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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 2009

Copyright © 2009 by Al Fritsch


Wildflowers of September
Black-eyed Susan
(photo: Janet Powell)


Reflections, September, 2009

     September slips in upon us ever too soon. It is not dramatic as is May with its new foliage, or the first of November with the loss of leaves. September is here with little change from August, except that the air is crisper, the mist thicker in the morning, and the days are noticeably shorter. The cheers from the weekend football games seem to punctuate the late summer air, and announce the coming of a new season. "Endless summer" is ending.

     September is the time of the apple season, fresh cider and apple jack. The abundance of farm produce is a gauge of August rains. This is the season of the green peppers, green beans, green corn and yellow squash. This is when one sees pumpkins and pears appear at the farmers' markets. With cooler September come full fruit moon, hickory nuts, hazelnuts and walnuts, ripe pokeberries and elderberries, hustling squirrels and swarming birds, extended cobwebs and busy yellowjackets, hunters in the woods and hikers on the trail. September is Labor Day and the fall festivals. September is making sorghum and making a late garden, is sowing the winter wheat, and is doing some of the last hay cuttings in the fields. September is the growing season's last chance.









A single stem of lady's tresses (Spiranthes lacera)
in Washington Co., KY

*photo credit)

September 1, 2009  Seventy Years Ago: The Second World War

      The ranks of those of us who remember the start of the Second World War are thinning now.   In fact, I remember that infamous  September first, not because it was the day Germany invaded Poland, but because on that Friday my mother took me to a half day of school; this was my first day of school -- and the teacher was Sister Imogene, who lived to be 103 and died four years ago.  Over that weekend in 1939, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, and the conflict quickly expanded to include a major portion of Europe.  As the war progressed and was discussed by my family and relatives, I listened to their conversations and to radio news reports as well.  By the third grade, I was reading the daily newspaper in order to glean war information.

     That Second World War was bloody: an estimated 50 million fatalities.  People died in concentration camps, on the Russian front, in air raids, and in fighting on land and sea.  By the time the Americans entered this conflict in December, 1941, the fighting was waging across Europe, Asia, and Africa and even approaching Australia.  In retrospect, we appreciate the anguish experienced by so many, both those in the military and loved ones far from harm's way.  Here at home, the rationing of gasoline, tires, sugar, and other items made us acutely aware that others were undergoing a supreme sacrifice an ocean away.

      With the fading hopes of the First World War to end all wars and the subsequent Great Depression, the people were somewhat realistic.  We have to earn what we get.  Evils arise and must be confronted;  this takes effort; we simply have to learn to become cooperative and not exact reparations from down-and-out defeated people.  On the local level, folks helped each other out during the labor shortages; the school kitchens became summer canning centers; the gold stars on front windows meant a loved one had died fighting.  At the international level, the heads of states were having meetings.  They were talking of a United Nations to replace the toothless League of Nations.  Even through those dark days, a slender silver lining of global cooperative efforts towards world peace was beginning to appear.

     September first was not a day to celebrate as was the end of the conflict on May 8, 1945, in Europe and August 15, 1945, in Asia.  This September while we fight two wars (the longest span of war in our history) we are reminded that armed conflicts come with the terrible suffering of displaced, abandoned, maimed and terrified people in many places.  Only after that war did my family find out that our cousins in Alsace were forced on September 1, 1939, to undergo part of the largest evacuation ever undertaken by the nation of France.  Nor did we know until after the war that the home town was devastated in the last months of fighting (the winter of 1944-45 by American liberating forces).  These events were only a few of many of similar episodes that began in September, 1939.

     Prayer:  Lord, make us a peaceful people who detest war.





Lushness of late summer into early autumn

*photo credit)

September 2, 2009    Autumn Gardens Can Be Productive

     Most budding gardeners will say that you plant gardens in the spring and harvest them during the summer.  Few even consider fall gardens -- and that is a mistake.  Certainly being blessed by rain, as has occurred this year, can make the autumn sowings and plantings easier.  As we experience the phenomenon of later and warmer autumns, we should make climatic changes opportunities for producing vegetables and herbs through the remainder of calendar 2009.  Seasonal extenders (greenhouses and cold frames) can certainly help, except for the most sensitive cool weather crops (beans, tomatoes, melons, peppers and cucumbers).

     * Choose vegetables that can thrive in cool weather:  kale, kohlrabi, turnips, radishes, mustard, collards and endive.  In most cases, moisten the seeds just before planting and keep the rows or beds damp, in order to jump start the plants.  The early stages always need moisture and tender loving care.  Remember that some weeds experience a late summer growing spurt as well, and will compete with the newly sown beds or rows.

     * Assist with seasonal coverings to accelerate the growth.  Now is the perfect time for cold frames and coverings that conserve the warm daytime atmosphere well into the night.  As always, much depends on the weather; a dry summer that continues into autumn is very difficult to manage.  Also much depends on watering devices, which could prove quite worrisome for the non-professional gardener.  Be willing to nurse the new plants along under dry, late summer conditions.

     * Set a goal of fresh vegetables throughout the season and anticipate fresh greens and root crops that will fill the table with fresh salads even after frost.  This anticipated goal allows us to move forward with determination, especially by early September.  It is our last chance.  If planting in rows, then a certain amount of mulching is recommended as well as frequent irrigation.  New plants take much water and so, if the season is dry, cut down on the amount of space devoted to each autumn crop and stick with those requiring less moisture such as collards, and avoid the sensitive ones such as lettuce.  In autumn, plants will not bolt or go to seed as fast as in springtime.  Thus the spring vegetables may do better in autumn in some of our climates.

     * An added measure is to extend the growing season of the summer crops as late as possible by covering them when low temperatures or frost are predicted.  If well protected, cherry tomatoes and green and hot peppers can produce well into the autumn.  Well mulched root crops such as carrots, turnips, beets, Japanese radishes and onions will remain in good condition, even under adverse moisture and temperature conditions.  Just don't say "it's too late."  Start now; activate the verb, to "fall-garden."

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to see adverse conditions as challenges and opportunities to produce good things.






Tony, a very curious kitty

*photo credit)

September 3, 2009  Support Single-Payer Health Insurance   

     This daily reflection site is not known to endorse specific legislation.  However, an issue is now facing Congress, which is a major moral issue, demanding that people speak out, namely in favor of single-payer health insurance.  Today, the American health issue is occupying the minds of many of our citizens.  We have witnessed in the past month a massive infringement on our rights as a democratic people; namely, lobby groups of health insurance and pharmaceutical companies have financed a supposed "opposition" to confront elected legislators at town hall meetings throughout the country.  Hecklers have not allowed legislators to speak and define their positions on health issues. 

     Why has this happened?  It is not because a single-payer plan (similar to Medicare) is a bad policy.  It addresses the major demand for citizens who opt for a universal health care by an overwhelming majority.  Surprisingly, all want every American covered by health care;  the great majority (59% by Grove Insight Opinion Research) support government-run health insurance.  The administrative costs of doing this through a single-payer program are cut dramatically and make the program doable, as with Medicare (a single-payer plan), which is run efficiently through the federal government.  The advocates of private plans show total inconsistency, because, under Medicare, people can still choose their doctors and their treatments.  The opposition does not have a better plan.  Their proposals (if they have any) would just be more profitable to the health insurance industry, as is well known.  But why should companies make massive profits off of our health?

     The public must have a right to know and hear the opinions fairly and dispassionately -- and this has not  been the case even throughout August.  Do not forget that earlier this year in hearings, the single payer advocates were so side-lined that thirteen were arrested for wanting someone of their number to speak in congressional hearings.  Public Citizen's Dr. James Floyd said, "By excluding single-payer supporters from hearings throughout the year, Congress showed that protecting the profits of the insurance industry was more important than providing quality health care for all Americans."  Public Citizen, July/August, 2009, p.6

     As the summer has worn on, some of the single-payer people have been allowed to speak at one senate and two house panels.  But the major bills now being put forward do not reflect their recommendations, which are termed "socialistic" by the naysayers.  A single-payer plan saves precious funds, and reduces the combination of private and public bureaucracy expenditures by hundreds of billions of dollars each year.  A more middle of the road "public plan," with stronger backing by moderate democrats, would not realize nearly that much in savings.  Do something!

     Prayer:  Lord, when it comes to all aspects of healing our Earth, help us to be fair, to allow all sides to be heard, and to choose procedures that are to the benefit of all people.





Find the spider... White phase of the crab spider, family Thomisidae
(far right, clinging to blossom)

*photo credit)

September 4, 2009   Prisons, Justice and Balancing Budgets     

       In proportion to population, the United States has the highest incarcerated rates of any developed nation, and very high among all nations.  In the past quarter of a century, the number of federal prison inmates went from 20,000 to 135,000; inmates in state prisons from 268,000 to 1.3 million; and inmates in local jails increased another 700,000.  At the time of writing an astounding 6.5 million Americans are under some form of correctional supervision -- though California is giving early release to some due to its financial crisis.  Is it cheap labor that drives turning our country into a Gulag?  Or it is an outmoded concept of jail?

     At an average cost of $30,000 (some places it is $35,000) per prisoner per year, doesn't it make financial sense to put these unfortunate souls on service release as quickly as possible?  Can't they live at home while monitored at a far lower price than in a correctional institution?  Let them do the cleanup and repair work so desperately needed to put the infrastructure of this country back into shape.

      Adding to this, when speaking of prisons and justice, is that we are one of the few civilized nations that still retains the "death penalty."  Sister Helen Prejean, an anti-death penalty crusader, accompanied Patrick Sonnier to his execution.  That episode inspired her book, Dead Man Walking, which has done much to make us reexamine our American criminal justice system.  Prisons confine people in life-denying institutions which can dehumanize the individual.  Primitive people have less costly ways to exact retribution for misdeeds committed, including working within society.  True, some life-giving efforts are being made even within the American prison system.  Catherine Sneed, a volunteer, tells of improving her own prison work by developing a horticulture program at the San Francisco County Jail.  In taking care of plants, prisoners began to understand the true nature of this life: growth, renewal and perseverance.  The same experience occurs when prisoners are part of a seeing-eye-dog training program. 

     Any of us who are volunteers, or do contracted services, at prisons know that the establishments ought to be smaller and many of the incarcerated could be gainfully employed in communities rather than cloistered behind prison walls.  However, this crusade is not proper or possible within the institutions;  it must be done by those citizens on the outside who can help influence legislators to institute changes.  "Three strikes and they are out" is about as insane a rule as ever devised.  And it is utterly costly to the unfortunate prisoner and doubly burdensome to the taxpayer.  We need to be watchful of how government money is spent, and literally billions of dollars could be saved through a non-prison public service program.  Inform your legislators! 

     Prayer:  Lord,  give us the grace to effect change so as to liberate prisoners for the opportunity to do community service. 








Lovely begonias, nature's perfect work of art
          (*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

September 5, 2009        Encourage Artists and Artisans

     Next Monday is Grandma Moses' birthday, and her life gives us the courage to say we all can be artists or artisans -- to some degree.  At least, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if we see the work of our hands as producing a beautiful product, we can call our work "art."  This is regardless of what the critics say.  We all have noble aspirations, and an innate desire to be creative. It may be in painting, sculpture, architecture, designing, cooking, metal-working, weaving, knitting, gardening, or a hundred other things.  My dad liked to make wooden carvings, something he started as a youth and suspended during middle life.  Many in our home town agreed that he had become a master of his primitive art in his senior years.  My mother regarded her flower garden as a work of art, and she inspired many of us to seek to express our inmost aspirations through crafts and arts.

     Appalachian people are quite creative and are drawn to crafts and arts in free time, and especially after so-called retirement.  They believe that a major ingredient of successful art is the selection of materials, and ways to arrange them so as to bring out particular expressions not commonly observed.  The individuality of this Appalachian primitive art is what is so striking and enduring.  In some ways, a rigid structuring of the art forms that these people practice would most likely destroy their creative urges, and reduce them to mechanical workers.  That is why the quilter should decide the pattern of a quilt, not outside marketing experts who attempt to impose their own designs.

     It is humorous when an unknown work of "art" has been decorating a place, and suddenly experts decide it is painted by a famous person -- and the price goes from nearly nothing to millions.  Really?  Is art honored or desecrated?  The opposite occurs when a supposed priceless work is found to have been created by an unknown -- and loses its value.  Doesn't such rise and fall in prices indicate capitalistic trading, not art?  Looking about, we find in our region art appreciated by both the artist or artisan AND others.  Creators have the courage to go public, and patrons have the courage to patronize without respect to the commercial value. 

     The public display of one's expression is like a word spoken for the first time; it expresses what is inside, and it invites observation and judgment.  Acceptance is another matter.  A comment like, "Well, if that is the best one can do, don't waste the paint," is cruel; this is most likely an expression of a repressed artist afraid of going public.  One's art may not be ready for an art show or a museum.  Even if unrecognized, it still decorates one's room, house, yard, outbuilding, or roadside display.  It is meant to add beauty.  Appalachian people often decorate with personal ornaments.  They break the bonds of non-professionalism and expose the artist within.  Let's hope more show their art.

     Prayer:  Extend your creative hand to us all, Oh Lord, and let us recognize it and make our own creation for your greater glory.




Heal-all, Prunella vulgaris
*photo credit)

September 6, 2009      We Must All Be Healers

     Did not God choose those who were poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in the faith....   (James 2:5)

     James tells us that we are not to show favoritism, and this applies to those who are more in need of our care and service.  We know people who dote over someone who needs help;  at the same time the same caregivers simply overlook others.  Becoming caring people, a needed ingredient to earthhealing in all its forms, requires a universal sense of caring, not a fixation on an individual case.  However, we know that some caregivers have limited time and energy, and thus must focus on the needs of certain people at certain times.  An ability to both focus at a given moment, and cultivate a more general "catholic" outlook, takes a special grace.  James is one who understands the challenge.  We cannot overlook or dismiss the sick person who confronts us.  In order to be profound healers we must be unbiased and determine where the greater need must be met. 

      Insensitivity and favoritism make the healing process quite skewed in this age of rich and poor.  A rich person with a major ailment is in need of care; so is a poor person with the same ailment.  Is it right to divert all attention to the rich person, and ensure that he or she is not overly taxed or economically affected by a more universal health care system?  Are not both

rich and poor in need of healing, and economic status should not be the determining factor.  Affordable health is a concern of each and every citizen -- and we all must be healers and must be healed.

     In today's Gospel passage (Mark 7:31-37), Jesus knows the poor man cannot communicate because of deafness and a speech impediment.  Jesus heals him openly by touching the ears, making spittle for application to the tongue, and looking upward in prayer.  The individual responds in faith, but the audience is challenged to also come to faith; their amazement goes beyond all bounds.   Jesus initiates a process in which we are also to make those who have no audience (essentially mute) speak of their own needs.  Through public signs, Jesus opens the way for deeper spiritual transformation; we are to respond by being transformed into assisting those who need healing in any manner.

     We are part of the Body of Christ, now called to heal this troubled world.  Some of us dispense healing sacraments; others help reconcile the divided and heal past wounds; others are direct caregivers for the sick; some research new healing procedures; all are called to help make normal healing procedures affordable to all citizens. The more ultimate goal is to make this healing mandate apply to an entire world.   This is a greater challenge, but by diverting one tenth of the current military budget to direct human health problems, money for essential global healing could be found.

     Prayer:  Lord, strike us with the mandate to help heal this broken world, and give us the grace to respond with open hearts.




A lone deptford pink (Dianthus armenia)
*photo credit)

September 7, 2009     Labor Day and Joblessness

     Labor Day ends the vacation period and is celebrated.  However, this year we are aware that many workers are forced to combine their past tasks with those of a now-laid off fellow worker -- or they will be replaced by others more willing.  Harassed workers who object may receive a pink slip.  Today with unemployment hovering around 10% in this country and higher in some countries, we need to look at current labor conditions once again.

    I have always enjoyed working.  From earliest times on the farm, we learned the dignity of work, from those who enjoyed working and were proud of the products of their labor.  However, for many, forced labor or bad labor conditions tarnish that ideal approach to labor.  It is best to speak of labor freely undertaken or contracted, and labor regarded as worthy of achieving results for the benefit of the individual, family, and/or community.  Perhaps half the world's workers are tolerant of or even like the work they are doing.  They find joy in a job well done, and are thankful that they have jobs to support their families.

     Today, during this serious downturn in most parts of the world, millions of jobs have been lost.  In this country one-tenth of those seeking employment are jobless -- and that does not count those who have given up looking.  Many of these people are desperate for work;  they would gladly call whatever job they could get "dignified" in order to provide a livelihood.  In this downturn, many retirees seek to return to work because their pensions are not sufficient to meet daily needs.

     It is truly undignified to have no work when one needs it.  Our country calls for citizens to show responsibility and to serve their country in need; it is the nation's responsibility to furnish a livelihood for each citizen, and thus it is necessary to provide work for the jobless who are willing and able to work.  A stimulus package does help hold and create some new jobs, but this is not enough.  It is time that the massive amount of work needed to be done to improve our infrastructure be launched -- and that everyone has a job.  Our unemployed are not to become bargaining chips for a greedy capitalistic system;  these are people worthy of the dignity of earning a living.  Workers are willing; jobs are waiting; the capital is in the wrong hands and should be taxed, collected and expended on giving meaningful work to the jobless.

      The mistaken approach of gaining more profits by combining jobs, and forcing fewer people to do more and more, is to be condemned -- and the perpetrators ought to be made to labor.  By the same token, the unemployed pool is heartless.  Dignity means to give each a fair portion of the work load, and equal dignity is to furnish meaningful jobs to the entire labor force.

      Prayer:  Lord, help us see that the dignity of work is related to seeing resources as your gifts.  Thus in an atmosphere of respect for Your gifts we assist others to find meaningful work.




Reflections of a summer sky

*photo credit)

September 8, 2009     That All May Be Literate

     Today is International Literacy Day, a moment when we hear the deep aspiration of almost half the world's people, who are unable to read.  Some will be incapable or are not old enough yet; others called literate have a rather elementary reading ability.  Many of the illiterate would deeply appreciate the opportunity to do what other citizens do: read a newspaper; understand the instructions on how to vote or register;  read road and street signs; know the contents of a contract to be signed; read about the history of their local community; and on and on.

     In this troubled planet, which needs a healing process involving all citizens, the ability to read is imperative.  This ability extends to all written languages, though knowing how to read a major language allows access to more written information and other materials.  Today, translations are available for many.  For instance, this writing is being translated into six different languages, and even though automatic translations leave much to be desired, still we writers cooperate by holding to plain text, and do not insert clever phrases or unusual expressions that are difficult to translate accurately.

     What must we do about it?  Some may be moved to find an illiterate person, and be willing to spend hours teaching him or her how to read.  You are a blessed person!   Personally, I do not at this moment have the time or patience for such a one-on-one teaching situation.  Ultimately, overcoming illiteracy in our world will take a massive mobilization of citizen teachers.  If such one-to-one teaching programs employing retirees were instituted, literacy would grow by leaps and bounds.  A modest individual teacher's pay is certainly worth the considerable effort.  A small surcharge on all luxury items in the affluent world could easily pay for a massive worldwide campaign to eliminate illiteracy by the year 2030.   

     Illiterate people know they are handicapped and often try to hide the fact. Many depend on their friends or children, who may not have acquired the business skills to communicate properly; some must pay fees to have letters written or read; still others pretend to read medical instructions or vital information with severe consequences from not doing so properly.  Granted a number of people deliberately cease reading, either because it is a difficult chore, or because they find it more convenient to get information by radio or television.  However, even for these, only a limited amount of practical information can be told or shown through illustration.  We need functional readers, both for purely utilitarian demands and for the sheer enjoyment of reading books, newspapers, periodicals and even movie subtitles.  Libraries beckon and invite.  The new readers' eyes are opened to grow in appreciation of the human family.  Let's find ways to help.

     Prayer: Lord, help us to help all to take up the book and read.  If they could just read the Scriptures!




Fresh overn-prepared blackberry pie

*photo credit)

September 9, 2009    Examine Your Appliance Use

     Appliances surround us, distract us, assist us and still cost us economically and even emotionally.  We take them for granted, even though most are twentieth century inventions.  For many of us, our grandparents were scrubbing clothes on a wash board, or mopping or churning butter by hand;  in an uncomplaining and loving manner, they were doing the chores that made life pleasant for their home dwellers.  Think about making fires for cooking breakfast and warming the coffee, lighting a kerosene lamp, getting all news from a neighbor or newspaper with no electronics, or bringing the food from the springhouse, where it is partly refrigerated through natural cooling.  Without noticing it, we have let appliances become an integral part of our lives -- and we are acutely aware of this when electricity is shut off for a few hours.

     * Know what appliances you have got.  Take time to jot down all the appliances that are in the home.  Which ones are used and for how long?  Which are broken or just left around?

     * Replace inefficient appliances.  Homemakers make appliance purchases and replacements.  In so purchasing, consider a prime concern to be energy efficiency.  New federal regulations require that the appliance's energy requirements are to be posted and easily available.  If this energy efficiency material is puzzling, the salesperson will assist in understanding what is meant.  On second thought, do we even need this or that appliance?  We could use a safety razor, or sharpen the pencil with an old-fashioned sharpener, or mix food ingredients by hand, and get some exercise.

     * Be aware of energy use of existing appliances.  Some appliances, especially resistance heating devices, are heavy energy users.  Consider airing out the house rather air conditioning it for long periods.  With a little research, one can find out how much the various devices use.  We need not keep certain appliances such as stereos and televisions plugged in or on when not in use, for these consume some electricity, even when they are turned off.  Some people keep computers on standby, which consumes energy.

     * Use appliances conservatively.   Some of us do not have dish washers or use air conditioning, but many others do.  When one does use a dishwasher, conservationists recommend adjusting to an energy-saving setting, which eliminates the drying of the dishes by heat.  Hot water heaters (consider solar or tankless and instant demand types) could be turned down to the highest temperature required for domestic use (120 degrees Fahrenheit).  When washing clothes use only cold or warm water.  So often we use the wrong appliance: the microwave could do the same heating as the stove with less energy.  Cooking large batches is a better practice than cooking frequent smaller ones.  Wash larger loads of clothes.  Consider clothes-line drying.    

     Prayer:  Lord, make me conscious of energy demands for the ordinary tasks of living.








Crimson clover, Trifolium incarnatum
*photo credit)

September 10, 2009   The Yard Sale and Swapping Ideas 

     Today is Swap Ideas Day, a practice that can be exercised at retreats, after church on Sunday, at picnics, parties, festivals and phone and email chats.  What about the yard sale?

     During these trying times, we see more and more yard sales and thriving flea markets.  Why?  These are ways to obtain needed cash, and they are opportunities to recycle the massive amount of consumer junk that tends to accumulate.  Ideally, if we are able to find buyers who need the particular garment or household article, then we have reduced the cost of manufacturing, shipping and marketing it.  However, those steeped in the materialistic consumer culture, are simply reenforcing their buying habits through bargain hunting at yard sales.

     Sellers have a perfect opportunity to be good enough to offer advice to the customers;  this is an opportunity to listen to these good folks hold forth about their own practices.  Nobody can tell better how to use a "grubbing hoe" or a scythe than the seller who is skilled with such tools.  Sellers want the client to be satisfied, and so display the item with hints on how to maintain it and store it properly; they feel free to talk about the history of the item, the original cost, and how well the item has served them through the years.  They vouch for the utility of the item all the while showing respect for the needs of the buyer.

     Buyers can judge the product first hand, and listen to the sales pitch of the seller; they can make decisions based on performance, facial expression, honesty of the seller and the appearance of the item itself.  Older items are often bargains compared to new ones.  Buyers ask searching questions of a seller who knows more than normal sales clerks;  the pressure to make a transaction and move on is generally less intense, thus allowing time to swap ideas on a host of subjects.

     Accumulated benefits of yard sales include a certain informality and lack of sales pressure, alluring advertisements, piped music and impatient crowds.  People have an opportunity to come together, and exchange comments that they would not say in an ordinary marketplace or mart.  Yard sales are opportune for the give and take of conversation and practice in social graces.  The seller is not working by the hour, nor pressured to get a sale;  the buyer is also not pressured to buy, and thus get on with the day at another task.  Somehow the world is slowed down even for a brief moment.  Yard sales harken back to court days in our American past, when the world was going at a slower pace.  Those court days were social events, where information was exchanged and all sorts of ideas and items were "traded."  Here is the same face-to-face encounter that is so lacking even in the twitter and face book worlds.  We need this direct human element!

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to pray and to come face-to-face with You if possible.  Maybe we ought to do the same with our neighbor.








Trumpet creeper, Campsis radicans
*photo credit)

September 11, 2009    Confronting Lack of Civility

      An instance I recall told me much about current civility.  A few years ago I was conducting a funeral; the undertaker had placed signs in front of the church, saying the spaces would be taken by the hearse and the vehicles of the immediate family.  Just before the hearse's arrival, a car pulled up and a woman got out quickly.  The undertaker assistant gently reminded her that a funeral procession was coming.  She replied that this was as much her parking place as that of a funeral, and she proceeded downtown to do her ever so pressing business.  Where was civility at that instance?  Giving way to another is out of the question.

     Civility is defined as politeness or a politic manner of behavior in act or utterance;  it involves a formal way of doing things.  In all, it is the way we all conduct our affairs, so that we benefit from generosity or the lack of rudeness or insensitivity by others.  Civility is found in walking, or parking, or driving, or speaking with others.  A friendly society is one that functions with maximum civility, especially when the unexpected occurs.  However, such a society can break down under stressed conditions, either deliberately, or through inadvertent lack of sensitivity to the basic needs of others, or through self-centeredness.

     In conversation, when I mention the above example, it invariably triggers a host of other personal instances to prove the point.  Civility and its lack has a long history.  In the halls of Congress in the nineteenth century, senators clubbed each other with their walking canes; rudeness was heard in both public and private places; an uncivil Civil War was fought with over 600,000 fatalities.  Traditionally, politeness was taught as a form of respect for others, but it was not always observed.  Americans have been known for being  in a hurry, and being aggressive, pushy and wanting their own way.  If unchecked, these characteristics easily erode the boundaries of civility, and allow people from youth to the aged to think that their way is the correct one and must be followed immediately.  This applies when queuing up for tickets, or when resisting reprimands from a teacher.  Our society tolerates lack of civility in ever so many ways.

     Given the current situations what can be done?  Do unselfish deeds ourselves, and hope they are understood and the example followed.  Point out on the spot to the uncivil person that such action is not right (stand far enough away not to be struck).  "Do not barge into this line!"  "Remove the car from the funeral space!"  "The teacher is right!"  Speak up, and say that resistance to civic erosion is the best remedy against it.  If each of us resolves to point out how it would have been better to do this or that deed another way, we may make the point, but not improve our own popular standing.  However, something must be done -- and we each can address the incident while it is fresh on our minds.  Civilization demands civility, and citizens are its guardians.

     Prayer:  Holy Spirit, prompt us to speak when we must.






Annual fleabane, Erigeron annuus
*photo credit)


September 12, 2009      Recycling Old Electronics

     People are accumulating many old electronic devices.  Some are in need of upgrading, and are regarded as out of fashion; some lack the latest gimmick.  We could focus on old personal computers and much of what is said of cell phones here also applies to them.  I am a computer user but also part of a diminishing minority of stationary phone users, for cell phones do not work well in our mountainous terrain.  Really, cell phone users are okay except when they try to drive or talk in my face to a party miles away.  Cell phones are everywhere, and their numbers increase, even during recessions like this one, with each new modification and application.  Many of these devices are replacements for those lacking the latest features, but still functioning.  Many users  hesitate to simply tossing them away, because they have attachments to older ones, and because they know that discarded devices are worrisome.  Can electronic equipment be recycled?

     One suggestion is putting discarded cell phones in every vehicle, even for rare individuals with no cell phone.  Even without a subscription or contract with Verizon or other providers, the U.S. government requires that cell phones be capable of operating, for every cell phone sold in our country allows the caller to dial 911 when an emergency occurs.   Road emergencies do arise, as I have found out through years of driving; the road is full of stranded people, weaving and drunken drivers, obstacles in the roadway needing to be removed, and tail-gating vehicles that may be stalking someone.  One small complication: one must keep cell phone batteries charged, and this takes some extra attention.

     The sheer number of cell phones makes placing used phones in all vehicles a minor recycling use.  A second use could be collecting these (done also with discarded personal computers) for use among poor folks in developing countries.  There working cell phones have bypassed a generation of stationary phone lines and have become a major means of communication in rural areas.  This demands that donors know overseas phone distributors.  One company that tries to facilitate donations is American Cell Phone Drive <www.americancellphonedrive.org>.

     A third way of recycling cell phones is through selling them to PaceButler Corporation, the details of which are found on the Internet at <www.pacebutler.com>.  This company buys cell phones (generally in quantity) and can offer financial returns to non-profit groups, which seek to launch fund-raising for their organizations.  The company is willing to pay up to fifty dollars for modern cell phones in good working condition.  The non-working ones have less or no financial value, but the components can be salvaged for reuse in the industry.  All electronic discards are worries for the waste disposal industry; companies that specialize like PaceButler, will at least find the best reuse for discards.

     Prayer:  Lord, inspire us to spread the Good News, and to realize that this takes concrete efforts on our part.






Ruellia strepens
*photo credit)

September 13, 2009    Denial, Cross and Good Deeds

      If you wish to be a follower of mine, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow after me.  (Mark 8: 34)

     Today's Gospel reading fits very closely tomorrow's feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  In both, the instrument is part of the message of service in which we are called to participate at this time.  The message of service is to go to the world, and those called "Christian" are impelled to proclaim that message both in word and in deed.

     Denial of self is utterly needed at this time.  The heavier onus falls on the affluent people, a category to which many of our readers belong.  We all must deny ourselves some of those conveniences, luxuries and food items that take extra resources to produce, process, transport, and use within our individual lives.  To live more simply requires our knowing what is more or less extravagant, and then doing something to correct this practice.  Simplifying our lives allows us to hear the need to serve others in the name of Christ.

     The cross refers to the obstacles and barriers in our own lives that must be accepted or overcome in some fashion.  Some of us lack this or that talent, or have a weakness or shortcoming that would apparently hinder us from our mission.  Some folks neglect to seem the importance of their own crosses;  other excuse themselves from doing good deeds, precisely because they know the crosses that they have;  still others seek to escape from following the Lord through abusive substances and practices.  We are to know our crosses, accept them, and adjust our behavior accordingly.

      Good deeds are more than saying words of comfort.  We need to discern first what deed will be effective.  Often those most vocal and forward are not those in most need;  responding to those in less need is counterproductive, for it rewards the pushy at the expense of the backward.  Instead we are to discern prayerfully, choose wisely and decide carefully what needs to be done as meaningful assistance. 

     Perfect deeds occur when we do them out of love of Christ, as understood in our giving relief to the poor and sharing with them.  If we take on the mind of the poor in our actions, whatever their range, we are on the most perfect level of humility (going from seeing the poor, to acting for the poor, and to being with the poor in our action).  Depending on our talents and opportunities, we enter into direct service such as feeding others; but looking more deeply we find that empowerment is a better practice;  this empowering is assisting others in changing their manner of acting and in changing institutions that cause the poverty.

     Prayer:  Lord Jesus, teach us as you taught your Disciples, and allow us the space and time it takes to become true and faithful followers.





Thorns of honeylocust, Gleditsia triacanthos
*photo credit)

September 14, 2009      Promote Hispanic Heritage Week

      We ought to celebrate the contributions made by Hispanics in our country, especially now that one of their number sits on the Supreme Court.  Today much attention is now being given to immigration reform and the treating of all residents in our land with proper dignity and respect.

       The states that were colonially Spanish include California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Florida.  Others states such as Colorado could be added depending on the degree of cultural impact by Spanish people.  The total population of the states just mentioned is about one-third of the total U.S. population.  Hispanics in these and most of the remaining states of our country are a growing minority and comprise about 48 million people, with half of last year's U.S. population increase being Hispanic.  The ethnic maps at this web site indicate expanding Hispanic influence in such unlikely places as Georgia, Oregon, and Kansas. 

     A closer look at county-by-county statistics shows sizeable increases of Hispanics in virtually every state in the Union.  Hispanics are now America's largest minority, and this worries some who fret that the "Anglo" identity will suffer.  The rise of Spanish as a second language cannot be denied.  However, wouldn't our country becoming officially bilingual be a blessing?  Often second generation Americans reject their parents' traditions and native tongues -- to the detriment of everyone.  Let's hope our Hispanic people can avoid this trend.

      As a nation we have much to be grateful for in our Spanish heritage.  The sense of hard work and family life are often mentioned as characteristics of the Hispanic community.  A sense of solidarity and friendliness prevails, as well as the many traditions both cultural and religious that are carried over into this country -- shrines, festivals, fiestas, and special days to honor loved ones both living and dead.  The Hispanic tradition is one of hospitality, politeness and formal respect -- though with time some of these grand traditions may erode as do others within our American culture.  Drugs, poverty and family breakups can erode good cultural practices.

     The firm bonds that unite the nations in the Western Hemisphere will only grow with a deepening appreciation of our Hispanic heritage.  This is the time to reaffirm that bonding, which really started long before the Monroe Doctrine, and yet has grown with Pan-American unionism and trade treaties -- some of which are yet to prove their worth.  Hopefully the United States as so-called big brother will not play a repressive economic and political role, for Latin America suffers through subtle economic imperialism.  Hopefully, that period is behind us and in its place is a respect for the expanding Hispanic culture.

     Prayer:  Give us, Lord, a love of all who bring their culture to our land and enrich it accordingly.




Eastern tailed blue butterflies, Cupido comyntas, A gathering of friends
*photo credit)

September 15, 2009 Chemical Materials Agency: Bluegrass Army Depot

     I live downwind from the storage bunkers of the chemical arsenal at the Bluegrass Army Depot in the next county (Madison) here in Kentucky.  It is thirteen miles as the crow flies, but at times it feels even closer.  The site is a military complex near the epicenter of the infamous 1862 Civil War Battle of Richmond.  On the site is stored one of the world's largest collections (523 tons) of aging chemical mustard and nerve gas shells and assorted ordnance.  Any escape could do severe harm to people and animals. 

     According to treaty obligations to dispose of these weapons by 2012, three of nine US chemical weapons storage depots have completed the destruction of their stores (Johnson Island, Indiana, Maryland), and four are in process (Alabama, Arkansas, Oregon and Utah).  Pueblo, Colorado and this Kentucky facility have not yet begun the process.  In Kentucky the destruction will be by neutralization followed by supercritical water oxidation, a process some citizen groups judged to be safer than routine incineration.

     Local residents are fully aware that only a very small amount of escaped gas could cause havoc.  The tranquil scene of beef cattle grazing in the field next to the storage areas gives no indication to the casual passerby of grave dangers.  On my moving to Ravenna, neighbors told me that when they hear the sirens, they plan to grab the kids, jump in a car and head for neighboring outlying higher grounds, since vapors cling closer to the ground. Designated escape routes are sent to all of our county's residents each year. "Just get out while the gettin's good." 

     When I first heard the weekly 1:00 p.m. practice siren, the thought that nerve gas had escaped did hit me.  It was a new experience, even though I had lived about forty miles upwind of the depot for a quarter of a century.  Downwind is different.  Local teachers say they have been instructed, if their classes can't evacuate, to get all the schoolchildren to stuff their coats and sweaters around the window and door edges -- and then what?  Think of a classroom of trapped youth!   The local galley humor is that when you smell bananas (the tracer gas scent), breathe deeply.

     The Bluegrass shells stay stored, even though the window of time for conforming to treaty obligations that require the destruction of these weapons narrows.  Time is needed to complete the destruction process successfully.  Residents continue to object to transporting the weapons elsewhere through large human populations.  Madison County, where the depot is located, is one of the fastest growing Kentucky counties.  Are these aging weapons dangerous?  Yes, but effort is being made to detect and contain leaks by transferring to larger sealable containers.  But how long can this go on?  We need to obey treaty obligations and make life less stressful on the downwinders.  Let's hasten the process.

     Prayer: Lord, show us life's risks and help us to cope with them and to reduce them through citizen action.





Remnants of aster bloom
*photo credit)

September 16, 2009   Selective Service for Women?

     The single "male only" designation in America that has never been contested by many women is the Selective Service requirement.  At eighteen years of age, each American male is to register for possible drafting in case of a national emergency.  This has been the case for much of the 20th century, and continues today. This "male only" draft was in effect during the Civil War as well and to a limited degree as far back as the Revolutionary War.  One realizes that such male exclusivity was natural when only men voted, and were accepted into the army to fight in our numerous wars.  But times are changing.  Women are now in all branches of the armed services, and a number have been wounded and died in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

      Nothing would better confront the latent militarism of this nation than requiring a draft on ALL.  Yes, this would be repugnant to parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts and even some young women, but it would be an occasion for more soul searching when it comes to citizen responsibilities and duties.  Women are often the more vocal in pacifist gatherings, and drafting women might raise the tempo of the demand to reduce military expenditures, which now account for 57% of our national budget (defense, war and veterans).  Try to stop a worthless piece of military hardware (e.g., the F-22), and listen to the waves from the industrial-military complex spokespersons.

     The resistance to such registration would trigger a new dialogue about our own role of policemen and policewomen of the world.  Now we have to say that all youth, not just males, are to bear the burden of such a grave obligation.  Some will choose to be conscientious objectors, and that is their privilege, but it must be a shared opportunity for male and female alike.  Exclusion of females is no "privilege" in our modern society; it is based on an outmoded tradition. 

     This is a feminist issue, for it opens the door to people of a wider variety of political stances who will now investigate our militarism in all its forms.  People may find it objectionable to draft women, but some other countries do so today.  Recent combat experience proves women are able to perform any military-based task.  Why not extend the registration to all, or stop it for all?  

    Young men, call for the fairness doctrine.  Why must you be required by law to do something that the other half of the American citizenry is able to avoid?  Recall, that if the law is challenged at a higher court level, you will because the legislation is discriminatory.  All from both sexes ought to be registered.

     Young women, your omission from registration stops more of the vocal majority from examining military spending and policies.  This is an opportunity to speak.  You could play a pivotal role.

     Prayer:  Lord, allow us to see the opportunities needed for change, and to be willing to take part.







Barbed wire fence, Texas farm scene
Barbed wire fence, Texas farm scene
*photo credit)

September 17, 2009   Citizenship Day and Model Citizens  

     This is Citizenship Day, and an opportunity to list the duties we have as citizens and recall the model citizens in our American history.  Looking about for current good citizens can be difficult.  I suggest two books on early Americans:  The Son of Thunder:  Patrick Henry and the American Republic by Henry Mayer, and James Monroe: the Quest for National Identity by Harry Ammon, both books published by the University Press of Virginia.  They reveal citizenship during the American Revolutionary period with little emphasis on battle reports -- though Monroe crossed the Delaware with Washington, and took part in other campaigns.  That revolutionary period started rapidly and grew in intensity in a short time.

     Henry and Monroe were Virginians, lawyers and farmers -- but very different personalities.  Patrick Henry was a talented poor boy who was practical, excitable, popular, and always tending to an evangelistic preaching style in legislative and court house addresses. "Forbid it, Almighty God.  I know not what course others may take, but as for me -- give me liberty or give me death."  His radical firebrand nature excited the frontiersmen and the Virginia countryside; he was regarded as a true patriot to radicals throughout the colonies, a human catalyst for revolution and ultimate independence.  However, he was not keen on a strong central government.  He lacked the intellectual talents of John and Samuel Adams, both of who respected his approach.  However, other traditional political figures including Virginian Tories considered him a maverick.  He was Virginia's governor for five years.

     James Monroe was a young college student from Virginia lowland aristocracy at the time of Revolution.  He volunteered for the army, became an officer, left the service during the War, became a lawyer and statesman and gave immense service as legislator, representative, ambassador, secretary of state, and president.  He was popular and non-partisan and essentially was the only president elected unopposed.  He was intense, honest to the point of scrupulosity, sensitive to the needs of others, discerning, and forward thinking in so many ways.  At first, he was similar in political philosophy to Henry, but drifted apart with time.

     In reading these two lives, we come to appreciate the early struggles of our republic and the credit due good citizens.  Today we desperately need the fervor of a Patrick Henry, for our nation must move to become a full participant in a globalizing process.  Furthermore, economic interests must be tamed and controlled.  We also need the cool-headedness and absolute honesty of a person like James Monroe.  He was often not in the forefront with quotable messages to the media, but his persistent devotion helped carry our country through some very difficult times. 

     Prayer:  Lord, inspire us to be good citizens, not only at the local and national level, but as one people on this planet.  Help us to broaden citizenship to include a global perspective.





A quiet pond, rural Anderson Co., KY
*photo credit)

September 18, 2009    World Water Monitoring Day

      Global water resources are under threat in a number of ways and we are just now becoming aware of the acute problem.  On first glance, one asks, "With water occupying four-fifths of the Earth's surface, how could there ever be a water problem?"  However, the problem rests with accessible water for meeting essential needs.

     With limited supplies, matters will get worse soon.  Thus water needs to be monitored, so as to preserve higher quality and to distribute justly the limited amounts of this high quality water.  Some live a higher lifestyle of swimming pools and lawn watering, while others need the same water supply for irrigation or for potable water or for livestock.  Free drinking water at common village wells or streams is now giving way to expensive bottled water that is obtained at a price from soft drink-dispensing machines.  Running water in natural streams was always regarded as a common property, but is no longer so:  the shores or riparian rights have been claimed as property by individuals; water rights have been allocated to individuals or corporations. 

     Privatizing water becomes a profitable business where water shortages occur.  Throughout history, the public water fountains in town squares were examples of water freely used.  Now the commercial water industry sells potable water like soft drinks; even the plastic content and the disposal or possible recycling of the water containers are a matter of serious ecological concern. 

Throughout the planet, water polluted in various degrees indicates that the right to clean water has been infringed upon.  Especially this is true of those who think that they can return water in poorer quality without compensating for damages to the commons.  In the twentieth century, horror stories about polluted water abounded: in the 1960s the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland caught fire;  India's sacred Ganges became a sewer, downstream from a host of untreated sewage sources; some of China's major rivers near industrialized sites were laced with heavy pollutants; in Appalachia "straight pipes" dumped sewage directly into waterways in the hope that "dilution is the solution to pollution."

      In other areas heavy irrigation demand takes away access to adequate water supplies for residents in urban areas.  Rivers are drying up before they reach the ocean (e.g., the Indus, the Colorado, the Yellow, and the Rio Grande).  The Jordan is a brackish streamlet before it reaches the Dead Sea.  Some American cities such as San Antonio have water problems.  San Antonio, which draws most of its water from the Edwards Aquifer, is experiencing a shrinkage of the water table with urban expansions; for every 75 gallons of groundwater that are pumped for the city, only 60 are returned.  The world's water woes are growing by the day.  Monitoring and proper enforcement of limited water distribution is utterly needed.

     Prayer:  Lord, allow us to share precious higher quality water with all, and especially with those who need it most.








A late summer storm
*photo credit)

September 19, 2009    Stay Calm in Stormy Weather

    "Stormy Weather" was a musical starring Lena Horn that connected us with how we act during times of storms, including the physical and emotional ones we encounter on our journey of life.

Storms have a way of focusing us quite well.

     I remember my near panic when on a trip with my parents in 1981.  While we were visiting Charleston, South Carolina, the radio announced that a hurricane was approaching.  We had wondered why the streets became so deserted in a very short time.  Like the local inhabitants, we immediately attempted to get out of the way and let the storm approach with all its fury.  Upon saving our precious necks, we paused and wondered why we panicked.

     Recently I was visiting the local senior citizens institution, when our local sirens were blaring about a windy condition.  The staff had moved all the residents into the hallways away from glass windows. As I walked by, I saw panic in the eyes of many of these elderly folks.  I said, "Don't worry it is missing us," though I was no better informed than they were.  Fright is natural.

      Some people are not frightened by stormy weather and seem to glory in getting right out in the middle of the rain and wind.  Some of these take unnecessary risks.  A few such nuts just want to greet the incoming hurricane -- even though some even put the police at risk in trying to get them to evacuate.  The resisters like to confront the storm in all its intensity, and to consider it a thrill to live through such an episode.

     Hurricanes seem to be coming with greater frequency and violence  -- and some scientists see this as a result of increasing ocean temperature due to global warming.  The culprits are ultimately ourselves, for we use electricity from powerplants running on fuels that result in carbon dioxide emissions.  By cutting electricity use, such as through compact fluorescent lighting, we can reduce the need for fossil fuels and thus the resulting emissions.  Yes, we could be causing a certain number of storms, and these may hurt or kill people thousands of miles from here.  However, we seldom think about such causes.

      But human-induced storms of discord are far more evident to us, and these also demand our full attention.  We can become the ones who calm the storms in more directly observable ways than simply using less electricity.  When local personal storms arise, we may have an opportunity to say a good word, to take an emotionally person aside and cool the situation, or to get all parties to talk with each other.  We become other christs to them.

     Prayer:  Lord, inspire us to start doing something about the climate changes that we are causing by misuse of resources.  Help us to be better prepared to meet calmly the storms in our personal lives and to assist in calming those of our family and neighbors.



Rainbow for an uncertain day
*photo credit)

September 20, 2009     Arrive at True Service for Others

    If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.  (Mark 9: 35)

     In the Gospel of St. Mark today (9:30-37) we read of the discussion among the disciples as to who is the most important -- a common human thing to do among immature folks.  Often we  hear a similar discussion, namely, who is doing it better. 

     Seeing the task ahead clearly is the first step in giving greater service: a sick person needs caregiving; the job must be done well; the office held must be effectively run;  the family needs to be guided.  An important service stands ready to be undertaken.  We may deny it, excuse ourselves, or seek to escape our responsibilities, or, with God's help, we could face the task head on.  It is a privilege to be born in these times and to have the opportunity to serve in such important work ahead of us.  Granted people-oriented service is critically needed, but where do we fit in?   The goal of people first, not economic profits, is difficult in this age where so many strive to enhance their resume. 

     Knowing our talents and limitations is required for being able to give greater service.  Often we think we can do or accomplish feats that are really beyond us;  other times we think we are not up to the task and shirk from attempting to do what has to be done.  The answer is a humble acknowledgement of who we are -- along with a prayerful approach to what God wants us to do at this point in our lives.  We should neither overrate nor underrate what we can do.  All of us have a noble and important mission.  Finding it is finding God in our lives.  This is done through childlike trust that we can and will do the best we can with what we have got.

   Selflessness takes ongoing practice.  The words of James (3:16-4:3) prompt us to ask what are the "inner cravings that make war within our members."  This knowledge of self comes through the practice of self-denial, something that takes time and the discernment of spirits that tug at us from various directions.  Our deepest personal gift from God is the ability to exercise our freedom,  which is so often forgotten.  To act freely in a godly manner requires God's help through prayer, and thus we gradually grow in other-centeredness.

    God's Will and Service.  The constancy in prayer helps us in moments of crisis or weakness to see that God is always with us.  Jesus allows a child to be the example (Mark 9:36-37), for the Greek word for child and servant are the same; the vulnerability and dependency of the child must be recognized, and our quest for finding God's will is like the child's condition.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to be people of service to others, and help us to do the best we can in where we find ourselves.  Make our service one within a cooperative movement embracing many people working for a better world. 




A sincere expression of gtatitude, no words needed
*photo credit)

September 21, 2009      Spread a Ministry of Gratitude

     This World Gratitude Day is a perfect opportunity to realize that we often neglect to say thanks for the simple gifts of life. A "Ministry of Gratitude" should be foremost at this time because it is required for Earthhealing in every way.  To lack gratitude is to lack a profound respect for the resources we have and use.  Thus not being grateful leads to ideas of privilege, and to the belief that we are deserving these gifts.  Americans have used far more of the world's resources than our proportion by population; we do not thank but rather neglect Native Americans who welcomed us to these shores; we have used the labor of slaves or indentured servants in the building of our nation, giving little back in restitution; and we forget our ancestors in the faith for their contributions to us.

    Give thanks every day.  Many of us seek to be relevant or sociable or popular.  Few of us take the effort to say a profound "thanks" for the many gifts given to us.  Will we give more thanks, if deprived of these gifts through illness, natural catastrophe or human misdeed?  That may not be the case for those who expect too much -- and the loss may trigger bitterness and anger on the part of those who expect to always receive and never give.  Rather, let us all resolve to thank God daily for gifts given.

     Encourage a "thank you."  Have you forgotten something?  The reminder may be said in different degrees of humor, authority or sternness, and may possibly sound oppressive.  Maybe a small admission that I often forget to be grateful could punctuate the teaching moment for others both young and old.  With continued generous subsidies or charity, people tend to believe that they deserve to receive more and more and more.   

     Cultivate a spontaneous and unexpected thanks.  Think of the hard work by the underpaid or overlooked service personnel, and give these folks a nod of approval.  What about the brave souls who devoted much of their lives to religious testimony, scientific research, or arts and crafts?  What about those who serve or have served in the military?  Think of those who copied manuscripts and literature that preserved western civilization?  What about the unwritten cultural achievements of those speaking languages that are soon to be extinguished for lack of native speakers?  Do we recall the people who have built and are maintaining our schools, our roads, our fire and police services, and on and on?

     Demand a public thankful attitude.  Our country and world take far too much for granted.  We walk about the beautiful and fragile world around us and forget to say "thanks" to the Creator who gave us many good gifts worth recognizing, not just on an individual or family level, but in public acts of gratitude.  The ungrateful should not rule the day?  Omitting the Giver of gifts, is to spread the sense that all is owed, and nothing is deserving of thanks.

     Prayer:  Lord, thank You for the opportunity to live at this time and to be of service to the many who are in need. 





Seeds of the Ozard milkweed, Asclepias viridis
*photo credit)

September 22, 2009     Autumnal Equinox and Peace 

     Fall slips in on us.  It is getting late in the year, and we may become restless knowing how the growing season is coming to an end and daylight is waning.  Yesterday was the International Day of Peace and today is the advent of autumn, and they are related.  Sometimes a healthy restlessness should lead to our trying to help bring peace to what appears to be a shortening span of opportunity.  Seasonal changes and challenges extend to world conditions.

      When I was a young child, the Second World War was in full swing.  I played out the conflict by battling the knee-high wild amaranth that had consumed my family's barn yard.  This plant with its thorns covered much of the surface of the half acre plot and was ignored by the livestock. I would slay the plants with my stick that served as a bomber on a hostile city -- a child's play.

Perhaps we play around with peace in much the same way.  We say "peace," but take our aggressions out in meaningless ways not attacking problems at their sources.  Autumn reminds us that our opportunities are finite, and we must make the best of a changing world and not by meaningless child's play.  We must seize the moment and act accordingly.  As a nation we are fighting two seemingly interminable wars;  we need to pray for peaceful solutions on a host of fronts, or otherwise our economic and psychic resources will be drained away in meaningless actions.

     We must give peace a chance, but how?  Let's give special attention to our privileges that go unchecked:  squandering world resources; a military industrial complex that saps our resources;  lack of health insurance on the part of 45 million people in our country; and a billion hungry people on this planet.  We protest that we are not wanting to be "warlike," but are we?  Can we Americans find the opportunity to transfer some of our half-share in the massive global annual $1.5 trillion military budget to bringing about peaceful solutions to the world's problems?

     Should one billion hungry people disturb our autumn rest?  Transition to peace is needed.  We cannot rest when our fellow brothers and sisters in any part of the world are lacking the essentials of life -- the homeless, the ill, the hungry.  We do this as a people when we permit the few untaxed privileged to have so much, and to do what they want to with what they have.  The gulf between rich and poor haunts us, and well it ought.  Furthermore, we seem to lack the proper approach to peace on another front, namely the planet itself.  We make war when we allow global warming or when we permit the importation of exotic and potentially invasive species.  We also do so when we permit conditions to exist that threaten or extinguish our native plant and animal species.  War does not just occur between human beings, but by humans on plants and animals and the Earth itself. 

     Prayer:  Lord, give us peace in our hearts and minds so that we might resolve to help give peace to a troubled world.


A coal plant in Muhlenberg Co., KY, near Paradise
*photo credit)

September 23, 2009   A Critical Look at King Coal

     Coal is a major energy use in this country and in other lands such as China, where it is the source of most of that nation's electricity.  Although plentiful and relatively cheap, this carbonaceous fuel has proved worrisome in the global attempts to cut carbon dioxide emissions that are causing dramatic climate change.  Add to this the well-known ill effects of coal extraction. These range from deep mine safety issues and worker health, to land and water effects resulting from strip mining and more recent mountaintop removal practices. 

      Many Appalachian landholders sold to coal companies "broadform deeds" years before the strip mining operations, as they thought that coal companies would extract the coal through deep mining practice.  To their surprise they found that the deeds allowed coal companies to move in with earth movers and destroy their community and sometimes even their homes.  In the 1960s, the Widow Combs chose to stop the bulldozers by lying down in front of them at her home.  She was forcefully removed to allow the coal on her property to be strip mined.  Three decades later that Kentucky broadform deed permission was revoked.  The late writer and friend, Harry Caudill, in his book, Night Comes to the Cumberlands, documented a host of abusive practices caused by coal extraction, which harmed his people.

    Truly king coal is a mixed blessing.  Some call for business as usual with a few additional regulations; others call for less polluting coal combustion methods or sequestering the emitted carbon dioxide by pumping it into abandoned sealed mines; still other seek the elimination of this energy source altogether.  

The importance of this fuel at this time will make the last of these highly unlikely in the near future.  Three trains with about 110 cars each, filled with coal, sit within sight of where I am writing here in Ravenna, Kentucky -- a longtime coal rail center.  This is coal headed for powerplants in Georgia and Florida.

     Can anything be done about king coal?  In early public interest work, we publicized coal's environmental effects, including recommending proper blasting regulations in comprehensive national reclamation legislation.  Regulations, such as land reclamation requirements, are only partly successful given the volume of coal removal.  Merely documenting current mountaintop removal practices has some salutary effects, but it also arouses emotions of those miners who make a living extracting coal.  Non-fossil fuel energy alternatives (wind, solar, geothermal, etc.), along with energy conservation, are the only long-term solutions -- but they are perhaps years in the offing.   All the while, as long as coal remains king, both in America and in other major industrialized nations, the planet will suffer from the emissions.

     Prayer:  Lord, give us the courage to speak out and debunk the regal nature of coal, even for those of us in this heavily coal-mining region.  Help us to promote renewable energy sources.






A constructed hut used for a hunting blind
*photo credit)

September 24, 2009     Are Hunting Days Numbered?

       With guns sounding outside during this squirrel season, I wonder once again about the sport of hunting.  We have made a distinction between the sport and the necessity of hunting to obtain food essential to life (see November 6, 2008).   Why kill the squirrels for they are not pests and are graceful to behold?  I ask fewer questions about fishing, for a caught fish can be returned to the water;  furthermore,  fish are less sensate than higher mammals (a weak argument), fish is nutritious and easily prepared, and fishers do their thing to escape from stress.

     Hunting is different, is dangerous, and is losing its popularity today.  Reasons for fewer hunters include: the bother in acquiring gear and licenses and travel difficulties in reaching wildlife; the dangers posed by guns especially when one is not familiar with them; and, more importantly, increasing peer pressure in favor of wildlife to live undisturbed.  What hunter wants to brag to an animal lover?  Even parading down main street with a bagged buck on the truck is becoming less popular (no one does this with fish).  The wildlife trophy is less respected -- and often downright opposed by home dwellers who are not afraid to voice their dissent.  Wildlife lovers and hunters simply do not mix. 

     A while back, hunting was a rite of passage for youth in which elders played the role of mentors.  Hunters were to obey local regulations, obtain proper licenses, manifest care when near other people, respect private property, prepare and consume what was killed, and justify the sport.  However, hunting is becoming a dilemma, and I admit the hunting ambivalence prevailed during my life.  We always had enough livestock to butcher for meat, though I knew folks who needed what they hunted for their sparse table.  When wildlife is a necessary source of food, hunting is serious work.  As kids we "hunted" crows (aggressors in our corn fields); we held the right to bear arms and defend crops as constitutional. 

     However, hunting crows took skill;  rabbit-hunting was child's play at best and unnecessary cruelty at worst.  With time, I have come to challenge sportspeople who hunt only for pleasure: they can be dangerous to themselves and others; often they trespass; they can tear down fences; and they foster aggressive behavior.  Wildlife is generally under immense stress, and cannot tolerate hunters with destructive practices.   Some poor folks need wildlife to supplement their food supply.  Many regard "meat" and "meal" as synonymous.  Their low-cost meat supply is locally grown wildlife. If we eat what is around us, we truly become "Kentucky" or wherever we live.  Local wildlife is nutritious, organic, homegrown and relatively plentiful.  Deer, rabbit, geese, and turkey proliferate for lack of native predators, and sometimes need to be culled by hunters.  The meat product has no antibiotics or growth hormones, and it takes no effort to raise wildlife.  Eat local products!  If not needed for food, let wildlife alone.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us all to respect wildlife.





Vivid colors of a Navajo blanket
(*photo credit)

September 25, 2009       Observe Native American Day

      On this special day when we honor our Native Americans;  we recognize their gifts and traditions, for these people have given much to make our country what it is.   We note that almost half the states names, along with the names of many lakes, rivers, mountains and smaller regions are or are derived from Indian names.  The history of past interactions between whites and Native Americans, from colonial times until now, is certainly not perfect: broken treaties, take over of lands, forceful removal of tribes from east of the Mississippi, the deliberate destruction of bison needed for food supplies, denial of voting privileges, exploitation and pollution of reservation lands.

     Most of the indigenous people greeted the very first explorers, fur traders, and settlers. However, unintentionally those first contacts resulted in transmittal of diseases to which the natives had no immunity.  Some estimate die-offs of over ninety percent of the 1491 population though these contacts.  With time and emerging conflicts, a general Native American resistance to white incursions developed and led to fierce struggles with early homesteaders and settlers.  Amid the onrush of white settlement, the native residents were pushed back to limited reservations, generally on less desirable lands.  In some cases the tribes simply disappeared, while in others they were removed to Oklahoma or western reservation areas.  When gold was discovered in the Black Hills, the "worthless Indian land" became valuable and the Sioux had to retreat.  Energy projects in recent years have targeted  nuclear wastes on Shoshone land, uranium mining on Navaho reservations and now nuclear powerplant construction on Native American land.  The exploitation continues.

     Amid injustice, Native Americans have given our country much to be thankful for: from approaches to treating the environment to ways of democratic governance; from moccasins to canoes; from turkey, cranberries, squash, tomatoes, corn, and pumpkins to ways of fertilizing soil and using native plants for medicine.  The manner in which the Native American has treated land is well worth understanding and imitating, as is the Native American respect for all plants and animals.  Even our thanksgiving and respect for resources have come in part through Native American influence.

      With the pervasive influence of English in Native American areas, today we note that preserving Native American languages is a challenge. If actions are not taken soon, many of the Native American languages will be among the global endangered language "species," which are dying at the rate of one every two weeks.   The last Delaware speaker passed from this life a few years back;  more such tales will be told in the coming years unless a positive effort is made to preserve native American culture.  Are we willing to devote resources to preserving what is valuable to these people?

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to respect and preserve the Native American culture that is a precious American collective heritage.




A covered bridge in Mason Co., KY
*photo credit)

September 26, 2009     Recovering Covered Bridges

     A few years back (9/22/05) we posted a photograph on this website that precipitated a number of comments from viewers;  these liked the idea of texts being accompanied by pictures -- a union of words with picture.  From this developed the sizeable effort it takes our web manager, Janet Powell, to select and post pictures for every daily reflection (beginning in April, 2007).  To date we have posted about 950 photographs some with variations of the same theme, but many from all scenic parts of North America. 

     Let's return to the covered bridge, a sight so familiar in my youth that I overlooked its uniqueness.  Today, few remain in the rural parts of Eastern America and especially in the Appalachian portions of our country.  As bridges need repair, these antique bridges have been torn down and replaced by wider and more sturdy concrete structures -- the only kinds that modern road builders would dare undertake.  The heyday of the "covered bridge" was the early nineteenth century, and it was not because carpenters wanted to get into the bridge-building act.  Such bridges did protect bridge flooring and structural timbers from the elements, but the true reason, my Dad confided to us, was that horses are frightened when crossing bridges.  Many buggy riders with skittish horses had to blindfold their animals, and lead them across the span because of the fear of heights.  The covered bridge seemed safe to most horses. 

     Pictured here is the Valley Pike Covered Bridge, across a tributary of Lee's Creek near the Valley Pike Road in my home County (Mason) in Kentucky.  It is 34 feet long, 15 feet wide and 14 feet tall, and was built in 1864 and rebuilt in 1972;  it is the only privately-owned covered bridge left in Kentucky.  Twelve others are owned by highway departments; seven of these bridges are in the Buffalo Trace region.  Other states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia also have existing examples of covered bridges. 

     My favorite is the Goddard Covered Bridge in Fleming County, Kentucky, near State Route 32 southeast of Flemingsburg;  it is the oldest (1820) and connected with wooden pegs.  I can still remember the thrill of crossing that structure by auto years ago.  It is in a beautiful setting with a white church in the background.  It bears the hoof marks of Colonel Everett's cavalry unit of Morgan's Confederates when they raided this part of Kentucky in 1864.  Let's hope these surviving covered bridges remain and retain the markings of our collective heritage. 

     Prayer:  Lord, assist us to be bridge builders and preservers, to span the dangers that divide so many of us, and to provide a cover for those who bridge differences and continue to serve others as caregivers in their lives.  Never allow us to forget that bridges make this world civilized, and add flavor to our culture and life.



Bergamot (bee-balm), Monarda fistulosa
*photo credit)

September 27, 2009      Find God and Good in All

     Anyone who is not against us is for us.  (Mark 9:40)

     This expression by Christ is far superior to a saying that those who neglect to bless us are cursing us.  We are to have an open-minded approach to all God's gifts, whenever and wherever expressed, and to thank God for these gifts given to others at unexpected times and places.

     We need to find a faith in the future among all people, even when the content of faith is unspecified.  Without this faith the world cannot move forward, and the general accepted policy will prevail, "Let's use it up for tomorrow we will die." Those who neglect to see any future for Earth herself (even some self-styled Christians), are in the company of the disbelieving.  It is imperative that we reach out to all who show in their words and deeds that they want something for the future generations.  This means that we must look out to all, and thus the Good News is to be spread in order to find companionship at this critical hour.

     Earthhealing involves looking about for kindred spirits, for we need the support of others in order to bring about change in the world.  There are perhaps a great number who will form a broad-based community with those who want to heal our wounded Earth.  Naysayers often speak the loudest and draw the most attention.  If their voices are allowed to go unchallenged, an atmosphere of negativism will arise like a mist and dampen the spirits of all.  That is why spreading the Good News is really allowing people to proclaim that God is in all creation.  It is not that Earth is to be destroyed, and we accede to the inevitability;  rather we are to help save Earth for an eternal glory.  No one knows for sure how this will happen.  It is simply not fitting that we allow this fragile and beautiful Earth to die after so much effort has been expended to enhance it.   

     In his "Ethics for the New Era," theologian Leonardo Boff says no society lives without an ethic.  He says how impossible it would be in our religiously fractured world to expect an ethic founded on religion.  The Greek ethic founded on reason does not include the pre-rational (emotional) or post-rational (aesthetics and the spiritual experience).  A third source is an ethics of desire and we have seen how undefined and diffused this is (e.g., the desire to conquer the world and a form of capitalism that seeks to satisfy all desires).  Thus we seek a fourth source, caring, founded in sensible reason and its rational expression, responsibility.  This source is linked to life and is imperative and the ethics of a new era.  What we are calling for in a "faith in the future" is one where the elements of life, care and responsibility come together.  We must find the good in all, and thus we agree with Boff.

     Prayer:  Lord, we come before You shaken by the awesome tasks before us.  Our responsibility is to save our wounded planet, and we need help.  Inspire us to become caring, earthhealing people.







Lovely flowers of garlic chives
          (*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

September 28, 2009   Climate Change and Copenhagen

      Something must be done.  The UN Secretary General is talking in apocalyptic terms.  The global weather has been getting warmer;  ice caps are melting rapidly;  scientists tell us that climate change is occurring at a faster rate than previously indicated.  Look about and see; stop and listen to what the wise are telling us.  Step into a greenhouse, and notice how captured sun's rays converted to heat waves can't easily escape; the room warms.  We notice the same effect in a parked automobile.  This extra heat can be utilized within solar greenhouses and cold frames (see September 8, 2008).  However, the same warming effect occurs through increased concentrations of carbon dioxide and several other gases such as methane, which find their way into the planet's atmosphere.  As levels of these gases rise through increased human industrial activity, especially fossil fuel powerplants and combustion engines, we can expect more rapid climate change.

     Many scientists say that a relatively small average temperature rise of one to two degrees would cause major climate changes;  now new studies show the changes could double the size of that rise, and the result could be catastrophic in a few decades.  Glaciers in higher elevations in Europe, Asia and the Americas, and the Antarctic ice cap are all melting.  This, in turn, is causing the oceans to rise, thus affecting lower lying regions such as some of the small island nations in the Pacific Ocean, as well as the densely populated low-lying Bangladesh.  That crowded nation could lose half its land mass, if the oceans continue to rise at current rates for the next seventy years.  Climate change also could result in some areas getting drier and others flooding, and some shifting to semi-tropic zones, and others losing permafrost and releasing methane.  All countries will be affected in some ways.  We all must act together to change our lifestyle habits in many ways.

     In December of this year the climate change experts will  assemble at Copenhagen and reconsider the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  This is a follow up to Toronto (1988), Kyoto (1997), and Bali (2007).  Are the developed and developing worlds willing to sacrifice for the common good?  It is an open question.  One approach is some emissions trading, an unfair and ineffective practice in which the "right" to pollute will be given to some get-rich traders.  A far more just approach is to accept that everyone on this planet must first  have the resources to exit poverty -- and the poor could be exempt from emission targets.  Responsibility for climate action is allocated to countries based on how many of their citizens are above the income threshold, how far above it they are, and how much greenhouse gas that country produces. (New Internationalist, January-February, 2009, p. 20-22). 

     Prayer:  Lord, open our eyes to see what is occurring around us;  open our hearts to be willing to change and to share resources with others; open our leaders' minds to fair and effective arguments that will be made at Copenhagen in December.





Beechy, teaching us how to relax
          (*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

September 29, 2009     Appreciate Teachers

      The challenges we face today in a rapidly changing world require the best in mentors.  These prepare us for the service we are to render in life.  Perhaps all of us take our teachers either past or present for granted.  Maybe a little appreciation is due, for that is gratitude for those who gave us the enthusiasm, repetition and patient work it has taken to make us who we are.  At times we think we deserve what we get, and never see that the efforts of others are so very critical.  Perhaps part of our reluctance in extending appreciation stems from realizing that we have not lived up to our teachers' expectations of us. 

     * Say "thank you," while there is still an opportunity.  Better yet, teach those with whom we are associated to say thank you to God, and to our former and current teachers.

     * Support teachers.  Often I find competing groups want one area of teaching to be financially supported to the neglect of another.  All honest and dedicated teachers need recognition for their efforts, as well as the support of the community.  We need to show we are behind them.  They preserved their enthusiasm, even when the students were anxious to move on to other things;  they overcame obstacles in resource materials and unruly students; they were tired from work, but seldom showed it in the classroom.

     * Promote teaching.  Even those of us who are not intending to teach should realize its value, and be prepared to interest others in taking this as a meaningful and noble profession.

     * Recall with happy memories.  I dedicate this to the teachers of my life for this is most fitting.  As I mentioned at the first of the month, my first and second grade teacher, Sister Imogene, a Clinton, Iowa, Franciscan, passed on to the Lord at 103 years  in 2005.  She said she remembered every face even when she had difficulty with names.  This religious community taught us in the spirit of St. Francis to respect the things around us, and especially our environment.  They launched us on our life's journey, dedicating themselves with little expectation of earthly praise or financial rewards.

     Recognize the power of teaching.  Teachers appear to be master recyclers.  They truly believe that the enthusiasm that they exhibit will be repeated by that next generation, when their charges grow up and mature as teachers themselves -- whether professional teachers or teaching in some fashion at home or work.

We need to realize that teaching is an integral part of extending civilization -- a delicate flower needing continued nurturing.

      Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for allowing kindly and patient teachers to sacrifice for us, to give of their enthusiasm, and to change us in little or bigger ways.  Thanks for the chance to extend what teachers did for us to those under our influence.






Surprise... an autumn treat: ripening chestnuts!
          (*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

September 30, 2009     Learn Something New Every Day

     Last week, I attended the monthly herb garden gathering in our county, and we heard some good discussion of methods of canning and preserving the produce we have in such abundance this year.  I learned something new.  What about today on my birthday?  Will I learn something new again, and something new tomorrow?  Well that is my current intention but it is a challenge for an old man.

      While in my thirties, I figured that the average life span was about 72 years.  Why not divide 12 months into that 72 and allot every six years a "month" in my life.  Thus January is age 1-6, February 7-12, etc.  When in the spring time in life, this was a fun exercise -- and age 72 years a great distance in the future.  Time flew by and the game became less interesting.  Autumn appeared a little past fifty years with gray hairs and with a sense of melancholy foreboding that the hour glass was running lower on sand.  By the "December of life" I was ready to change the rules.  Early life is short and only a preparation for the advent of eternal life.  And life expectancy is more than 72 now. 

     At 2:00 a.m. on each birthday (my general waking hour) I thank God for giving me the chance to be of service for another year. 

The average American male now lives to 77, and this is the beginning of that seventy-seventh year of my life.  What does it all mean anyway?  God is the author of life, and what we are given is a gift that we must use properly and creatively.  None of us are average people, and thus we must see our lives as unique, as special, as worthy of creative response and cooperation with God.  Today is a day of gratitude for the opportunity to serve and realize that this should be done every day. 

     The point is not that now I have reached the average age and the rest is "borrowed" time;  all time is "borrowed" -- and we make the best of what we've got.  We also look back with regrets for not using the past more perfectly, but even those imperfect times were part of the experience that we now have that will help us to make the future a little better -- however long it may be.  In fact the game of allotting time for the seasons of our lives cannot be fully calculated until we die, unless we know for certain our execution day.  I am unsure whether such a game should even be recommended, for God is the author of all life.

     Beyond game play we could discover that recognizing our age as a gift does have value: we become aware of time as God's gift;  we realize how our lives change like the seasons;  we see ourselves as mortal, as limited in the time we have, as willing to make the best of what remains, and as undeserving of any part of a long or short life.   

     Prayer:  Lord, we thank you for the gift of life, the time already given and the time that remains.  We ask you to help us see every day as an opportunity for being and doing something new.



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

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

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