Farmer cultivating hay on large, open field
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
refresh the parched soul
like cool, bubbling water
from an hillside spring.
are all the more welcome
when unexpected, and arriving
just when I'm down and out,
and have nowhere to turn.
awaken within me
sense of renewed hope
that I'll speak consoling words
to refresh another.
An empty travel chair at streamside
September 3, 2008
Reflection on Travel Experiences
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
2008 Soft Drink Curbs
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
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.
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.
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
2008 Ozone: Friend or Foe?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
2008 The Labyrinth
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
made it possible for people to make these substitutes for Holy Land
journeys with the accompanying appreciation and spiritual satisfaction.
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.
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.
Lord direct us on a road that we can easily follow.
Sunset and silhouettes
2008 Networking with those in Trouble
brother or sister listens to you, you have won them over.
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.
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.
to network, use every letter you write, every conversation you have, every
meeting you attend, to express your fundamental beliefs and dreams.
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.
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
2008 Solar Greenhouses and Cold Frames
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.
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
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
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.
Help us, Lord to treasure our Earth's green space.
A walk in the woods
September 9, 2008
The Ten Commandments of the
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lord, give us a sense of loving, honoring, preserving, protecting, enhancing
and promoting our forests.
September 10, 2008
Mold, the Asbestos of the 2000s
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.
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.
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.
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."
Lord, help us make our home a real home.
2008 In Defense of Wilderness
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.
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
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.
Lord teach us that sabbatical rest includes leaving some land uncultivated
and recognizing wilderness as your gift.
Installing a home-built owl box
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.
Lord help us to promote wholesome home entertainment.
Storm clouds illuminated by the setting sun
2008 Christians, Genesis and Earthhealing
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"
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.
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.
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
September 14, 2008
Sign of the Cross
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
by Mark Spencer)
September 16, 2008
Insulation and Weatherizing
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
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.
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.
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
September 17, 2008
Citizenship Day: The Soul of
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?
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
* A crass
materialism leads to insensitivity to the needs of others especially the
destitute both in this country and abroad;
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.
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.
witness a breakdown in families with high divorce rates and broken homes.
Holding households together is an integral part of holding our nation
* 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).
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
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:
aid doesn't work. Answer: One fifth of American foreign aid goes to
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Lord, teach us to share radically from our surpluses.
A small arsenal of common household chemicals.
September 19, 2008
Use Caution with Household Chemicals
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.
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;
solvents and thinners and other volatile liquids;
* Oven and
other strong kitchen and bathroom cleaners;
Detergents that are dangerous in the mouth of infants;
softening and purification agents;
and many over-the-counter medicines;
chemicals (see September 12);
and other office supplies especially super glues;
sprays of various types that look like toys;
gases in older mobile homes;
older building materials containing formaldehyde;
materials and lighter fluid; and
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.
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
2008 Gardening as a Social
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.
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.
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.
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.
2008 Opportunities to Realize Our Gifts
shall be first and the first shall be last. (Matthew 20:16)
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
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.
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
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.
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
Signs of autumn
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
2008 Simple Funerals
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:
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.
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
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
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
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
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?
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.
2008 More Insurance?
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
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.
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.
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.
Lord, teach us to seek and find a more spiritual security that rests in You
and within the community of believers.
2008 Natural Sounds All Around
heavens be glad, let earth rejoice,
let the sea
thunder and all that it holds,
fields exult and all that is in them,
let all the
woodland trees cry out for joy.
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
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.
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.
2008 Road Blocks to Renewable Energy
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
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).
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
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.
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
September 28, 2008
The First Day of the Rest of Life
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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,
Lord, thanks for being with me on life's journey and help me to see past
warnings as the grounds for fresh beginnings.