panic people may be wrong, for only God knows the day and the hour.
Let's see urgency and caution but proceed to work with diligence.
October 28, 2006 Autumn Hiking
Hiking is meant for every season, but it seems to change in
style during the various parts of the year. Spring hikes involve
freshness and exuberance; summer, caution and endurance; winter,
readiness and energy; -- and autumn hikes, wonder and excitement
because of the unexpected. By late October, it is difficult to
determine how many of the leaves will be remaining on a certain
day, whether the mist will clear, if it is going to rain, and so
forth. We might expect about anything in October, for I remember
snow flurries once on this very day -- in pre-global warming times.
Hiking in any season requires the proper equipment as was
noted elsewhere for winter (Dec.
9, 2004), spring (April
19, 2005) and
summer (July 16,
2005). There's no need to repeat these lists for
you know what you need as regards recording or observing equipment.
And the shoes are the same throughout the year unless you are a
summer barefoot hiker.
For autumn we might think a little more about the clothing
worn. I am not one to suggest specific top-of-the-line miracle
fabrics which are highly touted in catalogs, come with awesome test
results, and more awesome prices. Quite a few of these new
materials do wick well and can keep the comfort levels high for the
hiker. However, older and less expensive garments (even cast offs)
may do just as well -- especially in pleasant weather.
Layers are a key to hiking or any outdoor activity when the
weather changes -- maybe rock-climbers and joggers want to be less
encumbered. Layers permit peeling off or adding on at will when
the temperature changes as the day progresses. Here the knapsack
comes in handy for storage. Wool sweaters work well for protection
in autumn early hours unless they get wet. Thus a combination of
sweater and an outer water-repellant light-weight shell is just
right for fall and early winter (vinyl raincoats are way too hot).
Ideally the shell should be tough, allow body moisture to
vent, hooded, adjustable at mid section, and equipped with pockets
for storing thing. Intermediate synthetics are not to be omitted
simply to stay "green" by using natural fibers. They may be long
lasting (an element to consider in resource expenditure); they are
good at insulation and light weight, and can easily be compacted
into the knapsack. Innermost levels may give some hikers the most
trouble, for cotton and silk get damp. Some experts suggest
polypropylene and polyester materials but much depends on just how
much activity you intend. It pays to experiment with products.
The fact is that day hikes are not nearly as demanding as
longer-term hikes. If you are going to walk the Appalachian Trail
or the Pacific Crest Trail, take advice from one who is more expert
than I. But do create an opportunity to get out and enjoy the
autumn, even after the leaves fall next month. Just don't
under-dress for the occasional hike.
October 29, 2006 Plea for God's Mercy
The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy.
Mark (10: 46-52). The words of the blind beggar Bartimaeus
(one of the little people mentioned in the Gospels, of which others
include Lazarus, Zacharias and Simon of Cyrene) haunt us, "Jesus,
Son of David, have pity on me." We do not have to view these
begging folks as distant observers, but as members within a world
community which is begging for pity here and now from God.
The Pitied. In one way the poor and destitute need pity and in
another sense all of us need pity -- sympathy or compassion, sorrow
felt for another's suffering. Remember, in its present day
meaning, "pitiful" is defined as arousing or deserving pity, not
individually full of pity. We seek God's compassion, even while
aware that it is always given, and all the while we need to have
pity on fellow human beings, many of whom are never pitied by their
Jeremiah (31:7-9). The prophet says that God will console and
guide the people. We are like the blind -- the spiritually blind
in need of forgiveness and direction. We need to throw away the
cloak that covers our condition and stand exposed before God for
the Lord to see us as we really are. Jeremiah is generally
regarded as the prophet of doom, and yet here he shows in the "Book
of Consolation" that God is always ready to console us if we truly
believe in the helping hand of God. I will gather them from the
ends of the world. The use of the first person shows God's
presence with people in need of pity and compassion. God is our
Abba and we can pray to God as a member of the Divine Family in
real need of consolation.
Hebrews (5: 1-6). Jesus as high priest offers his life for the
many and for us as part of the family. He is the master in giving
pity to those in need. His service is affirmed from on high, "You
are my son; this day I have begotten you." Jesus is a priest as
one who sacrifices for others, and this applies to every Christian
in a priesthood of laity and that of the sacramental ministry. Our
priesthood in Christ is not a direct continuation of the high
priesthood of the Jewish order, for that was one of bloody
sacrifice. The Mass is a continuation of the sacrifice of Calvary,
an extension in time and space for it goes beyond the Holy Land and
beyond the first century A.D.
Our compassion. In the Liturgy we affirm ourselves as a
sacrificing people ready to extend pity to others even when we need
it ourselves. Compassion is given to us when we show it to the
needy throughout the world. To lack compassion means we could risk
hardening our hearts for it takes continued practice to remain
merciful and kind. Meanness comes through withdrawal, isolation,
blindness through affluence, and saying "no" to our neighbor.
October 30, 2006 Swinging Bridges
Swinging bridges are like sorghum mills, porches and covered
bridges; they are part of Appalachia. They are a challenge to
some, a necessity to others, and picturesque to virtually all.
Challenge. I observed some visitors walking across the
swinging bridge that has been built on a trail in Kentucky's
Natural Bridge State Park within my parish boundaries. The kids
scampered across and even rocked the bridge a little as best they
could. One robust parent gingerly followed across since it was
necessary to keep up with the family -- but you could see the
nervousness during the crossing. Though that bridge is no
challenge for me, it did bring to mind another sort of swinging
bridge, a "Burma Bridge" in British Columbia, that had only two
hand cables and one foot cable and swung over a wide, rushing
stream. At the midpoint I thought the foot cable was moving
downstream and the stream was standing still. What a fright! But
have courage, the Appalachian swinging bridges are four cable
affairs with planking connected to the two lower cables.
Necessity. People put up swinging bridges in the days before
adequate road systems because they were either short cuts to
getting home or they were high water substitutes for normally
shallow fords or river crossings on the ordinary wagon roads. But
Appalachia's narrow valleys and large upstream drainage areas are
prone to extraordinary high water or flooding. In a matter of an
hour or so a placid small stream becomes raging river and spreads
over much territory. That is why swinging bridges seem so lengthy
in dry times. Of course, these bridges are for humans and those
pets willing to cross -- but not for horses who are queasy about
any bridge (see Covered Bridges Sept. 22, 05).
Picturesque. The fact is that the swinging bridge is a work
of art. It requires good ingenuity to anchor the cables on each
end and get the structure to hang freely; it draws on skilled
local workmanship to stretch the cables and insert and firmly
attach the plank flooring. And they are generally graceful and
beautiful. The cable arches set off an otherwise squalid valley
that is generally over built and somewhat ragged through unkempt
habitation. The swinging bridge is a work of art and worthy of a
picture, a painting, a moment to pause and look at in our onrushing
world. They cause us to fantasize as to how much of the challenge
they were to the robust elder bearing parcels and sacks of food and
feed, and how the youngsters would stand and scare them a little by
shaking the bridge. Maybe the bridge elicited a curse in the
middle, a turned stomach, and then a "thank God" at the end.
Many swinging bridges stand in mute testimony to simple lives
of the past before the advent of substantial road bridges. Today
the planking is somewhat rotted and so the challenge is to ignore
the "do not cross" signs that frequently appear. Swinging bridges
are like relics out of the past reminding us that life was once
harder, and we whisper a prayer for the builders and crossers.
October 31, 2006 Halloween Rerouted
I don't want to be a mean ole Scrooge on Halloween and avoid
this day. But there is genuine ambivalence among religious
families and secular groups as to how to make this a kid's day, and
yet avoid the scary witches and goblins and tainted and sugary
tricks and treats. In rural America and perhaps in urban areas as
well, this seems to be a night of older youth participating in
forms of vandalism that has little resemblance to the original
celebration or to a proper interpretation of "trick or treat."
My more optimistic side says let this be a special holiday for the
good of all. Yes, winter is Earth's rest period and we need to
celebrate its coming. We don't taunt people when they need rest,
so why taunt the Earth? But if the excess energy of youth must be
rerouted, I challenge the ones closest to the young ones to think
up a good redirecting of Halloween.
Modified trick or treat. I think families have a challenge in
what to do with young tots on or near Halloween when others are
engaged in what some might term odd-ball practices. I concede,
for the very small tots under six, take them to one or two houses
of family and friends (alerted beforehand) for a trick-or-treat
tradition -- not to strangers' places. But that should stop with
early grade schoolers. Subtly suggest that the gifts ought to be
wholesome foods (fruit, nuts, etc.) but not junk food.
Travel movies. Movies of a comical sort could be the menu for
the older youth or even supervised parties. Maybe it is the time
for travelogues and there are some good ones around, even if you
must splurge and take them to a wide screen showing of one or other
places (the Asian Himalayas, the African Kalahari, or the isles of
Party as a community celebration. The notion that being
scared out of one's wits is fun is somewhat misleading. Many hate
the events but dare not say so to peers for fear of being taunted.
It is as though on this evening mutual social blackmail is being
committed on many too hesitant to show dislike. So create a party
atmosphere that will allow for wholesome fun and entertainment.
Even though computer games are the rage, some party games from the
past can be salvaged and reused to the delight of everyone.
Do some social service. What could be the talk of a place is
to do something for the old folks in a nursing facility. I have
experienced at one place the visits of local youth serenading those
who get very few visitors in the course of this week. It was
uplifting for the residents.
Liturgy of all Saints. Is it too much to ask that we start
the Halloween with a "holy evening" as the word suggests? Why
should the pagan roots rule supreme? Tomorrow is the feast of all
the saints -- that great number of heroes and heroines who enjoy the
fruits of Heaven. Their stories of martyrdom are quite scary but
real happenings; they are worth our consideration.