September 1, 2006 Half-Century Anniversaries
The 50th of anything is bittersweet if it pertains to you or
me personally, and only truly celebratory if it is the 50th of
another loved one. I can testify to that at birthday, high school
graduation, and college graduation. But the entrance into the
Society of Jesus stands out a little differently. It is the only
one I can look back to vividly and the only one that was
bittersweet then, but has become more sweet than bitter with time.
The bittersweetness of September 1, 1956, was that I had to give up
my home life and friends, my tail-finned, green Olds, and a certain
prized independence. I was entering the Society of Jesus.
I remember that sunny day, saying goodbye to my younger
siblings and driving with my parents a surprisingly short one hour
from home to Milford Novitiate about 45 miles away across the river
in Ohio. After entering and the tearful goodbyes, the newly
gathered recruits awaited that first Jesuit meal. Four of us
"novices" decided that, since we had to turn in our valuables
(watches and money to be stored away), we might as well have a
poker game, whereupon I lost all the money I had left in this
world. The lucky winner, Hank Wehman, had a scruple for having the
total life's financial remainders of three others. So he reported
it to the Novice director, Father Wernert, who greeted the
revelation with shock and anguish, realizing that this class was
going to be a difficult one. Maybe we were, all things considered.
For times they were a changin,' and it was the final days of Pius
the XII's reign -- and Vatican II was just around the corner.
During those very early novitiate days we experienced our long
(30-day) retreat in the Jesuit tradition of St. Ignatius. It was
news blackout time and supposedly total silence. However, we could
look out our open dorm windows to a chapel being built a hundred
feet away, and could not help but overhear the World Series beaming
to the bricklayers in the autumn air. And then there were the Suez
Crisis and warfare and the Hungarian Revolt. Somehow amid the
prayers and the meditation on the Holy Family's Flight into Egypt
we began to think that our newly acquired prayer life was
dramatically changing the world.
Community life in the late 1950s actually proved to be a very
happy time, and especially those very early years. That is why
this weekend some old and steadfast friends who entered the Society
of Jesus together will gather again at the "House of Bread," at
Milford, Ohio. We will recall old times, laugh, get reacquainted,
and have a rare but happy reunion even though many have scattered
to various parts of the world. We did gather at the 25th
anniversary and again at the 45th. Our numbers are thinned by the
passing of a half dozen but about forty will reassemble, somewhat
slower, grayer, heavier, but hopefully more wise and humble. Every
act of letting go is giving up some security and taking on
something new. Anniversaries remind us of life's passing but there
is the eager reminder that more is in store on our journey of
Faith. At a 50th pause we come to realize this all the more.
September 2, 2006 Sow Autumn Greens
It may be a little late for some autumn greens but much
depends on the weather conditions in your neighborhood. Actually,
sowing the seed earlier may be a disappointment for it needs much
tender loving care. Even when sprouted, the hot weather will
wither the small plants without constant watering. With a milder
September (we hope) and with water when needed, a number of the
greens will furnish us with salads until at least the end of the
year (though some may need late fall cold frames or other forms of
In my youth on the farm we always sowed kale and mustard as
the late crops, and Mama even sold bushels of them at the local
grocery in Maysville, Kentucky. Both of these greens are extremely
nutritious and the mustard is not as biting (or hot) as that grown
during the late hot springs. We also grew endive, a good crop
passed down from French ancestry, for France loves its endive.
With proper care and harvested when just tender enough, that plant
can make a gourmet salad with vinegar, oil, onions, cherry tomatoes
and other seasonal herbs. Turnips are of course an autumn staple
for rural Appalachians, and these do very well either planted thick
for greens or in rows for the purple root. Don't forget about
growing Swiss chard in a number of varieties, for this can be
easily transplanted into greenhouses and can grow well into late
autumn. Radishes, and especially Japanese radishes, do very well
in the autumn when the conditions are right -- and radish tops can
be used for greens either fresh or cooked; autumn radishes will not
go to seed as they do in our Kentucky late hot springs. In fact,
with care one can also grow such spring favorites as leaf or bibb
lettuce and spinach.
Taking a cue from the poor folks in the deeper South, we find
that collards can be raised just like kale and endive and can
withstand the winters in our parts with a minimum of protection.
Most vegetables need to be protected from wind burn as much as from
sub-freezing temperatures. These collards are better cooked as are
other members of the autumn Brassica family, which could include
Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower though
these from plants may be required due to a shortened growing
season. In autumn, the brassicas are not as prone to bugs and
worms due to the lower temperature. Try kohlrabi if plants are
still available but the seed should have been sown in mid-summer;
both bulbs and leaves can be harvested and eaten fresh or cooked.
Different European and Asian greens can also be favorites
during the autumn season. Arugula rocket (a wonderful nutty and
tangy-tasting leaf green) does very well in the autumn. Autumn may
be the best season for those gourmet "mesclum" salad mixes of
greens and herbs (especially dill) -- but they take 45 days to
mature -- and some folks do not have that many frost free days left
in this year. Beets for greens when nursed along as mentioned
above can produce an autumn crop as well. We hope your autumn
weather is cooperative. And blessings on the greens!
September 3, 2006 Purify the Heart
This people honors me only with lip-service, while their
hearts are far from me. (Mark 7:6)
Are our hearts with the Lord? We hear in the Gospel today
(Mark 7: 1-23) that it is what comes from within the heart that
shows who we truly are, whether that be good or bad. The obtuse
heart is something worth reflecting on here, for "obtuse" means
blunt or rounded, dull or insensitive, or lacking in alertness.
Obtuseness can be applied to intellectual or to spiritual
development, to a failure at understanding the meaning of the
exercise or the failure to see the need for the virtues that flow
from the good Spirit's prompting. While others weep on Good Friday
or rejoice on Easter Sunday, the obtuse person is totally calloused
as to what makes for a change of mood with the religious season.
Let's return to the Gospel. Jesus brings disciples whose
cultural traditions neglect the little ways of another part of the
country -- the ritual of sprinkling utensils before use. The
Pharisees look for an excuse to attack Jesus and this is the
opportunity. They regard his disciples as lacking religious
fervor, but the attack is directed against Jesus. Recall that
Mark's Gospel was written for Romans and that Christian "Judizers"
wanted to impose Jewish observances on gentile Christians -- a, if
not the, major part of the very early Church. Observance of laws
and customs always becomes a stumbling block within a diverse
community of shared belief.
Why observe these rules and regulations? The Old Testament
tells the reason: observing commandments gives evidence of your
wisdom and intelligence to the nations (Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-8).
The command must penetrate deep within our hearts, not as a strict
imposition from the outside, making the heart hardened. That is
especially true if the unappreciated rules are not seen as
springing from the depths of God's love for us. Rules and
regulations should be guide posts on our journey of faith, not
stumbling blocks. The rules are not meant just for others; we are
invited to see them with an open heart. In calling for Vatican II,
Pope John XXIII wanted to open the doors to let the air in, not
throw the furniture out.
Application: Purification of heart takes place in a number of
ways. Through sensitivity and alertness, we leave out the self-
centeredness and become alert to the needs of others. Look out for
others. James' Letter (Chapter one) mentions especially orphans
and widows -- and we add all who are in need of any kind of help.
We need a merciful heart, seeking to forgive quickly, and
solicitous so as not to overly burden others in the world around
us. We need to control the flow of allurements from television,
billboards, and the Internet; and self-discipline is difficult in
this age of enticements. We need to constantly approach the
ongoing purification with humility and prayerfulness. Then the
Lord will enter and soften our hearts.
Passiflora incarnata, passion-flower
Spotted near Richmond, KY
(Photo: Janet Powell)
September 4, 2006
Right to Organize
Labor Day is a perfect time to recall that many workers crave
the benefits resulting from labor organization but are discouraged
in pursuing matters due to corporate pressure. With minimum wage
at an outmoded $5.15 an hour finally being addressed at the
national level, we must turn our attention to health benefits
unavailable to many low-income people. Labor unions have been
hurting in recent decades through loss of membership and recruiting
opportunities. Organizing those who are working is no easy matter,
as some who are trying to organize miners in Western Kentucky say.
This month's special organizational focus is devoted to the
National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice (NICWJ). This
group believes that as God worked to create the world, our
religious traditions value those who do the world's work. We honor
our Creator by seeking to ensure that laborers, particularly low-
wage workers, are able to live decent lives as a product of their
labor. The NICWJ calls upon our religious values in order to
educate, organize, and mobilize the religious community in the
United States on issues and campaigns that will improve wages,
benefits, and working conditions for low-wage workers.
Among the basic rights of the human person must be counted the
right of freely founding labor unions. These unions should be
truly able to represent the workers and to contribute to the proper
arrangement of economic life. Another such right is that of taking
part freely in the activity of these unions without risk of
reprisal. Reference: Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the
Modern World, Second Vatican Council, 1965.
We support the right of public and private employees and
employers to organize for collective bargaining into unions and the
groups of their own choosing. Further, we support the right of
both parties to protection in so doing, and their responsibility to
bargain in good faith within the framework of the public interest
Reference: Paragraph 73B Collective Bargaining, Social Principle of
the United Methodist Church.
Jewish leaders, along with our Catholic and Protestant
counterparts have always supported the labor movement and the
rights of employees to form unions for the purpose of engaging in
collective bargaining and attaining fairness in the workplace. We
believe that permanent replacement of striking workers upsets the
balance of power needed for collective bargaining, destroys the
dignity of working people, and undermines the democratic values of
this nation. Reference: Preamble to the Workplace Fairness
Resolution, adopted by the 104th Annual Convention of the Central
Conference of American Rabbis, 1993.
Address: National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice
1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., 4th Floor
Chicago, IL 60660
September 5, 2006 Peaches
Mid-summer is peach season, but those of us who consider this
the fruit of summer like to extend its season through September.
Peaches have a long history. They were domesticated in China about
4,000 years ago (the oldest cultivated Chinese fruit), and a number
of wild varieties are still found there. The domesticated fruit
moved gradually throughout the world, reaching the Middle East and
then Rome by 65 B.C. The Spanish brought the fruit to America soon
after Columbus, and it has been grown in warm areas of the American
South ever since. In some way, Americans, especially from Georgia,
South Carolina and California, regard the peach as a naturalized
citizen and truly theirs.
Hardly any other fruit has such versatility for culinary
delights, beyond the wonderful experience of eating them with all
the juice running down upon the beard as Scripture says. Peaches
have good color and flavor retention as well as firmness for
cooking and baking. Among processing possibilities one can list
peach --ice cream, turn-overs, salad mixes, canned halves, candies,
cereal topping, yogurt, brandy, upside down cake, and on and on.
In California the fruit is picked when ripened and then canned
within hours of harvesting in order to retain the flavor.
Why do I remember so many ways to eat peaches? In part it was
because my uncle persuaded his dad, my maternal grandfather, to
plant a thousand trees on a portion of the farm. This orchard had
only one good year -- for peaches can be temperamental and in
Kentucky are highly dependent on the date of the last frosts. That
good occurrence was in the middle of the Second World War (1943 or
44), yet no one left living can verify the date. The trees bore so
much that the peaches broke down the branches. Pickers were in
short supply, and I recall my dad spending a weekend assisting when
time allowed. The gathering barn was overflowing, with peaches
everywhere. The entire countryside had more peaches than people
could deal with -- and unfortunately even with refrigerated units
(not available then), peaches do not keep well like other fruit;
they soon become overripe and spoil. It was a cornucopia just once
and the county during that gasoline-rationed era became impeached -
- pardon the pun.
I have never been able to explain what makes a good tree-
ripened peach taste so exquisite. Is it because we seldom find the
same flavor in the store-bought ones, since they have to be picked
when half green in order to endure the shipment and normal sales
periods before being eaten? Is it because most of us do not have
the luxury of getting our fruit by going out and picking them off
trees -- and this applies more to peaches than to apples or lemons
that can be shipped more easily? The capture of the sun's rays in
the fuzzy peach skin is beyond description -- and that is all the
more reason to grow your own trees in the back yard. The time
between picking and consuming fresh should be reduced to the least
possible. That applies to fresh corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, most
berries, plums -- but especially to peaches.
September 6, 2006 Give Peace a Chance
The desire to furnish the reader with ever new topics can be
misleading. If we are reflecting daily, then surely the theme of
peace recurs as it does in our prayer life. But we have talked
about peace poles and peacemaking under various aspects. Maybe
there is one left -- we never "give peace a chance" to see if it
will work. If the bombing planes would stop flying, and car bombs
stop exploding then maybe, just maybe, a vision of peace could
penetrate the people's minds and all of us collectively would find
the military practices abhorrent.
How specific is that vision? It deserves to be spelled out
again as the July-August fighting in northern Israel and Lebanon
makes so imperative. In fact, the proposed vision involves the
economic flourishing of both countries. The vision is that every
person who is Jewish, Moslem or Christian spend one short period of
his or her life on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Let them go to
their respective shrines and all inhabitants of the two countries
could keep busy furnishing lodging, food, and accommodations as a
pilgrim growth industry. To allow this to happen would require one
million traveling visitors a week -- quite a full-sized task for
any small country. Let the travel rates be as cheap as possible
with a gradation of lodging for those who need it or will pay for
it. That's it. Fifty million visitors a year (the nations should
get a two-week vacation from visitors at the time of the nations'
choosing). Quite a simple proposal but acceptance is still another
I am sure a million cynics and a few defense contractors will
find faults in more ways than I can imagine. It may be that
pickpockets could flourish, and that may mean more police; it
could be that airports will be over-taxed and that must be
addressed by fast rail from Amman and Damascus; it may be that not
all could afford the trip, and that could be answered by a system
of charity funds from satisfied pilgrims and governments. It may
be that this steady flow would wear the local inhabitants out
through constant effort. That argument could apply to any group
that is expected to give 24/7/365 service. Pacing is the answer
and maybe return refugees could help with the work.
Granted, this proposed tourist/pilgrim industry would fully
occupy all the resources of both countries (Lebanon and Israel) and
have massive spill-over effects in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Turkey,
Cyprus, and other neighboring countries. It would allow a service-
based economy for both lands and permit the individual communities
to purchase their own needs through the pilgrim/tourist money
generated. It would not be any greater logistical problem than the
commuter flow of a large city each day; only the one million
visitors will come needing accommodations as well as information
and language services. But that could be achieved through
interfaith cooperation. Why not give peace a chance, and let the
realistic dreams come through elimination of military action as the
only way to peace. Isn't this approach peace-filled?
September 7, 2006 The Glorious Castor Plant
Then Yahweh God arranged that a castor-oil plant should grow
up over Jonah to give shade for his head and soothe his ill-humour;
Jonah was delighted with the plant. (Jonah 4:6)
Of all the plants, I regard the castorbean (or "mole bean") as
one of the most beautiful grown in our world. Europeans recognize
this by using the castorbean as a decorative plant in flowerbeds
and gardens. We noted that in the Alsatian and German gardens of
my ancestry the plants were popular and even found in the town
squares among the flowers.
God created plants so well and touched the dispirited Jonah
for a little while with this castorbean. Truly, it grows quickly
to a great stature and then dies back in our temperate zones with
frost and winter. In less than three months it can reach a height
of twelve feet, with a reddish or purplish stem and green umbrella
leaves that can grow to more than two feet across. The cluster of
flowers, which can be removed due to the toxic nature of the seeds,
yields a fruit during this short growing season.
A word of caution. The castorbean plant is regarded by many
as one of the most poisonous naturally occurring substances known
to people, animals and insects. While all parts are somewhat
toxic, it is the broken seeds, which come in clusters on the mature
plant, that should be kept away from animal feed or children for
they contain the deadly poison ricin (Ricinus communis) -- regarded
as a weapon of mass destruction. To swallow whole is not strictly
dangerous but to chew is fatal to most living members of the animal
kingdom. I ceased growing the mole bean when a fellow chemist
chastised me for having it in our demonstration center. Visiting
children may be tempted to pluck and eat the ripening berries and
be dead in an hour or so.
This is truly a challenging plant for the castorbean does keep
away moles and other varmints and insects as well. But make sure
the plant is kept out of reach of children, pets and livestock.
The plant does have good qualities besides its beauty. When
properly extracted, the castor oil is used as a medicine (a
purgative, which was the only substance I truly despised as a
youth). The oil is also used as a very fine lubricating oil and
for other specialized applications for the betterment of humankind.
All of nature is ultimately good provided we respect it and
use it properly. We need to be inspired to do the right thing with
all creatures, seeing them as good when used properly and sometimes
harmful when not. So much rests on our use and appreciation of the
beauty of even toxic substances. While we should not use the
castorbean as a weapon of mass destruction, we should see that
every plant is good in itself, if we only respect it for what it
is. Only then can our praises have a universal genuineness that
embraces all creatures in so far as we can embrace them.
September 8, 2006 The Right to Water
Every time I look around for a water fountain in a public
place I get a wee bit angry. Of course there is a stand selling
"spring" water for about one dollar (or more) a half liter
container. The truth comes home: water is no longer regarded as
a right of people; it is being privatized. But what is
inconvenience for me becomes an insurmountable difficulty for poor
farmers needing water for irrigation, urban slum dwellers in the
exploding cities of the world that have no access to clean water,
and people who see their majestic rivers dry up before they reach
the ocean (they say this of the Indus, the Colorado, and the Rio
Grande). Even the Jordan often reaches the Dead Sea only as a
brackish streamlet. Fresh water that is accessible is becoming a
valuable commodity and those eager for profits know it.
The right to water is an emerging problem area for many in the
world, especially the urban poor. And finally this year, over half
the world's population live urban areas. Take Mexico City with its
twenty million inhabitants, growing at the rate of one thousand a
day. The city is beset by subsidence due to pumping out the water
below the basin in which the city is built; the rivers of waste
must be processed before the water can be returned to human
consumption; people throughout the vast slums must purchase small
quantities of good water or "steal" (not really wrong) from
existing water supplies.
Funds are in short supply for water distribution
infrastructure and so city, state, and national governments
involved turn increasingly to private funding sources. But is
privatization the real option worth focusing upon? Lexington,
Kentucky is fighting this battle; so did the nation of Bolivia a
few years ago; so do increasing numbers of large and small
communities throughout the world. Some say privatization is at the
crossroads and can only succeed with political and financial
support. What does that mean? The International Policy Network in
London that pushed privatization admitted earlier this year that
ownership by the private sector has worked badly in many places
though many groups advocate more of that approach. This is because
the public sector has done a poor job in water access and quality.
Recife in Brazil and Bogota in Columbia have recently
persuaded the World Bank to loan money for public service expansion
-- something unheard of a few years back because of the bias in
favor of private utility services. The battle is certainly not
over and some countries like Nigeria are pushing for private water
development schemes. What is most important is getting good fresh
and affordable water to the people at all levels. None of us can
survive without water; none can remain healthy without good
quality potable water. The 21st is the century when poverty is
defined not only by access to jobs, but by access to sufficient
drinking, cooking, and bathing water. If this dream is to be a
reality, more funds must be diverted from excessive military
budgets to that of water systems. All have a right to clean water.
September 9, 2006 Public Lands Day
Today we look at the vast resource we call our "public lands,"
which are distinguished from the U.S. private lands that
individuals, religious groups and corporations hold title to. We
divide public lands into "commons" such as the seas and the frigid
areas of the two poles, and the almost one-quarter of our country
that contains national, state, county and city parks plus
wilderness areas, forest lands, military bases, airfields, prisons,
highways, cemeteries, historic monuments, public educational and
technical institutions, courthouses and other public buildings and
land. This is truly a vast assortment and a treasure.
Some would say that this litany is too large and would
manifest a bias against public lands; they urge that much or all
should be privatized, from prisons to water works. How this
improves the situation is then explained by a form of propaganda
that deliberately denigrates public service and management, with
little mention of the motivation of greed, control and profit, and
states that the private domain is always better . Some of this
bias actually enters partisan politics and forces an impartial
essayist to the limits in opposition to libertarianism in all its
perverse forms. But looked at another way, the defense of the
public lands should always be non-partisan when it comes to how the
land is to be used, administered and preserved for future
generations. This is part of our common heritage and we should not
be placed on the defensive in proclaiming our duty as citizens and
believers to take positive and public positions to this issue:
Public lands as tempting -- All public lands are threatened by
the efforts of development and other interests to take control.
Through lobbying efforts and proper influence, determined
individuals may tempt the lawmakers to introduce measures to allow
them to take over some areas of public lands as though they can run
them better. Far less focus is placed by the general public on
protecting the silent land from unjust aggressors.
Public lands as fragile -- The wildfire season, which seems to
grow more serious each year, makes us aware that public lands can
be damaged in part due to the openness that makes them more at
risk. Thus ongoing preservation requires public resources for
police and fire protection. Public support of such protective
measures must always be forthcoming.
Public lands as valuable to all -- The use of seashores by
small numbers of private parties who exclude the masses and force
them to share ever more congested areas is part of our country's
intolerance for the common good and deference to the privileged.
These public seashores when properly managed and used testify to
the profound sense of democracy in our land.
Public lands as future resource -- We must fight
privatization of what we all hold as a common heritage that has
much intrinsic value -- beyond some form of resource extraction or
development. One of the harder things for us to do as citizens is
to work for things that we will not live to share the benefits of,
and public land future benefits fit that category perfectly.
Sunrise Ridge, Stanton Kentucky
(Photo: Marge Para)
September 10, 2006
Jesus Teaches us to Heal
I once tried to learn sign language but became discouraged
when relatives of the deaf went ahead very fast due to intense
motivation. Upon reflection, I found that I simply did not know
people that closely who could use my ministry whereas others did.
Healing comes. In Isaiah (35: 4-7a) we hear that God's
redemptive act for the exiled people of Israel is through the
wonderful signs of healing. These people are discouraged and need
the powerful presence of God for encouragement and comfort -- and
a merciful God is more than willing to respond. The eyes of the
blind are opened and the lame leap like a stag. In the second
reading (James 2:1-5), we find that we are not to show favoritism
but to look out in a more universal fashion to a general field
calling for healing. And this requires motivation. In order to be
profound healers we must look out in an unbiased manner and
determine who is in greater need than others. Insensitivity and
favoritism make the healing process quite skewed in this age of
rich and poor.
Healing penetrates. As Jesus shows in the Gospel passage
(Mark 7:31-37), he is not a mere miracle worker showing off his
spiritual power. Jesus knows the man cannot communicate through
deafness and a speech impediment and thus heals him in a personal
manner -- touching the ears, making spittle for application to the
tongue, and looking upward in prayer. The individual responds in
faith but the others in the audience do not yet have faith and only
respond in wonder, thus broadcasting only a partial word. In
essence, through signs Jesus opens the way for deeper spiritual
transformation that comes through forgiveness of sin and coming to
faith. Healing continues within the Church through other christs
in anointing of the Sick and the Sacrament of reconciliation or
spiritual healing. And it goes on likewise through modern research
and caregiving by those who seek to heal the sick of all types.
Healing is for all. Back on February 12 (the sixth Sunday of
Ordinary Time) we saw Jesus healing a leper who was so overcome
that he broadcast the feat throughout the region. As a result
Jesus could not continue his ministry there. The same thing
happens again in this incident. We need to heal profoundly or,
otherwise, we will merely see Jesus' miracles and in wonder without
faith broadcast them to the world. What is called for is that in
faith we see that we too are called to be healers and to help as
citizens to make healing affordable to all citizens. We must:
trust in the promise of healing; praise God as Source of all
healing; see the Church as an instrument of healing; and practice
healing without partiality and through proper discernment. We do
this through sacramental healing, through prayer for the healing of
others, through caregiving in charitable institutions, through
improving the quality of life among all people, through support of
healing procedures and scientific research, through the call for
each of us to heal the Earth in our own backyard, and to be
peacemakers and bring healing to our troubled world.
September 11, 2006 A Graveyard's Tale
Graveyards are intriguing: tears shed, flowers placed, visits
made. Thoughts turn to a host of noble people buried here and
awaiting the herald's trumpet. Tombstones reveal abbreviated
messages as does the degree of cemetery landscaping or neglect.
The old "Bruce Place" where my mother was born has an ancient
cemetery but, over time, the fences fell and cattle wandered in --
and then the groundhogs burrowed among the graves. Sic transit
gloria mundi. But to see desecration for the first time (by
loggers in this case) is difficult, especially to descendants.
Becky Simpson invites us to a Harlan County spot
to film her father's forebears' burial plot;
Logging dozers overshot the legal 300-foot line.
If we bring a four-wheel drive we'll do fine,
for that uphill roadway is mighty rough,
and to slip off makes rescue pretty tough.
We pass the finest hemlock, oak, hickory stand
in this untouched part of Cranks Creek land.
We pause at where her grandma's homestead stood
at a rippling crickside where water's good.
Yes, we smell cherry pie and feel warm hugs,
but nothing's left, only woods and birds and slugs.
We walk woefully the last mile by design,
as we scan ahead to the Virginia/Kentucky line --
Dozer power -- push through anyone's right-of-way,
who's too poor to prove or pay a land survey.
You'd think 18th /19th century tombstones
stand utterly silent, but we swear each moans.
We film Becky walking and talking with grandson Chris
about uncle and aunt, mister and miss.
Some died in childbirth, others outlived the flock,
a story of pioneer stock, tough as rock;
But over the bluff comes another shock,
beyond a tree screen, a massive choppers' block.
Something catches my eye. Where the north edge flows
the headstones are lined in partial rows.
Chris stirs leaves and thatch from the fresh bulldoze
and finds pieces of marble. You can suppose
with the plain tombstone writing that the story grows --
markers splattered, scattered, shattered repose.
Becky's too mad to cry, but her jaw and chaw give,
"Chris, don't forget this as long as you live."
Even our team allows them a little space,
and so we stroll off to see the timbered place.
We look out over to mother Virginia's green landscape;
its upslope's clear-cut writes a tale of rape.
The whole trip is sort of like a retreat
as we slip back downhill there's questions replete:
If the old order passes away, what will a new be?
Do we hear one dragging a tree to Calvary cry
"If they do it to green wood, what happens when it's dry?"
Can we turn forests back to "commons" before we die?
September 12, 2006 American Bison
I grew up in the Buffalo Trace area of Kentucky, named because
the American bison (misnamed "buffalo") would migrate from parts of
the Midwest to the salt springs at nearby Bluelicks and in their
annual trek created a trace or trail that is the present Route 68.
These majestic animals, the largest mammals in North America, would
cross the Ohio at the low tide (fords) and then return afterwards
replenished, filled with salt. My travel agent told me once that
I squeezed my budget so hard she could hear the buffalo bellow (a
bison image on nickels or five cent pieces from 1913-38).
The bison was part of our early American history but not part
of my younger years except in paintings, movies, nickels, and the
trip out west to Yellowstone, where one herd was highly accessible
to the public. Upon getting acquainted, I find the bison are
social beings and live in adult male and female/young herds and
raise their young with care. The bison were the companions and
mainstay of life for the Native Americans of the Great Plains,
furnishing food and hides for clothes and tents. Their numbers
dwindled to mere handsful after the massacres of the later 1800s,
which were encouraged to make profits, clear the railroad tracks,
and destroy the livelihood of those American Indians who resisted
the taking of their own lands. One hunter was known to have killed
20,000 bison during the 1870s. By 1890 the 60 to 100 million
American bison that Lewis and Clark observed as a great brown sea
of motion on the plains dwindled to near extinction or 750 animals.
Through conservation measures and protection, the American
bison has made a come back and now numbers about 350,000 only about
12,000 to 15,000 of which are pure; the rest are mixed with
domestic cattle genes and exist in a semi-domesticated state for
meat purposes because of its low fat content. We say semi- about
their state because as long as they are fed, watered, salted and
have good companionship they do not mind farm and ranch conditions;
they won't move about if they don't have to. However, isolate them
or make them discontented, and virtually no fence will contain
these bulldozer-like beasts weighing one to two thousand pounds as
adult males and 800 to 1,000 pounds as adult females.
In recent years every time I come upon an American bison herd
I sense that part of America that we have lost and yet hold on to
with some tenaciousness. They are not the most friendly animals
(four times more people have died at Yellowstone from bisons than
from bears), and are really quite speedy and vicious when provoked.
They have all the regular bovine characteristics of resting,
eating, and chewing their cud. Their shaggy coats allow them to
withstand harsh weather better than the more domesticated cattle,
with which we are so familiar. If additional fencing can be
provided, the bison should regain popularity through this 21st
century. The descendants of the settlers who came to farm and
raise cattle are not enthusiastic about the proposal to restore the
underpopulated Great Plains by means of these herds. But it is a
good ecological suggestion worth further consideration.
Red Milkweed Beetle, Tetraopes
Tetraopes means four eyes. Upon inspection, it
can be seen that this beetle
has one pair of eyes above the antennae and one below.
(Photo: Janet Powell)
September 13, 2006 The Population Decline Problem
Some time in the past few years the focus of attention shifted
from overpopulation problems especially in underdeveloped regions
(still a problem) to the lack of population growth in developed
countries in Europe and the Pacific Rim. The reports have been
coming in with greater frequency since the year 2000. Japan has
lost total population for the first time. Russia is losing about
three-quarters of a million people per year and the Ukraine a
greater percentage of its population though starting from a smaller
base. Italy's people are aging and a steady total population is
due to immigrants; the same might be said for the UK and many other
European nations. Germany is worried about the fact women are not
having children and thus the decline may accelerate in the future.
Today about seventeen nations have declining populations and
that number will most likely double in a decade or so, though exact
totals are hard to predict. Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, if
the AIDS plague continues unabated, we can expect a half dozen Sub-
Saharan nations to experience population declines as well. The
depopulating nations now see that the heavy burden of health
benefits, pensions and debt servicing is going to fall on fewer and
fewer workers as the decades move on. That same worry also is
surfacing in the United States that, thanks to immigration, is not
expecting any decline in population in the foreseeable future.
The burdens of aging populations are one thing, but the deeper
problem may be this: if depopulation occurs over a long period it
will be hard to check; this is especially true when an aging
population has no incentive to resupply workers by immigration, for
fear of diluting the favored current ethic composition. And with
a growing older population, the ability and even the will to
increase in number will erode to such a degree that a people may
decide it is best to fade away comfortably -- if that is conceived
as possible especially among the wealthier nations. In a nut
shell, the heart of the problem is that the momentum of decline
will be so great that policy changes will not be effective unless
more of the middle-aged have children, and that is highly unlikely
even with the wonders of modern health.
The declining population in the nations noted has certainly
had some effect on total world population figures. Growth rates
have now declined from 1.8% per year a decade or so ago to a
current 1.1%; and that is in part due to China's drastic one child
per family policy and the decline in many of the other nations.
The total number of people in Asia, Africa and Latin America in
lands of population growth are so great in comparison to that of
Europe that further declines in Europe and Japan will only have a
limited effect. But what will occur in these declining nations and
how the governments will attempt to influence population policy
will be most interesting as the century progresses. Sometimes we
are inclined to futuristic speculation about population growth or
decline; we like to participate in the game, but in essence we
don't know what twists and turns await the global demographic road.
September 14, 2006 Heed Road Signs -- and Crosses
What is appropriate on this feast of the Holy Cross? Well one
could check other years, but maybe heeding roadsides tells us
something else about crosses. Those little white crosses with the
artificial flowers and the names in black are cropping up
everywhere and especially at bridge abutments and sharp curves on
our country roads. Once a secular group tried to get them off the
public highways, as an infringement of church and state I presume.
Our Secretary of Transportation wisely says that if these help
drivers to slow down and be more cautious, they should be there --
and besides the relatives know that these deaths are not in vain.
Others may heed the crosses.
Hardly a driver alive has heeded every sign and hardly a one
has ignored them all. We are all caught somewhere in the middle,
but the sign installers have a purpose and it is really quite good.
They know when to tell us not to pass and just how much to slow
down in a congested area. They tell us about deer and other
wildlife crossing. They are the ones who know that bridges will
get icy before the roadways in between. They have surveyed the
area and know where high water will occur even though so many would
scoff and say that at a higher speed the car can act like a PT boat
-- but what about the dip in the road that is underwater?
And then there are the stop signs that need heeding as well.
We get so mesmerized by the many advertisements and other
signage that confronts us in life that road signs are somehow the
least challenging. Some tell us the distance and most likely the
road we are on, and still more when and which junction will soon
occur. Even with a good sense of direction and knowing exactly
where we are going, we need the informational road signs as much as
the cautionary ones. So often when we see the sign it reassures us
that we didn't make a bad turn. So road signs vary in how they
affect us. Information and caution do not give the same results
and the caution ones are the most overlooked.
Let's return to those crosses for they can be both cautionary
and informational. If we care to, we slow down or get a passenger
to read the name, though the person may not mean much to us if we
are not from the area. But then we can make the sign a subject for
meditation. The people whose names are on the cross were most
likely having a good time, most likely young, and most likely not
noticing as opposed to being overly cautious drivers. And then it
happens -- a whirling about, a funny feeling that all is out of
control, sharp pains, blackouts, a final word that may be
unmentionable. Then the arriving passersby, the hesitancy to act,
the fumbling to call 911, and all the things associated with car
accidents. Later after the funeral and kind words and the unopened
casket, comes the cross with a weeping relative putting it up and
with such longing memories of past important events. Yes, it is a
road sign and will be damaged and worn with time and after a hit or
two from a mower or bush hog. But it has a message -- and like
other crosses it is meant for me and you to heed.
September 15, 2006 Appalachian Energy Policy
I repeat much of what we said in ASPI Technical Paper 51 of
1999 concerning the five critical areas of attention for a broad-
based energy policy, most of which were never implemented. This
nation still promotes coal, oil, natural-gas and nuclear power, all
of which have serious environmental problems. Even the expensive
coal modifications to reduce air emissions through gasification
still require the extraction of fuel with its land disturbance.
The following were and are the key components of such an energy
policy that has been proposed by environmentalists for two decades:
Promote Local Energy Sources that are not damaging to the
environment. These included more recent renewable applications
such as solar, wind and geothermal, as well as the traditional wood
and hydropower, especially micro-hydropower sources. Non-renewable
coal, oil and natural gas will continue to be used throughout the
Appalachian region, but every effort must be made to reduce their
use as an interim fuel and to phase them out when other sources are
Demonstrate and Promote Renewable Energy. This is all the
more important because solar energy can be used to the benefit of
all throughout the region and wind can be harnessed in higher
elevations, especially in West Virginia and western North Carolina.
This wind application has been attacked by so-called public
interest advocates who are defending the scenic viewscape of a
portion of the residents in areas where wind generators are being
planned and constructed. However, wind generation harms the view
less than the reduced air visibility resulting from coal-fired
powerplants in or near the region.
Champion Energy Conservation Measures. No energy policy is
complete without conservation measures as has been mentioned on
numerous occasions here. Implementing this policy requires energy
education measures on the part of citizens and institutions. More
efficient wood stoves that will both reduce air pollution and
increase the wood-burning efficiency are now available.
Expose the Dangers of Non-Renewable Energy Sources. This
includes the difficult subject of exposing the dangers of coal: its
air polluting effects and disturbance of land in surface mining,
and health impacts on miners especially in sub-surface operations.
Nuclear power has never been a major contributor in this region,
but dangers must be restated due to highly publicized defections of
Be Attentive to Energy Needs of the Poor. Ultimately, use of
renewable energy sources will be a way of holding down fuel costs.
But with spiraling heating and cooling costs, some lower income
people need to have subsidies to tide them through the coldest and
hottest parts of the year. The workers dependent on cars to get to
work are now stuck with $3 and above gasoline prices, and they are
often saddled with older inefficient vehicles.
Unidentified beauty (we welcome your
Sunrise Ridge, Stanton Kentucky
(Photo: Marge Para)
September 16, 2006
Today we consider one of the early ships bringing people to our
shores to escape persecution. On this date in 1620, 101 colonists
and ship crew set sail from England on the Mayflower for a new
home. These were welcomed by the Native Americans who were already
here but who, back in time, were descendants of immigrants as well.
We are a land of immigrants -- and that makes us wonder whether all
of us take our native-born citizenship for granted.
Ethnic Pride. We know there are people who take great pride
in being descendants of the pilgrims who came over on the
Mayflower. So be it. All ethnic groups should take pride in their
ancestry, not just the Anglo-Saxons. While not a member of this
illustrious Mayflower company, I admire these and all people who
document their family history and take pride in it.
Privilege. All Americans are privileged, not just a few who
came over on the Mayflower. We do not have a pecking order
according to which some Americans are more American by birth than
others -- and that must be said even though the creators of our
country could not come to terms with the Americanness of the slaves
or the native American or the woman or the landless. Privilege in
a democracy like ours is something to be shared, not made
exclusive. We wonder if, with the rising price of education and
health, privilege is starting to be redefined in terms of access to
quality health care. Can some have access to privileged schools
due to financial circumstances and others be excluded? And even
more so, do degrees from the privileged schools make a difference
in the rapidly solidifying strata of American society?
Protection. Those who are in America and find jobs that would
not be filled by others are worthy of our protection and should not
be expelled or criminalized for what they attempt to do or where
they want to live. A "green card" is perhaps a necessity but it
certainly should be available to all who honestly work in our
society. This does not mean that all can break their necks to
enter this country illegally. Legitimate passage ways and
regulations can and should be instituted and followed. The entire
immigration debate comes in the center of the picture as we imagine
the Mayflower passengers of almost four centuries ago.
Value of Immigrants. We all need to see that a steady entry
of good workers is of value for our country. We are not meeting
our steady state in population due to low birth rates (American
women have an average 2.0 children and it takes 2.1 for a steady
population) and holding at least even in the later part of the 21st
century will demand that immigrants always be considered. We do
not have to have totally open doors nor should our doors be closed
to those who could contribute quite well to our American society.
The Mayflower came but once, but the possibility of more and more
"Mayflowers" (hopefully through better accommodations) will allow
us to value those who came in the past and those who will come in
the future. All Americans can benefit from Mayflower Day.
September 17, 2006
Faith without Works Is Dead
Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is
quite dead. (James 2:17)
Much time has been expended in the past 500 years quibbling
over the faith and works question. When in an atmosphere of
ecumenism and prayerful dialogue, Catholics and Lutherans (and
since, other denominations) sat down, they found that
much argumentation had occurred over emphases not differences. Now
we all agree that the gift of faith is from God and we must express
our appreciation through deeds. Would that all issues could be
settled so neatly, but this brings us to the broader Christian
concern as to how we express that faith in deeds. Certainly faith
is more than heated and emotional words; it is more than professing
our Creed during a Liturgical gathering; it is more than seeing
another in need and saying in the words of James' caution, "Goodbye
and good luck!
Keep warm and well fed."
Deeds come in a variety of types, and that is part of the
problem. Often those most vocal and at the forefront are not those
in most need, and responding to them and not to the more needy may
be counterproductive, for it may reward the greedy and most pushy
at the expense of the backward. To do for others who need it most
takes more discernment than to resolve to act in the first place.
The primary resolution to hunt out the needy and give them direct
services is one level of faith moving to deeds. Knowing precisely
how to act and to do meaningful deeds requires that we follow
Jesus' teachings in today's Gospel (Mark 8: 27-35); we must deny
our very self and take up the cross and follow Jesus. In a self-
centered way we think of our cross as the personal sufferings we
may have to endure -- and that may be true. But we need to deny
our self-centeredness and find that the cross is finding and
helping other people bearing heavier crosses. These become our
cross and taking up that cross means discerning just how best to
address the questions that plague them in this second level of
humility, namely not only seeing their need but responding with
Perfect deeds occur when we do them not for our own salvation
or even because others are begging, but out of the immense love of
Christ and our willingness to be like the crucified Savior in our
own actions. The better arena of deeds is not that of providing
immediate relief but of being poor, and that means giving up our
excess possessions and becoming one with Christ's poor through
conservation of resources. In becoming poor, we think poor and can
automatically find the needy. If we take on the mind of the poor
in our actions, whatever their broad range, we are on the most
perfect level of humility (going from seeing the poor to acting for
the poor and to being with the poor in our action). Depending on
our talents and opportunities, they may involve direct service such
as feeding others; but looking more deeply we find that they
include assisting in changing institutions that cause the poverty.
September 18, 2006 Constitution Day
Today is designated to be the day we honor our Constitution.
This afternoon at 2:00 General Colin Powell is to lead the nation
in a recitation of the preamble of the U.S. Constitution followed
by a roll call of the fifty states according to the order of
ratification of the Constitution or admission into the union. The
day is dedicated to the men and women of the U.S. military and they
are certainly worthy of our honor. In fact in setting themselves
apart as guardians of our country, in some ways they practice
virtues that have been overlooked or are in short supply.
Reverence: That virtue is in short supply today because of
our informalities and lack of respect for others. We avoid bowing
and scraping to monarchs and instead create a stiff neck and never
bow to anyone or any principle or sign deserving loyalty. A return
to reverence is what will make our nation great again and will save
the environment as well. This is because lack of reverence for the
Earth has led to its exploitation and destruction.
Duty: We come back again to the phenomenon that we have not
been asked as a people to sacrifice in this time of so-called
"war." If that be the case, we ask whether duty becomes something
that means a good job for those who join the National Guard or the
military services and that the rest can overlook. But we all have
duties as citizens -- to care for the weaker members of our
society; to vote and help fashion good legislation through
participative democracy; to obey the laws of the land; to know our
history; to drive carefully for the sake of self and others; to
respect the flag and our sacred emblems; and on and on.
Devotion: This follows from the above two but means that we
show our respect in outward ways. This devotion may consist of
flying the flag or supporting elected officials when they do a good
job, or taking off our hat at the playing of the National Anthem.
The difficulty with those who are devoted to our country as good
soldiers is that they can become overly devoted and never find
fault at any time or do anything about the blemishes that creep
into the life of our country --- Our country, right or wrong and
that attitude is certainly wrong. This over-devotedness has had
bad moments in recent world history with the rise of Nazism and
Fascism and the over devotion of bomb-strapped terrorists.
Proper dissent: An added overlooked virtue that Thomas
Jefferson said is at the heart of patriotism is an ability to
object to things that damage or destroy our country in any way.
This watchfulness and raising of a voice are necessary if our
citizenship is to be kept intact and are most needed during this
"war on terrorism." This is because civil liberties seem to be
sacrificed to the locked step of conformity and so-called patriotic
duty. Liberty requires constant protection; imprisonment without
just due is never allowed; torture is simply not American;
militarism or unilaterialism are not proper approaches to solving
the world's pressing problems. Let's object when necessary.
September 19, 2006 Lobbyists and Campaign Contributions
Lobbyists as a focus point are perfect for "Talk like a Pirate
Day." In a previous reflection a case was made that we should
think about citizen lobbying on special occasions when issues would
certainly impact the poor (November
28, 2005). That reflection
rests on the firm belief that lobbying can be a very effective tool
for influencing legislation, a fact that is recognized by
proponents and opponents on virtually every major issue. Now let
us accept the influence of lobbying and look more deeply at the
deep pockets of certain lobbyists that allow undue and excessive
influence by those with financial wealth and power.
In May of this year, Public Citizen issued a report entitled
"The Bankrollers: Lobbyists' Payments to the Lawmakers They Court,
1998-2006." This report is the first comprehensive study of
campaign contributions by lobbyists, and it finds that $103.1
million has been spent on buying votes since 1998. Surprisingly
rather than slowing with the expose of the recent publicized
practices of House member Tom DeLay and lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the
practice has expanded. In an article in the July/August Public
Citizen News, Taylor Lincoln notes that the fourth largest
lobbyist-contributor, Dennis Miller, helped draft the language of
the infamous Boeing air tanker deal, "which called for the Pentagon
to spend $30 billion to lease airplanes it didn't need.
Illegalities in the deal-making process eventually sent a Boeing
executive and a Pentagon official to prison, and the deal imploded"
The report shows that legislators on both sides of the aisles
and not just Republicans have taken money through these lucrative
channels. In order to curb this excessive influence, the report
calls for two key reforms: prohibit lobbyists from either making
campaign contributions or raising money for lawmakers; and
implement a comprehensive system of publicly financed campaigns
that, though expensive, would cost less than in Taylor Lincoln's
words, "the boondoggles our current pay-to-lay system has
What may happen is that we as citizen lobbyists may easily
neglect such lobbying issues as this in order to have just a little
access to elected officials in Washington or at our respective
state capitols on our pet issues. But that is undoubtedly a
mistake. We must not play into the hands of the professional
lobbyist who could find ways of actually bar citizen lobbying; and
a citizen democracy as well as all parties needs just such a line
of communication. A worst case scenario is that all regular routes
to lobbying would be closed and that would allow the professional
lobbyist to operate unopposed through junkets, parties and behind
the scene gifts, and citizens would have no or little meaningful
access. We may not like public financing but in the deep pocketed
world this may be the only route to citizen access.
Fall foliage in Appalachia
(Photo: Janet Powell)
September 20, 2006
As Autumn Equinox arrives tomorrow, we think ahead to the
approaching cooler and somewhat more colorful season. We ask
ourselves what we can do to celebrate the delight of the changing
leaves and autumn flowers. Here are eleven suggestions:
* Sightsee. It's America's favorite sport. Some live a
distance from more colorful scenes and so seeing the leaves may
require a trip that could be undertaken provided it is not distant.
* Photograph the scenes that are most memorable. Some like
to take a photograph from the exact same spot every month of the
year. This makes a grand collage, which always proves interesting.
* Create something. Draw or paint the scene or at least sit
among the colored terrain and jot a small essay or poem. The
colors have a way of inspiring since they are here so briefly and
yet so publicly and boldly.
* Select leaves, press them, and put them into a binder and
encourage others to do the same.
* Rake up the colorful autumn leaves as they fall; don't burn
them but rather put them into a compost bin to turn into material
for mulch in the spring.
* Hike within the colored landscape at least some time this
season, for it may be the most glorious part of the year.
* Camp, if you can.
* Encourage those who are consumed with worry and troubles to
just step out and see the colors. Often people overlook what is
all around them and the added moment will ease their minds
considerably and you will be the one who triggered it all.
* Send your favorite colored photo (in digital format) to us
at Earth Healing [webperson (at) earthhealing (dot) info]
and we will consider using it for our reflections with full credits.
We would enjoy interspersing more photos among the essays
when proper for the season.
* Work with your travel and tourist bureaus to promote good
colorful scenic locations and with environmental groups to preserve
these from destruction. Providing a good scene for viewing is the
most valuable "use" of the forest that can be imagined. In 1997
Nature had an article stating that forests provided five trillion
dollars annually in benefits. One of these benefits is colorful
landscapes in autumn.
* Thank God for color and eyes to see and distinguish them;
some are color blind and others partly or completely blind and
cannot see what you see. Added appreciation for them is important
to allow us to thank God for the great gift of sight.
September 21, 2006 Limited Fertile Land for Food Production
Two sets of information hit us at the same time: the
extravagant use of our farmland for growing renewable fuels for our
gas guzzlers; and the fact that across the world only a limited
amount of farmland is available for food production. What should
the churches in America do? Should they make people feel
comfortable that these two trends are going on simultaneously?
Amid the many conflicting issues of this day, where do fair choices
fit in when it comes to food and health?
First issue: The building of enough new alcohol plants (over
one hundred) in the Midwest corn belt to handle all the surplus
corn each year. However, even this "surplus" is misleading because
the demand for the alcohol fuel for the SUVs has caused the price
of corn to rise dramatically and so there is less available for
feed for cattle or direct use for food grain products in other
parts of the world. It is not unimaginable that this be allowed.
Given our current national energy policy this is not inconceivable.
Second issue: The Manchester Guardian Weekly for Dec. 16-22,
2005, had an article entitled "Food crisis feared as fertile land
runs out." The article by Kate Ravilicus mentions a study from the
University of Wisconsin at Madison comparing world land use in 2000
with that of 1700. Now over 40% of total land area is used for
growing crops or grazing cattle; in 1700 only 7% was used for food
production. It notes that the largest changes recently was in the
Amazon (termed by ecologists the "lungs of the planet") but tropic
land conversion comes at great ecological expense. Tim Flannery in
The Weather Makers says that the collapse of the Amazon rain forest
would lead to irreversible global warming.
The simple fact is that some of the most fertile and
productive farmland in the world is in the American Midwest. If
some "green" proponents of biofuel favor the conversion of this
land to making substitutes for non-renewable petroleum, they have
not joined the issues of food needs with that of materials for
luxury use. Misunderstanding the interrelation of the two issues
could prove disastrous for future resource policy-making in this
country and the world. People do not "need" to drive wasteful SUVs;
people need food. People can conserve and drive solar vehicles
fueled by the sun; people need food -- and the United States has
traditionally been a major if not the major source of that food.
If things change, are we then becoming the rich man who allows
Lazarus to beg for crumbs at the doorstep?
The parable of Lazarus was always discomforting to others.
But what is successful religion supposed to do in our culture;
build Crystal Palaces with cushy seats and air-conditioned
atmospheres where mellow preachers confirm the comfort? And does
a dismissal "go in peace" mean to step into the guzzler and move
away with alcohol that could have been food for others? We need
modern Jeremiahs to shake the comfort levels of the people of our
country -- for, if not, greater discomfort may be down the road.
September 22, 2006 Petroleum Addiction
I did not invent the title "Petroleum addiction" for, in fact,
the President and many other have talked about this American
addictive behavior. Did you ever stand at the self-serve gas
pump and listen to the gas flow and the clicking sounds from the
pump and realize how it is emptying your pocket of cash while
giving you the satisfying odor of gasoline. It is like shooting
the veins and in fact the auto is part of ourselves. Maybe the
analogy is real -- we shoot fuel. But why admit it? A little over
a century ago that wasn't the case. Even sixty years ago it was
different when a uniformed serviceman cleaned the windshield while
servicing the gas tank by using the hand-pump with the glass bulb
on top with its measured gallon tabs. During the War filling up
was an elaborate ritual but now it is a "necessity," with many of
the features of addicts shooting drugs.
Cost of addiction. As gas prices rise and the use does not
abate in any way, we are aware that we are willing to pay more;
just give us the substance to shoot. Three dollar a gallon seems
high -- I once wrote three decades ago that it might even reach a
dollar a gallon. But the cost is more than what we pay; it
includes the pollution and the release of the carbon dioxide that
is causing the global warming that will be with this Earth long
after we are gone. Goodbye glacier, polar bear, snow-covered Mount
Kilimanjaro, Pacific island nations. You are our addiction's cost.
Attention, ten thousand military personnel recovering from Gulf War
battle wounds, you are our addiction's cost as well. We may deny
the blame with "What else can we do?"
Breaking this addictive habit. We certainly can deny the
addiction by walking or biking, although even bike tires and
walking shoes come with a certain petroleum cost attached. We can
lessen the impact by using public transportation (except that
airplanes may take as much fuel as autos, rider by rider), by
converting the local fast food restaurant waste fat to biodiesel
(if another has not been there first), by obtaining an energy
efficient vehicle, by using good maintenance practices, and by
driving less. We can go cold turkey with a solar electric vehicle
but the range of travel is limited. And we are getting closer, for
the electric "fuel" can be achieved with renewable solar, wind,
hydropower and other ways.
Broken by others. We are dumb-founded by terrorists who blow
up the pipelines in Iraq or local citizens who cut pipelines in
Nigeria; we dislike a dictator deciding that Iran's oil stays put
for a while, or judge harshly Chavez in Venezuela. Any of these
actors can threaten our oil addiction. What if all four groups
were to act in concert? Suddenly we will have to go "cold turkey"
while waiting for gasoline. Will we understand it as we stand for
hours waiting for a dwindling quantity of fuel, selling for a
hundred or so dollar a barrel? And will these upcoming lessons of
hard knocks make us see the handwriting on the wall, "Petroleum is
in short supply -- break the addiction." And the new moon comes.
September 23, 2006 The Quest for Oneness
For full catholicity, every nation, every culture has its own
part to play in the universal plan of salvation. Every particular
tradition, every local church must remain open and alert to the
other churches and traditions ....[otherwise] it would run the risk
of becoming impoverished. ("Slavorum Apostoli," n. 27)
In the past we have mentioned the sport or necessity of
hunting and fishing, generally meaning mammals, amphibians, birds
and fish. A biblical hunting and fishing for "souls" could extend
beyond the unchurched and include separated brethren. It is easier
to focus on Christians, whose church communities, hierarchies,
cannon laws, and diverse customs are recognized to some degree and
yet are beyond a current umbrella of community of "Catholic" faith
meaning the Latin Rite. Thus the movement is the heart of
ecumenism, of knowing others so that in trust and faith we will
come back together as one worshiping body.
Diversity is an enrichment and too often some think that unity
comes in suppression of varied cultural expression. Historically
there has been differences since the beginning of Christianity
between the eastern and western churches. Not including difference
within the West at this time, let's focus on growing oneness of the
East and West. The Eastern Church is divided into four different
groups: the Assyrian church of the East ("Nestorian" or the
counterpart of Catholic Chaldeans in Iraq); the family of Oriental
Orthodox (Armenian, Coptic, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Malankara, and
Syrian also called "Monophysite" with Catholic counterparts); the
Eastern Orthodox (Greeks, Slavs and some others); and the fifteen
Eastern Catholic churches, which have counterparts in the above
mentioned churches along with Maronite Catholics of Lebanon with no
The greatest division rests in questions of primacy of
leadership and of Christological differences. The first could be
possibly solved by accepting differences in a spirit of mutual
collegiality; the second may be solved through prayerful and
earnest theological dialog to find what is really meant by the way
the people perceive of their relation to Christ; most likely a
growing understanding will allow for by-passing words that were the
barriers of the past. Just as with the Lutheran-Catholic dialog,
differences of emphasis have been solidified into doctrinal walls.
Even the filioque credal difference (the Spirit proceeds from the
Father and the Son) between Catholics / Protestants and the Orthodox
may be overcome by fuller understanding and even new terminology
settled together with all parties.
In fact, at the core of things, one characteristic of the
church mentioned in the Nicene Creed, "one," indicates a commitment
to become in the future as much as a triumphal present condition.
John Paul II said that our vocation is to bring into one the
various communities of faith.
(Reference: Ronald Roberson, C.S.P. One, July 2006, p. 28-31)
September 24, 2006 True Service through Discernment
If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and
the servant of all. (Mark 9: 35)
We may talk about different sets of readings on the need for
true service -- ultimate service to God, and not to self or to
mammon (the desires for worldly things). Two characteristics are
called for: to deny self-advancement and egotism, but rather move
humbly to the Lord; and to focus on the talents we have in order
to achieve the goals the Lord wishes of us. The simple fact is we
are somebody, not nobody. We have personal talents of a remarkable
degree, but these are the Lord's gifts and not the result of our
own personal achievements.
Self-denial. We are so often just like the apostles in the
beginning of their ministry who argue among themselves who is the
greatest (Mark 9: 30-37). Often the quest of personal ambition
intertwines with a budding desire for service to others. No one
else will toot your own horn for you. True, but is it my horn or
does it belong to the Lord? And if it belongs to the Lord, why
should we not toot it in a godly manner always telling others that
it is not my talent but the inspiration of the Spirit driving me to
use God-given gifts. The external temptations are quite pronounced
when the worldly or the wicked test our patience and our striving
to be selfless people (Wisdom 2: 17-20).
However, that is not all that puts pressure upon us;
internally we heed the words of James (3:16-4:3) that prompt us to
ask whether it is not the inner cravings that make war within our
members. We do not ask for the right things, but for gifts to
spend on our own desires and passions. Arriving at self-denial
comes through practice, and this takes time and the discernment of
the spirits of both good and evil which are part of our life. Our
deepest personal gift from God is the exercise of our freedom,
which is so often forgotten or denigrated. But to act freely in a
godly manner requires God's help through prayer, understanding the
gift of our free choice, and the constant willingness to help
God's Will and Service. We often seek our own will, and this
is not necessarily the will of God. Jesus allows a child to be the
example (Mark 9:36-37), for the Greek word for child and servant
are the same; the vulnerability and dependency of the child must be
recognized and our quest for finding God's will is like the
child's. In childlikeness, we discover what discerning service
should be. We don't take the first thing that comes along in an
unthinking manner; we seek from God what we should take. We
realize that we are called to discern among options before us which
service is the best at this given time. Discernment means we
should not overrate our efforts, and yet, in some sense when done
honestly for the Lord, we realize they are of infinite worth -- and
we thank God for the privilege of their use. In all things let us
thank God in the most simple way possible.
September 25, 2006 World Trade Deficit
Maybe the well-off and less well-off nations need a new
designation that fits our emerging American "think we are well off"
category. So many in our nation are living off their credit cards
or their second mortgages and forget that there will be a day of
reckoning. This new category fits so well as indicated by the U.S.
trade deficit for 2005, which was an astounding $717 billion or
more in one month that the deficits of the year 1992. Most of us
realize that much of this deficit is due to our addiction to
petroleum (September 22nd) at about $75 a barrel and to buying too
many Chinese tee shirts and other goods. Yes, we have exports but
they do not come near equaling the massive inflow of imports.
Economists say that one benchmark of danger is the trade deficit's
exceeding four percent of GNP and, if all goes as normal, it should
reach seven percent this year for the United States. Things may
change with unforeseen world crises or if some of the debt holding
nations like China decide to call in the debt.
Part of the current fault in this area is that our trade
policy is built on the "fast track" system where the Administration
sets trade policy. Currently, Congress has only an up or down vote
on trade agreements, allowing too much power in the hands of
certain groups influencing the Administration. The legislation
authorizing this trade policy will cease at the end of 2007 and
should not be reinstated.
Those of us individuals who try to operate always in the black
and don't use credit cards have solutions too simplistic for the
average relax-and-spend American consumer. When things do not work
well on individual conservationist practices, then for the sake of
the common good we must press for measures to change our habits as
a people. The Public Citizen News article (July/August, 2006) by
Eliza Brinkmeyer gives several suggested solutions to the trade
deficit problem. The Warren Buffett solution is a possible one.
He suggests connecting imports to exports by giving "import
certificates" for every dollar exported and selling them to the
highest bidder. This seems reasonable and would result in every
dollar of exports having an equivalent of one dollar imported --
and the deficit is eliminated. Another suggestion is to devalue
the U.S. currency but as a non-economist I am uncertain of the
consequences. A third is to impose an across-the-board surcharge
on all non-energy imports; it is uncertain why the energy oil
should be exempted considering how much is wasted in this country
at this time by SUV type vehicles. At least the surcharge could be
directed to those who need heating and cooling assistance.
A final suggestion is to declare China (the major recipient
of our trade deficit dollars) as a "currency manipulator" and thus
impose special duties on Chinese goods coming into this country.
We often say nice things about that great land but really this
option may prove quite helpful in reducing this growing problem on
our country's part. Where is it all going? Only time will tell.
All the while we relax and spend, relax and spend.
September 26, 2006 The A to Z of Earthhealers
Here are some virtues expected of the ideal Earthhealer:
ATTENTIVE -- to all needs and difficulties
BRIGHT -- enough to distinguish a friend from a foe
COOPERATIVE -- with others who wish to help save the Earth
DILIGENT -- as to resources on hand and how to use them
ENTHUSIASTIC -- to do the right thing with eagerness
FRANK -- in dealing with others
GRACIOUS -- for the talents God gives us
HANDY -- in the use of limited resources
IMPRESSIVE -- in the defense of the Earth through action
JUST -- in dealings with those on all sides
KIND -- with those willing to learn even when slow
LOYAL -- to early workers in the field who are misunderstood
MASTERFUL -- an exert and creative approach to healing
NATURE-LOVING -- How else could we be?
OUTRAGED -- at the wanton damage done by the greedy
PATIENT -- with those who are willing to assist
QUICK -- to see environmental dangers
SIMPLE -- in personal lifestyle
TOUGH -- as to those who are critical
UNITED -- with all who are friends of the Earth
VALIANT -- in defeats though promising more battle
WITTY -- when seeing the humor of things
EXPRESSIVE -- through word written and spoken
YOUNG-AT-HEART -- no matter what the age
ZEALOUS -- for action that is proper.
September 27, 2006 Fighting Depression and Desolation from News
If you are not a little depressed about the world, then is
there something wrong with you? In the past few months the news
generally meant murders, air strikes, rockets, terrorist attacks,
and all the ingredients of modern media news. No wonder so many
resort to fiction, computer games and other forms of escapism. But
how can we stay spiritually realistic and still cope with the
blizzard of bad news that bombards us from every side? I have no
quick solution but maybe the following suggestions can allow us to
alleviate some of the desolation all around us:
Offer consolation. Jeremiah switched his message from one of
warning to that of comfort when the people became uncomfortable due
to the defeat and exile. We need some consoling words, maybe a
joke occasionally, and some upbeat message. This takes an extra
effort on our part, because we are the ones who have to deliver to
others. A cheerful word by some even when down and out themselves
is a gift, and so we need to pray we have it at this time.
Turn off the news for awhile. Though the media may not get
the message quickly, it will soon switch the tune if enough people
take this advice. This is not escape from life; it is just trying
to control what determines our lives. My maternal great
grandfather, a French veteran of the terrible Franco-Prussian War,
could not stand hearing that the Germans were approaching Paris
again at the start of the First World War and stopped reading
newspapers. When the Germans were stalled in northern France, my
grandmother learned the Marseillaise and played it, wherein his
interest peaked and the old man returned to reading the newspaper.
Resolve to create good news. It is important for the more
evangelistic Christian and others to see that good news is near at
hand although others fail to see it in a secular world of the bad
and the ugly. Find out what is happening that is good -- areas of
human interest to the benefit of others and spread them as counter
to the desolation being always reported as total news coverage.
Encourage others to do the same. Often the best we can do is
get people more talented than ourselves to get out and discover
good news and make their results public.
Get away to a consoling place. The getting away may require
a walk, job, drive or other movement, but the exercise plus the
place of destination all help us to distance ourselves from the
busy world of tragedy all around. Consoling places abound (see
Pray to the Lord. God is eternally happy and we sometimes
forget this. It certainly does not make the headlines either.
"God is smiling." Remember, the Lord has Risen and is among us.
Christ is always ready to comfort us even though this readiness
often goes unnoticed by us the believers. Even believers who were
down and out had a sense of radiance and equanimity. It's okay!
September 28, 2006 Churches as Sacred Space
We have written before (March
11, 2004) about sacred space and
public worship space (February
23, 2005). What we would like to
emphasize here is that often people are able to find places to pray
in the consecrated formal sacred space of the shrine, chapel or
unlocked church outside of formal worship time. With so many
churches locked today to protect them from vandals, this is a
request to open up formal sacred space for people to pray in and
be able to talk with God. Astoundingly, many people find their way
to church or back to church through the visits to a hallowed
church, where, in the presence of Christ, their hearts are
comforted and they find the solace.
Many churches like to show their hospitality and so they
appoint committees of individuals to gush over any new face appears
at the doors, even though the visitor wants to slip in and out
hardly noticed. The church is called a welcoming one and so it is
in areas like the parish areas I serve, which are in the eco-
tourist heart of Kentucky. Welcoming attitudes to the tourist is
part of the community's total business sense and the mark of people
in given regions of the land. But what if the Church doors are
locked and no one can enter who wants to come -- not for personal
advice or counsel but to simply rest and talk to the Lord? Some
will say, let them go to the woods or their room or some place else
of personal specificity. Hospitality thus means opening the doors
of the place to private visits and personal resting in a world of
far too much busyness. St. Patrick's Cathedral in downtown
Manhattan is frequently visited and a perfect model. Granted,
opening doors opens a place to possible vandalism -- in an age of
the new invasion of vandals that is part of the public risk.
It is quite true that there are places that appear warm and
those that appear cool -- homes, cemeteries, places of
entertainment. The hearts of many people record the differences of
feelings even in the presence of certain people. We cannot take
these feelings too seriously for it could be a way of insulting a
place or person without a single shred of evidence. But too many
will say how it is warm to come and visit before the Blessed
Sacrament (the reserved Eucharist contained in a tabernacle near a
church altar or in a special room at the church). I testify both
to that feeling personally and also to that of others who tell me
how they like to pray in sacred worship space.
We are in an age of uncertainty and one of a constant
bombardment of bad news. As Jeremiah the prophet shows in such
times of national distress, one must turn from words of dire
warning and criticism to ones of consolation. At these times
people need to find the Lord. Astoundingly, even Stalin had the
church doors opened during the lowest moments of the Nazi invasion
of Russia -- and he was no paragon of virtue. We need to listen
to our hearts telling us to "provide more sacred space for the
September 29, 2006 Michaelmas and the Angels
Michaelmas is a designation harking back to the Middles Ages
just as are the terms Christmas, Candlemas and Lammastide -- and
the remembrance of Masses associated with those days. The term
refers to popular English portions of the legal year that divided
the Courts of England and Wales, with Michaelmas being the first
term (followed by Hilary, Easter and Trinity associated with the
respective feasts). English Universities also had terms of which
Michaelmas was one.
So much for the full word but what about the one for whom it
is named, the most popular Judeo-Christian angel, Michael, meaning
in Hebrew "Who is like God?" Angels have been a neglected subject
but they shouldn't be, for we need all the protection from the evil
spirits that we can get. And the evil ones have left their mark on
this suffering planet. Michael, the leader of the archangels,
stands out as a warrior, one who holds the drawn sword in defense
of all that is good and especially of the people of Israel. He
conducts warfare with the devil over the body of Moses, and in
Revelations he fights the dragon and hurls him into the abyss.
Michael is the conqueror, guard, and protector. He is patron of
Germany, England, Papua New Guinea, Gibraltar, the Solomon Islands,
the sick, radiologists, grocers, mariners, police officers,
paratroopers, and cemeteries, probably more groups than any other
apart from the Blessed Virgin. And his is a popular name for men
and women among a wide range of ethnic groups.
Churches have been dedicated to St. Michael since the 4th
century A.D. with the most famous being Mont Sant Michel off the
Norman coast in France. One of the many named churches is in
Shonau in the Pfalz region of the Rhineland from which my maternal
ancestors came from. It was an old and beautiful village church
destroyed in the Second World War and then rebuilt; I once
attended Sunday Mass on Michael's feastday (with local relatives)
and I imagined our great, great grandparents and their ten sons as
they went to the church for the last time before emigrating to
American in 1854. They undoubtedly sought protection from Michael,
patron of soldiers, even though that family was fleeing the
Prussian military service. These and another German immigrants to
America have built an exact replica of the Church in Ripley, Ohio.
Today, Michael shares the day with the other archangels
Gabriel (in Daniel and Luke) and Raphael (in Tobias). The
was known to have healed the Earth when it was defiled by the sins
of the fallen angels (I Enoch 10:7). We need to see that Michael
and the others, including our specific guardians, are so needed in
the battle to save our wounded Earth. In one way of looking at it,
the battle of good and evil was not fought before time but in time
and is going on today. The evil spirit would like people to
believe it does not exist, because to exist means to confront --
and we need to confront the powers of evil. As never before we
need that angelic protection and recall it once more on Michaelmas
September 30, 2006 Tremor with the Hands
Today is a birthday that comes way too often when one gets
older. But so they come and are here and now. What I have heard
more than any other year as I complete the 73rd year of life is
that my hands tremble and of course that causes some to become a
little disconcerted when I try to bring peas or corn to my mouth on
a fork -- now virtually impossible without spearing each pea.
What I like to eat in public (I prefer not eating there) is
anything that glues together like mashed potatoes or can be stuck
on the fork like a chuck of fish. Loose rice is a no, no. In
other words, for those with a family inherited tremble (I frankly
never met other ancestors who had this), the menu is chosen for
facility in eating, not by tastes and smells.
Mentionable. Why talk about a tremble? Why not? These are
the weaknesses of life that accompany aging and that is what
birthdays are all about -- aging. I am thankful I am still mobile
and mentally alert and so the handicap is quite small by comparison
with what others must endure. So far it does not affect my typing
and that is an added blessing for I do a lot of it. And the
assurance by my doctor that it is not Parkinson's does help as
well, though that malady is being treated quite effectively these
days. The tremble is a reminder that life is moving on and we are
called to slow down.
Blessing. The milder forms of change are a lot like the
coming of autumn; we notice the differences but they come
gradually enough, so that we can acclimate ourselves. We can use
the warning signs so we can adjust to what lies ahead. I find that
the wake-up call to older age, this tremor, can be seen in humor.
It is part of God's constant calling to us and we are to receive it
with an upbeat spirit. I have an opportunity to rejoice in the
health of the years past; I have the gift of foreseeing an eternal
future; I see these past events and future anticipated events gel
to make the present pleasant and meaningful. And to all of these
we can truly give thanks to the Giver of all gifts, the Giver of
The final comments are from my editor, Mary Davis, who also
shares a birthday today:
Mary Davis sends her best wishes to readers from the Lake Champlain
valley in Adirondack Park. Asters in shades of violet and purple are in
bloom along the edge of the forest; and goldenrod fill the unmown fields.
The leaves are turning yellow, gold, and bronze--little red yet. And the sky
and the lake are a deep blue in the sunshine. I wish that I could
share the experience with all of you, but, on the other hand, the solitude
helps make the experience precious. (Happy birthday, Al.)