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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.


A series of written meditations and reflections



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Table of Contents: Daily Reflections

September 2008

Copyright © 2008 by Al Fritsch

Daily Reflections Earth Healing print reflection

Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina)
Anderson County, KY


Times are Changing

    Labor Day and all's quiet after summer play,
       blooming ironweed, goldenrod in colored array;
   Good smells at garden harvest time,
       farmers' markets at their prime;
   First autumn chill, longer cool nights,
       foggy valleys, misty lakes, cloudy heights;
   Flocking birds in the evening breeze,
       seeming to overwhelm the roosting trees.

   Tomatoes get that late season taste,
       and peppers appear as though post-haste;
   Elderberries are not eaten raw, but why?
       They're destined for a steaming pie.
   Root cellars with butternut and winter squash,
       and all sorts of apples, not just McIntosh.
   Prepare the greenhouse for the frosty fall,
       we all know well the autumn call.


Farmer cultivating hay on large, open field
*photo credit)

September 1, 2008    Labor: Rights and Responsibilities

     Many of us work just to get through life;  but labor is more than toil and sweat.  Labor is our creative expression of self, our prayer through our hands, the way we leave our mark on the world around us, our gift to future generations, our sense of meaning and dignity, our sacrifice for loved ones, and our use of the gifts given with our unique stamp attached.  We encourage those unable to actively work to be productive through their willing offering of their sufferings in the crucible of global labor -- a spiritually communal enterprise of our working with the Lord.  For the lazy, working may be a burden, which they would prefer to avoid -- or just tolerate until retirement.  But energetic people prefer to talk about a "right to work," which is part of the right to live, to breathe unpolluted air, to eat wholesome food, to raise one's kids, and to have the peace and prosperity to which every person is entitled by birth. 

     A capitalistic society that expects to maintain a pool of the unemployed from which to draw is cruel to say the least.  In such a system people vie with each other for scarce jobs and are willing to take fewer benefits.  Dog is supposed to eat dog.  In China the surplus of labor is so abundant that stories exist of enticing rural immigrants to work without written contracts and then dismissing them when the paycheck is due.  Closer to home are examples of runaway industries that flee to nations with poorer work conditions, and thus allowing lower wages, more pollution, and no or little social security.  Furthermore experts project that a 1% rise in unemployment is accompanied by a 5% rise in violent crime and family discord. 

     Rights include responsibilities:  laborers must do a proper day's work; employers must furnish decent working conditions; and governments must become the ultimate employers (even if it takes a "right to work" constitutional amendment).  If citizens are expected to help defend their country, they have the right to a livelihood through honest labor that is guaranteed by that country.  A healthy nation should provide jobs and arrange that resources controlled by the wealthy be redistributed to enable the unemployed to work.  Self-employment ought to  be safeguarded by governmental policies of tax breaks and incentives.  The government could transfer some of the immense amount of money on the military to environmental and conservation measures, rebuilding the national infrastructure, constructing affordable housing for all, developing a crash program for wind and solar energy applications, undertaking public works programs to expand public transportation systems, parks, medical facilities, and recreational areas (the WPA projects stand as architectural gems and enduring public works monuments), and enhancing Americorps, Peace Corps, VISTA and private overseas voluntary agencies.  Work opportunities and workers abound.

            Prayer:  Lord, teach us to see how brief are our work opportunities and how meaningful our work.  Help us to free up the resources so that the unemployed can work.


Dog and a best friend
*photo credit)

September 2, 2008       Kind Words and Deeds

     As we advance in years, we seem to see a need to spend some time at hospitals, senior citizen centers and funeral parlors.  The deceased is a relative or friend, and we need to be present and pay our respects.  Duty at difficult moments means expressing those condolences that do not come easily;  we are self-conscious because sympathetic words seem to fail us.  That is a common experience, for we do not often relish being at wakes or visiting someone in a hospital room, or addressing letters of condolence.  However, we always find that kind words and deeds are deeply appreciated. 

     A little effort means a lot to those who grieve.  The hospital visit or conversation or message ought to be mercifully short in most circumstances.  In cultures with prolonged wakes, some folks are satisfied with just sitting in silence.  More than spoken words is the act of just being present and showing loving concern, a hug or a warm handshake or just a demonstration of compassion through silence or weeping whichever comes more freely.  The awareness of our own powerlessness is itself a sign of comfort;  we are not masters of our fate.  "I am with you at this moment and that is all I can do."  This precious moment of thoughtfulness is really the spice of life.  Let's keep the seasoning flowing even with the effort it takes. 

     Part of giving consolation is also a willingness on our part to receive acts of kindness from others.  All of us have to give and all of us sooner or later must receive from other well wishers when our loved ones are sick or pass on.  At those unexpected or awaited moments we ought to be gracious, to show appreciation that the other party has taken the time and effort, and even to be sensitive enough to assist them in giving their self-conscious or awkward condolences.


            Words of support

               refresh the parched soul

                 like cool, bubbling water

                    from an hillside spring.


             They are all the more welcome

                when unexpected, and arriving

                  just when I'm down and out,

                     and have nowhere to turn.


              They awaken within me

                 a sense of renewed hope

                    that I'll speak consoling words

                       to refresh another.


An empty travel chair at streamside

*photo credit)

September 3, 2008   Reflection on Travel Experiences

             Labor Day Weekend is history and we return to routines, but should we forget the summer travel just undertaken even when somewhat shortened by fuel costs?  Travel mobility gives us a sense of freedom and contentment and some experiences are worth keeping. 

            In the past, travel involved a journey (the Latin word "diurnata" for day's work); getting somewhere took time and effort.  Modern travel, by train, plane or automobile, is easier than walking or going by horseback, cramped sailing vessels or stagecoach -- but it can be tiresome and frustrating at times.  Modern travel breaks down isolated communities and allows us to know different cultures; it is a unique educational opportunity for eager students; it provides an experience for pilgrims; it allows wanderers to reacquaint themselves with their homes and roots.

    However, travel has its toll and risks;  it can be a source of air pollution; the travel facilities require airports, roads, lodging and recreation areas; pristine areas can be overrun by visitors; and noise and congestion accompany many tourist activities.  Travel may also help spread diseases from one isolated place to a more populated one.  In the past, contagious diseases usually only ravaged limited areas because few people entered and left infected locations.  Even so, the fourteenth century Black Plague traveled over trade routes at quite rapid speeds.  If true then, what about jet travel?  Reference: The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett.

            Though recording the happenings can prove inconvenient to the traveler, do consider making a record.  I was on the top of the Kentucky Natural Bridge when a passing tourist asked where he could get the best picture.  I said "At the souvenir shop.  It's too difficult without a helicopter ride by a professional."  When a team traveled to Peru on a solar project in 1983, one of us immediately had his camera stolen from his backpack at the Lima Airport.  Modern digital cameras and audio equipment can record events quite well, but they still need extra care and protection. 

            Instead, consider a handy notebook for recording proper names, places, new friends, addresses and road directions -- and few want to steal notebooks.  Our memories fade but writing brings them back.  Another recording hint is to trace on a map the exact route taken and add abbreviated notes on the map's edges.  Maps also help us to familiarize ourselves with the countryside.  Acquire maps as early as possible and spend some time looking them over and knowing the basic directions.  Generally, scenes and events happen so fast we can hardly retain the salient points and most likely will forget many of the minor ones unless we make records with the camera, audiotape, notebooks or maps.

            Prayer:  Lord, make us mindful of our journey through life and help us see that our travels foreshadow a lifetime venture.








Smalltown store, soft drink (Ale 8-1) machine
*photo credit)

September  4, 2008       Soft Drink Curbs

     With summer heat still with us we can honestly ask:  how many times do I reach for a soft drink?  Maybe our excuse is a soft drink tastes better than water, or the service station or fast food place has no water fountain.  On the other hand, in such places soft drink dispensers are prominent -- and the drink is, well not quite, as expensive as the fuel.  Or maybe you hear the refrigerator door open, close and the hiss of the escaping carbonation as a thirsty soul opens a can.  And then there is that inevitable question when ordering a lunch, "What will you have to drink?"  Along with fries, the drinks are the real moneymaker for restaurants as well as for their suppliers. 

     Some health experts say the emerging obesity problem among American youth is due in no small part to the sugar in soft drinks.  And this sugar is why the beverage industry is converting to diet beverages, which some people find less tasteful than the sugar-filled drink.  A major portion of our over-one-hundred pounds of sugar per person per year is in the beverages we drink.  This adds pounds and overall health problems, especially for youth, over one-quarter of whom are overweight today.

     Along with rising health concerns we witness the invasion of our public schools by the soft drink vendors.  Are these local public places becoming the domain of invasive multi-nationals?  Why is there a Coca Cola/Pepsi commercial war directed to school boards across the nation, over the issue of which vendor has a right to set up machines in particular schools?  Why should students who wear Pepsi tee-shirts be sent home on Coca Cola appreciation days?  These turf wars, while yielding money for cash-strapped school board coffers, are giving the wrong product selection to students.  In the past two decades, milk consumption among youth has been cut in half, while consumption of soft drinks (with their empty calories and excessive caffeine) have doubled.  Unfortunately, targeted youth need the calcium and other nutrients found in milk to provide healthy bodies. 

     In addition, consider the empty soft drink container.  The label says to dispose of properly but that is not always possible.  Roadsides are inundated with soft drink bottles and cans, causing neighborhood visual pollution.  We are surprised to find out that more resources go into making the beverage container than the contents, and that applies to bottled water as well.  Soft drink containers are in the billions and even with major recycling programs billions go unaccounted for each year.  Making one's own lemonade, fruit drink, herbal tea or other drinks is better from an economic and resource standpoint.  We made our own root beer during the Second World War, and I make mint teas today.  What about locally obtained water.  Are we Americans willing to remove soft drinks from food stamp coverage because of rising food prices? 

            Prayer:  Lord, you are the fountain of living water;  help us to drink deeply from the source of your refreshment.




Leftover cans of freon, found in old home
*photo credit)

September 5, 2008        Ozone:  Friend or Foe? 

            When ozone accumulates near the surface of our Earth as in congested motor vehicle areas, it adds to the air pollution that affects the health of many residents.  The internal combustion engine is one culprit along with the owner who wants to drive about too much.  The solution requires better controls of air pollution and equipment, and many places do not meet optimum standards for the first and many drivers possess dirty vehicles.  So ozone the foe continues to haunt us, especially in urban regions. 

            Ozone, the foe, may be on the loose but ozone, the friend, is another environmental story that confuses many people.  Whether ozone is good or bad depends on where the substance is located.  About 1970 land-based detector units in Antarctica indicated that declines were occurring in the stratospheric layer of ozone protecting humans and Earth's plants and animals from harmful ultraviolet radiation.  Scientists became masterful detectives and found much but not all of the destruction of this friendly ozone was due to certain commercial freons used as aerosol propellants and in other applications.  Thinning of the layer and actual holes in the ozone shield of the Northern frigid zones were detected soon after.  Scientists documented possible damage to skin and eyes in the affected regions, especially southern Chile and Argentina, nearer the depleted Antarctica zones as well as Finland and areas of the frigid northern zone.  

            But it is not all bad news.  In the past decade, many countries have imposed restrictions and non-polluting forms of freons and other substitutes have been developed and made commercially available for most applications. It is quite possible that some bootlegging of the dangerous freons still occurs in various countries and in the worldwide commercial trade.  Again, as in other cases, after the more affluent portions of the world used freons and the less wealthy people tried to follow suit, strict regulations were imposed that did not affect our past use, but affect future uses of the more dangerous but cheaper materials.  The Montreal Protocol of 1992 has followed this pattern with happy results.  Former UN secretary Kofi Annan called that Montreal treaty the single most successful international agreement to date.

     Certainly the original problem rose with freon use, did considerable damage and then was brought under control through international cooperation.  The damage is still being done since it takes time to reduce and eliminate the freons, and for some uses there are not yet any acceptable substitutes.  Funds from

participating nations have been used to finance the conversion of existing manufacturing processes, train personnel, pay patent rights and royalties on new technologies, and establish ozone environmental and administrative offices.

            Prayer:  Lord, help us to see dangers early, to take collective steps because our environment is one and needs unified action.  And thank heavens that ozone problems are being addressed.


A walk in the woods
*photo credit)

September 6, 2008         The Labyrinth

            In recent years, more environmentally conscious religious communities have returned to a Middle Age instrument for furnishing a virtual pilgrimage route for local residents.  This is a "Labyrinth,"  a form of maze, which entails walking deliberately and prayerfully over a designed pattern on the ground or a building's floor.  The person moves on a trail to the pattern's center and then back out to the outer edge.  The movement in and out is regarded as a metaphor for life's journey done with concentration and reflection.  Labyrinths were a popular form of spiritual exercise and prayer when long trips to the Holy Land were unsafe or financially impossible.  The labyrinths in cathedrals such as Chartres in France made it possible for people to make these substitutes for Holy Land journeys with the accompanying appreciation and spiritual satisfaction. 

            Today's return of the labyrinth's popularity may be a desire for symbolic action through moderate physical exertion on one's personal spiritual journey.  Maybe it is a good conservation measure, for the person does not have to undertake a long distance pilgrimage which saves on fuel.  Labyrinths of about fifty or so feet across are sprouting up at retreat centers, church yards, religious retirement communities and numerous other places, especially at Catholic and mainline Christian institutions.  Strolling through a labyrinth appeals across the board to women and men and to young and old.  Some participants consider it as preparation for reflection rather than a prayer itself.

      While not inclined to this particular spiritual exercise, I see its value for many people and especially retreatants.  It fits into a growing category of such exercises: gesture, dance, hiking, yoga, and other forms of physical/spiritual exercise.  The walking about in a systematic pattern affirms that prayer requires concentration and posture/stance/movement of the whole person.  Consider that when engaged in an outdoor labyrinth experience through walking or wheel chair, participants benefit from full-spectrum sunlight and fresh air -- ingredients of a healthy life.  Indoor labyrinths can be used as well, especially in inclement weather as a form of exercise. 

            Labyrinths come in various designs but usually involve a pathway that moves from the outside to the center and then back out.  Various labyrinth patterns are available in large plastic sheets, which are laid out on a flat surface.  Locating a labyrinth in a place with limited privacy is suggested.  Some labyrinth installers paint designs on tennis courts or parking space, which is not heavily used.  Others run a lawn mower over a meadow to build the design into the landscape but that requires periodic summer maintenance.  Other labyrinths are laid out with more elaborate flagstone, concrete, blacktop, gravel or mosaic designs.

            Prayer:  Lord direct us on a road that we can easily follow.




Sunset and silhouettes
*photo credit)

September 7, 2008     Networking with those in Trouble

            If your brother or sister listens to you, you have won them over.    (Matthew 18:15-20)

            Taking corrective measures is part of our journey together in faith.  If we are not able to meet and connect with others, then correction cannot be initiated and wrongdoing continues.  In our age wrongful acts of polluting the environment or wasting resources require corrective measures either at an individual (one to one) or small group level.  Such more personal corrective measures done in private trigger the least embarrassment or social disruption.  When these corrective measures fail, the wrongdoing ought to be brought to the "church," or larger believing community.  We cannot remain silent; we must speak when wrongdoing occurs.  All in all Earthhealing involves fraternal correction.

            Such corrective measures require a form of networking whether one-on-one, small group interaction or larger and greater public action.  Networking means getting involved, a first step to specifying the wrongdoing and addressing the problem.  We live in an age of instant communication -- phones, e-mail, radio, television, all of which can help us in public interest activism.  However, the relatively low price of these connections means that information overload has crept into our lives.  In fact we may be seeing less publicity or accessibility; we avoid being placed on mailing lists; we want regulatory agencies to stop spam or unwanted phone calls.  But we still ought to affirm the need to network.

We cannot remain silent when we know about wrongdoing in our midst -- and yet we most often cannot effect corrective measures alone and feel our powerlessness to act.  Driven by a sense of responsibility we want to take effective action and that means contacting others as to how to proceed in difficult cases. 

            Decide to network, use every letter you write, every conversation you have, every meeting you attend, to express your fundamental beliefs and dreams.  Robert Muller.

     The Internet has brought the networking process into our eating places, bedrooms and private recreational space.  At virtually no expense we are able to converse with people in very distant places -- and some may give us the help we need in the arena of fraternal correction.  We may initiate a more than social contact; through the Internet and the cell phone we can go out to people who otherwise were outside of our purview.  The Internet can easily put sources at our fingertips in an instant. Through accessible search engines we can find organizations and individuals who are working on the issues that concern us at this moment.  We can ask questions;  we can find possible solutions; we can involve experienced people; we can be more knowledgeable in our correcting enterprise. 

            Prayer:  Lord, make us networkers of the Good News and through these efforts may we be those who bring about fraternal correction.


Scenes of colder weather
*photo credit)

September 8, 2008    Solar Greenhouses and Cold Frames

    Solar greenhouses are heated by the sun and used to grow plants during the cooler portions of the year.  They work better in milder climates and need to be well-insulated with a heat-retaining system such as a water tank or stone.  Ample literature is available on where to buy or how to construct free-standing or attached solar greenhouses.  The free-standing ones are somewhat harder to heat, because they have more exterior surface, but this can be compensated for by excavating and sinking the structure at a lower level than surrounding surface, with the soil serving as low-cost insulation.  Lexan and other good plastic and glass glazings enhance the insulating quality by retaining critical heat to sustain the greenhouse plants.  All structures should face south, or nearly so.   

            With good planning and proper choice of plants, our solar greenhouse becomes a producing garden without using high priced fuels.  The greenhouse acts like a large permanent cold frame, which provides greens and fresh vegetables and herbs throughout the cooler months of the year.  For proper growth of spring seedlings some auxiliary heating may be required.  When attached to a building and properly constructed, a solar greenhouse has the added advantage of providing a substantial amount of space heating (at 2,000 square feet the nature center that I operated for a quarter of a century we received 40% of winter heating on sunny days from a 120-square foot greenhouse).

            We can use solar greenhouses as storage places during the hot summer months even though the temptation is to abandon the building for this period.  At our nature center we shaded the exterior with Jerusalem artichokes, which form a natural shade protection; this vegetable grows well in summer and dies back in autumn when we need the solar energy for growing plants.  Hot weather plants, like tomatoes and peppers, can grow indoors in warmer weather, where they take less watering in dry seasons but need adequate ventilation on very hot days.  In mid-summer, we would transfer late summer tomato crops for fall production, as well as Swiss chard, dill, parsley and certain greens for winter yields.  Also greenhouse can serve in summer as effective solar food dryers.

     An attached solar greenhouse can be used as a sunny atrium with flowers, a seating space, a social gathering place, or a meditation area and chapel space, or be used to raise fish.  Non-permanent, low-cost cold frames can be easily built using natural or synthetic fabric covers; these can be useful for protecting plants both in spring and autumn.  To build the "caterpillar" variety of cold frame, measure the garden plot; make hoops by bending quarter-inch rib bar and rust-proof the edges; insert hoops every three feet along the length of the bed with about a two- foot air space above; cover with Reemay or other cloth fabric; and tie the cover down with pegs like a tent.  Air out on sunny days.

            Prayer:  Help us, Lord to treasure our Earth's green space.







A walk in the woods
*photo credit)

September 9, 2008   The Ten Commandments of the Forest    

            1. Enter the forest with reverence.   Walk softly and gingerly in the woods for it is holy ground and God's presence can be experienced here.  Teach others not to see forests as wastelands that are exploitable but as areas having intrinsic worth.   

            2. Do not trash the forest resource.  Remember that the forest is worth much more than just the trees turned into timber, idols of material profit.  Rather we must promote the forest's natural beauty. 

            3. Celebrate the forest.  It is not enough to refrain from misuse;  the trees, the understory, the wildlife, and the sheer biodiversity are all worth celebrating.  These give us joy through public recognition.

            4. Honor and encourage native species.  The forest is our fellow creature with whom we are members of the family of beings.  We need to honor this coexistence and see once more how much the family of all beings must be appreciated. 

            5. Walk lightly in the forest.  We can easily harm or kill the understory by use of heavy equipment, by driving motorized recreational vehicles or by allowing certain species to proliferate for hunting purposes.  Forests can be seriously harmed by human activity or through introducing exotic and invasive species.

            6. Do not rape the forest.  To take a little of a resource is acceptable;  to take too much endangers the target species and may threaten its very existence.  The habit of taking just enough of a species to satisfy personal needs allows for continued vitality. 

            7. Do not make excessive commercial gain at the expense of the forest.  Our woodland harvests should be for our own immediate needs and not be stolen from future generations.  We need to think ahead, for future generations own some of the things under our immediate care.

            8. Do not bear witness against the forest.  The forest is not almighty with guaranteed replenishment. Rather, the forest is a vulnerable resource that must be protected from exploitation.  

            9. Do not turn the forest into an economic commodity.  Realize that the forest's value goes beyond mere economic designation,  for just seeing the forest for what it is without trying to make demands on it is a better approach to respecting the forest.

            10. Do not covet the commons.  The forests of the world are the lungs of our planet, a gift to all, and for the benefit of all; let us preserve and enhance them for future generations.   

            Prayer:  Lord, give us a sense of loving, honoring, preserving, protecting, enhancing and promoting our forests.




September 10, 2008  Mold, the Asbestos of the 2000s

     Mold, that most common of living kingdoms, comprising a quarter of the biomass of the Earth, comes in about 20,000 varieties.  Mold helps in the recycling process by breaking down organic matter; otherwise the globe would be overwhelmed by dead matter.  Mold is useful in flavoring, such as in blue cheese, and the filtrates of mold are used to make the penicillin that keeps us healthy.  However, by 1991, microbial growth was rated as the number one indoor air quality problem.  The American Hotel and Motel Association estimated that mold and mildew caused several hundred million dollars worth of damage each year.  The environmental consciousness was expanding in the mold frontier.

            Mold, while highly beneficial, can become problematic when it attaches to our homes, especially the indoor portions.  Gradually residents and their care providers determine that mold causes  headaches, skin irritation, chronic sinusitis, breathing problems including asthma attacks, and a variety of allergic reactions.  Mold can make some homes unbearable for certain residents.  Affected people are often moved to abandon the dwelling rather then spend thousands of dollars in trying to combat the contamination and to attempt permanent restoration.  Modern tenant sufferers are party to billions of dollars in lawsuits again home owners for personal injuries caused by living in these contaminated buildings.

            Several causes for the increased mold problems in modern buildings can be given.  Older homes with their high ceilings, airy corridors and their native building materials simply did not have the conditions of high humidity and other features that mold loves to feast on.  The increased use of home insulation, the prevalence of air conditioning and the closed home, and the use of paper-faced gypsum board are considered some of the causes of the increased mold problems.   Excessive moisture and improperly installed HVAC equipment may be the more proximate cause.  Often vapor barriers do not work or are improperly designed.  All of these factors have created problems for allergy sufferers and gold mines for the trial lawyers.  In addition, private dwellings are generally unregulated.

    Remedies may be helpful, though indoor air sampling can be expensive and is not always completely effective.  Visual inspection along with ample ventilation is a first step.  Reducing moisture leaks and controlling the humidity are others.  Since the mold may go far beyond the evident dark spots on the walls, take precautions to eliminate all the contamination and strive to contain it in the affected parts of the building.  Professionals may be needed to help solve the problem.

            See: www.epa.gov/mold For homeowners obtain the U.S. EPA publication "A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home." If you are a building manager consider reading "Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings."

            Prayer:  Lord, help us make our home a real home.


September 11, 2008       In Defense of Wilderness

     Wilderness is that part of the world that has not been changed by human activity and remains in its previous undeveloped condition.  Forestlands or drylands minus trees can be wilderness, depending on human impact and the natural state of the area.  Though I have always subscribed to the concept that human activity can enhance wilderness, we still must understand that leaving some areas in a natural state may be better.  After reading the book 1491 I was impressed by the argument that what we regard as "wilderness" was what the first European settlers found in the Americas.  Actually lands cultivated by Native Americans were lapsing back into uncultivated states due to high mortality rates among the indigenous populations from smallpox and other diseases. 

     Today American wilderness (unexploited areas) is under assault from those seeking mineral, petroleum, logging or development interests and the use of their modern equipment to bring about changes (bulldozers and chainsaws in place of oxen and broadaxes). When a piece of land is seen to have commercial value as a resort, a  growing area for an agricultural commodity, a shopping mall, or a housing development, it can be ripped up in a wink.  However, the wilderness has value in an unexploited state, e.g.,  its natural beauty, its nests and havens, its biodiversity and even its potential to provide future medicines and drugs.

     Certain conservation-oriented public and private agencies buy up land that is threatened, in order to ward off development and create wildlife corridors.  Thus is provided room for wildlife to migrate without being endangered or hindered by roadways and other developments.  A number of states are constructing wildlife tunnels along traditional migratory routes.   Providing wilderness areas is a noble enterprise, but this can become quite costly and require donors with deep pockets.  Only the most significant places can be purchased by the private or the public conservation agencies and protected by a regulator umbrella.  The concept of preservation is good, provided insensitive proponents do not seek to expel long- time human residents for the sake of expanded wilderness. 

            Colonizing Americans often regarded wilderness as a danger zone that could not be tolerated but needed to be developed or conquered for the sake of civilization.  Holmes Rolston, III asks, "Can or ought we to follow nature?"  and answers in a number of interesting ways.  Activists show that wild areas are worth protecting.  In truth, activism calls one to speak or express oneself in a forceful manner.  That approach does not lead to writing checks, books and research papers; it involves creating wildscape in yards, artificial wetlands, and conservation areas.  Maybe the U.S. Forest Service is to become both protective and utilitarian.  Saving wilderness is worthwhile and allows us to face exploiters.  See Philosophy Gone Wild, Holmes Rolston, III. 

            Prayer:  Lord teach us that sabbatical rest includes leaving some land uncultivated and recognizing wilderness as your gift.




Installing a home-built owl box
*photo credit)

September 12, 2008         Home Hobbies

     As the first chill of autumn appears, we think of the warm, snug domestic environment, where winter time hobbies flourish.  Which ones can be entertainment and which may contain hidden dangers?  Emphasize those that are sociable, fulfilling, attention catching and healthy for all parties. 


Prayer:  Lord help us to promote wholesome home entertainment.







Storm clouds illuminated by the setting sun
*photo credit)

September 13, 2008   Christians, Genesis and Earthhealing        

            Some critics fault Christian philosophy/theology as the root cause of the environmental crisis due to the misinterpreted mandate in the Genesis account of creation on the sixth day -- God blessed them, saying to them, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and conquer it.  Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, and all living animals on the earth" (Genesis 1:28).

Could it have been misinterpretation or cultural limitation that was involved?  Lynn White, Jr. in "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis" (Science, Vol. 155 (Number 3767), March 1967, pp. 1203-1207), regarded as the most requested reprint in scientific literature, said that Christians found in Genesis a certain mandate to subdue our Earth.  He added that "wilderness" occurs approximately three hundred times in the Bible, and all its appearances are derogatory.  To his credit, White mentioned St. Francis as a model of good environmentalism.  However, does theological understanding need a new interpretation in the light of modern science -- and technology or can we keep the Bible open? 

            Conquest by a primitive people meant living in harmony with a hostile world of natural disasters and unknown diseases challenging conquest.  An eco-spirituality as seen by a people who barely could keep alive and flourish was relative to that particular time and place.  Reverence was expected.  With the growth in understanding and practical application, science and technology offered immense benefits but these opened the way for exploitative conquest by neo-colonial capture of other peoples and a lack of respect.  What was a commons as the Creator's gift was turned into an exploitable resource.  Was Scripture at fault or misused for a sinister purpose?  Some justified enslavement by far-fetched interpretations of Scripture; so do they justify mistreatment of Earth herself.  While White focused on the justification by Western explorers/ exploiters (same word in some European languages) for conquests, what was lacking was an exegesis of the words "mastery" and "conquest." Conquest or subjugation required some degree of mastery; so does protecting and caring for all creation.  The Genesis account was highly nuanced, and "control" meant responsibility over what was entrusted by the creator to imperfect human beings.  Lacking reverence, such actions lead to misuse.

            Jesus does not come as a worldly conqueror, for he plainly disappoints his disciples in his lack of military and political ambitions.  Jesus transforms "mastery" from control over another, through his washing the feet of the disciples, to one of loving service to those looking on him as master.  This interpretation of Jesus has endured through two millennia.  As Earth healers, we must give loving service to fish, birds and animals living on Earth.  Farmers know the difference between those who mistreat and those who care for their domestic livestock; it takes no understanding of biblical hermeneutics for the peasant to treat livestock properly. 

    Prayer:  Lord, help us take responsibility for caring for all creatures and for protecting them from exploiters in our midst.


A Washington County, KY forest scene
*photo credit)

September 14, 2008      Sign of the Cross

            So the Son of Man must be lifted up.  (John 3: 13-17)

     Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  We Catholic Christians (and also Orthodox and Anglicans) publicly sign ourselves with the sign of the cross even at times when the eyes of others seem critical of our action.  This action says much, both in the words and in the moving sign about our central belief:  it is a creative blessing in the signing person when reverently calling on the name of the Lord;  it is a public witness to the redeeming act of Jesus on Calvary through the sign of the cross itself;  it is a blessing in words that does not rest on me alone but is the going out by the Spirit to all the world and I am witness to this. 

            Creatively, we find that we enter through the sign of the cross into the Mystery of the Godhead.  We say that we are part of God's family and that this is a blessing that we glory in all our lives.  Blessings are from God, a pure gift that we find that we do not deserve and yet they are given by the graciousness of the Almighty.  Our recognition of this in a public manner is a sign of gratitude as a blessing with holy water when one enters the Church.  The cross is the sign of our redemption and can be fixed atop a sacred building or as a crucifix in a room or as a cross worn as a medal to signify our belief.  While this is an opportunity to profess our faith, this public sign could trigger ridicule by non-Christians who want to expression of religion in public.  They also may regard any exaltation in a cross as a meaningless sign of torture and death.  However, for the signer we affirm that the sing of death has been transformed into an instrument of risen life. 

            The cross is not just fixed to places or the sign performed at individual periods of time.  Christians carry the cross to other parts of the world through spreading the Good News; some go to prison and are forgotten by many; some defy civil authorities by wearing a cross; and some sign themselves as witnesses at the moment of martyrdom.  Some identify this as the cross of suffering they carry in their own bodies, or they assume and help carry the cross for others as caregivers to those who suffer.

            The words of the "sign of the cross" were first spoken over us at baptism and the final words and sign will be given as we are placed in the grave.  All have a trinitarian character when performed properly and that occurs throughout life.  The paradox is that a sign of ignominy becomes Good News for it involves entering into others' suffering and inviting them to participate in ours.  Compassion is love and is witness to the love God shows us.  Through the eyes of faith we can perceive our individual crosses as joined with others in a universal Calvary event stretching through time.  It is the "now" of the cross when we sign ourselves more reverently.

            Prayer:  Lord teach us to exalt in the sign of the cross with a sense of reverence for all the mysteries that it signifies.




A semi-organized workshop
*photo credit)

September 15, 2008      Let's Try Organizing

     Today is full harvest moon and that stirs some of us to expect results now.  In the height of this political campaign it is hardly novel to talk about organizing to reach results, but our issue may involve one of many public interest areas.   To be successful in organizing requires effort and resources that may mean forming coalitions in order to work to a final goal.  Saul Alinsky, a Vietnam War era community organizer, became the guru of this approach to public interest work.  He stressed choosing good issues, obtaining results through the use of community resources, making the results known through confrontational tactics, and learning to move from minor to broader successes.

     Not every issue is worth organizing around.  It is highly possible that a good cause can be handled successfully by already functioning organizations through calling attention and not through organizing as such.  If the issue cannot be handled in a traditional manner, one must gather like-minded people who know the power of united efforts and are cooperative.  Being focused on the particular issue requires learning facts, facing the demands for change and compromise, and seeing the need to readjust without changing overall position.  As the organizing proceeds limited   resources may require a scaling back of immediate results or an extension of time schedules.  Some organizers are impatient;  they  act quickly, stumble, become disillusioned and burn out.  Others fail to see the totality of the issue and prefer black and white views, and shun the complex gray areas where opposing sides should be heard and allowed to voice their opinions  Successful organizers call for proper pacing and the choice of deliberate speed at times. 

     Crystal balls give no future.  Still we can plan and estimate what can be achieved if we limit ourselves to what is practical.  Often, the best approach is one of public demonstration or practices that encourage people to seek further action.  Some organizers get carried away and dream of far-reaching results, far beyond what is reasonable.  We always stand amazed that our founding fathers and mothers were able to envision a great nation during the dark years of the American Revolution.   They found the organizing of the republic was tricky and exhausting, but they were able to find it rewarding in the longer run even with its wrinkles.

       Citizen groups have a mixed record of achieving success.  Some outlive their purpose; others fade due to lack of funding, over-dependence on another, waste of resources, lack of proper publicity, over-rigidity in tactics or objectives, internal battles, external harassment, fraud or mismanagement, lack of focus, or drifting from current problems.  However, some are successful, attract followers, promote their cause, make their efforts known far and wide, catalyze more profound change, and bring about long-term benefits for future generations. 

            Prayer:  Holy Spirit, extend your organizing skills from apostles to us who need to be organized as witnesses of Good News. 




The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. Springfield, IL
*photo by Mark Spencer)

September 16, 2008     Insulation and Weatherizing

     Mid-September and rising fuel bills make this a perfect time to think ahead to further winterizing the home.  It pays to search for possible leaks at sole plates, wall outlets, external doors and windows, fireplaces, and kitchen and bath vents. 

     * Weatherstrip with commercial metal strip, wood or adhesive-backed foam rubber, rolled vinyl with aluminum channel backing, rubber or neoprene strips, or felt strips (cheap, but not very durable).  Local hardware or home building supply dealers will help in what you need to weatherize.  Remember to look between door and window frames and other places.  Where weatherstripping is not suitable, consider caulking for foundation sills, corners formed by siding, along outside water faucets and electrical outlets, at wire and pipe penetration of ceilings, between porches and main parts of the house, where chimney or masonry meets with siding, and where the wall meets the eave at attic gable end.

     * Caulking, like weatherstripping, is a good low-cost way to winterize the home or office.  Caulking comes in all types of cartridges, fillers, rope caulking or glazing compounds.  Don't caulk in cold weather, and apply the caulk on clean surfaces.  Cut the plastic cover at a slant to allow for better "bead" control in the application.  Oil-based caulking materials are the least expensive, but last for several years.  On the other hand, caulking of small and medium cracks with more expensive polysulfide, polyurethane, or silicone will last for two decades.  Fillers made from hemp treated with tar, glass fiber, caulking cotton or sponge rubber are used for larger cracks (more than a quarter of an inch), and then the cartridge caulking is used.  Rope caulking is good for temporary jobs around AC units and storm windows.

     * Insulation is a good investment, with rapid payback along with immense long-term savings.  Determine needs depending on your heating zone location and the "R" value (measure of resistance of insulation to heat flow) listed on each package.  In shopping consider price, ease of application, the area needing insulation, and availability.  Some rock wool, glass fiber and cellulose fiber must be blown into spaces with special equipment by a professional contractor.  This is the method of choice for retrofit insulation of wall and some ceiling space.  An unfinished attic floor can be insulated by loose fill which is poured in (rock wool, glass fiber, cellulose, vermiculite or perlite), or by batts (foil side down for barrier effects between insulation and attic floor).  Don't hand- pack loose insulation;  keep it fluffy.  Use protective clothing.  Cellulose insulation can be made from old newsprint using a chopping machine and a fire-retardant chemical such as boric acid (don't use corrosive retardant chemicals).  When buying cellulose insulating materials, look for third party testing such as Underwriters Laboratory for fire safety and corrosion.

            Prayer:  Lord teach us to think ahead in all that we do and to be practical in conserving the precious fuel resources at hand.






Honoring new citizens on Citizenship Day
*photo credit)

September 17, 2008  Citizenship Day:  The Soul of America

    On Citizenship Day we Americans should realize that our day in the sun as the world's sole superpower may be quite brief, for empires since ancient times have had definite time spans.  A growth of our American indebtedness at ten thousand dollars/second and four trillion dollars over the past eight years could shorten that duration in the U.S. case.  We constantly ask whether we as a people truly believe in the future.  Through our selfishness are we taking from future generations what belongs to them as commons?

            Those of us who believe in individual immortality do not expect it to extend to our "national soul."  In this age of terrorism we sense that nations with larger accumulations of power and wealth have become targets of terrorists who may shorten our national life.  Americans collectively have attained the greatest wealth in human history and so our nation is a target.  However, $140 per barrel oil may shorten the duration of our supremacy far more rapidly.  On Citizenship Day we recall the struggles to establish colonies, free ourselves, form the longest enduring constitution in history, welcome oppressed immigrants, secure seniors their retirement years, protect the health of all, and attempt to distribute rights and duties according to justice.  However, we still need to examine some aspects of our American soul:

    * A crass materialism leads to insensitivity to the needs of others especially the destitute both in this country and abroad;

    * Unsustainable affluent lifestyles include overuse of resources, obtaining resources from distant rather than local places, expansion of space requirements for buildings of all sorts, and use of inefficient vehicles, heating and cooling devices and electric appliances.

    * Corporate scandals have eroded democracy, and multinational companies have became the oligarchs of the nation and the world through unique power-grabbing techniques.   We should not forget that Rome had its highest military expenditures just before its collapse in the fifth century.

            *  We witness a breakdown in families with high divorce rates and broken homes.  Holding households together is an integral part of holding our nation together.

     *  The sacred web involving the human, animal and plant life is under attack in many ways (destruction of the physical environment, invasion of exotic species, mistreatment of animals, abortion, and continuation of the death penalty).

     Prayer:  Lord teach us to guard our nation's health and sustainability, to look ahead to what is to come, to provide for the basics of life, and to exercise our citizenship in the many ways that preserve the integrity of our people and their actions.






*photo credit)

September 18, 2008     International Assistance and Charity

            Careless charitable giving bothers me along with others whether at the local or global level.  Yet at times destitute people need charity.  Higher fuel and food prices hurt and make us rethink charity or aid to the needy.  The temporary band-aids for refugees and those suffering from war, drought or natural disasters is urgent this year.  However, does not charity though often necessary, hinder real change on the part of giver and receiver?  A recent food security assessment shows that food insecure people (less than 2,100 calories per day) rose from 849 million in 2006 to 982 million in 2007.  All the while myths about international charity persist.  Bread for the World addresses these myths:

     *  Foreign aid doesn't work.   Answer:  One fifth of American foreign aid goes to Israel and Egypt, not the poorest lands.  However, when aid is directed to poor areas with reasonable government, it works and allows for declines in illiteracy and infant mortality as well as gets food and temporary shelter to the needy.  Records show that charity can be properly distributed.

     *  Most foreign aid is wasted by corrupt bureaucracies.     Answer:  With time, experienced aid workers can recognize the signs of corrupt governments and are able to raise a signal of alarm that allows avoidance or the taking of remedial steps for the needy.

     *  Foreign aid is a major federal expenditure. Answer:  Not so!  Only one percent of our budget is foreign aid, and only a third of that is slated for development.  The U.S. ranks last of twenty-two industrialized countries in percentage of national income given away in development aid, generally less than 0.1%.

    * Americans want to cut foreign aid.  Answer: This has not been true, for Americans are willing to assist others as is witnessed in giving to natural disaster victims in Indonesia, Burma and China.

    * We should take care of problems at home rather than devote resources to helping others.    Answer:  our country usually ranks low in the international giving but we seek to attack the poverty at home.  Still our world is one family and all of its citizens are brothers and sisters in need.  We Americans and others who have much, need to radically share until it hurts.

    * Private charities help poor people around the world.  Answer: When the natural disasters occur, private charities do great work and yet at those times relief takes all the resources that are available including public money, helicopters and supply carriers.

            * Foreign aid isn't important.  Answer: Foreign aid fills a critical need when other resources are not easily accessible.  Often this becomes a matter of life and death and it provides also the breathing time needed for people to get back on their feet.

            Prayer:  Lord, teach us to share radically from our surpluses.





A small arsenal of common household chemicals.
*photo credit)

   September 19, 2008    Use Caution with Household Chemicals

              Only in very recent times have we human beings tried to duplicate nature's ways on a grand scale by creating exotic chemicals.  There are over a million synthetic chemicals.  Some have been made for commercial interests and a few are manufactured, tested, and found suitable to be made by the tons or thousands of tons.  Many of these chemicals are toxic and must be handled with care;  some do not decompose easily;  they can bioaccumulate in the higher-level members of the food chain.  For instance, highly versatile chlorinated compounds are used in the production of organic and inorganic commercial chemicals; one of these, vinyl chloride, is a primary chemical building block used in making a multitude of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products.  Without proper safeguards the processing of most chlorinated compounds can involve severe health effects on chemical workers at processing plants or those in the path of escaped transported chemicals.

     Caution!  Respect for chemicals extends to end use as commercial household chemicals.  Many people have no chemical training and are unable to handle toxic chemicals successfully without spillage or inhalation.  Dangerous ones, which must be kept out of reach of children and especially infants, include:

            * Household pest control agents;

     * Garden and lawn herbicides and other chemicals;

            * Batteries and the acids associated with them;

            * Automotive and other motor liquids and lubricants; 

     * Paint solvents and thinners and other volatile liquids;

     * Oven and other strong kitchen and bathroom cleaners;

            * Detergents that are dangerous in the mouth of infants;

            * Water softening and purification agents;

     * Prescription and many over-the-counter medicines;

     * Hobby chemicals (see September 12);

            * Inks and other office supplies especially super glues;

     * Aerosol sprays of various types that look like toys;              

 * Volatile gases in older mobile homes;

     * Certain older building materials containing formaldehyde;

     * Combustion materials and lighter fluid; and

     * Recreational drugs and smoking materials.

     Be on the alert!  Store chemicals safely and out of reach of youngsters.  We could say eliminate them from the home, but in all reality that will not occur.  Instead prepare storage space that is properly guarded and to be cautious about where and when you use such materials.  However, do not keep chemicals around beyond their usefulness.  Often in basements and other places the older containers corrode, lose their labels and require the homemaker to notify the proper hazardous waste people to help remove them. 

            Prayer:  Lord teach us caution in all matters, especially when it comes to substances that could harm ourselves or others.  Help us to respect chemicals for their benefits and risks.





A bucket of luscious ripe raspberries
*photo credit)

September 20, 2008   Gardening as a Social Enterprise 

     Gardening can definitely be a social enterprise engaging the natural community of plants, animals and people of all ages.  This inter-communal and intergenerational collection of creatures and community members includes the companion effects of proper vegetation and pest control agents, the expertise of elders, the enthusiasm of youth, the energy of the able-bodied, and the attentiveness of learners and part-time observers.  Elders know what and when to plant and harvest;  adults and youth take pride in their budding gardening skills.  All have much more to learn whether gardening for a day or for seven decades -- and the garden space is a good school for learning more.

     All participants can share together the sheer delight and joy of gardening even when their working space and one in the same, adjacent to, or at a short distance from another's.  All learn together that gardening experience takes time and patience, especially when the inexperienced cannot distinguish plants and may risk damaging them or regarding them as weeds.   Gardening is more than socializing; there must be times of pointing out what each plant needs and how even footprints near the plants can be damaging.  Teach the inexperienced where to stand, walk, step or pick.  Carelessness and informality harm gardens, just as rigid formality can discourage gardening in general.  Establish a middle ground, for people acquire gardening skills at different rates of time.

    The saying that "the family that prays together stays together" can be extended to the family that gardens together.  A gardening exercise can be a happy occasion when all who desire can be present though not fully participating.  Be welcoming, make rules clear and simple for the protection of plants, assist the elders to garden, and reign in toddlers for the garden's sake. Excusing ourselves from involving neighbors by calling our gardening a private matter is shortsighted.  Gardening ought to be a public act that shows Earth in its bounty, that attracts learners, and that can advance them in their own skills through participative work.  Gardening's ripple effect can extend beyond the immediate locality; make everyone feel at ease in coming, seeing, and even helping where and when they are able.

     There are limits to being overly social and that especially applies to a wholesome garden.  Invasive plants should not be allowed in the garden;  nor should any animal from an undisciplined dog to a groundhog be allowed within such sacred and restricted grounds.  While neighbors can share the produce, it may be best to do the more complex harvesting practices apart from the overly young or the inexperienced.

            Prayer: Lord teach us to be generous and, not only to share our garden produce, but to share the production process itself wherever and whenever possible.





*photo credit)

September 21, 2008   Opportunities to Realize Our Gifts

     The last shall be first and the first shall be last. (Matthew 20:16)

            This story was always one that I had difficulties with when young for it seemed that the workers who worked the entire day certainly deserved more pay than those who came at mid-day or only an hour or so before quitting time.  Commentators will hasten to tell us that this is not a lesson in labor relations but one in God's gift of life (shown here by a job of harvesting grapes).  This divine gift is not something that we deserve but is given to us by the generosity of the divine creator.  We cannot make demands and we realize that the gift of faith is so precious that if it comes early or late we should feel equally privileged in having received it.  It is a blessing to live a long life for the Lord but some may allow the gift to go unused or be misused.

    The parable reminds me of the heart-broken minister who lost several close family members in a terrible auto accident and people kept coming to him at the funeral and saying that this loving family did not deserve such a tragedy.  After working through his grief the survivor finally came to the spiritual insight that he did not deserve the loved ones, for they were God's gifts and were now taken from him -- a return of the gift to the Giver.

            Having said all of this about God's gifts, I have come to recognize the insight of an Appalachian activist, Jim Wyker, who offered an insight with a labor relations aspect, namely, the laborers were all family people and eagerly awaiting some form of daily work and pay to help with their livelihood.  For the unemployed to stand idle all day hoping for work was stressful and a source of concern that actually grew as the day progressed.  For them, daily work in the heat of day was preferable over unemployment and all the stress attached.

            In this second view, who is responsible for furnishing jobs?  One can argue (as found in Eco-Spirituality through the Seasons on this website) that the onus is not on the hit and miss policies of a capitalistic system but ultimately on our nation state (see Labor Day reflections on September first).  If one has the duty to vote, support or defend our nation, so the nation has the responsibility to see that employment is available to all willing workers who need a livelihood for self and family.  Not all people are self-employable.  Workers need not be a pool accessible at the whelms of the capitalist.  There is plenty of work to be done in this world -- and creative socially conscious people can easily list needed activities.  There are plenty of resources if fair taxes were obtained from ten million millionaires and over a thousand billionaires (latest count).  Connecting needs and resources is our spiritual mission.

            Prayer:  Lord, you are the one who gives us the precious life we do not deserve;  help us to show gratitude by defending the livelihood of our fellow human beings.





Signs of autumn
*photo credit)

September 22, 2008     Celebrate Autumn Time

     Today is the Autumnal Equinox, the time when day and night are of equal duration.  Fall starts, though we have realized it for a few weeks.  People have different seasonal favorites that depend to some degree on their age, health, occupation, culture and history.  Some of us change our choice of favorite seasons with years.  I used to prefer summer because of vacation away from formal schooling, but now I like both spring and fall better than the harshness and extremes of summer and winter.

     No matter what our seasonal preferences, the autumn offers a time to celebrate the end of one season and the beginning of another.  No more hot weather, no more mosquitoes and snakes.  Summer people think longingly about past vacations, swimming pool sessions and freedom from heavy winter clothes.  Autumn people eagerly await the changing leaves, cooler days, football games and parties.  It is the memories and the anticipations, which flavor our need to celebrate right now, for we can look back and forwards with some thankfulness for good times spent and future expectations. 

      My favorite aunt would take each season in stride;  she liked to celebrate the seasonal changes rather than think one is better than another.  She was happy to be among temperate zone folks who experience noticeable seasonal changes, something lacking in certain tropical areas of the planet where change is measured at best in rainfall or its lack and not by temperature.  For us in the temperate zones, solstices and equinoxes mark distinct weather differences;  they give us fresh starts and conclusive finishes.  Summer heat and foliage turn to autumn coolness and color variety.    

      Hopefully we still enjoy celebrating seasons. Activists often become overly serious, seniors fret over being bored, youth only dwell on their lost opportunities, and all of us are way too busy.  Smile, laugh, say a good word, stand around a while, strike a balance between the serious and the whimsical, give quality time to sorting out the light from the heavy side of life.  Solving problems requires a harmony of thinking and doing, reflection and action, serious talk and laughing.  Making a better world is a cooperative activity involving different philosophies and emotions.  Our tolerance goes out to all.          

    This is harvest time, and the coolness still allows for times to be outdoors, and in the evenings to take each diminishment in sunlight with acceptance.  Autumn is the foreshadowing of our own decrease in physical energy for we all will some day experience the autumn of our life.  The change of seasons tells us this in vivid color and somber sounds. This is a time to reflect on the summer that came and the winter that is to come. 

            Prayer:  Lord make us available to accept each season that comes and is anticipated.  Let the seasonal changes be our guide and a time to stop and reflect upon our life's journey.






A home-built, efficient solar cooker
(*photo credit)

September 23, 2008  365 Low-cost, Nutritious and Convenient Meals

     At the end of one year I bought some black-eyed peas, following the Appalachian tradition of fixing these on New Years Day.  The grocery clerk looked surprised and asked what I was going to do with the package, and I said, "Cook them."  She asked in astonishment, "You, a man?  My husband can't boil water!"  So much for the general art of cooking -- and I'm no gourmet cook.  I like food that is locally accessible, at low-cost and nutritious.  We could add another noteworthy characteristic -- convenience.  I have been thinking of a possible book that presents recipes for 365 low-cost, locally available and nutritious meals.  This could be a handy reference for our hard-pressed local folks who are becoming overwhelmed by rising food costs.  Besides basing the meals for the greater part on cornbread and beans we would embellish this with other dishes.  If we add convenience here are some hints:

    "12 variety soups" -- This is a really easy crock pot or solar oven mainstay for we often have veggies around in small or large amounts.  Macaroni or noodles may be added to give body, and a large batch is made to last for several meals; add other left overs as the week progresses using tomato juice as the liquid base.

   "12 variety salads"-- We can fix these virtually every month of the year.  Once I even made a January 12-variety using my own garden produce but so many veggies available at once at that time of the year is rare.  It takes some time to trim, wash, and mix, but the salad excels commercial mixes in freshness -- and we can guarantee our own organic produce.  

     "240 types of crockpot meals" -- It takes less time to fix most crockpot or solar cooker prepared meals than to buy, unwrap and prepare a tv dinner, and the home-made meals are far more nutritious.  In place of soup beans, one could have a wide variety of combinations of different types of dried beans, peas and lentils with a host of spices singly or in combination.  Now be bold and move to stews, chili and local produce.  To vary the crockpot creations, either use rice or bake some cornbread in any of a host of varieties (spoon bread, hoe cakes, etc.);  I prefer muffins with various herbs to add new flavors.

     While focusing on dinners and suppers don't forget breakfasts. A cup of coffee or herbal tea, a bowl of oatmeal or one's own prepared granola and a glass of tomato or orange juice make a substantial breakfast for most, but the cornbread could work here as well.  However, oatmeal can be a mainstay with a host of spiced combinations to keep it from becoming tiresome.  Snack food could include carrot or celery sticks, dry popped popcorn, or fruit, peanuts or other nuts.  Avoid processed foods that are heavy in salt and sugar and prove to be quite expensive.  Resolve to be an instant processor of your own materials.

            Prayer:  Lord, teach us to prepare our food well for our own health and well being, and to encourage others to do the same.





Grave for a loyal canine companion
*photo credit)

September 24, 2008       Simple Funerals

     Funerals are always difficult whatever time of year they occur, even after close preparation.  With deaths some issues arise that were not foreseen and these involve quick decisions when distraught relatives find it hard.  Besides, the simple and lower priced funerals of the past where folks were laid out at home and where graves were dug by friends are rarely the case today.  Nevertheless, we can simplify our own final adieu by keeping it spiritually oriented.  Here are some suggestions:

     1. Make preparations well beforehand and store a record of the person's wishes in an accessible place known by a few key people (we Jesuits are required to keep and update such a record).  The notes should include the type of service, hymns, the principal persons involved, flowers, coffin type, memorials, manner of eulogy maybe even composed by the deceased (while alive), and manner and place of burial.

     2. Funerals can involve excessive commercialism.  Moderation is called for and could include renting a coffin for viewing and then transfer to a pine box for final burial -- though some states may have laws against this.  In such cases is there anything wrong with viewing the pine box itself for viewer edification?

    3. Preferably consider underused cemeteries.  Over half of designated "cemetery" space is unused, and may remain so due to movement of populations.  Using a seemingly forsaken cemetery is a chance to renew interest in and upkeep of older family plots.

    4. Be buried rather than cremated, if custom permits.  Natural decomposition uses far fewer resources (energy) and permits a natural approach to composing and returning to dust.  If burial space is limited, remember a cemetery is greenspace that can also be used for recreational purposes.  Talk over the possibility of planting perennial flowers such as peonies at the burial site.

    5. Request charitable donations instead of additional flowers for memorials.  A memorial action in the name of the person may also be a fitting tribute.  A single bouquet or a few select bunches of flowers (local or wild if in season) should suffice.

    6. Have a coffin built by friends and family, if this is possible and time permits.  Simple lifestylers may prefer that this be done while the individual is alive and able -- and the coffin used for storage before its final destination.

    7. De-emphasize the viewing.  "She (or he) looks so natural."  That is a fib; except for the door sign most would be unable to recognize the corpse.  How about a closed casket with a photo?

            Prayer:  Lord, help us to have funerals in a meaningful manner so that all learn something at bereavement time.  Help us to remember that death is an earthly lamp becoming an eternal light.







September 25, 2008        More Insurance?

     Security often is as much a concern for the moderately well off as for the very poor.  Like others, Americans seek security in insurance policies rather than in trust in God and God's people.  Insurance policies are inherently limited and this creates an uneasy feeling;  we respond by adding more and more types of insurance -- automobile, health, life, fire, homeowners and other property, hail, earthquake, accident liability, non-profit board liability, mail insurance, travel insurance, and on and on.  Today many insurance rates are so high that this factor becomes a  detriment to our quality of life and peace of soul.  In fact, insurance determines whether one works or retires, where one lives, and whether one's actions could precipitate possible litigation. 

     Community insurance is one answer -- in the style of some close communities such as Amish groups;  these folks all chip in and rebuild when there is a fire, or take care of their own or their neighbors when a disaster strikes.  This may work well if all the people will assemble when needed, if they are willing to restore the loss according to a commonly accepted design, if the neighbors are all willing to pitch in at time of need, and if there are no major community divisions.  Such community insurance may work on a level of pre-existing bonding, but does it work in an amorphous geographic local community?  Through mobility American community life is not always geographically based, though it may be returning to that through higher fuel prices.  Again, the victim may expect more than what the community is willing to give.  Disagreements can arise if pre-conditions are neglected.

      Community self-insurance has great advantages:  mutual sharing is developed; joint planning is expected;  insurance money stays in the local community instead of hemorrhaging to outside insurance companies.  However, the community efforts work best if the disaster is localized.  A Katrina or a 2008 Iowa flood  can easily overpower local resources.  In such circumstances one asks: who deserves first treatment while funds are available?  One way of addressing fairness problems would be a governmental back-up program, a FEMA or disaster relief fund, which insures the community self-insurers in times of large scale catastrophe. 

            Seeking security is a human desire and is behind our restlessness -- though it cannot be satisfied without a deepening spiritual dimension.  A reasonable insurance by a community can work to alleviate many needs (not escalating health costs).  A rampant materialism does not provide for growth in security, since it is inherently insecure in itself.  The basic foundation for community insurance is the people's faith in a common future of respect for the Creator.  This involves trust that others will help in time of need -- and national health insurance as well.

            Prayer:  Lord, teach us to seek and find a more spiritual security that rests in You and within the community of believers.




September 26, 2008       Natural Sounds All Around

        Let the heavens be glad, let earth rejoice,

        let the sea thunder and all that it holds,

        let the fields exult and all that is in them,

        let all the woodland trees cry out for joy.

                              (Psalm 96:11-12)

     Nature's sounds are all around and if we listen we can hear some of them.  Paradoxically as our hearing is attuned to nature we, become sensitized to the cries of pain from our suffering Earth.  Both the harmony and the human-caused disharmony found in the universe are evident to the ears listening to God's call.  When we hear both concordant and discordant sounds, we soon crave the silent pause in between.  We thank God for nature's sounds, for the sounds of anguish and for the silence that refreshes us -- all three make us more human and all three punctuate Earth's symphony around us.  When we do not make distinctions or when we strive to do away with silence, we are caught in confusion, like captives in a vibrating steel drum unable to exit.

            Americans are being overcome by noise pollution.  In some places the level of noise is rising at a dramatic rate, a condition that affects the psychic health of those subjected to such a discord or lack of silence.  An involved life includes the various sounds and we accept this; but we also come to value underrated silence when the one beside us does not have to talk on a cell phone compulsively.  The harmony of periods of sounds and silence is an ideal environment -- one with distant church bells, playing children and cow bells in the meadow;  to this add the baby's cry and the auto noise.  On the other hand, noise mixed in various forms places a heavy burden on ordinary people in congested areas and subjects too many to lawn mowers and motorcycles.  People who like to be where the action is often deny these harmful situations.     

            We hardly aspire to the silence of the abandoned home or that of the deaf person.  We seek a rhythm of sounds and silence; and, because modern sound is so intrusive, we strive to create times and places of silence: mountain coves, a distant farm, an accessible seashore, places where artificial sounds are reduced to background noise and nature speaks to us deep within.  When unable to get away from too many sounds, we retreat to our den or silent space or a chapel or library nook.  We insulate our homes with acoustical materials.   On a noisy airplane or motel we install ear plugs or, when all else fails, we seek to create our silent space in the recesses of our hearts -- a place where the harmony of God returns in a grace-filled mysterious manner.  Silence is precious; silence is treasured; silence is a drink of cool water for the thirsty.  Silence is best found where nature's sounds prevail, where God's perfect harmony floods our soul.

            Prayer:  Lord, teach us that to listen well we must be able to distinguish sounds, to go away from them at times and find the silence where we can hear you speak to us, possibly in whispers.





September 27, 2008   Road Blocks to Renewable Energy

            It is increasingly true that there are no technical, financial or economic reasons why the nations of the world cannot enjoy the benefits of a high level of energy services and a better environment.  It is simply a question of making the right choices.

                          2001 UN Environmental Programme Report

    The United Nations report just quoted projected that nine to fifteen trillion dollars will be invested by 2020 on new power projects -- and hopefully on using greener renewable energy sources (biomass, solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, and tidal energy).  We now know that energy demands will rise 2% per year (International Energy Outlook 2008), much to be met by coal (2.0% rise), petroleum (1.2%), natural gas (1.7%) and nuclear fuel (1.5% rise).  Health will deteriorate from expanded non-renewable energy sources and there will also be acidification of ecosystems, soil and water contamination, reduced biodiversity, and more global warming (42.3 billion metric tons of carbon released in 2030 versus 28.1 billion metric tons in 2005, a 51% rise).

            Why the delays in implementing renewable energy applications?  The oil, gas, coal and nuclear conglomerates have influence and make billions of dollars in profits;  as long as these companies supply much of the energy of the world, profit-motivated forces will work for continuation of current practices.  When health and environmental factors are included, the current non-renewable energy dominance needs to be challenged by a carbon tax;  this would make renewable sources more competitive and enable them to meet goals of supplying one-quarter of U.S. electricity and motor vehicle fuel needs by 2025. 

            This 25 x '25 goal may require that biomass source be obtained by harvesting energy crops at a scale that greatly exceeds current crop production.  Furthermore, biofuels, when obtained from corn and other food products, divert precious agricultural resources away from needed food production to often wasted fuels (see our special issues).  Wind energy, the world's fastest growing energy source (to grow from 2007's 94 GW to more than 578 GW by 2020), has far exceeded optimistic 1990 projections, and prices have dropped sevenfold.  With the fossil fuel subsidy removed, wind would be highly competitive today.  Wind's greatest field of growth will be the coastal areas near large metropolitan centers;  however "environmentalists" have opposed these wind farms because they hindered seashore views.  Also solar energy suffers from a lack of a cohesive national energy policy.  Solar advocates must press for tax incentives on almost a year-by-year basis.  Even when actualized these incentives favor centralized solar thermal electric plants in contrast to current solar photovoltaic panels that have dominated the solar field until now.  

            Prayer:  Lord help us overcome the barriers to renewable energy so that our planet may be a more healthy place.  Give us the strength as a people to help bring this about.




September 28, 2008   The First Day of the Rest of Life

            In Matthew 21:28-32 Jesus asked the elders of the temple about a case of a father with two sons;  one says he will go to work in the vineyard and doesn't, and the other says he will not but regrets his own refusal and goes.  All agree the second case is the one who finally obeys.  Here Jesus points to the failure of elders to accept the invitation to repent.  The teaching is still very relevant today; each of us finds areas of our "yes" that eventually became a "no" through failure to act.  It is time to start over.

            Today is the first day of the rest of our lives.  Maybe it's time for less meaningless formality in what we do through rote or the hidden addictions and allurements we so easily overlook.  When speaking of healing our wounded Earth, we know that through wastefulness or neglect we consume too much and are responsible for adverse global conditions.  We would like to blame the planet's condition on "overpopulated" lands but neglect the real culprits, "overconsuming lands."  We are all to blame for the global condition that is now unfolding itself with melting Arctic ice caps and changing rainfall patterns.  Simply taking blame and seeking forgiveness is not enough; as Easter people we bring new vitality through advocating alternatives for a better life, adopting them, and staying faithful in using them.

            Some with aching lungs or sharp cough will continue to puff on a cigarette and say it is too late to change.  Not so, for a good reply may be:  it is never too late to improve one's condition and obtain a better quality of life;  the change enables one to regain a sense of control and achievement; and onlookers deeply appreciate the efforts at struggling to change.  Reaffirming one's "no" to the world is a form of despair, and the entire planet's healing process of which we are to participate is postponed.  Healing is to say "yes," no matter how long the duration of the "no" or damage done.

            We may be late in getting to toil in the vineyard.  Many great saints were late arrivers; the good thief on the cross was in his final hour.  We need to constantly give encouragement to others who have been in ruts that they have slipped into.  Climbing out of ruts takes a turning to God and finding in the Almighty a power that we do not have in ourselves.  Only by the grace of God can we say "yes" and remain faithful to it.  From an environmental standpoint, some do not want to simplify their lives and would rather continue in wasteful practices.  To simplify is to achieve a more perfect life, and it has many possible rewards: longer and better quality of life; lower cost of living; good modeling for relatives and friends; a sense of staying young through change.

            Prayer:  Lord, help me to do your work faithfully and to teach others to do the same.  Help us to come out of the ruts of life and to encourage others to rise to a new and simpler way of living.  Help our nation that has said "no" to the proper use of your many gifts, now to say "yes" to resource conservation and radically sharing with others.





September 29, 2008   Learning to Eat Lower on the Food Chain

     As I complete seventy-five years I find that one never stops learning -- and good eating habits are the most difficult things to learn.  Most of us vary our diet at different times on our journey of life.  The current local and global food shortages cause all of us to rethink our practices.  We need to be lower feeders on the food resource chain and add this to such meal characteristics as low-cost, nutrition, local sources and convenience.  Can we apply Pope Paul VI's dictum to eat (live) more simply so others may simply eat (live)?  Recent culinary insights include:

     1. Eat less meat and still watch nutrition -- The UN's Food and Agricultural Organization expects that global meat production will double by 2050 growing at two and a half times the rate of increase in population.  Meat consumption has already increased threefold since 1980 as Asians have become bigger meat eaters.  We recall that farm animals take up 70% of the land and one-third of the grain.  As part of the rich lands we consume three times as much meat and four times as much milk as poor folks.  In order to radically share with the poor and we must eat less meat and so I have ceased cooking meat except for using a bit for flavoring on occasions.  Vegetarians can sustain a balanced diet and remain healthy.  I still take one fish meal a week but even here some seed and nut oils can supply the essential omega-3 fatty acids that are essential to human beings.

             2. Buy lower-priced foods --  Omitting purchased baked goods has allowed me to stretch my annual food budget to myself and to supply the total food needs of an orphan in India through the sponsorship of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.  I bake my cornbread (often in the form of muffins) with different herbs or vegetable additions for changes in flavoring and texture.  I buy bulk dried beans, peas and lentils instead of canned goods (four- to eight-fold monetary savings and avoidance of metal cans); these staples can also vary in flavor and texture using different herbs. 

            3. Eat home-grown and seasonal foods -- The cost of shipping (even air-lifting)  fruit and vegetables from distant parts of the world can mount up in an energy scarce world.  I always grow some items to assist in living lower on the food chain. With higher food prices I eat more wild greens, especially dandelions and poke leaves and stalks (boiled twice to remove bitterness) that furnish tasty spinach and asparagus equivalents.  The small garden plot produces home-grown tomatoes, various greens, onions, peas, radishes, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, parsley, mint ( for mixing with coffee or drinking as tea), garlic and strawberries.  Fruit trees on our church property furnish apples, peaches and mulberries, and I gather nearby wild persimmons and berries.  Fresh corn and melons demand larger land area and I patronize local growers.  Let us learn to favor seasonal produce.

            Prayer:  Lord, teach us to share by eating nutritious, locally-grown, low-priced foods from lower on the food chain. 





September 30, 2008       Route 68: A Warning about Road Safety

     Today I turn seventy-five and need to give a review of my road practices, because my age should not indicate my average driving speed.  Actually roads should be treated with respect.

     U.S. Route 68 stretches across Kentucky and beyond like a string tying Ohio to our state through a crossing at the old ford in the Ohio River where buffalo (bison) made their twisted journey to the salt water springs at Bluelicks -- an annual trip to satisfy salt needs.  Local folks say that the crooks and turns in U.S. 68 were made when bison dodged a cow pie.  Still it is a historic span passing such places as Findlay in northern Ohio and going through Paris, Lexington, Shakertown and Jeff Davis' Birthplace.  It passes two blocks from our Lexington Kentucky Jesuit Mission house and was one mile from my birthplace in Mason county.

     U.S. Route 68 has a way of haunting us who live or have lived near it.  My folks told me to avoid riding my bike on it, and I stretched the command to allow myself to ride across 68 from our home road to the golf club.  A car popped over the hill and swerved to avoid my unsteady bike.  That was a haunting close call.  So it was a year or so later down near Smokey Hollow where U.S. 68 starts its scenic curves up the Maysville hill.  I was hitching home from school and the driver of an approaching truck loaded with railroad ties started blowing his horn wildly.  Something or Someone made me lean back against the guard cable and the ends of the tiles shaved off some of my peach fuzz.  That too left a haunting sensation.

        Years later, Bob McDonald and I drove his girlfriend and later wife, Joan, back from college to her home in Winston Salem, North Carolina.  We left that town early in a summer morning to make my home near Maysville, Kentucky, by night.  In those pre-Interstate days one had to drive right through the heart of Asheville, North Carolina, Knoxville, Tennessee, and Lexington.  Knowing the road better and bone-tired, I drove the last leg on U.S. 68.  We cleared the curves at Bluelicks with my old green 1950 Oldsmobile jumping around the bends for, if it were elastic, the car's front end might have touched its tail pipe.  We made it in one piece but with a warning: don't press it too much, if you want to live to experience old age.

     A few years back, I was stopped on a foggy Monday morning for speeding on U.S. 68 and I pleaded with the cop, "Sir, I was on my way  home to see my aging mother on her birthday."  He replied, "That's the dam...," cut short his words, scratched his head, gave me a warning ticket, and waved me through.   Speeding tickets are things one does not want to accumulate, for the insurance rates could climb at older age.   As I carefully glided away from the parked police cruiser with the flashing blue light, I said to myself,  "Amen."

            Prayer:  Lord, thanks for being with me on life's journey and help me to see past warnings as the grounds for fresh beginnings.


Copyright © 2008 Earth Healing, Inc.  All rights reserved.

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

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