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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.


A series of written meditations and reflections



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October 2009

Copyright © 2009 by Al Fritsch


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Wildflowers of early October
White snakeroot, Ageratina altissima
(photo: Janet Powell)


Reflections, October, 2009

     We need to become more serious as autumn starts in earnest. The year is drawing to a close; the winter winds will soon be blowing. The changing leaves tell us that life moves on, even when the landscape is full of color for a brief moment. October begins with green late summer foliage and closes when the last leaves flutter down. We should not let this span of pleasantness fool us. The October weather is generally cooperative, with cool brisk mornings warming into the 70s or beyond in the afternoon. Frost and the last of the yellow jackets gathering sugar materials before winter are hints of rougher times to come.

     October is the season of late festivals, football games, Columbus Day, final picnics and autumn hikes, leaf piles inviting the kids to scamper around, final field tomatoes and peppers, fresh autumn kale, mustard and collard greens, piles of orange pumpkins, crawling corn harvesters, scurrying squirrels, and stacked firewood. This is the time of the first frost, flue vaccination, new energy legislation (if Congress ever gets serious), the moving of outdoor plants inside, the final insulation work, and the opportunity to take a day's hike amid the changing leaves.









A vegetarian harvest (for a squirrel)

*photo credit)

October 1, 2009       World Vegetarian Day

     This author is not a strict vegetarian, but a moderate one who does not buy meat products, and who only eats meat when a guest provides it or at major celebrations.  The abundant venison that is now given to our parish is distributed to the poor folks coming to the door, and gifts of bouillon and sausage are used for flavoring my different soup for each day (see Special Issues). 

     Vegetarianism goes far beyond individual tastes and practices and has far broader ramifications: 

     * Resource utilization -- Vegetarianism could become a powerful movement that could cut the consumption of animal products, especially beef, pork and chicken.  Meat eaters consume many times the amount of grain (fed to the producing livestock) than is consumed by the vast majority of poor folks living principally on grain and low-meat diets.  Grain fed to animals could be more efficiently shipped to feed the one billion hungry people in this world;

     * Animal respect -- Vegetarianism champions the existence of wildlife in our increasingly developing world, and reduce the production of livestock by inhumane factory farm methods such as crowded chicken pens and feedlot conditions;

     * Food economics -- Vegetarianism is far more economical when considering the rapidly rising food prices, especially for meat products.  As more and more stop eating animal products, they are essentially holding down food prices, thus allowing more grain to be available for human consumption;

     * Nutrition awareness -- Vegetarianism can make people sensitive to the needs for more healthy diets, and start to address the obesity epidemic in our country.  It replaces a heavy meat diet by vegetables and whole grains for anyone; 

     * Meditation practices -- Vegetarianism has a spiritual dimension; many who practice this form of diet say that it reduces anger and stressful practices, though this is disputed;

     * Simpler Lifestyles -- Vegetarianism opens the door to a host of other simpler living and conservation practices that are needed in a world in crisis through global warming; and

     * Climate change -- Vegetarianism leads to lower meat consumption and thus to less livestock, which contribute through methane production to elevated greenhouse gas emissions.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us the ways to share better the resources we have at hand -- and to curb animal-products consumption to some degree.  If we choose to be vegetarians, at least let us do so in a non self-righteous manner;  help us to inspire others who desire to reduce their own meat consumption, for the sake of the disadvantaged people in other parts of the world.





A festival of autumn color
*photo credit)


October 2, 2009       Attend an Autumn Festival

     Once a year I try to keep a festive spirit by attending a fair or festival.  I always feel the urge to omit the event; yet, in every case, afterwards I'm happy to have gone and kept the festive spirit alive.  Listing all the advantages of a neighborhood or regional festival is good, and most likely you will discover more:

     *  Attending and participating enhances the social assets of the community.  Festivals help us improve the glue that binds us  together.  Being an attendee requires far less talent than running a program or booth, or performing as part of the entertainment, but attentive listening builds a deeper sense of respect;

     * Festivals encourage and celebrate a wide variety of skills and products that are local and worth our support.  I am not a great purchaser, but just visiting with some sellers is a form of compensation.  Food booths are always popular and are usually the most prosperous commercially, for most festival goers are hungry and thirsty -- or at least the smells make them think they are; 

     * Craft folks vary in their ability to attract crowds.  We all need to recognize the good work of others by showing interest in what they have to offer.  At times, displayers have much to demonstrate and yet the sheer number of items will cause some good ones to be overlooked -- and that makes the event a little bittersweet for some who count on sales for a livelihood;  

     * Youth seem to get more out of festivals than seniors, who do not have as much energy.  The face-painting locations are favorites for the toddlers, and they add much to an atmosphere of excitement.  Older youth prefer the climbing walls or the skills needed at shooting galleries;

      * Festival organizers require a happy combination of sociability, patience, good grace, and energy to operate a festival, and fortunately some enjoy doing just that.  It is a civic service and a mark of distinction to make a fair a success.   

      Kentucky is blessed with many annual festivals covering a wide variety of themes.  Nearby Beattyville has the "Wooly Worm Festival," and London the "Chicken Festival."  Here in Estill County we have the "Mushroom Festival" in the spring, but the weather does not always cooperate.  Neighboring Powell County has the "Corn Festival" in mid-summer.  Festivals are part of our Appalachian culture;  they preserve our past and give many a connection with the ways that are being abandoned.  Fairs and festivals are American to the core, and these ought to be sponsored, attended, and managed,  if you are endowed with enough time, energy, patience, social graces, and good will.

     Prayer:  Lord, show us that occasional celebration is part of Earthhealing, and that by encouraging this at a local level, we are helping to heal a troubled Earth.






Building an artificial waterfall, powered by two flexible solar panels
*photo credit)

October 3, 2009    Domestic Solar Tours in 2009

     Renewable energy is now furnishing 13% of the electricity consumed in the United States.  About three- quarters of that is hydropower and a major part of the rest is wind and geothermal, along with some wood and biofuels.  Frankly, solar applications are currently low on the renewable energy list, and yet they offer great promise to a renewable energy short world.  The future includes much solar energy -- and the Saturdays of October will be devoted to domestic solar tours in this country. 

     Small-scale solar home applications have (to pardon the pun) a very sunny future, while large-scale solar applications get far more media attention.  The people who organize and sponsor these tours throughout the U.S. are committed to making solar a leading contributor to the energy mix (perhaps coupled with natural gas when the sun doesn't shine).  

     Throughout the country home owners are showing off their residences, and demonstrating how comfortable and energy efficient their places are with solar energy.  The ASPI Solar House has been on a tour for much of its quarter of a century of existence.  We hope that those taking the tour will be inspired to build or acquire solar residences of their own.  They can join the pioneers in the solar age who will save money, especially after innovative solar devices are mass produced and made commercially available.  They want to save on ever more scarce non-renewable resources.  However, many residents choose to wait a little longer for lower priced materials to help reduce construction costs.  However,  this wait-and-see is detrimental to achieving low-cost solar energy.  

     Talking to solar residents is the fastest way to acquaint a person with the benefits of solar energy.  Visitors are made to feel comfortable enough to ask specific questions, and to catch the enthusiasm of the solar residents; they can learn quickly about a host of solar applications many of which are mentioned on this website (see Daily Reflections Table of Contents) --

     Active and passive solar space heating

     Solar water heating

     Solar food cookers and food dryers

     Solar greenhouses

     Solar compost toilets

     Solar signage

     Solar waterfalls and fountains

     Solar water purifiers

     Solar path markers and lamps.

     Check the Internet for the nearest solar tours sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and many coordinating groups such as ASPI's Kentucky Solar Partnership.  Thousands of people will benefit by touring various residences in over thirty states. 

     Prayer: Lord, make our journey of life include the learning tours that help us treat our troubled Earth with greater care.






Mystery caterpillar - Reader assistance appreciated
          (*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

October 4, 2009        Bless All the Earth

     May the Lord bless us all the days of our life. (Psalm 128)

     In the Scripture readings we see that God blesses men with women and single life with marriage;  also in the Gospel we see that Jesus blesses children in a special way.  On this feast of St. Francis of Assisi we are more aware that blessings are extended to brother sun and sister moon and to all the creatures of our Earth.  In this Nurse-Midwifery Week, we also extend God's blessing to these caregivers and to the infants they help bring into the world. 

     Blessings are our opportunities to show our love and concern, to become aware of the presence of others, and to be creative and spontaneous in extending these blessings.  Let the words flow, for the blessing must come principally from the heart, not the head. 

God's blessings go out to all the world;  so must our blessings, if we are to act in a godly way.  If we withhold blessings, we are creating outer shells through which the love of others cannot penetrate.  On the other hand, through blessing we extend the Spirit that is within us out to other creatures; thus we bring Good News to all creation (Mark 16:15).  Blessings become the primary form of evangelization; both the sender and the receiver are blessed, and receive the goodness of God's grace in a special way.  Thus we need to find opportunities to give either formal or informal blessings, and to treasure those moments. 

     Institutional blessings involve bringing animals or people to be blessed to a central location and having a formal blessing, which is done on special occasions.  Liturgical ministers  give special formal blessings of articles, people, places and activities.  Though this is quite popular for animal blessings, a number of churches, schools and other institutions discourage such practices due to liability requirements, but that seems a bit overly cautious.  A modification of the ceremony would allow each animal to stand near the particular guardian and apart from others, but be part of an assembled group for this formal occasion.

     Habitat blessings involve going to the place where the one to be blessed resides.  The blessing goes out to all the world to embrace all creation;  people take holy (or Easter) water from the place of initial blessing and scatter or sprinkle the rest of those needing a show of concern (invalid people, birds, crops, trees, etc.).  One important aspect of this outward approach is that it creates a bond of sacred relationship between guardian and animal.  In fact, this relationship is close to the mind of St. Francis, whose feast we celebrate.  It can extend to blessing caged animals in zoological gardens, to the neighbor's confined dogs, and to birds on the lawn or in cages.  Bless the free-ranging deer, turkeys, squirrels, geese.  Bless those in hospitals and jails;  animals in shelters and pet shops, beehives, anthills, and lakes with fish.  Blessing is good for the blessed and the blessing one.  

     Prayer:   Bless us, Oh Lord; extend your blessing through us.




An arbor of fox grapes, Vitis vulpina, native Kentucky grape.
*photo credit)

October 5, 2009         The Joy of New Wine  

      Seven years ago this week, my brother, sister-in-law and I were in Alsace, France, at the St. Hippolyte festival of new wine. Crowds of people from France as well as from nearby Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany were celebrating as one large happy community; the people were family units who were joyous and truly festive;  they were eating their lunches in the decorated festival grounds and drinking the fresh unfermented fruit of the vine.  Wine and celebration go together as Jesus and his disciples knew at the marriage feast of Cana -- for Jesus made the event notable by contributing new wine.

      My grandfather migrated from Alsace with the hope of starting a vineyard in the Ohio Valley, which closely resembled the Rhine Valley of his homeland in topography and climate.  At that time Augusta, Kentucky, near where he settled (after being sponsored by his future father-in-law) was the wine capital of America.  Unfortunately, at this very time in the nineteenth century a terrible blight wiped out the grape vines all over the eastern United States, and much of Europe as well; so Grandpa Peter had to switch over to mixed farming and tobacco to support a large, growing family.  However, my brother Frank strives to be faithful to his forbearers, and promotes Alsatian as well as American wine.

     Kentucky, like other parts of our country, is discovering grape-growing once again as a substitute for tobacco- (or marijuana-) based economies.   Besides providing a livelihood, wine-making has many other benefits.  The unique taste of good wine may indicate the tender care of the particular winegrower.  In defense of wine itself, we can cite St. Paul in the New Testament as well as nutritionists who see value in drinking moderate amounts of red wine for health.  Being in a "dry" section of Kentucky, where such spirits are not sold, I can gain the same red wine benefits from unfermented grape juice.  Wine was issued by the Roman military to be mixed as a purifying agent with water, and such it was.  Even in Christ's time wine was always mixed with water, lest it be called a "strong drink." However, at festive occasions the wine was not so diluted as to lose its taste, as the Cana taster in St. John's Gospel indicates.

     The taste of new wine indicates the goodness of all of God's creation, being renewed through our celebration.  Much of our Jewish and Christian religious heritage is based on wine as a central drink -- the Passover, the  "cup of salvation," and the "Blood of the Lord."  The wine was not just "natural," but had the mark of the human hands contributing to its success as a drink.  This elixir of the soul allows for relaxation, a key to enjoyment and entertainment; and in moderation this is a good that God allows the people.  Our religious traditions point to the Middle Eastern Judeo-Christian understanding of the joys of drinking wine.

     Prayers:  Lord, teach us to be festive when the time allows, and to do so with joy and moderation.








Pineapple sage, colors of autumn
            (photo by Sally Ramsdell)

October 6, 2009      Control the Salt Intake

     During summer months we take extra salt when exercising and producing more sweat.  Certainly salt is needed for proper bodily functions (maintaining blood volume and cellular osmotic pressure and transmitting nerve impulses). In older periods salt was a precious and expensive commodity but that is not the case now, and so we can get too much of a good thing.  This may occur in processed food and even over-the-counter medicines like antacids, and softened drinking water, causing high blood pressure, hypertension, and strokes.  While most frozen vegetables are processed without salt, some starchy ones (peas and lima beans) are frequently soaked in brine before freezing.  Some fruit and tomatoes are dipped in sodium hydroxide to assist peeling -- thus increasing sodium levels.  Canned and bottled citrus drinks are sometimes buffered with sodium citrate.  Sodium ion exchange is used in processing some wines to reduce sediment and clarify the product.  The high salt content of all these ingested substances concerns people on salt-restricted diets -- and should concern all.  

     The National Academy of Science estimates that our need (as healthy adults) is from 1,100 to 3,300 milligrams of sodium per day.  It may be best for those concerned about excess salt to drink bottled water with no sodium content.  The following table is a selection from  "The Sodium Content of Your Food," U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC  1981. 



     Prayer:   You are the salt of the Earth.








A touch of golden on the forest floor
*photo credit)

October 7, 2009     Americans and  World Court Day

     Justice takes on a global character and thus the need for a World Court.  In theory, we Americans acknowledge the World Court, but we like to think it applies only to the rest of the planet's inhabitants who often lack the superior system we possess -- and our super-power status.  Our Supreme Court is our highest authority on justice issues and, for many of us, that is the way it will remain.  The ultimate highest court is the judgment seat of God.  However, is the case closed?

     In truth, the United States does recognize certain international authorities dealing with war crimes (e.g., the Nuremberg Trials after World War Two) and the rights of prisoners in time of war through the Geneva Convention.  We accept that the UN Human Rights Commission is legitimate, provided this commission refrains from investigating too many American practices.  We do subscribe to the judgment of some supranational and international authorities in everything from Olympic conduct to air traffic controls, from radio signals to shipping regulations.

     Having said this, the U.S. does pick and choose when it comes to international agencies.  If an American were to be brought before the Hague Tribunal, this nation would object vigorously.  The failure to participate in the World Court proceedings is part of that picking and choosing.  Our viewpoint has weight, because we are the temporary "superpower," but should this be the deciding factor?  Of all countries, we should take a leadership role in supporting a world court system that has teeth, can prosecute nationals from any country, can give out sentences, and can enforce internationally recognized requirements for people everywhere.  Why should we flaunt this system when, in this globalized age, we must cooperate on everything from drug trafficking to tax havens.

      Recognizing the power of a world court does not diminish our own freedom, but rather enhances global security and champions all human rights.  Exerting power to be exclusive weakens a world cooperative spirit and our inter-dependence that we must be willing as a nation to welcome and support.  Justice is so universal that crimes against humanity must be prosecuted by a world court, not by national courts such as Spain's.  The fight for American independence from colonial powers produced a working federalism that can be a primary model for a globalizing world order.  When the Constitution was adopted, certain state activities such as commerce and international relations were assumed by the nation.  In time this proved wise, as our country changed from being these United States to the United States.  Other powers still reside with the states.  The surrender of states rights in earlier centuries gives us an historic opportunity to take a leadership role in moving to a  federalized world government.  This applies to everything from war crimes to climate change issues.

     Prayer:  Lord, help us Americans to understand that we must let go of power so that our world may be a better place to live.








Philadelphia Fleabane, Erigeron philadelphicus
*photo credit)

October 8, 2009      Should We Save Battlefields

     Should we preserve historic battle sites?  That is the ecological question of the day.  Some 147 years ago today, the federal and Confederate forces clashed somewhat unintentionally in  Battle of Perryville here in Kentucky.  In this pleasant bluegrass countryside these armies met, fought and then limped away for another fight.  For battle historians and reenactors every battle detail is of utmost importance, and so they prefer to see the fields planted in the same crops, the same hedgerows, the same barns and homestead, and the creeks running as free (though it was a drought) as on that October, 1862, day.  Must history stand still for the sake of reenactors of battles? 

     On the side of benefits, historic sites allow people to relive the past in a more authentic manner.  Reenactment allows otherwise sluggish adults to get out and exert themselves playing soldier, dressing in sweaty woolens, and toting heavy muskets around for an hour or so to martial music and fluttering banners.  My years of fading interest in Civil War battles included stopping by and observing the Perryville event and another at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1988.  However, the events were more amusing than impressive.  Reenactors admitted that those seemingly home-spun clothes cost hundreds of dollars for an outfit.  One wonders how any of these portly folks would have fought in the real battle.

     Preserving historic sites is worthwhile.  A preserved site is a good use of land for recreation, especially when thousands of sightseers desire to have some contact with American history.  Acquiring and preserving sites shows a respect for the sacrifices of the past, even when we do not identify with either side in  ancient struggles.  Saving such landscape when not hindering commerce does seem worthwhile.  The grounds of the Civil War Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, within metropolitan Nashville, are already lost.  Certain battlefield sites of that war such as Gettysburg and Antietam have been preserved, though some unsightly monuments and recent structures deserve to be removed.  The preservation of sites nearer locations of urban sprawl (e.g., the Battle of the Wilderness near Washington, DC) requires more land purchases.

     Once several of us in our county made an issue of some loggers dragging logs over the trenches (still visible) of the site of the almost forgotten Battle of Wildcat Mountain, Kentucky.  The media heard our protestations and called a very famous Civil War historian who laughed at the lack of importance of the battle.  He never understood how much of a disservice he did to our efforts at historic preservation -- but loggers did stop logging through our efforts.  Preserving is certainly better than destruction.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to regard our past as precious and fragile, and to realize that the means we have to preserve historic memory are worth the effort.  Change those who want to play war games to join in preserving authentic historic sites for all to enjoy.








Berries of the roughleaf dogwood, Cornus drummondii
*photo credit)

October 9, 2009    Cash for Clunkers:  Get Serious!    

     October is a month when we should get serious.  What about the recent three-billion-dollar federal program that allowed up to $4,500 in trade-in for vehicles of 1984 or newer getting 18 miles per gallon or less?  The allowance depended on the purchased vehicle's getting at least 22 miles to the gallon.  Small differences and big bucks, right?  Why would someone pass up a sizeable cash rebate on a new vehicle purchase?  Those looking for a  bargain coming down the road found it this past summer.  Those who didn't were too poor or too conservative when it comes to taxpayer money. 

     Certainly, the popularity of the program did not depend on the poor migrant who drives a clunker, because there was no possibility of affording a new vehicle.  Nor was it popular with serious environmentalists (some question as to how many there are), who realize that the savings are very minor;  they must be contrasted with other saving through conservation programs such as compact fluorescent bulbs or solar water heaters.  The program was wildly popular with affluent people, who had a half-used clunker around after retirement or after the youngsters had flown the nest. The problem with this program was it was of only short-term economic value, was not good resource conservation and did not take environmentalism seriously.  The spurt in the sales of autos in the summer did not endure.  When France stopped such a program in the 1990s, the year after the program new auto sales dropped 20% (The Economist, August 15, 2009, p. 25).

     A rule of thumb is that one-fifth of a vehicle's lifetime resource consumption is in its construction, and so junking vehicles with more life potential may not be major savings.  However, the problem was that it allowed junk dealers to strip cars of all but the engines, which had to be rendered unworkable.  The classic car lobby worked hard to exclude vehicles made before 1984 from the salvaging-- and thus about five million of the most wasteful running vehicles were excluded.  Other countries with similar programs do not limit age.  Germany has a 2,500 Euro-program for any car older than nine years, other European countries have ten year limits and Japan has a thirteen year limit.    

     Wasting federal money is not a good practice, and naysayers point to this as a way towards decline of American culture and society.  Whether that much can be said is problematic.  Seriousness means that America must effect real long-term savings, and industrial China must be made to follow our example before it irreversible damage occurs.  Such programs as the cash-for-clunkers really reward the more extravagant wasters of the past without putting a meaningful alternative into effect.  It is a form of postponing meaningful resource conservation.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to be serious, especially in the Octobers of our lives, when we ought to know better about our many lifestyle practices.










Goldenrod, reclaiming a newly-opened prairie
*photo credit)

October 10, 2009       We Need Fire Prevention Measures

      This essay was written in late August when there were eleven fires burning in California, and one of these was in Los Angeles County, which blackened over two hundred square miles and caused the evacuation of about 12,000 people. As autumn approached more were in store.  No one likes the sound "fire," whether in a theater or over a cell phone.   We see reports and then remember fires that caused alarm in our own lives, those in forested areas (this author helped fight several forest and other fires in the dry years of 1986 and 1987).  We are alarmed about uncontrolled fires, for disaster hovers, especially for those living near forests.

     * Don't build homes in fire-prone areas.  That is easier said than done, because some people have no other affordable sites.  However, a considerable number of affluent folks retreat to fire-prone areas and expect fire fighters to come when blazes erupt.

     * Clear away combustibles.  Television pictures show residents hastily clearing dead brush from around their homes in front of a forest fire.  Why didn't the dummies think ahead and take some time to clear the same materials months before the fire?  They must have been aware that fire lines stop forest fires to some degree.  Could they not have anticipated the need, and done the cleaning as a form of exercise?  "Yes, they could."  Those living in wooded areas should have space cleared from around their residences and other buildings -- and check each year. Inside the home, spontaneously combustible oily cloths should be discovered and discarded.

     Avoid camp fires.  Many of us hikers and campers can remember very nice camp fires, but in dry times such thoughts should be banished.  Once in a dry Oregon evening, some of us distant travelers started a small campfire, and the resinous brush fuel exploded into flames.  The incident made us extinguish the camp fire right away, for fear of it getting out of hand.  The episode has haunted me ever since.

     Watch the matches.  We know young children love to play with fire and so our match supply should be hidden.  The young are not the only culprits.  If smoking is still allowed in your home or place of work, at least make sure that combustion products are not casually discarded.  Use a flashlight instead of a burning torch. 

     Protect the fireplaces.  We enjoy a blazing fireplace, but if it is not properly screened, sparks can be emitted in ways that can set fire to rugs, curtains, table cloths, etc.  A screen takes away some of the coziness, but we need to remember that winter as well as summer can be a fire season.

     Consider lightning rods.  This centuries-old fire protection should be considered for buildings in elevated and isolated areas.

     Prayer:   Lord, help us to respect the power of fire in the manner in which our ancestors first controlled its use.









Common evening-primrose, Oenothera biennis
*photo credit)

October 11, 20099         Called to Be Perfect

     Come and follow me. (Mark 10:17-27)

     Sometimes we read the Gospels and think they apply to others, and so we take them lightly.  One thing the Church teaches is the words of Scripture are meant for everyone.  One reply (denial) to today's reading is that no one is perfect, and so the call to follow the Lord applies to no one.  Does it then follow that no one is called?  Another reply (excuse) is perfection eludes me but not everyone, so the other person takes my place in following the Lord to perfection.  The third interpretation (escape for awhile) is to affirm the validity of the Scripture, but that will come later in one's own life after one makes a fortune, or takes care of business through imperfect means, or on a death bed. 

     Yes, Jesus is talking to imperfect human beings.  In one way the rich young man in the Scriptures was looking for more, and yet he had a strange feeling that he had done all he could.  Too often we deal with people in such a way that they think we approve of their imperfections.  Jesus tells the rich man to forego wealth and personal possessions, if he wants to be perfect.  He must change in order to move on the road to perfection.  We all must do the same, no matter what our state is at this moment.

     Being called to be perfect is clear; achieving that in this lifetime is nearly impossible.  What is of note is that we can attain deeper levels of perfection if we try.  Seeing this as an individual enterprise apart from others is not really what the calling is about.  Our efforts as followers of the Lord are to bring others with us -- not to distance ourselves from them on the road to perfection.  If love is what perfection consists in, we must involve ourselves in the love of our neighbor, especially those who hurt deeply at this time -- the hungry, ignorant, homeless, sick and others.  Coming to perfection is thus a social enterprise, one in which we assist each other in overcoming the denial, excuse and escape that afflicts so many.  In our willingness to assist others, we grow in perfection with them.  In helping them we come to know and not deny our weakness; we accept no excuse; we avoid escape by focusing on what must be done here and now.

      This raises the age old question:  do we first become perfect and then help others?  Or do we overlook our imperfections in order to help others first?  We are aware that the road to perfection is complex, but we must balance our concern for self-improvement with helping others with all our hearts.  This road includes the risk of becoming too self-centered in our own individualistic efforts; furthermore we can become overly active and even do this without growing in love for those we help.  We need to keep balanced.

     Prayer:  Lord teach us to strive for perfection in a troubled world where confronting our imperfections is something we accept as part of our life's struggle.






Foliage of the ginkgo biloba, green leaves in October
*photo credit)

October 12, 2009    Columbus Day and Earth Science Week

     Columbus Day is the perfect time to initiate Earth Science Week, for this day of New World discovery can include the journey to planetary discovery.  The western world knew planet Earth was round, but no one sought out the limits and attempted to circumnavigate the globe until the end of the fifteenth century.  Planet Earth beckoned to be discovered and explored, and Columbus contributed to opening the doors.  Earth science allows us to appreciate the beauty, complexity and fragile nature of our Earth.  Through this knowledge we are better able to protect her.  Geology, paleontology, seismology, meteorology, and oceanography all seem to coalesce in one giant endeavor directed to explaining the phenomena of our dynamic living planet;  Furthermore, this advanced knowledge includes the field of ecology as well.  Earthhealing practices call upon all these and more besides.

     The science of geology was really my first love, even though no geology courses were offered by my college.  The sea shells caked in the limestone-rock layers on our Mason County, Kentucky, farm caused me to wonder -- especially when distant relatives begged us to allow them to take chunks of our rock back with them.  The farm is hundreds of miles from the sea, and yet sea shells and all forms of sea life were fossilized and displayed before our eyes as almost alive.  That youthful wonder was intensified by a visit to our town by the Jesuit, Father Hubbard, the "Glacier Priest." From him, we found out that Alaska was another world of wonder, and that the planet embodied an immense mystery unfolding before our eyes.  My only formal bout with geology came when invited to teach a course in Earth sciences at a local "college without walls" in the 1990s; and just keeping ahead of the students became a challenge.  However, the subject matter was captivating.  Suddenly one sees Earth alive with its continental drifting, ocean currents, and "ring of fire" with earthquake and volcano activity.  One imagines Earth in one great act of giving birth to something new. 

     The upthrust rock formations in northern Tennessee immediately south of Kentucky, (and easily observable from I-75), suddenly took on special meaning.  This is also true of all major road cuts, including the heaving rock layers at Sideling Hill on I-68 in western Maryland.  In fact, highway travel became tours through the landmarks of geological time, whether in the east or in New Mexico and Colorado, a trip taken immediately after the geology course.  Only by such studies does one come to respect our vital Earth and current controversies about preserving it.  The burden falls on Earth-related scientists to detect the effects of climate change, glacier melting, rise in ocean levels, tsunami alerts, potential nuclear waste disposal sites, hurricane paths, natural gas and petroleum reserves, and the moment when a rumbling volcano may explode or earthquake tremble.  

     Prayer:  Lord of the universe, help us to know our planet and to use the growing knowledge of the Earth sciences for the benefit of all people.






*photo credit)

October 13, 2009     The Hospice Workers' Prayer

           Dear Lord, at times we find it difficult work to prepare our people for their final journey.  Yet through it all we must stay cheerful and at times this proves hard to do.  Help us to stay always in a pleasant mood.

           Also give us the grace to preserve a sense of gratitude and to constantly convey this to our patients.

           Inspire us to seek from patients and/or their loved ones what events and persons have been meaningful in their lives.  As death approaches, while the hearing sense remains, help us to remind them of the many blessings they have to be thankful for --

     * their entire lives, 

     * their relatives who have gone on,

     * their living loved ones who care,

     * their successes and learning experiences,

     * their important life events,

     * and their caregivers.

          Let us be willing to create an atmosphere of thankfulness that shows your blessings come to us all -- and extend from us all. 

          Make all patients willing to respond at least in their hearts to the great things You have given to them, so that the burdens of their final journey might be lightened.

          And make us grateful people as well.  We have the privilege to serve others as part of what You have called us to do at this moment.  Lord, give us the understanding that we are right here and now exactly where we ought to be.  These, our patients, are part of the blessings You give to us, and they deserve our full attention.   Thank you Lord, for asking us to serve you.










Berries of the pokeweed, Phytolacca americana
*photo credit)

October 14, 2009         The Peace Corps

     Volunteers serve America both within and outside the nation's boundaries. The Peace Corps is 48 years old today, and that is worth celebrating.  The spirit that generated this unique group of volunteers is ever fresh and worthy of further support.  Over the years, Peace Corp volunteers have gone to dozens of countries in all parts of the world, and assisted people through teaching and by other services.  The greatest gift bestowed on all parties is that through mutual work we can make this a better world.  Upon completing service, many Peace Corps volunteers become active citizens in the United States all their lives. 

     Today, due to terrorist threats, some areas of the world have become too dangerous for Peace Corps workers.  On the other hand, after the Soviet demise, several of the emerging nations such as the Ukraine welcomed the Peace Corps.  Certainly the need for assisting others is still urgent everywhere, and willing volunteers continue to come forward with each passing year.  With the current financial turndown, volunteering has actually increased.  From lessons learned from the Peace Corps and other volunteer groups, the following suggestions are worth listing:

     First, regard volunteers going abroad to render service to others as of equal or greater importance than the military presence in other lands to establish security.  A tithing of our military budget (sixty billion dollars per year) should be apportioned to building affordable housing, subsidizing small farming operations, expanding education and health facilities, and installing clean water facilities in poorer nations (see Disarmament Week later this month).  Thus earthhealing will be greatly enhanced through volunteers working with generous development funds. 

     Second, support a "Reverse Volunteer Corps," where people with skills from other nations can come and assist our own people in health care, housing, gardening and other specialties that are so needed among our own low-income people.  This addresses any residue of arrogance that we need to act alone in bettering the world.  Our nation would benefit by learning innovative ways to conserve resources, from people highly skilled in such practices. A Reverse Volunteer Corps could be supported by sponsoring governments and charities and be a way foreign young people could satisfy their military service time.

     Third, all volunteers, whether domestic or foreign, ought to be specialists or students learning to be specialists.  Volunteers must come with acquired skills and, if they lack them, they should be determined to become skilled with the target nation as the training grounds.  The volunteer, who is screened for aptitude, could work under native skilled but under-subsidized teachers who could receive tuition fees for their time and patience. 

     Prayer:  Lord give us a spirit of generosity that inspires many to volunteer for part of their lives in service of others.






Corn, ready for harvest.  Woodford Co., KY
*photo credit)

October 15, 2009     Harvesting Corn in Times Past

     When the corn harvesters finish their work this autumn, this may be at least the second largest American corn harvest on record.  From the time the Native Americans planted their hills of corn, beans and squash across what is now the Midwest, corn has been the North American king of the grain crops.  This was impressed upon many of us who grew up in or near the Corn Belt. As kids, we replanted missing sections of the corn field using a corn "jobber," cut corn stalks with a corn knife, made corn "shocks" in the field, "shucked" corn by hand, and loosened grains from cobs with a corn "sheller" (items now found in agricultural museums).  For making silage, we used a horse- or tractor-drawn mechanical "binder."  

     Cutting dried corn stalks was hard, hot work that many of us school kids partly avoided.  It required wearing long-sleeved shirts, buttoned at the neck on these hot autumn days, to prevent dried leaves from cutting your arms and neck.  It was sweaty, dusty, hard, "slave-type" work, but in the end the corn was gathered in shocks to dry and be shucked. 

     Shocking occurred by tying four single corn stalks together at the top like a tent structure (two from each of two parallel rows) and then stacking the hand- or mechanically-cut bundles first on one side and then on another, allowing the stalks to stand vertically (with corn ears at the top).  More and more stalks were added around the circumference until a shock emerged, which was pulled together at about five feet high and tied with binder twine into a compact free-standing plant structure.  This process differed from less strenuous mechanical corn picking that was being popularized after the Second World War.  In that more mechanical process, corn stalks were mashed and even some of the ears were lost; the more opportune of the wild geese feasted on such corn-picked fields through winter.

     Shucking was labor intensive and involved the women folks and youth;  it consisted of allowing the corn to dry and the removing the ears of grain from the stalk.  Each shock was torn down and the husking (shucking) proceeded with corn ears being piled for pick up.  The torn-down shock was then reconstructed much in the manner of the first shocking, and would stand until used during the winter for feeding to cattle. 

     Hauling the shucked corn was the final harvest stage;  this involved using a wagon to transport the shucked corn to a corn "crib" -- an out-building, with siding with half-inch cracks running up and down that allowed the corn to dry and not mold.  The best part of corn harvesting was riding a loaded wagon to the crib.  The sound of glistening ears hitting the wagon bed still rings in my ears. 

     Prayer:  Lord, the feel, smell and sight of golden corn ears seemed to say that your bounty had descended upon us.  Direct us to using this bounty wisely for the hungry of the world.   






Shiitake mushrooms on log.  Brooke Hill Farm, Franklin Co., KY
*photo credit)

October 16, 2009   Food Shortages and World Food Day 

     World Food Day has changed since those early days in the 1970s.  Our concern then was primarily both quality and sufficient quantity of food for all.  Since then access to affordable food has unfortunately arisen as a major world concern. This year, one billion people go to bed hungry each night, and that specter haunts us all.  Think of yesterday's reflection based on the massive corn harvest in our own country, with perhaps upward of one-quarter of that harvest being destined for use in making biofuels to run America's gas guzzlers. 

     A balanced food policy should look at good nutrition (quality), sufficient affordable food (quantity), and local sources of food where and whenever possible (access).  Like a footstool that needs at least three legs, so a balanced world food policy should stand on its own.  Emergency measures are needed, but ought not be considered the ordinary approach;  instead, ideally, all areas of the world ought to be self-sufficient in food.

    *  Nutritious food --  Some people fill their hunger pangs with junk food (products with large amounts of sugar, fats, salt and cholesterol), which results in obesity and other health problems. Switching to a menu that includes uncontaminated (pesticide-free) fruits and vegetables, nuts and berries, whole grains and unprocessed foods is recommended.  This change in food habits is quite difficult in countries where fast food outlets are highly profitable, and are attracting unsophisticated people to non-nutritious foods.  Nutrition information competes with the advertising of commercial junk food, and guess who is winning out?  

    *  Affordable food --  By far the largest problem at the first Food Day and one that continues unabated is that of world hunger.  The astronomical figure of one billion people, including many youngsters, going to bed without sufficient food, or the pictures of starving people in the Horn of Africa strike us deeply.  The world could grow all the food needed, and yet supply and demand do not meet in a socially just manner.  The rising price of food makes more and more people unable to afford enough food to meet their essential needs -- and many of them would be happy with basic grain and cooking oil as their daily bread -- though a more balanced diet is more desirable.  The "steak" crowd must realize that much of the world food resource goes to making their animal products.

     *  Locally grown food -- Local lands are used for everything from golf courses to commercial export crops.  A shift from putting resources into food donations to supporting the growth locally of food for home consumption is of utmost importance.  All should strive to eat locally grown food, which is often more affordable and easily accessible.  Space for gardens and cropland is a major concern for the landless and dispossessed.

     Prayer:   Lord, give us this day our daily bread.  All of us should become your hands in giving daily bread to others.







Autumn color of the Virginia creeper vine,
Parthenocissus quinquefolia

*photo credit)

October 17, 2009   Youth Museums and Varied Autumn Leaves 

     October is leaf month.  This is especially true at this time before color change here in the "mixed mesophythic forests," which harbor the largest variety of temperate hardwood trees in the world.  Celebrate diversity before collecting dried leaves with a rake in the latter part of this month.  In fact, in these last days of green leaves, it is time for youth to see how many of the trees they can identify and to collect the leaves.  Amazingly, trees do fascinate youth as much as bugs and frogs and birds.  However, it is harder to launch a youth museum with leaves -- though it can be done over time.  Trees brim with benefits from shade and shape to fruit and nuts and wood, and their leaves are easy to collect. 

      Identification.  Distinguishing trees requires supervisors who know their materials -- and can tell the types especially the pines and other evergreens.  First, identify a person knowledgeable in trees.  With  "Tree Finder: A Manual for the Identification of Trees and Their Leaves," by May Theilgaard Watts (Nature Study Guide, 1998) or a similar book one can quickly identify all the common American trees (133 listed in this book).  The collection should include all evergreens with distinguishing needles in bundles or tufts.  For other trees, notice that leaves grow opposite or alternately, whether they are composed of several leaflets or simple, whether the leaflets radiate from one point or are arranged along the twig, and whether leaf edges are toothed or smooth.  For instance, a horse chestnut (Aesculus Hippocastanum) usually has seven leaflets, doubly toothed; the leaflets have no stalks and the winter buds are sticky.  Its cousin, the Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) has five leaflets that are irregularly and bluntly toothed; and the buds are keeled and the twigs have a disagreeable smell when bruised.

     Collection.  Encourage young collectors to assemble their findings into books of pressed leaves or on a poster board with some clear plastic covering (laminating materials) to help preserve their findings.  A good practice is to collect leaves (preferably before they become too dry and flaky) and press them as in between the pages of a book.  Younger collectors may wish to focus on the shape of leaves from the maple, sweet gum, tulip tree or oak.  They can be fooled by the various shapes of the sassafras coming off one plant.  The leaves should be pressed, mounted and identified for others to see -- but that depends on the collectors'age. 

     Encouragement.  The result of this exercise is that the collectors begin to sense the hidden treasure resting in the region in which they live.  Variety enriches our lives and can lead us to the Creator of all.  Thank the collectors for helping to spread Good News in their own humble ways.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to spread the Good News of your treasure in our backyard and neighborhood.  Help us to show respect by displaying the rich variety of your creation for others to admire.






Lush patch of aromatic aster, Aster oblongifolius
*photo credit)

October 18, 2009        Aspirations to Greatness 

     Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest.

                            (Mark 10: 42-45)

     We listen to a host of budding musicians even in their pre-teens; breathlessly they project a message of self-promotion.  We see this in reading someone's resume, in the presentation of a  speaker, in the interview on the television or public radio.  Aspirations for greatness have been with people since time immemorial; it is in the human bones to toot one's own horn. Are we so shocked that the sons of Zebedee, James and John, had them as well -- a case of "aspirations?"  Our culture leads us to ask, "Are such aspirations to greatness good or bad?" 

     Wrong aspirations:  Jesus does not say, "Have no aspirations."  Rather the admonition is to find them through service of other people who are in need.  Wrong types of aspirations will lead people:  to compete too fiercely for a position; to undercut the work of another so the aspiring one can get ahead; to minimize the need for giving attention to others so as to build up oneself; to consider charity as the power to dictate one's way or influence; to become greedy with a veneer of genuine aspiring;  to glory in the fame that comes from public recognition; and to swell in self-importance when the entire exercise is a sham.  Perhaps there are still other  motivations so perverse and self-serving that they need not be enumerated.  Most of us know people, who apparently are filled with grasping and clawing to get above the herd.

     Proper aspirations:  Service to the Lord includes a desire to be with the Lord in ministry and yet with a general indifference as to the apparent immediate success of the service that is called for at this time.  The service must be filled with the love of Christ.  The more greatly this love prevails, the more spiritually powerful the service whether of a long or short duration.  Some saints have aspired to serve the Lord, and many martyrs found the service measured in days, months or a few years (Sts. Felicity and Perpetua or many of the English or North American martyrs); others faced martyrdom like St. Boniface after a long life of church ministry.  Service to the Lord takes on heroic forms such as that of St. Theresa, the Little Flower;  she aspired to do great things for the Lord, yet spent her few years in the cloistered convent with a crippling illness.  God fulfilled her deep and loving aspirations by allowing her autobiography to be widely circulated after her death -- one of the most popular books in the world.  She aspired to greatness through service, and even asked God to render that as a grace.

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to rise above the quibbling over earthly positions, and see that what You want from us is fidelity and not success.  Help us to be humble and to give total service;  help us to do this with indifference to such conditions as short or long life, as known or unknown. 







A spot of blue sky in a sea of clouds
*photo credit)

October 19, 2009       North American Martyrs 

      My last year in formal Jesuit training, called "Tertianship," was spent in 1968 at the North American Martyrs Shrine at Auriesville, New York.  Strolling the lush grounds around the massive chapel, I wondered what things were like three hundred years before.  The French missionaries ministered to the Hurons, sworn enemies of the Iroquois, who lived in what is now upper state New York where the shrine is located.  

      Isaac Jogues (1607-46), John de Brebeuf (1593-1649) and their companions set their eyes on the conversion of the Huron nation and were successful.  In their attempts to convert the Hurons, they were caught in the middle of inter-tribal and colonial/tribal battles.  Five of this group met their martyrdom in what is now Ontario, Canada.  Jogues and Rene Goupil, a lay assistant trained in medicine, were wounded in 1643, taken prisoner, forced to run the gauntlet several times, and brought to the site of present day Auriesville, New York.  Here Jogues had his left thumb cut off and endured further torture; Goupil was tomahawked to death.  Jogues was ransomed by the Dutch at Albany (Protestants) and made his way through New Amsterdam (New York City) back to France.  There he received permission from the Pope to celebrate Mass, which could not ordinarily be performed without intact hands.   But he hastened to return to North America to resume his mission endeavors.

      By April, 1644 Jogues was in Montreal, Quebec, and participated in a peace conference between the French and Iroquois federation.  He wanted to extend the Good News to all the nations.  Thus he felt privileged to have been chosen to accompany the Mohawks (one of the nations) back to their home to help guarantee the peace agreement; the tribe's villagers, upon seeing him returning, were amazed that their former slave was an envoy of the powerful nation of France.  Jogues returned to Quebec leaving materials with the Mohawks in hopes of coming back.  Later he and John de la Lande, a layman assistant, went back as missionaries to the now supposedly peaceful Mohawks.  However, this tribe had just suffered a crop failure and an epidemic, and blamed it on the materials Jogues left behind.  So he and la Lande were taken prisoner, stripped, tortured, and on October 18, 1646, Jogues was put to death and on the next day de la Lande suffered the same fate.  Their heads were impaled on posts and their bodies thrown into the river.  Attempts to locate their remains have failed.

     Three years later John de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalement, while ministering to their peaceful Hurons, saw the settlements (near Midland, Ontario) attacked by Iroquois.  These two priests were tortured, mutilated, burned, and tormented to death.  Also meeting the same fate in what is now Canada were missionaries Charles Garnier, Anthony Daniel, and Noel Chabanel, all French Jesuit priests.  The eight are called the "North American Martyrs."

     Prayer:  Lord, You give us North Americans good models to follow.  May we see that their efforts have borne much fruit.   










The Canadian goose
          (*photo by Michael Huey)

October 20, 2009     Observe Flying and Grazing Geese

     During October, the Canadians and the geese go south.  Those of us living near I-75 or those near I-95 on the east coast (major Canada-to-Florida routes) can confirm the first observation.  But the familiar honking of the "v" formations of wild geese heading south are not as frequent as in times past.  Some geese certainly migrate from the frigid upper portions of Canada and the colder upper Midwest, but they don't go so far South.  Due to warmer winters, the geese are opportunistic enough to travel no farther than they have to.  Today many geese have found the trip too burdensome and have opted to reside in a broad temperate band of land in the United States.  Here they enjoy relatively warm winters and feast on corn left behind by corn pickers (see October 15) or prefer to graze on and foul up lawns and golf greens.

     Should we even use the term "wild" for these rather domesticated geese?   These geese seem pretty tame now, for they have acquired a sense of possessiveness that one finds in the always alert and honking domesticated goose.  They can be just as feisty, intrusive, domineering, and messy -- and yet there is an elegance that intrigues us about their behavior.  In Lexington, they even merit a geese-walking zone across a busy street in the eastern portion near a lake, and they halt traffic and move slowly across as though they own the place.   Maybe they do! 

     For centuries, bird watchers awaited the wild geese to announce the change of the seasons as they honked their ways north or south.  The leaders in the "V" formation would fall back to last place, and the next in line would take its place.  They were admired as they passed through and helped create a "change of season" atmosphere.  Perhaps it was their loud honking that drew so much attention.  Such admiration erodes when the now wild-to-sedentary geese leave their marks in grass, on driveways and sidewalks.  In fact, among the changing patterns of wildlife, the goose has become a first class nuisance even outstripping the increased herds of deer or the so-called bands of "wild" turkey. 

     Controlling this pest is not easy.  In plagued suburban and urban areas, watchdogs can only guard so much territory.  Geese naturally switch from a pestered area to a relatively more sedate (even within fenced areas of zoological gardens).  Swans will chase some geese from a relatively small lake.  Meat eaters, willing to partake in tough goose, should ask those who can prepare the bird well about the right temperature and spices.  All meat eaters should try to get their food locally, and often nothing is closer than the goose or other proliferating wildlife.  Many of the non-meat eaters seem to like the geese's presence and object to their being harvested.  Local governments must address this issue.

     Prayer:  Thank you Lord for what geese can do;  make all of us as versatile as they are, and lead us to see where opportunity will make us change our practices for the better.








Franz Jägerstätter Park
           (*photo by Staphan Barth)

October 21, 2009   Jaegerstaetter:  Conscientious Objector

       Disarmament Week is a perfect time to recount the life of someone who touches us very deeply --  Franz Jaegerstaetter.  He was a simple farmer in Austria, living near the town where Hitler was born.  Franz was born out of wedlock to a poor farmer's maid and brought up by his grandmother, until his mother married a Jaegerstaetter, who adopted Franz.  He did nothing extraordinary for most of his uneventful early life, marrying, and having four small children by the time of the Second World War.  All Franz was remembered for was serving at daily Mass;  most in the village considered him as overly devout and somewhat eccentric.

    In brief, Franz refused to fight or even participate in the Second World War, even though urged on by his parish priest, the town's officials, his wife, and even his bishop.  His stubborn refusal to serve even as a medical corpsman exhausted his supporters' attempts at protection.  Thus he was arrested, sent to prison, and then executed in 1943 near Berlin over the last minute pleas of his soon-to-be widow and others.  He went bravely to his end, but so also did many of his countrymen who died on the Russian Front and elsewhere.  Each of those dead soldiers was honored with photos and proper medals and attributions on their gravestones, but the townspeople in Franz's village were so ashamed and unforgiving of Franz that they buried him in a barely identified grave site in the back of the church yard. However, his story was discovered by sociologist Gordon Zahn, who was researching a book on German Catholics' response to Nazism.  Thus the book was first published in 1964, entitled Solitary Witness:  The Life and Death of Franz Jaegerstaetter (Templegate: Springfield, Ill, 1984 reprinted).  Franz was now becoming known as a singular example of conscientious objection in that war period.

     Franz's Austrian biographer spoke to his widow Franziska and read in his notebook, "Disciples of Christ, by the salt of supernatural values, should keep others from moral decay, but not spoil their lives with too much salt. Love of enemy is not unprincipled weakness, but heroic strength of soul and imitation of the divine example."   On further reading, the author, Erna Putz, changed from seeing Franz as an eccentric to seeing him as a mystic.  She wanted to share his hidden written treasure with other people.  (Berenice Cocciolillo, "A Hero Who Wouldn't Budge in the Face of Nazism." National Catholic Register, March 12-18, 2000, p.1.)

     A sequel to the story:  In recent years, the German government has sent a formal apology for the death of this conscientious objector;  his native Austrian government has bestowed a medal of highest honor on this otherwise forgotten person; pilgrims have beaten a path to his grave site; and now the Church is considering his cause for beatification and eventual canonization.  The marvel is that one so solitary has become so famous.

     Prayer:  Lord, hasten the day when we can say, "St. Franz."






Shagbark hickory, Carya ovata
*photo credit)

October 22, 2009    Reviewing the Cuban Missile Crisis

     On October 22, 1962, Americans experienced events leading up to the possible direct confrontation with the military power of the Soviet Union, our antagonist during the four-decade-old "Cold War." It was high drama from the members of the Kennedy Administration to young school children.  Through air monitoring techniques, our Defense Department found evidence that the Soviets were supplying materials for a build-up of bases in Cuba only 90 miles off our Florida coast.  Then came the revelation that missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads were on their way by ship to Cuba and could lead to possible direct military confrontation.

     On that fateful October 22nd, President John F. Kennedy went on nationwide radio and television to announce a naval blockade of Cuba to stop the missile-carrying ships, which were already on the seas.  His talk further alarmed us all.  If the Soviet ships continued on course, the Cold War could suddenly become hot.  Would nuclear missiles be flying in both direction, and who would suffer and who would die?   Would we have to occupy those rather obscure bunkers that had been designated for shelters in the unlikely event of a nuclear attack?  Imaginations ran wilder than at Pearl Harbor and 9-11.  The anxiety lasted for several days, until Soviet Premier Khrushchev bowed to American determination, turned his ships around, and agreed to remove launching equipment from Cuba.  

     A reflection on that October forty-seven years ago shows a number of things:  a critical situation needing resolution; a determination on our side to go all the way; serious nuclear stakes; and an antagonist who seemed bent on confrontation.  Most of us did not realize the full implications of the situation, even though it was the talk of the town and nation.  Only years later, after all the details were revealed, did we come to understand the crisis fully.  History ought never to be repeated.

     Maybe in this October, 2009, we could reflect on the possibility of nuclear risk taking and find that events could still trigger global conflagrations.  It may not be between the traditional major nuclear powers, but between minor nuclear powers (e.g., India and Pakistan or Israel and Iran) or between a rogue state (North Korea) and the United States.  More probable scenarios are terrible incidents created by individual terrorist groups, who might possess homemade nuclear weapons.  Such groups could attempt to blackmail a country -- either release prisoners or get out of Afghanistan (or Iraq or elsewhere) lest a major American city become a target of an improvised nuclear device.  The U.S. and Russia must dismantle thousands of nuclear warhead; nuclear materials must be under the strictest controls; the world must stop building new nuclear powerplants that could be sources of materials from which nuclear weaponry can be made.  As long as such weapons are around, risks may exist that soon spill beyond national boundaries.

     Prayer:  Lord, deliver us from the evil of nuclear weaponry.









Thompson Creek, Anderson Co., KY
*photo credit)

October 23, 2009   Time to Abolish the Death Penalty

     Pro-life means allowing life to continue in all its forms and to protect and enhance it from womb to tomb, whether in the cancer ward or the death row, whether human life or wildlife.  Certain circumstances may make this a difficult subject, as in warfare or when life-threatening choices must be made -- but that can be another discussion.  All pro-lifers ought to ask some questions:  Can we call ourselves pro-life, if we accept a death penalty for criminals?  Does a prisoner on death row forfeit his or her right to life?  Is there really a difference between rights to life of a prisoner and of a fetus?  Inconsistencies can be glaring.  Whereas at least half of Americans would say they are in the pro-life camp (and the numbers seem to be increasing), a far smaller fraction of that population desires to abolish the death penalty. 

     Though deaths by hanging, drawing and quartering, beheading and crucifixion were the means of dying for many witnesses and martyrs of old, still along with implementing better means of incarceration and enlightened prison reform, many countries have abolished the death penalty.  These include most countries of Latin America, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, and all other European countries.  An increasing number of these countries will not even extradite a criminal to America, if the trial may result in the death penalty.

     When in St. Louis in 2000, Pope John Paul II persuaded the governor of Missouri to commute the death sentence of a prisoner slated for execution -- and the Pope later forgave his own assailant.  Americans have been very slow to follow such examples, but they are doing so gradually.  More and more Americans are joining the rest of the civilized world and seeing that the death penalty is inconsistent with enlightenment.  Very few of us would follow the example of ancestors of only a century or so ago, who would go to public hangings as though they were the entertainment of the month (though some get similar thrills from movies and tv).  They appeared to like the gore and blood. Those days are past -- as should be any form of execution. 

     Execution of an innocent person is a crime against humanity.  When such happens, prosecutors and judges ought to face trial and serve time behind bars.  After investigation using modern DNA testing methods, a number of prisoners on death row have been proven innocent, causing some American governors to call for a moratorium on executions.  Even those with no proof of innocence could still reform themselves while behind bars.  A tragic scene is that of victims' families, rejoicing at an execution.  Double victimhood!  The prisoners opportunities to repay society in some way are truly pro-life, and must be seen as such.  

     Prayer:  Lord, You are the giver of all life; give us the courage to help sustain and preserve life to the best of our ability.  Help us support the movement to remove the death penalty.








The Cranks Creek Survival Center (see story, click here)
*photo credit)

October 24, 2009        We Can Each Make a Difference

      Listen you folks out there in 110 countries:  today is Make a Difference Day.  We may be only one or two, but we can make a difference provided we believe we can.  On the very day that I write, one of my parishes buried a man who truly believed he could make a difference.  Steve Collingsworth was a self-made man, a pleasant fellow, who always had other people at heart no matter what their troubles.  He helped develop a device to reduce the impact of the destructive force of vibrations coming from the blasts of explosives used in mining and road construction.  His device and its improved versions did just this so efficiently that mining companies clamored to obtain it.  Through his efforts that device is today used in operations all over the world.  With an astounding ability to do the best he could with what he had to work with, Steve made a difference as testified to by his grandchildren and mining engineers as well.

     Some say the world will only be better, if leader engage fully in major social or political issues.  True, leaders do make a difference, but so do the rank and file who quietly perform tasks with fidelity and believe that good can come from their efforts even after we are gone.  The heros and heroines of this month testify to this.  St. Theresa of Lisieux or the "Little Flower," through her quiet sufferings for others and her autobiography, which was widely circulated after her death believed she could make a difference.  St. Teresa of Avila, who reformed many communities through almost solitary efforts, believed the same;  St. Francis of Assisi, who started to rebuild a chapel stone by stone, believed his efforts would lead to a community project.  Danny Green, who came to Kentucky and started the small David School in Floyd County for troubled youth, thought it as well. 

     Little acts done in an atmosphere of faith, hope and love can become big ones.  For every composer, philosopher, general, or artist who determined to do great things well, there were millions who cared for the elderly, taught classes or tended a garden well and went somewhat unnoticed.  They have made a difference.  We find it difficult to encourage the bed-ridden with little hope of recovery; however, when they offer their suffering for the good of others, their small act becomes an immense one -- provided they do so with love.  These become co-sufferers with Christ in the continued act of Calvary extended in space and time; they help as part of the church in filling up what is wanting in the sufferings of Christ -- recognition and powerful acceptance.  When the final accounting is done, we may be quite surprised to meet those who really did make a difference, not just those who have an overly inflated opinion of the power of their own actions. 

     Prayer:  Holy Spirit, inspire us to help make a difference, knowing we come from different circumstances and with different gifts.  Help us to see differences as opportunities, not barriers, to see that what others have done in their lives, we can do in a similar manner in our own. 






Vivid raibow on autumn day
*photo credit)

October 25, 2009     Seeing the Need to Disarm

           Master, let me see again.  (Mark 10:51)

     In the Gospel reading today we note that Bartimaeus, the blind man, once saw physically, but is now in a sightless condition.  He calls on God's compassion to see again; he realizes he cannot effect the change himself, for he needs divine help -- and he trusts that this help will come.

    So often we read the Scriptures and see the incident as singular, and not of direct consequence to us in our own lives.  This is a mistake even for those with fairly good eyesight.  We deny the Scripture applies to us, we excuse ourselves from such considerations, and we prefer to escape into a world of the spiritually blind.  However, we all are Bartimaeus in some way.  We are blinded by the cheap thought that expensive military might will truly correct our world.  We fail to see that seeing involves a disarmed world, and that we cannot bring about disarmament without God's help,  We need this divine assistance much as an infant needs a mother's tender care. 

     This past summer we heard of citizens going to town hall meetings exposing their side arms (generally pistols, sometimes even automatic weapons).  Really, the right to bear arms was called for when there were single-shot muzzle loaders.  Toting arms about when debate is heated can be quite unhealthy, for it says to the unarmed that force will have its way in the end.  Is it not direct intimidation of a free and democratic people showing that some can only win by force of arms?  Maybe this approach is more American than we choose to acknowledge.  The world is becoming overwhelmed by weapons of every sort, and spends over a trillion dollars a year on such expenditures.  This is utter blindness, not by natural accident, but deliberately by those who pretend that through weapons peace can come.  The perversity rests in an arms race that actually enhances the belligerent nature of armed people.  That would not be the case if the armed were doing peacetime pursuits such as building decent housing, feeding the billion hungry, curing the sick, educating the unschooled, providing potable water and giving employment to the jobless.

     The captains of the arms industry want the public to believe in the blindness of armed might -- for that helps their profits.  Just to curb one expensive weapon such as the now curbed F-22 fighter is a massive undertaking, and yet the cost of such weapons run into the billions of dollars.  Give the fighting forces the best -- food, protective gear and medical treatment.  When it involves worthless aircraft carriers and sophisticated weaponry, we -- manufacturers and taxpayers -- are blind and need divine help.

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to see again and to be willing to see that peace comes through peaceful, not warlike means.






A dense stand of American bamboo
*photo credit)

October 26, 20099      Promote American Bamboo      

     Most of the 250 types of "bamboo" are native to Asia, but we do have three American varieties:  "river cane" that grows in river bottoms of Kentucky and neighboring states; switch grass that grows throughout the Southeast and is proposed as a future biofuel; and recently discovered "hill cane" in the Appalachian range.  At the ASPI Nature Center we once had an environmental visitor from Colorado who was most impressed by the bamboo we took for granted.  Natives are used to seeing river cane growing in virtually impenetrable "cane brakes."  River cane is not stately like many of its Asian cousins;  it grows to about ten feet in height and one inch in diameter.   In pioneer days the river cane covered large areas of the Bluegrass and surrounding regions.  Horses and larger herb-eating animals would munch on the stalks with their nutritious contents (eaten during all seasons of the year) and would eventually trample the cane down and destroy it.  Many cane areas were burnt and cleared for farming and pasture, and so the cane brakes gradually diminished in size with the late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century settlements.  Only where livestock were absent would the remnants of the cane brakes survive, in such places as the Rockcastle River bottoms of our demonstration center.

    River cane is limber and yet tough enough to be used for staking tomatoes and beans; the stems could be bent into hoops to make cold frame supports.  Like their Asian relatives, American varieties are propagated through their rhizomes (the creeping stem lying near or under the surface of the ground from which new aerial shoots develop).  If not disturbed, bamboo will spread and thrive, with new growth occurring each spring.  The shoots mature quite rapidly and thus form the beginnings of the cane brake.  Some early pioneers described these walls of organic matter as so thick that they could not walk through the patches.  Thus they regarded cane as a problem worth conquering, through aggressive cutting, burning, and grazing by free-ranging livestock. 

     Americans show interest in many varieties of bamboos, which thrive in a variety of climatic and soil conditions.  The American Bamboo Society promotes many of these varieties.  Adam and Sue Turtle run the Earth Advocates Research Center in Summertown, Tennessee, which has on its 45 acres some 250 species and forms of heat- and cold-tolerant bamboo.  However, whether we should promote all of these Asians bamboos is quite problematic, for some can grow vigorously, though they are not really invasive.  Adam Turtle says, "If you're not willing to manage it properly and harvest it periodically, don't plant it."   Of all places, the back yards of the Georgetown area in the District of Columbia have dense thickets of Asian types of bamboo.  Should some bamboos be allowed to coexist side by side with American bamboo?  Shouldn't this useful and prominent American plant be celebrated in a special way?

     Prayer:  Lord, allow us to see that our humble American bamboo has its own special place and should be allowed to flourish; help us to treat all flora with respect.






View through large windows of Frank Lloyd Wright's Rosenbaum home
Florence, AL

*photo credit)

October 27, 2009    Relishing Autumn Scenes

     Sometimes we are tempted to grab onto the glorious colored leaves on the maple outside and cover the tree with a transparent coating -- to laminate the landscape.  Then we realize that attempting to make permanent what is transitory is not the most perfect exercise -- though our journey of faith seeks an eternal horizon.  Rather, is it not better to  treat autumn colors as a moving beauty, a treasure worth enjoying and not grasping?

     With the sharpening wind and the declining sunlight, many of us are tempted to reduce the amount of time we get outdoors each day.  It is perhaps natural that the human body finds it difficult to adjust to changes in weather, and doubly difficult to find time in shortened days to do outdoor exercises.  The only consolation is that the weather is cooler than during those hot months when exercising in the blazing sun was troublesome and even dangerous.  October has less daylight but also less heat.  Just getting out is an undertaking, but for the sake of health and well-being let's consider these suggestions:

     *  Do take photographs, if that moves you.  Who knows, it may be the best scene and shot ever done by you -- and that will give satisfaction after the actual scene has faded.  Encourage the amateur landscape artist to consider this ideal time;

     * Encourage others to get outdoors and take in the scene or do a little extra exercise.  Reaffirm the health benefits of getting outdoors -- fresh air, full spectrum sunlight, and a reduction of stress by immersion in the autumn glory;

     * Rearrange your busy schedule to get a little extra time to relish the autumn in the morning, or better when the sun is setting, and perhaps enjoy the period with others who may not have the opportunity to get out much.  Relishing the outdoors can become a social event;

     * Dress for the changing season when moving about outdoors.  Proper gear makes relishing the outdoors more memorable.  Autumn glory is fleeting and so pause an extra moment and just take it all in -- in relative comfort.

     * Move about outdoors.  Merely sitting to relish the beauty does not give the fullness of the transition before our eyes, as we hear the leaves fall and hit the ground.  Rather vary the time by walking, hiking or jogging at your own pace, but take in the scene for it will soon end as do all good things. 

     Prayer:  Lord, we cannot relish your created beauty properly without thanking You for these and all gifts, even our sense of gratitude that comes from You.  You are eternal but we are mortal, and the autumn tells us this, if we only immerse ourselves in the transitory landscape.







Perhaps not such a wisely chosen snack...
           (*food and photo by Matthew Maguire)

October 28, 2009         Choose Snacks Wisely

       These cooler days are a perfect time to consider those sweets that give some extra energy such as pies and cookies and candies.  But should we be so tempted?  In days of heavy exercise and growing limbs such delights were not that hard on us.  However, for those who play video- or computer games when they should be outside or who are just plain older and more weight-gain-prone, snacks can cause problems that can slip up on us.   We are all aware of obesity problems in our nation and in the areas where this author resides.  The couch potato is generally a compulsive snacker, as are those working around food processing or near to a snack filled refrigerator or storeroom.  Snacking is the way some people get nourishment, while avoiding spending time in sit-down meals.  Nutritionists admit that merely eating larger amounts three times a day is not the better procedure.  Eating more food earlier in the day, and less later, is regarded as the best practice, but there ought to be limits on the number and quality of the snacks. 

     Let's avoid the cheesy, sugary, creamy, oily, and overly salted prepared snacks.  Yes, avoid the corn puffs, creamy cup cakes, cheese dips, potato chips, onion rings, soft drinks, candy bars, and cookies.  Instead, pass over the aisles in the supermarket devoted to these packages of materials that smell so good and look so inviting.  You don't have to go cold turkey on snacks when hunger pangs occur.  Change to some of these often made suggestions:

      *  Celery or carrot sticks;

      *  An apple a day or an alternative piece of fruit;

      *  A slice of melon or watermelon;

      *  Unsalted popcorn with garlic and chili in place of salt;

      *  Raw broccoli or cucumber slices;

      *  Peanuts or other nuts;

      *  A drink of water or sugarless herbal tea;

      *  A walk or a special break.

     I had a portly colleague in the 1970s who would get a drink of water each time the hunger pangs mounted, and that held his weight within his acceptable limits, and seemed to give him enough satisfaction to tide him over to the next meal.  He would say that it was certainly better than a cigarette break.

     Having said this, what about extra October snacks?  If you must feast, regard this as a special once-in-a-season celebration, unaccompanied by too many other sweets.  Moderation in all things does not mean always fasting from what you like -- only using it within constraints of moderation and proper weight watching.  What about a piece of pie being a reward for doing some extra physical labor for a friend?  That could be good in these October days.

     Prayer: Lord, help us to learn to use the good things of life in moderation, and to find suitable substitutes for them.







Identifying asters... an enjoyable autumn hobby
*photo credit)

October 29, 2009   Eightieth Anniversary of the Stock Market Crash

     On Black Tuesday, eighty years ago today, the stock market crashed in New York City.  The Dow Jones Index that was at 381 in September had fallen throughout October, and it dipped to a low of 230 (40% loss) on October 29, 1929.  This event created a dark mood among all traders and investors, and led certain dispirited people to jump out windows -- of upper story buildings.  Also the crash resulted in a thirty billion dollar paper loss in stock worth, and four thousand banks closing their doors.  The few living survivors, who took part in those bank runs in 1929, remember the sobering effect of that day.  Confidence in the American economic system was shaken.  Following the crash, people hoped that because of certain banking reforms and stock trading stoppages such a tragic event would not reoccur.  Does history ever really repeat itself?

    Being a fiscal conservative makes me more aware that historical patterns do reoccur -- and could even go beyond the recent financial downturn and scare (the worst since the period immediately following that crash).  We fiscal conservatives of whatever stripe think so.  In fact, an Associated Press poll of 1,000 adult Americans this past July found that 70% of those polled were worried about the size of the federal debt, either some or a lot.  Several key ingredients of fiscal uncertainty include:

     * Worker layoffs continue though at a slower rate than earlier in the year, but the shedding of a quarter of a million jobs during the summer months does not bode well, especially when a vastly increasing productivity is through the labor of the still employed;

     * Federal indebtedness mounts at an unprecedented rate (1.58 trillion this year alone for the U.S.). The military in several forms take up 57% of the budget and two wars cost our nation billions of dollars.  Meanwhile, the three big federal entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) threaten to overwhelm us.

     * Household debt (13.8 trillion dollars) mounts with many consumers saddled with oppressive interest and mortgage payments and those worrisome health insurance co-pays.  The individual consumer debt is about $12 thousand per person exclusive of mortgage (total indebtedness per person was $45,115 in 2007).  Wages have not gone up, and advancement is harder to come by.  Up through 2008, Americans savings plummeted from 11% savings in the post-World War II era to nearly zero, the lowest rate of any developed nation (though savings are now occurring in 2009); and

    Banking and other corporations have bounced back for the most part but there are still weaknesses in autos, airlines and construction.

     Prayer:  Lord, give us the clear vision to see things as they really are, and where that is going to take us.







Tobacco harvest, Pin Oak Farm (University of Kentucky)
*photo credit)

October 30, 2009        Redeeming Tobacco

     The remnant of the burley tobacco-auctioning season is to start next week, but things are changing in the American Tobacco Belt.  The golden leaf, the principal cash crop, which benefited a hundred thousand small- and medium-income farm families, is now fading fast.  Tobacco products are looked upon with disdain; tobacco taxes have increased; smokers are either quitting or dying (400,000 premature deaths in the U.S. alone this year); companies are being sued and are paying fines that are funding cessation programs in more progressive states.  Those of us who once grew tobacco thought we were enhancing the enjoyment and release of stress of many, but discovered over time that the perceived benefits were really terrible health risks. 

     Can the plant that we liked so much, Nicotiana tabacum., be redeemed?   We are now aware that what we thought was beneficial was harming users -- including people who shared living space with smokers.  But was this really the fault of tobacco, or its misuse, through enticement from commercial advertisers who focused on hooking unsuspecting youth or stressed young soldiers?  Few recognized that the plant itself has unique characteristics, which can be beneficial to human beings.  Researchers show that the tobacco mosaic virus can trigger the infected plant to produce the proteins of the virus.  When selected genes are slipped into the tobacco plant, it becomes a protein factory with its capability of incredible biomass production in a very short period of time. 

     A tobacco vaccine is much less expensive than traditional methods.  As with other vaccines, the body produces antibodies, thus building up an immunity to later infection.   Work is being directed to cancer research (even breast, prostate and other forms) and to non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  The drastic nature of the disease involves copying itself endlessly, unless inoculations of an antibody produced can stimulate the immune system to attack the patient's lymphoma cells.  Using tobacco plants, the customized vaccine can be produced rapidly and cheaply.  Genetically engineered mosaic virus can yield large quantities of the cancer antibody fragment.  Testing is a slow process and has not reached the human testing stage yet, but hopefully success is up ahead.

     Tobacco is called "the fruit fly of the plant kingdom" because of the ease with which it can be genetically engineered.  Among the many possibilities besides vaccines, specifically engineered tobacco could produce a variety of human enzymes, polymers, plastics, industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and a variety of consumer product ingredients.  Tobacco is an amazing biomass producer; the tiny seed can produce plants four to six feet tall in three months; tobacco has been optimized for leaf growth; each plant can produce up to a million seeds; genetically engineered seed could produce many acres from the first generation.

     Prayer:  Lord, help us see that creatures that we misused in life, can now be redeemed for the benefit of all.









A fresh harvest of autumn squash
             (*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

October 31, 2009     Should We Smile on Halloween?

     The commerce in costumes, face masks, and decorative paraphernalia makes Halloween a major commercial opportunity for many businesses large and small.  But ought we to promote this day?  The majority of Americans do NOT celebrate Halloween;  we endure it.  That includes many seniors, adults, and owners of properties, which could be damaged by the trashing that occurs on some Halloweens in rural (and some urban) parts of our country.  "Trick or treat" is dreaded by some parents who fear a possible misdeed by beggars.   Halloween is also not celebrated by some strict Christian groups, because of its pagan origins -- that predated the Christian era.  Communities are making more efforts in recent years to offer substitutes for witches, goblins and ghosts of traditional Halloween through their own controlled celebrations.

     On the other side of the philosophical divide, one finds a number of people, young and old, who  consider this a time to celebrate, to put on costumes and have a ball, to carve pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, to attend horror shows, to decorate halls with black and orange streamers, and to take children from house to house in safe neighborhoods hoping for treats.  Promoters make a good argument that we have baptized other pagan feasts occurring at the time of Christmas and Easter.  Why not this one on at the eve of All Saints Day (which was organized to counter this pagan feast)?  Whatever the reasoning, the discussion calls for a certain patience among people not wanting to celebrate, but not stopping those who do.

     Halloween is part of the fading glory of October when we turn from outdoor to indoor activities, from cooled to heated space, from light clothing to heavier garments.  We await the dreaded weather (for some) as nature seeks its annual rest period.  We need to pause as well and see that some enjoy celebrating in ways that others do not find as entertaining -- and this requires us to go along.  In fact, we need to smile and be hospitable when the celebrating little folks come knocking at the door with their costumes.  Remember this is one of the only folklore events for youngsters in our busy culture, which gives them so little attention.  Maybe as we end a month, when we were quite serious about the change of seasons, we ought to loosen up.  Let's give a little to the merrymakers and those who are on the look out for sweets and treats.  Just be patient and refrain from giving them junk food.  Is this asking too much?     

     Prayer:  Oh Great Spirit,  You moved across the waters and changed darkness to light.  Give us patience to build community with our fellow human beings who are acting in unusual ways on this day.  Teach us to lighten up and smile awhile, and see this as a better way to change misguided practices than by assuming a dour look.  Help us to gently encourage all to cooperate in building community, so that all of us can cooperate all the more with the work ahead.  Remind us again that there is power in our smile, and we do not have to wear masks to reveal it.



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

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

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