Leaves turn a hundred hues of red, gold and yellow; Indian summer days make us wish they would stay forever. It's warm but mosquito-less, a perfect season. As the month progresses, the first frost warning sends us scurrying to cover delicate things, such as peppers and late beans. We keep marigolds and impatiens alive and blooming, but are counting more on mums to fill October's floral gaps. We gather winter-crooked squash and pumpkins and the last of yellow pear tomatoes and Tommy Toes. Fall gardens bear -- purple turnips and greens, persimmons ripened by frost, hickory nuts, unhulled black walnuts, and late apples for the picking.
Where did you get such a name? From snifflers ill-gotten fame? Honestly, you are an innocent bloom, a bright yellow cluster of autumn, Gladdening hearts and comforting eyes, amid increasingly stormy skies.
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Reflective pond. St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Ravenna, KY.
October 1, 2016Participate in a Solar Tour
Today is National Tour of Solar Buildings Day. For those who want to see good examples of ways to address climate change and learn much about solar energy, the following helpful hints may make this day all the more meaningful:
* Learn as much as possible about the specifics of solar energy and how it has developed in your area. Know the incentives now available by Federal, state and perhaps local government and utility companies. It is best to do some prior homework.
* Tour only with people who are interested in this subject. It may sound heartless at first, but after the tour begins you will understand. If some would rather not go, then better find them a guardian or companion for the day and not bother cluttering up the tour with disinterested people. It takes enthusiasm to tour and record notes and to be energized by interested observers.
* Take notes and photos to your heart's content. Most places welcome photos, for most tour hosts are proud of their establishments and want visitors to appreciate what they are so proud of. Note-taking will give you a handle on an unfamiliar subject and allow you greater efficiency at questioning.
* Find out about all the solar applications that are either demonstrated on the tour, or about which the hosts and guide know something: active and passive solar space heating; solar water heating; solar food cookers and food dryers; solar greenhouses; solar compost toilets; solar signage out front or path markers; solar waterfalls and fountains; solar water purifiers; and solar lighting and ventilation. Even questions as to why certain applications are not present at a site may prove very informative.
* Spend enough time. A formal tour may save fuel, if a bus takes a number of sightseers at one time. Make sure enough time is given to satisfy all parties. A good economy of time is having some information presented while the bus is going to a new place, so that you are alerted as to what will be seen at a given site. Judge the tour according to whether you can stand the pace.
* Stay awake and alert to the degree possible. A short nap somewhere along the tour may be the best way to learn at the particular site. Take along some quick energy refreshments (healthy snacks, fruit juice, etc.), because touring is exhausting.
* One last piece of advice: while you may be critical of some aspects of the tour, also spend some time with email, letters or phone thanking the organizers and hosts for being willing to share information leading to a renewable America. Over the years, solar demonstrators have shown a remarkable degree of public spirit -- a trait that today's Americans can certainly be proud of.
Prayer: Lord, help us to include tours on our journey of faith.
When you have done all you have been told to do, say, "We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty." (Luke 17:10)
Faith and faithfulness go hand in hand. The faith that it takes to move trees (Luke 17:5) or mountains is also the faith we seek when the Lord calls us. Sometimes we have a high opinion of ourselves, but that does not bode well for good service. We are workers, not the divine builder. God wants us to be humble, even when privileged to serve; readiness to serve also means we need to mature and grow in experience. Jesus calls us friends, and he can gently shake us from the misunderstanding that it is due to our actions, individually and alone. Yes we are friends, but also humble servants of God in the style of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles. We are at the service of others and that is reward enough, for service means being profoundly down-to earth.
Today our troubled world seems so far removed from a rightful path that we ask hesitantly, "Can we do anything?" But in our heart of hearts we know this reluctance is unwarranted. We can do more and do it now. And with faith that the kingdom will come, we can do it with a full trust in God who is over all things. We are enlightened by the Lord and we have an emerging goal up ahead that moves us forward through divine promise. Our work is not easy, but it is both something that gives us interior peace, and is ultimately successful, even though it invites today's hope.
We are meant to be people for others. God does not give us the gift of faith so we can grow our personal petunias apart from a global garden. We are to flourish in beneficial ways for the good of others, and so our talents and personal gifts are meant for sharing to the greatest degree possible. We trust that the Lord will help us overcome rough spots. In looking back on a lengthening past, it becomes evident that we have been only partly successful. Can we honestly say to the Lord, "I did the best I could considering all the circumstances"?
Some overlook our work or devalue it; they dismiss it, saying we could have done better. Frequently, the overlooking and the misinterpretation are part of the cross that the Lord asks us to pick up when we follow him on his road to Jerusalem. Yes, our road is in a different time and place and yet it can be the way of the cross nonetheless. A certain satisfaction comes over us when we reflect that God places us here and now at this moment in world history. The threats to Earth and civilization are real and unique; they demand that we be open to the graces God gives us. It is not sufficient to say that God will finish what we start. We are called to be the hands and feet of the Lord, not me alone but "me" transformed into a collaborative "us" that is far more demanding. The Lord gives us time; we are to called to respond.
Prayer: Lord, help us open our heart to your call and to be of humble service to wherever you wish us to be.
This year has already found our troubled Earth afflicted by major earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador, along with many others of various degrees of severity. These are regarded as "Acts of God," a term defined as a disaster that is due entirely to the forces of nature and unable to be prevented. A secular world loves to bring God into this. Yes, lawyers and insurance adjusters also like to use this phrase "Acts of God."
The disastrous effects of earthquakes and the massive loss of life in the past are historic records: Lisbon in the 17th century; China and Iran (many times); and the induced Indian Ocean tsunami of late 2005. Throughout the centuries, great monuments such as the Alexandria, Egypt lighthouse have crumbled during earthquakes. We know much more about size, scope and natural cause of these seismic happenings than did people only a century or so ago. Geology tells a very interesting story about how tectonic plates that sort of float on the semi-liquid sub-surface of this planet bump into each other, break apart under thrust, and move about.
While disasters do occur to unfortunate people who are in the wrong place at the wrong time, still, the actions are quite "natural," geologically speaking. Those of us who lived through an earthquake will never forget our sense of helplessness. I experienced a 5.5 earthquake that occurred in Kentucky in 1980; I ran to the door frame as suggested and then felt foolish. Yes, it did some minor damage in my home town of Maysville as well as in other places in the Ohio Valley. After the Japanese powerplant/ earthquake experience a few years back, why, we ask, were earthquake-prone areas ever sites for nuclear powerplants?
Are these powerful quakes "Acts of God," as called by people who credit God with little else? In one way all actions of nature ultimately are ascribed to the Almighty. However, isn't the juxtaposing of acts of man and acts of God unfair? If human acts result from God's creative power, should we call our risky or evil ways "acts" of the creator? Hardly, and it is just as improper to say that the forces of nature let loose in an evolutionary manner are directly from the divine hand with some sort of malicious intent. God does not shake our Earth like an angry Zeus in Greek mythology. Our understanding of Earth in motion make us aware that earthquakes are natural occurrences following laws of probability.
Should we build in highly earthquake-prone zones? And when the risk is taken, shouldn't we construct earthquake-proof buildings? The Inca culture learned such techniques, and surviving ancient buildings in Cuzco, Peru, prove this. The challenge to us endowed with creative powers given by God is to protect against future quakes -- and, when they come, to rush help to the needy folks who suffer from these "Acts of Nature." That is a godly act.
Prayer: Lord, give us a healthy respect for earthquakes and
help us to prepare for them as best we can.
In our troubled world we may need to search history for model diplomats from other ages, even amid the Crusades of the Middle Ages. We discover one who was simple in food and attire, poor, joyful, and totally in tune with spiritual growth. St. Francis of Assisi can still offer us pointers that are worth imitating. Francis went to the Middle East in 1219, but was appalled at the behavior of the "Christian" crusaders; he managed to slip through the battle lines and visit and converse with the Sultan, who was deeply impressed by this simple friar. The history of that visit is well worth reviewing and diplomats should take note. Francis didn't try to convert; he only discussed amid profound differences.
In this presidential election year, diplomacy needs to be a hallmark of a good candidate; the conditions to talk must be well prepared. We ought not seek to convert the "enemy" to our democratic ways, nor put preconditions that they cannot possibly fulfill. The purpose of diplomacy here and now is to lower tensions, establish dialogue, create an atmosphere of trust, and forget about settling matters through more and more military might. This St. Francis approach is far more appealing than threats of destruction, punishment and ruin to the other party.
Establishing lines of communication is a diplomatic way of people of good will that follows a time-honored tradition going back millennia. All candidates and voters are wise to recall that history and discern choices wisely. Why do some candidates try to impress the public by just how sabre rattling they can be? Give peace a chance. Discussion is the reasonable and civilized approach; the post-World War II stockpile of nuclear weaponry approach will fail, for there is no enlightenment or diplomacy through generating fear. The superpower with the most weapons should not regard air bases, drones or military hardware as a means of dialogue with another. A far better way is to proceed with hat in hand, mildly, openly, frankly, eagerly looking for peaceful ways. The spring cease fire in Syria has been a case in point.
Had the crusaders followed Francis' lead eight hundred years ago, the world would have been a better place. Many fighters would have had lengthened lives, and most likely the Holy Lands would have been more open to all pilgrims. The pattern Francis set was not followed, but it was a good beginning, and one that has been tried at times with some notable success. Will the Iranian nuclear weapon diplomacy be one of these? Obtaining an atmosphere of peace calls out to our aspiring leaders to try a gentle persuasion early in their possible upcoming presidential tenure. To rule out discussion is to open the door to more bloodshed in a world that is rapidly becoming volatile between Moslems and the West -- not "Christian West." Can peace be obtained in the Middle East and with the problematic state of North Korea? Big questions! What better way to observe St. Francis' day than to consider them?
Prayer: Lord, help us see St. Francis as a model for peace.
Often in October people consider redesigning their green space (lawn, bordering area, median barrier, etc.). Some suggestions pertain to the multitude of native trees, vines, bushes, grasses, or berries. In past entries, we have favored edible (by humans or wildlife) native varieties for such restoration. One suggestion that would not strictly qualify as edible (though it has been used as livestock feed in wintertime), is the only native American species of bamboo, known by natives as "cane" or "river cane" (see "Promote American Bamboo," October 27, 2009).
A "cane brake" refers to a thicket of native cane growing so dense that it is difficult to penetrate. Generally cane grows close together in rich moist bottomland -- but unhindered it can thrive in a wide array of climates and moist soils. I grew up in an part of Kentucky where original maps designated large tracts as "cane brakes"-- at least before livestock discovered natural winter feed. River cane is quite hardy and certainly requires no chemicals as protection against pests. If you are tempted to introduce non-native bamboo varieties that are larger and have more foliage, make sure you insert metal or plastic border strips six inches deep at the edge of the patch, for their rhizomes tend to creep, spreading sub-surface stems through contiguous green space.
The American bamboo is modest when compared to many of the magnificent Asian bamboo varieties, but our humble bamboo has advantages: river cane grows in dense enough brakes to allow birds and small wildlife like ground squirrels to find protection in the thicket; it is easily controlled with the bordering that was just mentioned, or it can be eliminated through cutting and digging it out; its leaves are green year-round and thus provide non-growing season color starting at this time of autumn; and the canes can be harvested for a variety of gardening or craft uses such as arched supports for seasonal garden extenders and for tomato and bean poles. The stems or canes are quite pliable and can be easily stripped, and are thus suitable for weaving into mats, containers, artistic backdrops, or for portions of chairs or other furnishings.
Other river cane advantages are often overlooked. If the patch is thick enough, there is no need for expensive fencing for the cane becomes the barrier of separation. Furthermore, a cane brake is a good subject of conversation among visitors and neighbors who want to know more about this interesting native species. Cane can withstand droughts and requires virtually no care compared with flowers, herbs and decorative bushes that require cultivation and trimming. River cane brakes have a rich history, though their range has shrunk by rural and urban development. Thus, the final advantage is that creating cane brakes in mid-America is a restorative process, a return of land to some of its original use before the European pioneers' arrival. Yes, be ecological and green! Consider creating a cane brake.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to raise cane (not Cain).
Fruit of the passionflower, Passiflora incarnata.
October 6, 2016A Case for Moderate Vegetarianism
I am not a vegetarian and not inclined to be one either, for some people serve meat at meals through great cooking skill and sacrifice -- and as a guest I do not want to make them uncomfortable. Likewise, vegetarians can appear to be as strident as hamburger and steak chompers, though most vegetarians harbor noble ethical or spiritual reasons. They abstain from killing and consuming animal flesh and find the practice degrading. Jesus ate lamb and even cooked fish for the disciples (John 21). Meat is good protein-rich food, but vegans can have worthwhile substitutes.
Still, arguments for a modified vegetarianism are worth considering. Attending a world threatened by climate change and living lower on the food chain are goals vegetarians promote quite well. A pound of finished food product takes two to four pounds of animal feed to produce. Eating meat and other animal products (dairy and eggs) are certainly consuming more resources -- a practice a growing number of environmentally conscious people are convinced is unsustainable for this planet. This is especially true when in solidarity with nearly seven billion plus people, a quarter who can only afford meat on special occasions. Is this why large carnivorous animals competing with struggling humans are rapidly becoming endangered species? Can they adapt to eating grass, leaves, fruits, nuts, berries and roots? Bears can.
A modified vegetarianism is important for a world of limited resources for, acre by acre, it is a better diet for satisfying all, including the one billion truly malnourished people. Furthermore, vegetarianism can be a form of self-denial that needs to be practiced by all people who are easily addicted to the consumer culture. Plant food products can be more easily shared through shipping of grain, oil and soy products without the need for refrigeration required for most animal products. Vegetarianism opens up the possibilities of learning respect for all creatures.
Moderate vegetarianism could be a more practical goal if all were to follow it and some cut down on animal product consumption. This moderation includes less killing of animals and less buying of animal products. Furthermore, all could consider substitutes and extensions such as artificial bacon bits and a fish dish (tuna salad) once a week to get the omega oils that are essential for the healthy diet. This moderation does not, but could, extend to "veganism" or abstaining from all animal products, provided focus be given to obtain nutrients often found in meat and fish.
A moderate vegetarian can cultivate a good motivational rationale that is -- ecological, spiritual, physical, psychological, economic, and cultural. Affluent nations should promote a more vegetarian lifestyle, but at the same time the rising middle class in China and other parts of the world are expanding their animal products diet. Moderation is meant by all.
Prayer: Lord, help us learn to practice vegetarian moderation.
Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia, in field of goldenrod.
October7, 2016 Bengal Tigers and Other Big Cats
Throughout the world tigers and other big cats (lions, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, etc.) are becoming more threatened than threatening. These carnivorous creatures have animal-only diets of both wildlife (deer, etc.) and livestock -- and farmers are never pleased. Furthermore, trophy hunters abound in craving a single large tiger, and with both urban and rural development and resource extraction, tiger and big cat habitats are shrinking. Add to this the desire of poachers to trade in valuable tiger body parts, and the absolute numbers of big cats are in sharp decline even with improved enforcement and wildlife reserves.
Three of eight tiger species went into extinction in the twentieth century. The Bengal tiger, half of all commonly recognized tigers, are known for its orange and black stripes. Numbers in the wild are less than 2,500 and perhaps fewer than those in captivity. These stripped cats are found mainly in India but also in smaller numbers in Nepal, Bangladesh and northern Burma. In India, the Bengal tiger and human beings have been struggling over the same territory for millennia and the war continues, though the tiger numbers are now declining rapidly while human inhabitants grow by millions. In the last century one hundred thousand tigers were killed, but they did not go down without a fight; some 60,000 human beings and countless livestock were lost to tigers during that period.
What is the tiger's future? Most are found on existing nature preserves, but that does not stop poaching, for enforcement takes money and other resources not so easily available in developing nations. Do we accept limited big cat preserves in various locations (even outside of former native ranges)? Will we shift reserves to countries that have zoological protective capabilities? Some may call this a "cop out," but far better name-calling than pretending the wildlands of native places are safe for continual roaming of these majestic beasts over vast wildlands. A computerized system of knowing where all "captured" tigers are located would allow for cross breeding so that the species could thrive -- with added penalties for trading in tiger animal parts.
In captivity, tigers live up to thirty years while the average life span in the wild is only twelve years. An aggressive protection program would discourage the poachers and hunters in the rapidly shrinking former habitats. The captive tigers could thrive, be relatively safe, raise their young in peace as mother tigers are immensely fond of doing, and allow increased numbers through segregating males -- a surprising number of adult males in the wild are killed in battles over females. While many of us do not favor zoological gardens and mini-nature preserves, still we may have to settle for the second best habitat in order to keep the species alive. Otherwise Bengal tigers will become extinct.
Prayer: Lord, incline us to a deeper respect for all animal
life and to take steps to preserve threatened species.
Lemon balm in Kentucky garen. (*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
October 8, 2016 Pro-Life: Partisan or Bipartisan?
One month from now will be national elections. One issue that will be noted by thousands if not millions of voters will be the pro- or anti-life stance of candidates. If you are like me a pro-life person, you may have received a series of questionnaires on your position. I have found it astounding how partisan these handouts are -- even by non-profit groups that were not supposed to show partisanship. For many, being pro-life means striving to save the unborn of this and future generations and includes traditional issues (abortion, euthanasia etc.), but lacking any reference to environmental climate change problems.
Some candidates may even deny human-caused climate change and still call themselves "pro-life." What a horrible lie! How could someone be for life and accept the possibility of catastrophic effects of climate change that threatens the existence of entire nation states in the Pacific, along with many floods, extreme weather conditions, and the livelihoods and residences of countless poor residing near the rising seas? Quite often this is not a position undertaken by personal research or knowledge. This is rather a fall back to those whose position has been framed by Big Energy, programmed to extend the life of a fossil fuel economy as long as possible to increase profits. There is neglect of the damage caused by increasing accumulation of greenhouse gases and inevitable global climate increases in temperature.
For pro-lifers, a sizeable number of candidates will not be in perfect accord on both their social and global policies, and thus a dilemma may occur. Instead of being bipartisan and asking voters to choose which candidates will be most effective in pro- or anti- life issues, some pro-life advocates follow a conservative party line on this issue without mentioning environment. In fact, many voters may vote for a candidate who will do immense harm from the standpoint of future policy, and be actually counter to the overall defense of life they say they defend. The United States is a moral leader of the world and elected officials bear great influence.
To be bi-partisan on the life issue means telling voters that a restricted definition will harm life in a broader sense, if these go against the thrust of Pope Francis' Laudato Si' and an overwhelming consensus of climate scientists and evidence. These so-called pro-life bulletins and questionnaires with a hidden partisan agenda do a massive disservice to a total pro-life cause. It is necessary that ideal candidates be both pro-life in a traditional restricted sense and pro-environment with all that this entails. However, many are split on this issue and so we must look beyond policy to how well these will affect pro- and anti-life agendas. In such circumstances remember that a host of issues are worth considering, but one of these must be environmental problems, the greatest threat to the vitality of the planet and people.
Thistle, Cirsium discolor against blue autumn sky.
October 9, 2016 Welcoming Foreigners
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God. (Luke 17:18)
One way of looking at the world is that we are all foreigners -- strangers and guests with a short brief sojourn on this Earth. Another more xenophobic stance is that we must protect our turf, otherwise a massive number of the impoverished from other parts of the world will press forward to be part of this world that we think we own segregated from others at our door.
At some time or other we prepare ourselves to receive praise for being hospitable with a newcomer. Suddenly another appears and all praise goes to that latecomer due to personality or some action that captivates the foreigner -- and we are hurt even when we do not want to show our discomfort. The gift of good things is given to all; however, we may regard ourselves as the one to be considered as hospitable hero. We may regard a priority in time as enough to make us more deserving. It is harder to swallow the lack of attention and to continue in the practice of welcoming "foreigners," confident that the Lord is the best accountant of our hospitality.
Our national immigration policy is a major concern in this presidential election year. How much depends on some loose ideas of who to welcome or to exclude, how to set up barriers or welcome mats, and who be allowed to stay who came without proper legal papers. One initiative could be to ensure that the lands from which these people are breaking their necks to come have accommodations allowing refugees to stay or return; another is to promote the means of employment to keep people at home. However, these are things more easily said than done.
Too often those coming to our shores are willing to work at hard labor and at very low wage scales. They are law-abiding and want to prove their patriotism; they are often willing to join bidding for ever lower wages in order to secure just about any job. Because of low pay, jobs go wanting and this encourages those from other lands who believe these American low wages far surpass their own homeland scales. They become prey to unscrupulous dealers in labor trade and in places of conflict like Syria, unfortunately pay large sums to assist in going abroad to such working conditions.
Foreigners are most often very grateful for a new life. We seldom challenge those who hesitate to work here at home and who demand charity as though it is owed to them. Justice, not charity, should be the demand, and it hurts when someone demands charity. In fact, people can become charity cases and expect to do little in return for what is given. This happened to nine of ten lepers in today's story. A lack of gratitude becomes a stumbling block for all who seek greater equality. Gratitude is better at lubricating a call for justice and even for charity as well.
Prayer: Lord, give us a sense of hospitality and allow it to
endure backbiting that can make us hardened to others' plight.
Duskywing on coneflower. Erynnis is a genus in the Skippers butterfly family.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
October 10, 2016 Soft Approach to Lifestyle Change
Up, Jerusalem! Stand upon the heights look to the east and see your children Gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One. (Baruch 5: 4-5)
Soft:We can save our Earth if we change our ways versus
Hard: We cannot save our Earth unless we change our ways.
These two statements deal with the same theme (change needed because of the global climate change environmental crisis) and yet their application could be a plea for voluntary change, or a fire-and-brimstone approach harking to fear and threat. The first approach may be dismissed as too bland by those seeing impending catastrophe; the hard line may be called a scare tactic by climate change deniers. Yes, we must mobilize people to threats to our planet, but which approach is most effective in this presidential election year? Much relates to leaders, audiences and situations.
A soft sell depends upon the persuasiveness of certain personalities. Those with facts can say in confidence an emphatic "This is going to happen unless..." If the leader is knowledgeable in practice the conversation turns to implementing corrective methods to bring about needed changes. Audiences may be impatient greens ready to act; others may be critical and are hunting for an excuse not to act. A situation may be locally alarming or a global perspective at a great distance in space or time. Expectations may be something needed ASAP (a renewable energy economy needed in the next few years) or a longer term plan to change an energy policy.
Maximizing free choice is always the most ideal way to proceed -- but the world is in deep trouble. Information, demonstration and programs occur, and renewable energy jobs are in great demand. Threats are often counterproductive. Opt in because it is right to change the outmoded fossil fuel status quo. We need to be energized, not threatened, and we are reminded that amiable approaches work best for American audiences. Much depends on whether the seriousness of the situation is communicated to all who are concerned. A Christian hope must be presented in the midst of
Through the grace of God possibilities will emerge, which will help us in our personal choices through gentle prodding -- and this approach has a sound grounding in Christian spirituality. This counters the prophets of doom and despair who see something impending that is not to be stopped by anything we can do. We question these inevitable "fates" -- harkening back to ancient Greek or Roman pagan spirituality that the future is fully determined and we can no more but live it. A more Christian approach is that with good effort and courage we can create a better future and can influence the direction of our world today.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see that glory will come and glory is already starting right now, but much depends on how we act.
October fruits of poke, Phytolacca americana.
October 11, 2016 Hard Approach: Unless We Change Our Ways...
I brought you to a fertile country to enjoy its produce and good things; but no sooner had you entered than you defiled my land, and made my heritage detestable. (Jeremiah 2:7)
After reading the prophets of old one could argue that the hard approach is more prophetic. "Woe to you..." The hard line is actually more prevalent among the true prophets who are willing to risk dire consequences. Generally the soft approach is that of the "false" prophets, with all the associated recriminations. True prophecy is to tell the truth, and being "prophetic" is to be a seer into the present that leads to a tentative future. We can see the present so clearly that a specific future will most likely result -- plain as the nose on our face. And we need to confront our addictions. While we are uncertain as to whether this approach will work, it has a better chance than a soft approach that is far more problematic when people do not want to change lifestyles.
Three emerging facts support a more "tough love" approach to the environmental crisis. First, the crisis is so very severe that many will suffer, especially the poor. If we fail to see what is coming, we are allowing our affluence to promote a growing insensitivity to the poor or "have-nots" of the world, and thus our own personal salvation is at stake, not just the salvation of Earth as we know her to be. God help this world if Chinese, Indians and rapidly rising developing peoples follow our example in consumption -- and it appears that is just what they are doing. If they exercise a certain "right" to have more, then accessible resources will soon be expended, more endangered plant and animal species will disappear, petroleum will burn away, and global warming will accelerate. The West basks as too privileged to make profound change; the East regards these privileges as their right as well. A materialistic mentality is a blueprint for disaster, for such a path is unsustainable.
The second fact is that we suffer from consumer addictions that defy rational discourse. Just recognizing these addictions is a very difficult hurdle. We are both privileged and addicted, and hope to preserve our current lifestyles at all costs. Our present godless economic system is hell-bent on mass destruction -- and even churches are strangely silent with members resting on their cushioned seats, soft music and pleasant sermonizing; an impending catastrophe is never mentioned -- change is utterly unpatriotic.
The third fact involves the limitations of individual or communal voluntary change that should lead the way to profound change in our society. For the concerned it is difficult to confront "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we will die." What can be said to those who have no future? Is voluntary change a little too little and too late? Do questions of the day demand our further lifestyle considerations?
Prayer: Lord, help us be bluntly honest about changes needed.
Brilliant red of the poison-ivy plant, Toxicodendron radicans.
October 12, 2016 Voluntary Change Has Inherent Limitations
No one should ignore the power of voluntary change in the lives of those who wish to readjust their affluent practices. Conversion to something better is always welcome -- and that includes a simplified lifestyle. The difficulty is that it takes a very strong person in our age of consumer advertising, peer pressure and social addiction to simplify one's lifestyle voluntarily.
Is voluntary change too little, too late? If we had known a century ago that the climate was changing through human activity and resolved then to make changes, a voluntary approach could have made a difference. But changes in lifestyle necessary today are so intertwined with "necessities" that we cannot expect significant changes by a voluntary approach alone. Actually, voluntarism coupled with strong legislation could go farther than regulation alone, for it creates a favorable climate of change. A successful example was the "victory garden" phenomenon of World War II.
Is voluntary change too sporadic and fragmented to make a major difference? The road to change is not easily perceived. The critical nature of the current environmental problems means we do not have time to waste; we must act ASAP. Likewise, there is no guarantee that those who are addicted will change their ways because of mere educational schemes or publicity. Examples of lives of the sober do not necessarily change problem drinkers. Addiction must be confronted with will power; thus, automatic change of heart, triggered by a sort of reasoning by another is too highly idealistic -- granted the condition of our troubled Earth.
Isn't the voluntary approach a laissez faire approach to social change? The haves have and the have-nots suffer. Who can make a difference in this situation? The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few is accompanied by the demise of democratic process, as elections are bought and sold through financing publicity and mass media outlets. A presidential race that focuses on the ability to raise money for campaigning smacks of purchase of ancient Roman imperial posts. Elections need strict regulations.
Are not voluntary changes scattered and not systematic? What is done on a local level may be impressive, but still not make a major difference. Of course, the same could be said of regulatory legislation that is not enforced, or is evaded through deliberate refusal to comply. If efforts required to change one's ways were directed to changing the system (though we must individually change as well), larger social changes could be achieved. But with the effort involved in lifestyle change, results are too spotty.
Answers to a soft approach demand that we address legislators and policy makers, not individual culprits who are addicted to consumer products and seek to justify their consumer oriented libertarianism. Regulations must make it harder to waste precious resources needed by others, otherwise wasteful practices continue. We cannot excuse ourselves by a "freedom to be wastefulness." The practice of self-mortification must be introduced as viable.
Prayer: Lord, give us courage to champion the simple life.
Most of us tend to be critical of others who are caught up in number games (voter polls, census counts, GDP figures, profit statements, megachurches, attendance records, etc.). Certainly, some numbers that are fairly accurate tell us something. We know that frequently numbers appear in the Scriptures. Those in the Old Testament include army sizes, number of causalities, and ages of various individuals -- and some of these are thought exaggerated. Furthermore, some numbers such as "seven" and "twelve" had profound significance in the Scriptures and appear at critical times.
The format for spreading the word depends on the audience --even its size. In the New Testament, numbers did mean something as seen in the multiplication of the loaves, once four thousand (Mark 8:1-10) and once five thousand (Luke 9:10-17) (sometimes the counts were men only). Jesus asked his disciples how many were at the two events; they knew totals. Yet Jesus spoke at length to Mary and Martha and to his disciples on a one-on-one basis. Jesus went out to the many who were "hungry for Good News" -- and yet many did not fully understand, and Jesus spent time with few even when slow to understand. Multitude size was not the only criterion for success.
Recall the discussion of the number "153" in the miraculous catch that John records in the last chapter of his Gospel. For St. Jerome it was the number of different kinds of fish in the lake (really?). For the more mathematical, it was a rare number and its three integers "1" "5" and "3" squared and added together to a sum of guess what? 153. Try it, for it will only happen three other times. St. Augustine had a complex way of looking at 153. Google to find many other examples including the number of individuals mentioned to have been cured by Jesus in the four Gospels.
We vacillate between ministry to the few or many, to small numbers intensively treated and large estimated multitudes. To spread the word to a few is usually looked upon with deeper respect than to deal with the many -- because crowds are harder to control and the few are thought to be more profoundly changed (see John 6). The many in a popular crowd are pleased; the few could border on elitism, where they rise to leadership roles in an autocratic setting. At times, priestly service appears more directly an elitist approach rather than the popularist one, though one may never predict which approach is ultimately more successful.
Attention to the poor favors addressing the greater number. At times Jesus did just that. Catering to the few can lead to a self-importance of those treated, or it limits the ministry by concentrating energy. However, there seems time for the many and times for the few -- for Jesus did both. Instructing agents of change (disciples) is a "trickle down evangelization." One could instruct the crowd from which leaders will emerge.
Prayer: Lord, give us a discerning spirit to know when to act
and to whom our efforts are more specifically directed.
Coneflowers to brighten early autumn garden.
October 14, 2016 Miscellaneous Autumn Garden Hints
This time of year is when we can review what worked in the garden and how we can improve. Several suggestions are in order:
Xeriscape. If we were fortunate to not suffer too much from dry periods it is still good to think ahead. Consider types of landscaping which employs techniques (such as plant selection) requiring less water than conventional ones used in our region.
Garden disarray. Sometime lack of order bothered us in the growing year -- but is it that bad? David Kennedy, an accomplished gardener and director of "Leaf for Life" (an organization which teaches others to dry certain types of foliage for use as high protein food supplements), says he prefers a relaxed garden where the turtles, herbs, bees, snakes, etc., try to sort it out with each other. He says a pretty good garden is a good thing. "A perfect garden is an antique vase on a kitchen table waiting for a Little League team to show up with pizza." Reference: Where the Garden Path Leads, David Kennedy, Big Hill, Kentucky, 1998, p. 45.
Gardening Cooperatives. A number of cooperative ideas could be helpful and include a garden co-op where growers work together to find a proper market for goods, or to purchase supplies in bulk quantity. A group of growers may decide to cooperate in marketing their products at a variety of outlets and to determine standards of preparation of the product for market.
Community Gardens. The idea of community gardens is perhaps quite old, for many cultures have such garden areas. Urban areas of this country have tracts of land where contiguous garden plots are tended by individuals, generally from the neighboring areas. Community projects need supervisors and certain regulations as to how and what to grow on the land.
Privacy Barriers. A vegetative or wooden domestic privacy barrier delineates a place where people can cook outdoors or just relax in their private getaways from a busy world. While a garden may be a retreat to partial rest, it's also public space. However, it can be overrun by neighbors' pets and deer and other wildlife. A wire fence may be sufficient to allow neighbors to peer in and observe, though the invitation may not be so all embracing as to include unwanted wildlife.
Garden Celebration. A garden block party can become a social event that includes reticent neighbors who come and enjoy the fruits of gardening. An autumn celebration when the harvest is prime could provide the setting, and a portion of food served could be produce from the garden (e.g., mint tea, stir-fry, vegetable soup, salads, etc.). A community gathering in the cool of an autumn evening is most fitting.
Prayer: Lord, give us a fresh outlook on what we can do to
witness to restoring life through gardening.
We are all committed in this year of mercy to consider ways that we can be peacemakers in our own unique manner. First of all we need faith to believe that peace is possible. Let's recount the types of injustice that exist so that we can select areas where we can focus our efforts on establishing justice.
Personal injustice: Backbiting, substance abuse, cruelty, abusive language and actions; overlooking the needs of others around us; failure to give respect to self and others. This takes personal examination and perhaps encouragement to others who fail in respect to their neighbor.
Local social injustice: Forms of discrimination against other races, creeds, ethnic groups, migrants, or those of one or other lifestyles that do not suit our tastes: ignoring the unemployed or those who are underemployed; blacklisting certain individuals or groups so that they find life hard; shunning and calling individuals derogatory names; lack of adequate and affordable housing; excessive taxes and demands on those who are indebted.
National social injustice: Unfair taxation systems that put heavy burdens on the lower income people and grant excessive relief to the wealthier members; an unjust health system that discriminates against those without health insurance; lack of proper care of veterans injured by war; failure in law enforcement; excessive incarceration of non-violent offenders.
Global social injustice: The above categories of discrimination along with those against tribes or particular religious sects; failure to share with the destitute and those vulnerable to disease or lacking educational opportunities.
Economic injustice: Failure to see that all have the right to meaningful employment; failure to promote a living wage; allowing the excessively wealthy to dictate laws and erode democracy; allowing the airwaves to be taken over by a privileged few; allowing retention of the commons that must be shared with others; waging wars for economic gain.
Eco-injustice: Poaching and attacks against threatened and endangered species; air and water pollution in all its forms; destruction of the rain forests and temperate forests as well; waste and overuse of resources; lack of sharing land resources with others; destruction of habitat and flyways for wildlife; overfishing of the oceans; all forms of sound/noise pollution; climate change that will affect future generations.
Injustice to past generations: Lack of respect for the graves of forbearers; belittling the achievements of those who went before; forgetfulness of the sacrifices that make us who we are.
Prayer: Lord, stir our minds and hearts to resist injustice.
Jesus tells us to pray always and to do so with patient endurance; he is aware of our tendency to become weary and want to give up. This may happen to someone in prison for the wrong cause, for the ill struggling for life in a hospital, or for laborers barely making ends meet in their daily struggle. Our prayer and everyday life are intertied, and in praying we realize that for many there is no end to their sorry condition in sight. I remember a persistent widow who complained about how coal operators had destroyed her road and she persisted in her complaints -- and got the road replaced.
Many carry on, for that is all they can do in the routine of life; they develop spiritual fatigue. Our encouragement for them is needed, especially if we assemble all troubles that come to mind: unending strife in the Middle East; possibility of severe climate change if we let down our guard; candidates for public office who repeat the same story over and over; supposed victims who are fixated on being wronged by others; complaints about health while forgetting co-sufferers; problems of those who seldom get enough sleep; and with those who abuse drugs, tobacco or alcohol.
Do we remain confident that our prayers will be answered? Sometimes we falter. Perhaps a while back we expected miracles of grace in a very short while -- and we were wrong. God always answers our prayers, but what are the answers? Are we willing to continue to pray, trusting that God is answering our petitions now or very soon? Shouldn't we pray that we hear and understand the answers that God is actually giving us? And do we have faith that God is a ready and fair judge who acts in sufficient time for our hopes to be realized? The Almighty is not preoccupied by other cares and concerns. We are heard when we call, and we are inspired to call again and again.
Encouraging the weary is one of our forms of frequent service opportunities. And we pray that we do not become weary, that we have trust in God and that all our neighbors and loved ones persevere also. Our prayerful affirmation is that we believe in the power of persistent prayer and thus we continue to call over and over -- and never lose heart. That takes a certain courage.
God's answers may come as a surprise, and in our maturation we discover that our will is not God's will. We come to see that God may gradually prepare us for the divine answer. Faithful prayer is quite important, both for us personally and for those we seek to encourage. We adapt to new forms and ways to pray: a change of posture, location, time or style; Scripture and other spiritual reading before or during a prayer period; continued thanksgiving for favors; or enlisting others to pray with us.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to pray unceasingly.
World Food Day reminds us of the many food related problems:
Food wastes in affluent countries cry to heaven for attention. A billion people live with some form of food insecurity, and yet our supermarkets endure enormous wastes. How do we address food waste and get perishable foods redistributed?
Climate change is taking a toll on food production. We hear that weather patterns have been changing; the changes could be called a fluke, but the records indicate that this may not be so. Some areas are getting dryer and some wetter, with the resulting droughts and floods affecting local food supplies in poorer lands and especially in Africa and Asia. Parts of Eastern Africa are in dire need as of this writing. This year in parts of India, farmers have suffered by declines in crop growth due to drought. Perhaps the worrisome California dry period has halted, but who knows?
Biofuels are replacing food crops. Turning corn into alcohol to use as auto fuel to substitute for petroleum has a direct impact on folks who regard corn as a food staple for their simple but adequate diet. Increasing prices of feed corn are also affecting meat, dairy and egg supplies and prices. While some in extravagant vehicles waste their corn-derived fuel on joy riding, others are deprived of necessary food supplies through rising corn prices.
Changes are occurring in diet. China, India and other developing and rather prosperous nations demand more intensive food as diets for the rising affluent class. It takes more crop resources to produce animal-derived food than to use the same grain for direct human consumption. This forebodes badly for the poor, for more and arable land formerly used for rice, wheat, corn and other grains is now being used for making these animal products, or growing fruit and other higher priced crops.
Distribution is giving way to local production. On the whole this development should be a salutary move, provided the effort is taken to make surpluses available for times of famine when local production does not meet basic food demands. The expectation that local farmers can feed the malnourished population is healthy, provided richer countries are willing to extend financial and possibly material support to lands when shortages appear. Some countries refuse to take care of their own. In both Zimbabwe and Sudan, many people are hungry or even malnourished.
Could addressing these problem areas make a difference? Each World Food Day we realize that thousands of infants and young children up to age five are dying each day from malnutrition or related diseases. That number has apparently been slowed and declining. It is not good as long as food insecurity, a form of terrorism, continues while we with plenty fail to comprehend.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to alleviate world hunger when we can.
Autumn blooms of the frost aster, Aster pilosus.
October 18, 2016 St. Luke and the Journey of Faith
In this Cycle C Liturgical Year we Christians focus on the Gospel of St. Luke. We have an opportunity to see that Luke's imagery of travel tells us about Christ in the Gospel and the early church in the Acts of the Apostles. Taking the two books as a single whole lets us review our journey to growth in awareness:
* History -- Recall the events in Christ's younger years (Luke's infancy narratives, Luke 1-2) and come to appreciate the role of our parents in setting us on our own course of life. The humility and activism of Mary is expressed in her journey to visit Elizabeth and the Magnificat proclamation. The closeness of the Holy Family is exemplified in the exile into Egypt. The narrative of the infant Church is quite similar.
* Vocation -- Give a special emphasis to our calling and the start of our own journey (Luke 4 and Acts 1 ff.) as Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah as to the message of liberation. Recall the movement of the Spirit within us as at the Pentecost event narrated in the first part of the Acts. See the need for practical guidelines for evangelizing and spreading the Good News as we go (Luke 10 and Acts) -- travel light and know when to move on.
* Healing -- Know the importance of healing in our lives and remember episodes on the journey when others redirect our ways (Luke 15, the Prodigal Son) and help us when injured (Luke 10, the Good Samaritan). Healing confirms St. Paul's observation of "Luke, the beloved physician" in Colossians. Also, our own forgiveness is a basic attitude in healing fractured relations.
* Sensitivity -- Traveling light allows us to become aware of the destitute who happen to enter our path and make us all the more aware that we must help others (Luke 16, the rich Man and Lazarus).
* Prayerfulness -- Jesus teaches us to pray always and to pray with persistence, humility and simplicity (Ln. 18), and the apostles give us examples of prayerful gatherings as in prison (Acts).
* Special attention -- Jesus gives special attention to others, even in the midst of his passion and death (Ln. 22-23): to Peter, to the women on the way to Calvary, and to the good thief while on the cross. This tells us that as our own journey ends we must always be mindful of radically sharing with our neighbor.
* Sharing faith -- The Resurrection became the opportunity for Jesus to teach others on the road to Emmaus so that they could carry the Good News to those who were isolated and afraid. We too must find in the Acts the dynamic of faith that sent apostles to all parts of the world -- a universalism that is a constant theme.
Prayer: Lord, slow us enough to find in Scripture, and this
year in Luke and Acts, signposts to our ongoing journey of faith.
Thorns of honeylocust, Gleditsia triacanthos.
October 19, 2016 Knowledge: Acting through Proper Experience
Each month during this year since Pentecost we are treating one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. In October we focus on the gift of knowledge. By this gift we mean that we realize the path to follow and the dangers to avoid in order to reach heaven. In our journey of faith we encounter many detours and road blocks that divert our attention. Getting off the track can waste valuable time and it even may lead others on wrong directions. The Jim Joneses of the world lead astray entire communities, even to an incredible mass suicide. Allurements are all about, even on the Internet -- and these become detours and barriers for many people.
Knowledge or spiritual experience is the answer. It is like looking up when biking and seeing what lies ahead so as to gage hills and rocky spots. Such journeys of life also need the collective experience of fellow travelers who keep us on the right track. We are in this together; we can learn from others' mistakes and they can learn from ours. So knowledge, more so than the preceding gifts, has a communal character that is to be fostered and encouraged. Gifts are God's sharing with us, and are to become our sharing with others. In turn, part of knowing is to recognize the shared gifts of others offered for our benefits and accepted with gratitude. We are all in the Spirit for the long term.
We are free to act and we are on a disciplined journey; the way the journey proceeds depends on both free choice and an ability to focus on what has to be done. For instance, to discern that one's lifestyle must be changed in order to be more conservation-conscious requires wisdom, understanding, counsel and fortitude, but it also requires going counter to acts of pharisaism and self righteousness; it takes knowledge to choose humble activity and to live a more simple lifestyle.
Establishing God's Kingdom on Earth takes conservationist actions and involves expert knowledge. Actions cannot be put off to a later time, for we are called to be prudent and determine what must be done in this emergency. We often think that sheer practicality is less important than the dramatic feats of the more charismatic person. However, we work in the real world inspired by the Holy Spirit. We must commit ourselves to using the appropriate tools for the benefit of all creatures on Earth and this is a difficult, joyful and cooperative endeavor.
Thus, fine details are important, and these are often de-emphasized by those involved in creating lofty goals. But activists know better. Look at details and discover that Jesus talks about building a house on solid ground. If lifestyle change is needed by an individual or group, it ought to be appropriate, that is affordable, environmentally benign and community-oriented. Let's knowingly choose actions that benefit the Common Good.
Prayer: Lord, bestow on us the gift of knowledge so we can
better be servants in our ministry.
Soviet foreign minister Molotov wasted no time asking Secretary of State John Foster Dulles what on earth the Americans thought they were doing proposing to spread weapons-grade nuclear material all over the world (Ike's Atoms for Peace program).
(The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer, p. 257)
It is time we acknowledge the strange and complicated history of nuclear power generation and say "no" to any new development, along with a phase out of 100 American aging nuclear power facilities. Electricity generation through nuclear power has become a thin cover to allow for wartime business as usual -- namely, production and storage of armaments while nuclear power generated electricity continues at a constant pace. Such undiscerned activities have corroded the moral position of possessors of nuclear power to such an extent that the very existence of civilization is endangered by weapons and facilities -- and yet few are concerned about terrorists bent on maximum harm.
After a hiatus of several decades, when nuclear power generation was often regarded as unsafe and waste disposal problems went unsolved, a renewed emphasis on the use of nuclear power is emerging due to climate change and the move away from fossil fuels. Even here, the electricity generated using coal in nuclear fuel processing is overlooked, when it was considerable. Thus a costly, unsafe, unnecessary and tempting peacetime use haunts us today, because we are people still riddled by the guilt of civilian deaths in Japan in 1945. Will nuclear power ever be laid to rest?
Limiting our discussion to peacetime nuclear issues is still inherently complex because the wartime and peacetime uses of the atom are interconnected, and it may be that the temptation is that current peacetime uses become excuses for weapons development and buildup (as has been recently the case of Iran and perhaps more with the unreliable North Korean regime). There is even encouragement for Japan and South Korea to develop nuclear weapon capability. The morality of nuclear weapons production, retention and use has been treated for decades, but seldom in conjunction with nuclear power generation. The weapons presence are inherently dangerous and yet we witness a very slow pace of dismantling stockpiles by the U.S., Russia, and other possessors.
Moral questions about nuclear power arise related to benefits of the electricity, maturity of the facility, and storage and disposal of spent fuel. Problems remain. Granted, some nuclear materials may benefit people in health areas , but these also must be treated with care. Even the strictest controls are not sufficient to keep plutonium and other radioactive materials out of the hands of terrorists bent on dirty bombs. The electricity can be generated in other ways safely and cheaply in the emerging renewable energy economy. Close down nuclear power plants ASAP!
Prayer: Lord, give us courage to say "no" to nuclear power.
A friend told me that when his mother passed away, he broke the news to her best friend and the old lady said, "Thus glory passes." The precious relationship she had with his mother was broken with a certain definitiveness -- and October, that season of passing, is the time of this changing of the guard -- the passing season. We also celebrate this coming National Cleaner Air Week and know that autumn's passing from the heat of summer also brings about the freshness of colder weather and the anticipation of a better atmosphere for those suffering from summer air pollution.
We use the term to "pass away" in place of dying, and sound faith-filled reasons exist for that -- not just a refusal to face mortality. For those of us who believe in the resurrection of the person, life is a passing from one form to another. The Passover harks back to Old Testament themes of passing from Egypt to the Promised Land and from old ways to new ones. In the New Testament Jesus' Passover is observed as part of the Last Supper, and so Christians celebrate the Passover event each Holy Thursday.
The passing of the seasons includes faith-filled concepts as well. Yes, the beautiful scenes of summer have passed over to the colorful leaves of autumn, and these have a certain transitory nature that leads us to view color changes as somewhat bittersweet. We will pass over to winter, but not eternal winter -- for we have a promise of a spring and new life to follow; thus, we do not see this season as passing to a permanent winter condition -- just a seasonal change. We need our sleep; so do plants and animals need their rest. Thus new life demands times of autumn rest.
Until recent years I never really liked autumn because it meant the end of the greenery of summer. In youth, I hated to go back to school in the fall -- and even wear shoes. With age my favorite season shifted to the autumn, for even the passing of the leaves gives a promise of cooler days, a freshness that is now so welcome after summer heat. We like the crispness of an October morning when frost covers the landscape, reminding us to say farewell to hot days for awhile. Frost is a welcome blanket for a sleeping Earth. However, the winter ahead with unpredictable ice and snow has its challenges; Autumn simply continues the rhythm of life for better or worse.
Autumn is the season when golden leaves seem to twitter and dance to the slight breeze, and then flutter down to join the fallen layer below. Thus nature's glory passes. The beautiful maples and sour gums, the oaks and elms have their own singular passing to rest while awaiting a new springtime. Let's make this October a rededication to the vitality of all things around us. Let's ensure that October is a transitory passing, a rest before new birth -- not a time of eternal death. Let's fight for a renewable energy economy.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to greet seasons, whenever they come.
Autumn fruits of Kentucky's native cactus, Opuntia humifusa.
October 23, 2016 Cherish Simple Prayer
"God, be merciful to me a sinner." (Luke 18:13)
Sometimes during an evaluation we are asked to comment critically on another person's "prayer life." I find this extremely difficult, if not impossible, and wish such questions would never be asked. Unfortunately, the Pharisee in today's parable may be regarded as having a rather formal, ostentatious and well-known public mode of expression -- but really how would we evaluate his prayer life? It certainly was active, though not very deep. How do we know if another person prays or, better, how do we know whether the very simple prayer spoken from the heart by a soul who is heavily tortured is not deeply sincere and heard by the Almighty? At times we find hints of prayerfulness, especially by the elderly who humbly but gratefully think they have lived beyond their time. Do we really know much about many who pray simply?
All too often the prayers that come from simple folks really show a basic attitude, like that of the publican who knew he was despised and yet knew he had been sinful in his own ways. He recognized his condition before God with a fully open heart while the Pharisee brought forward a lot of clutter and baggage along with his own comparison to that despised person in the shadows. Maybe we can learn an important lesson. We can hardly expect to be exalted in prayer when so much of the troubled world surrounds us and somehow distracts us when we attempt to pray.
Yes, if we are observant we do note simple forms of prayerfulness -- in hospitals, prisons, homes for the elderly, with shut-ins, and even among sickly acknowledged non-churchgoers. I have found other instances: in our environmental resource assessment work we were invited to attend an afternoon mosque service, and prayer occurred. Also prayerfulness occurs at times when asked to pray together at a meal or when people gather to be with a dying person. I will never forget the simple offered prayer of a prisoner who prayed sincerely for his family he hurt by his imprisonment. Observed simple prayers in a worshiping community teach us to pray with greater sincerity and attention.
Simple prayers come in many varieties: "Lord have mercy on us all," the repetition of the "Our Father" or "Hail Mary" said while meditating on religious mysteries of Christ's life (the Rosary), or the "Jesus Prayer." Some prefer their simple prayers to be a private conversation with the Lord in their own words and out of earshot of others. They realize that any time or place can be an opportunity to open the heart to prayer as natural as talking to a friend. Perhaps today's parable gives us a freedom to pray always and to do it in informal ways. Yes, there are times for public prayer in church and even at civic occasions when not prohibited.
Prayer: Lord, guide us to a prayerful life that is not overly restricted by formality and false expectations; help us to learn to pray from those who offer simple prayers in their own way.
We will hand over this duty (giving out food) to them (deacons) and continue to devote ourselves to prayer and the service of the word. (Acts 6:3-4)
Service to others is a role we are called to play in our troubled world. That service is specified and enhanced by the use of our own unique talents through trial and error. Priestly ministry is both similar to and yet different, from that of other people. All Christians have a general ministry of being priests, prophets and kings in Baptism; however, those consecrated to ordained priesthood have a role that is harder to distinguish. It must be as humble as that of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. We start with humble service, and the more we work with the humble the more we attune ourselves to God's will.
In recent years we have come to realize that all can harm others through misdeeds; we also can harm our Earth and cause climate change, an irretrievable damage that can impoverish the already poor. This is done through wasteful lifestyles. No one is immune from selfishness leading to self idolatry and damage to the witnessing called for in proclaiming the Good News. So the priest along with others must constantly discern how the public life enhances the witnessing we are called to do -- and to take this with added care and concern.
In the Acts of the Apostles ministerial priests focus on two designated areas, and through the institution of deacons allow them the tasks of relieving physical needs of the poor. The apostles (as priestly ministers) were to devote themselves to prayer and service of the word -- spreading the Good News. Commentators tell us that prayer meant the formal liturgical prayer of the Church -- the life of the sacraments and especially those of reconciliation and the celebration of the Eucharist. Through reconciliation, those in the community who are wounded are healed and brought into full community life; through the Eucharist, the spiritual nourishment of sacramental life in Christ is given. We recall Athanasius' manner of reasoning to the Trinity from the immensity of the redemptive act; likewise, only God as food is sufficient for us to be nourished for the work of saving our threatened Earth.
Priests enter into the union with the suffering Christ and this especially occurs during the Divine Liturgy. Only God's presence can keep us to the task at hand, and there is a leadership and instrumental role to play. Our unique role as priests is to furnish the Bread of Life for such a noble undertaking and for liberating people from the chains of their sin. Furthermore, this role is part of the Good News, which must be proclaimed according to the roles and talents that we possess. Our unique experiences become the foundation of a message that should speak to all.
Prayer: Lord, help each of us find our unique ministry and
work in collaboration in the task of healing Earth and people.
October 25, 2016 Proclaiming Good News: Suffering Has Value
Missionary activity, which is carried out in a wide variety of ways, is the task of all the Christian faithful.
(John Paul II Redemptoris Missio)
Service of the word is not limited to appointed ministers alone. Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation (Mark 16:16). Going therefore to all the world is the work of all, for each of us proclaims in his or her own unique way. This service of the word, the second specifically priestly function, has a component for all the baptized, but that content itself though faithful to Scripture and Tradition, is still specified by personal talents, local situations, cultures, and the times in which we live. The manner in which we deliver the Good News depends on our talents, energy, our place and time and thus is unique in some degree to who we are.
In spreading the word the priest does not have a hidden gnosis; however, conducting the formal prayer of the Church does open one to special experience of how sacramental life affects others and especially the poor. The priest is more acutely aware of the insufficiency of our prayerful attitudes; he is likewise aware of the poverty of people, sparsity in fellow workers, and most importantly the urgency of the time and place (shortness of time and hostility and distractions of hearers of the word). He knows the poverty of diminishment and loss of energy, the loneliness of ministry, and the lack of completeness in the mission; he is aware that the harvest is great and laborers are few; he strives to bridge differences among the faithful.
The uniqueness of the priestly ministry within the Church focuses on the sufferings of individuals who are able to suffer with Christ in a special way. We say with St. Paul that we are happy to be included in extending Christ's sufferings in space and time (Colossians 1:24). Many people regard suffering as a worthless plague on our world and hold such suffering as of no value. However, more than many others, the priest realizes that Christ redeems us through suffering and death; he teaches us to unite with his suffering and thus participate with him in spreading the Good News. The minister of the Word has a role to play in giving full value to suffering, and thus urges sufferers to enter more fully into Salvation History in offering their sufferings.
We mingle our sufferings with Christ's and this is Good News. Only when we attempt to tell this do we see how difficult it is as a message to others. Earth is being saved in Christ, and we join in our own way; this is Good News. Paul proclaimed the message over an excellent Roman highway network. We are blessed with a new global electronic highway system, the Internet. Thus we spread word on modern pathways, but it is today's Good News.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to proclaim the Good News according
to our way of life and with uniqueness and power.
October 26, 2016 Champion Indoor Physical Exercise
In every season we emphasize the need for physical exercise. In summer the manner of practice is generally exterior walking, hiking, jogging, biking, and gardening. Some add to that category the touring car, ATV or motor camper in which the major exercise is entering, exiting and pumping gasoline. Mid-autumn's cooler weather gives way to rain and snow, times we stay indoors because we can not bear to get cold or wet. Ideally we should engage in a healthy balance of exterior and interior types of exercise, and even come to prefer the latter, if that means continual day-by-day routines consistent for a healthy habit. Some doctors recommend a minimum of a half hour of some kind of daily exercise.
Some folks reside near workout "exercise" facilities and are able to join clubs and organizations that cater to better health. They may have a special exercise machine or series that they use on their visits, and look forward to that "workout" that is so refreshing. It may be an indoor jogging or rowing machine or a stationary bike, or any number of weight-lifting devices ranging from hand bell bars to strenuous body-building exercises. Others may find these clubs and machines somewhat overly complicated or daunting and prefer to work out privately at home. For them yoga or other individual stretching exercises may be the choice. They may follow a TV exercise program, a virtual gym at home, and not care about their appearance or apparel. Furthermore, distracting and perspiring human beings are not near. Whatever the choice, gym or virtual gym, it is certainly better than no exercise at all -- provided we can refrain from overdoing a good thing.
I have come to do indoor physical exercise daily and the outdoor variety on a more occasional or even weekly basis. The indoor is the primary source of exercise now that my jogging days for 43 years) are over. My friends, the Purcells of Los Angeles, provided a rowing machine, which has proven to be just the thing for a near an hour a day (800 strokes) and keeps legs, arms and mid-section in reasonable shape, with less back ache that comes through jogging and excessively rapid walking. This daily indoor exercise is performed on a heavy duty machine that does not overheat and wear out, and is highly recommended.
The rowing machine can collapse and fit into a confined space; it does not require electricity to operate as do some of the varieties of treadmills; it does not demand elaborate technical devices, plugs, strings, handles and other devices. While monotonous, it is not quite as bad as the stationary bike; nor does it take gasoline, for those who regard exercise as riding in a car and moving the gas pedal with one foot. Time goes quickly when combining the exercise with meditation or listening to the morning news. Some double up the time of physical and spiritual exercise and feel better in the process. But most of all, let us keep to our daily physical exercise routine to stay alert.
Prayer: Lord, help us stay healthy for what we need to do.
October 27, 2016Culture through Garden Cultivation
Gardeners believe that they play a role in civilization, for local culture is enhanced through cultivation -- and gardening is a premier form of utilizing soil for human benefit. A further search gives us the Latin cultus, which means care or cultivation. Yes, we can make a unique contribution to local culture and community improvement through our gardening activities. In looking at the origins and practice of the democratic process we find that gardeners/farmers such as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, played essential roles in furthering American democratic aspirations.
Preserving culture. While gardeners believe in being practical and seeing concrete results, they furnish a refreshing counterpoint to professional meeting-goers who appear stimulated by endless conversation and interaction. It simply takes gardeners present to bring discussion to a relatively rapid conclusion -- because we have to get back to important matters. Gardeners feel a sense of their high but practical and spiritual calling. Culture is initiated, enhanced and even preserved through cultivation of land for food and other necessities. If world's cultures have arisen where cultivation occurs, then a relationship exists between cultivators and cultured -- and gardeners stand in the middle.
Improving culture. Often in history, actual cultivators have been peons, serfs, slaves, and the lower social strata -- and too often women in male-dominated societies. Often benefactors were the higher members of the social hierarchy. But some folks stood in the middle, not letting the lower strata struggle on in an uncomplaining fashion, nor allowing the elite to get away with doing little or nothing. At times, egalitarian reform has been attempted (e.g., the Cultural Revolution in China), with its forced return of vast numbers of people to the land. The harshness of such top‑down programs doom many back-to-the-land experiments.
Proclaiming freedom. The gardener's way is to freely and joyfully perform manual labor and reflect all the while. Neighbors may resist this individual egalitarian thrust by the back-to-land gardener. Elite neighbors fight any disturbance of their uniform ornamental lawns by gardens. For conformists, a zoned neighborhood is needed to be in lock step; anyone who deviates in land use patterns merits the greater community's disapproval. Turning lawn to garden goes against orderliness within a conformist's world order. Furthermore, the maverick gardener tills up lawn, scatters paraphernalia, brings in beehives, and grows strange plants. Most gardeners are not confrontational and yet propose radically different concepts of beauty (ornamental landscape versus beneficial gardens). This may involve advocacy before a variety of departments of a municipal government -- as happened with a friend in California who was plagued by agencies and neighbors because she installed a native plant xeriscape. A local revolution! She soon found other neighbors installing similar plants in their yards.
Prayer: Lord, encourage gardeners to be agents of change.
Vibrant red leaf stands alone in Kentucky hayfield.
October 28, 2016 Isolation, Never Again
In much of the nineteenth century the United States sought to flourish in isolated luxury. It peeped out to battle Spain and capture the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam, and thus gazed out of a North American haven to Asia and the vast regions of Oceania. But an atmosphere of isolation persisted. The First World War came and great effort was made by isolationists to avoid entry until 1917; then American doughboys marched into France to assist the battered allies to come to final victory. They returned home to the glory of twentieth century isolation, when the world thought the war to be the last and democracy safe. But history may repeat itself and so GIs headed overseas in the 1940s to North Africa, Italy and Normandy, and many scattered islands of the Pacific.
Peace came at last, but not blissful isolation. The world had become too small, and now there was a "Pax Americana" that demanded 48 bases in Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy, England and on and on. The twelve million service people were not completely mustered out in 1945, but some prepared for conflict in Korea a few years later. We no longer had a skeleton peacetime army, for now we faced the Red tide of the USSR and China. Isolation would never return, and it was stamped by the New York City headquarters of the United Nations -- no more League of Nations that the U.S. would refrain from joining. Things changed, and the land with half the world's industrial production in 1945 had to learn to give, lease and lend some of the vast resources to damaged nations. We did so, and the world became our neighborhood. Splendid isolation was receding but not gone. Americans even started to play soccer (the other peoples' "football") and Internet and cell phones spanned a planet.
We give attention to local and national issues and less to international events; but not totally. Our self-interest takes us afield -- defense, oil, other resources. The Middle East's conflicts become ours also, even if we are unable to "nation build." But we still allow isolation to creep back in with presidential election talk; we can be tempted to avoid the needs of our brothers and sisters in distant lands. We are isolated when we give virtually no news coverage to the many countries of Africa or Asia. We are isolated when we lack a feeling of compassion for those who do not have sufficient food or access to health facilities in other lands. We practice isolation when we promise to shut out groups of people because of nationality or religion.
Isolationism is hard to stamp out completely. Our land is large and has its many problems -- but so does our shrinking global neighborhood. Even if in our heart of hearts we would like to be isolated people, we simply cannot be. Cell phones, TV, and the Internet have done so much to bind us together. Our neighbors are next door on the other side of the globe, and their agony can be heard. There is a world out there, and we are part of it.
Prayer: Lord, bring us closer to the family of the suffering
wherever they are, and to threatened plants and animals as well.
October 29, 2016 Catastrophe: Living Beyond Our Means
Some eighty-seven years ago today the stock market lost 40% of its worth on "Black Tuesday." It was a financial catastrophe. That event becomes for us an opportunity to reflect on lessons learned in history, for it led to much pain, financial troubles and ultimate frugality as people struggled to make do. Repeat?
Some people speculate that the only way to shake our people up in their race for easy credit, rampant consumption and growing indebtedness, is for a catastrophe to occur -- and the "Great Recession" was regarded by a few as a repeat. The bigger event shouldn't happen to good students of history -- but then history is often a neglected subject. In fact, certain economists with their own ways of predicting doom think the repetition is just around the corner, or at least they have said so since last October.
Catastrophes for some that do not result in war or loss of life through extreme weather events may be good though costly lessons. If the undoing is financial, so should the corrective be. Maybe a good thorough financial readjustment will be a good thing, for Mother Earth needs to settle down, and this may be a way to do so, namely, by curbing rampant addictive consumer practices.
It appears that this radical readjustment could occur in one of four ways: dictatorial decree, voluntary change, strict regulation, or catastrophe. Our nation is a democracy and not a dictatorship, even from current candidates for president; voluntary ways lack the power of rapid conversion of more than the choir; strict regulations require the will of legislators and these have been until now too paralyzed to think radically; so for many commentators the only choice left is an outside force, a natural catastrophe or an inside force, an economic or human-made catastrophe. Are we to say that the loss of billions of dollars or trillions in stock value is not a vital lesson?
Let's live within our means. The manner in which a consumer oriented-culture consumes resources is unsustainable. Greed has been running riot. Isn't a sustainable corrective most welcome? If the developers are brought to their financial knees and cannot continue with present practices, then both Earth and the consumers who are living so unsustainably will all have a new opportunity.
Such a financial event would allow Mother Earth a much needed sabbatical; consumers will quiet down and stop collecting bigger and bigger boats, cars, and homes. They will live more simply and closely to one another, like the poorer portions of the human family. There is no guarantee that they will not continue grasping for what they can get, but then there is that faint chance that they will wake up to how to live within the means allotted by a providential Creator. A shock treatment may do the trick; catastrophe may be the wake up call and bring better regulations.
Prayer: Is it wrong, Lord, to pray for a financial disaster?
October berries of the gray dogwood. Cornus racemosa.
October 30, 2016 Zacchaeus's House Is Our Earth
Today Salvation has come to this house. (Luke 19:9)
Zacchaeus is a little person among all of us who are also tiny before the Lord. But he is open, generous, and unafraid of what others think. He invites the saving grace of Jesus to enter his home. In the Gospel story today, Zacchaeus is disliked by the people around him for he is small in their eyes, both physically and morally as to tax collecting. He seeks to compensate by first climbing a sycamore tree to overcome his physical disadvantage, by showing hospitality, and then by promising to be doubly charitable. Jesus deliberately opens himself to this simple person.
Like Zacchaeus, we also need the saving grace of God to help save our wounded Earth. And God's presence requires our total presence as well, for authentic two-way communication. The redemptive work (soteriology) of Christ takes on added meaning when we see that Jesus comes and saves us -- and give us the privilege to work in helping to preserve and save our endangered planet Earth. Jesus also comes to our house -- our planet that is in such need. We are saved through his blood and nothing of greater value can be obtained. However, the story does not end with his suffering and death and resurrection. We are to take the Good News to all creation and we have a role to play -- And in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church. (Col. 1:24)
Jesus suffers in order to establish the reign of God, and we are called to enter in and join our sufferings with his. We join to help extend his merits to a lacking world. We cannot increase the value of Christ's sufferings, but we can make that value integrated into the lives of others -- a bringing of Good News. And the more we join his sufferings, the more we can value that to which Christ has already given value through his death.
Save Our Earth. Part of the Good News is that the power of Christ's redemption extends to the inhabitants of this planet. Redemption has come, but now salvation is extended to a threatened planet that has been hurt through human misdeeds. By helping restore a damaged Earth we extend the Lord's power; Christ suffers through and with us. Through the mission we undertake we help extend Calvary in space and time. This may be done actively when we reclaim what has been damaged in the social order and preserve that which is threatened.
A hidden contribution. Equally and maybe more so, those who suffer help in the saving process as well. They can offer their suffering in communion with that of Christ. When done wholeheartedly, the sufferers form a powerful vanguard of preparers for the New Heaven and New Earth. All of us, in whatever way we participate, make this a home for all by earth healing practices.
Prayer: Lord, invite us to enter into the saving of our planet and to do so in union with your own sufferings on Calvary.
Changing colors of a spicebush, Lindera benzoin, leaf.
October 31, 2016 British Influence: Wax or Wane?
With the British passing through the scare of leaving the European Union we need to take a second look at our constitutional motherland, to which the U.S. owes a debt of gratitude. What about the rising or falling British influence on our world? Are they a welcoming people for clamoring immigrants? The English language grows in influence: it is the official language of 58 countries, is spoken by 500 million people, and is understood (second language) by an estimated one-third of the world's people. Today, English is being learned by several hundred million people for reasons of basic communication, education, jobs, diplomacy, sports, scientific research, medicine, business, finance, music and arts.
Some would regard the early nineteenth century as the zenith of British power, when the Royal Navy ruled the waves and the sun never set on that Empire. However, the British colonial influence has been on a marked decline since the Second World War, when about fifty nations became totally independent of British rule or protection. A few more such as Jamaica are moving that way right now. At the start of World War Two about one-quarter of the world's people were part of the British Commonwealth, especially in the Indian sub-continent, nearly half of Africa, one-third of the Middle East (with protectorate status), as well as much of Oceania and Hong Kong. Two dozen Commonwealth members are dominions (Australia, New Zealand and Canada) or still recognize the Queen as their monarch. Yes, a Commonwealth of former colonies still looks up to the United Kingdom -- but what if Scotland leaves? Certainly UK still has a sense of concern for struggling poor nations.
The white descendants from the British Isles (Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Normans and others) are decreasing as a percentage of the total global population because developing nations exhibit the major population growth. Using U.S. and other census figures we find the British ancestry pool of the U.S. to be 30% of total population, or about 96 million, of the United Kingdom 92% or 59 million, of Australia 80% or 19 million, of New Zealand 60% or 2.7 million, of Canada 28% or 10 million, of Ireland most of 4.3 million, and of the rest of the world (South Africa, etc.) about 5 million for a total of 197 million or 2.8% of the world's population. The 90 million (at the 2010 census) in the U.S. of British ancestry are composed of 17.5 million "Americans," 30 million English, 30 million Irish, 4.5 million Scottish, 6 million Scotch-Irish, 2 million Welsh, Australians, non-French Canadians and others. The U.S. Census reported a sharp decline in English ethnicity between 1980 and 2000, and that is in part due to many British ancestry people now identifying themselves as "American."
In conclusion, the British are like the autumn moon; yes, waxing and waning but always influential. I get my information from BBC and British periodicals. What would I do without them?
Prayer: Lord, don't let us take good things for granted, including the British and their many gifts.