The Earth Just Shifted. Feel It?

Let’s, just for a moment, take a different tack. There is a veritable avalanche of commentaries and analyses of Laudato Si, Francis’ encyclical. I’m not competent to add much to that discussion.  Yet, there is something that can be said — needs to be appreciated and celebrated — right off the bat!

As one would expect, the very first paragraph sets the tone with a moving reference to Francis of Assisi’s Canticle from which the encyclical takes its name:

LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore – Praise be to you, my Lord… Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.

According to good argumentative style, Pope Francis first references Scripture (Paragraph 2) and then places his pastoral exhortation squarely within the tradition of the church. With one paragraph each, Francis grounds his teaching in that of his immediate predecessors John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI (paragraphs 3-6).

There is still nothing unique or exceptional about Francis citing secular authorities to bolster his teaching.  His claim is not simply anchored in Scripture and Catholic teaching. In paragraph 7 Francis writes:

These statements of the Popes echo the reflections of numerous scientists, philosophers, theologians and civic groups, all of which have enriched the Church’s thinking on these questions.

That reliance on additional sources of teaching authority reflects the best of the Catholic intellectual tradition.

The inclusive context set by Francis is especially welcome and refreshing. He makes a deliberate effort to raise up and give expression to a broad spectrum of additional voices:

Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities — and other religions as well — have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing. To give just one striking example, I would mention the statements made by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion.

Notice… “the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch.” Even more, notice the careful phrasing, “with whom we share the hope” not “with whom we hope to share.” The hope for full communion is already shared!

Francis’ next two paragraphs (8 and 9) cites the teaching and authority of the esteemed Patriarch of Constantinople — considered the “Successor of St. Andrew”, first among equals in the Orthodox Churches.

This sequencing can be nothing but deliberate… first Francis of Assisi, then Scripture, then his immediate predecessors of the past fifty years, then scientists, philosophers, theologians and other civil authorities. Nobody, but nobody, is shown more respect or given such deferential authority as the Orthodox patriarch with a reference in paragraph 7 and then two lengthy paragraphs (below) citing Bartholomew’s teaching authority.

Yes, this encyclical is about our moral obligation to be responsible stewards of God’s good creation. But the earth just shifted under our feet! Did you feel it? When have you seen the Bishop of Rome pay such fraternal respect and deference to another Patriarch?  Not in a thousand years has a “Successor of St. Peter” so deliberately shared teaching authority for the church with the “Successor of St. Andrew”!

For the first time ever a high-ranking Orthodox bishop — Metropolitan John of Pergamon — helped unveil a papal text.  In addition, two women joined the president the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace headlining a panel of five people presenting various aspects of the document.

The women were Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services and a former dean of the business school a the University of Notre Dame; and Valeria Martano, a teacher and community organizer in the outlying areas of Rome.  The fifth person is an avowed agnostic, John Schellnhuber, founder of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Something dramatic has changed. I like it, I like it a lot! Gives greater credence to whatever else Francis has to say. Makes me excited to read more! The air we’re breathing is already fresher!

LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore – Praise be to you, my Lord!
_________________
Here are Paragraphs 8 and 9 if you care to read them in their entirety:
8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings … to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.

9. At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”. As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet”.

Gift Beyond Gift, Beyond Reason

Is there any day of the week more nondescript than Thursday? Today is pretty innocuous even for a summer day in Minnesota — forecast is for clouds to hang around all day. It’s tempting to get lulled into monotony.

But stop! Every day is as Denise Levertov protests in her marvelous poem, The Yellow Tulip.  

But it’s so: a caravan arrives constantly
out of desert dust, laden
with gift beyond gift, beyond reason.

Though tulips have faded in Minneapolis — and we are probably the last people to enjoy this Springtime ritual — take a moment today to savor Levertov’s praise for this humble flower. [link].

But today, this partly-cloudy Thursday in June, is hardly ordinary. In fact, it’s quite remarkable. For one thing, today is the beginning of Ramadan, the month-long season of fasting and heightened attention to prayer and spiritual practices.

In this world of religious fanaticism and fundamentalism of all stripes, we do well to respectfully remember and honor this holy season. Too often we hear only headlines caused by extremists. Today we would do well to listen to what rank-and-file Muslim neighbors have on their minds. A simple, short summary of Ramadan is available [here].

And today, Thursday, June 18, 2015 is a momentous day that will be recalled a hundred years from now! Today the much anticipated — you know something is really significant when vested-interests and nay-sayers attack something well before it is even published!!! — release of Pope Francis’ letter on creation.

It is not a political or economic treatise! It is not about climate change, though that is central to his moral exhortation! Neither is it primarily about the environment, if by that we mean adoption of “green” policies in response to our current ecological crisis. It’s about creation, God’s bountious and boundless gift in which we humans are to serve as humble stewards.

Read that last sentence again… human, humble. These words are cognates of humus — rich, fertile soil from which all life springs. Human, humble, humus all come from the same root. Take time this Thursday to make the connection. We are by definition and nature earth-creatures. Give that some thought. Find your particular place in this God-given creation — it’s a humble place of honor!

If you’d care to review a simple, five-point summary of the pope’s pastoral exhortation, you can do no better than to take five minutes to read this [link].

Laudato Si… Yes, Praise be… even on an ordinary Thursday in 2015. Every day — each day — is anything but nondescript, innocuous or monotonous!

Or, as Francis of Assisi expressed it…

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!

All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.

Surviving This Hell

The world is going to hell! There is more than enough evidence in the horrific stories popularized by the global 24/7 news cycle. Millennials are spurning commitment in record numbers such that the only ones wanting to get married these days are gays and priests!  Social, cultural and religious norms are crumbling.  What’s it all coming to?

Fast approaching my 65th birthday I’ve caught myself saying more than once, “Old people have been saying the world is going to hell for centuries, but this time it really is!” It generally elicits an intended chuckle. But just beneath my attempt at self-deprecating humor, a serious question festers. Are things getting worse? Have we chosen a fast-track to self-inflicted destruction?

It’s not just that murder and unthinkable forms of violence have become de’rigueur in our cities. Hideous acts of fanatical terrorism compete for public shock and outrage. Heightened electronic security and safety awareness training could not prevent the rape of a U of M freshman in her third-floor residence hall this past weekend. These are not just issues of personal safety; they beg questions about our collective, social sanity.

And it is not just what we do to each other that is killing us. Nine out of ten lakes, rivers and streams in SW Minnesota have been found to be unsafe for swimming no less consumption. What about the cattle that graze these fields and effects on the food we consume? What carcinogens is Jeb the Dog ingesting when we allow him to drink from Minnehaha Creek on his twice-a-day walk in the park?

I don’t have an answer, only questions! We cannot escape the urgency of the issues. If we don’t know the answer then we better ask, “Are we asking the right questions?” Maybe asking, “Is the world going to hell?” is the wrong question. Maybe it’s not even a good question. Perhaps its simply a kind of pretend-question that reframes the obvious, the sort of question that merely dabbles in curiosity only to assuage our feelings of powerlessness.

Are we willing to ask the right questions? Do we really want to face the truth? When it comes to senseless violence and acts of hellish inhumanity, its profoundly important to know who is asking the question. A 65 y/o white guy in Minneapolis? A 20 y/o black male in Baltimore? A Syrian mother fleeing to save her Christian children? A devout Muslim in Texas seeing the tenets of his faith mocked in cartoon fashion? If we disagree about the question we are bound to come up with different answers.

At 65 a few things are abundantly clear. I sure as hell do not have the answers like I once thought I did! Hell, I’m not even sure what questions to ask anymore. There is just one thing of which I am absolutely certain… our world will only solve the life and death issues confronting us if we begin to formulate questions and answers together!

This demands that we do a significantly better job of listening to one another, as well as to the whole of creation once teeming with life but now gasping to stay alive!

Authentic dialogue and sincere engagement with those other than ourselves offers our best hope for coming up with the questions and answers vital to the survival of life as we know it.

God and Lawn Care

Courtesy of my brother-in-law, here is a humorous variation on the theme of yesterday’s post…

GOD SAID:
“Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.”

St. FRANCIS:
It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD:
Grass? But, it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS:
Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD:
The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make theSuburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS:
Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it -sometimes twice a week.

GOD:
They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST.. FRANCIS:
Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD:
They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS:
No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD:
Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS:
Yes, Sir.

GOD:
These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

ST.. FRANCIS:
You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD:
What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It’s a natural cycle of life.

ST.. FRANCIS:
You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD:
No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS:
After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD:
And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS:
They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD:
Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

ST.. CATHERINE:
‘Dumb and Dumber’, Lord. It’s a story about….

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

Of Bees and Being Human

Yesterday I saw a Monarch butterfly! What a perfectly named creature — regal, majestic, elegantly attired. Yes, I saw a butterfly. Remember when we were kids? We’d see hundreds of Monarchs along with many other kinds of butterflies, moths, bees, wasps as well as other flying bugs that only God knew what they were.

Sighting the solitary Monarch yesterday frightened me. Yes, a butterfly scared me! Where have they gone? And what about the birds? In our neighborhood, the incidental cardinals outnumber the sparrows — how crazy is that? Robbins evoke as much excitement from Minneapolitans in July as they do in March. Something is really wrong in The City of Lakes when we start valuing creatures by their absence!

The wholesale collapse of bee colonies is beginning to get some attention because of the essential role their pollinating serves in human food production. Wouldn’t you think we’d show more care and solicitude for “the help” who keep our lives functioning? As brazenly self-centered as it is, wouldn’t you think the demise of honeybees would wake us up to the fact that our own well-being might be similarly threatened?

The honeybee is a remarkably resilient species that has thrived for 40 million years but now they are in widespread collapse. They are like the proverbial canary in the coal mine. An [article] in the NYTimes corroborates why a solitary Monarch and the conspicuous absence of songbirds should be seen as harbingers of a larger catastrophe in the making.

It seems that any creature that flies is threatened by factors similar to those afflicting honeybees: heavy pesticide use, destruction of nesting sites by overly intensive agriculture, a lack of diverse nectar and pollen sources thanks to highly effective weed killers, wanton disregard for the eco-system bees depend on for nutrition.

According to the author of the NYTimes piece, the real issue is not primarily the number of problems but the interactions among them. Bees offer a lesson we ignore at our peril: the concept of synergy, where one plus one equals three, or four, or more.

“A typical honeybee colony contains residue from more than 120 pesticides. Alone, each represents a benign dose. But together they form a toxic soup of chemicals whose interplay can substantially reduce the effectiveness of bees’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases.”

Our problem extends far beyond the tragic truth about bees.   The fatal effects of our agricultural obsessions (obscenities?) are reflected in the disappearance of butterflies and birds as well.  If they starve, we starve!

But it gets worse… a [study] released last month from UC-Davis is only the most recent to link proximity to agricultural pesticides in pregnancy to increased rates of Autism and other types of developmental delay among children. Regardless of age, we are what we eat.  And what we eat might just be killing us!

Those of us from a sacramental faith tradition, indeed all who profess faith in the God of Genesis, recognize that humans (literally, earth-creature and cognate of humus) have a special role and bear a unique responsibility for creation. Eco-spirituality is not a fad — it’s a moral duty!

Humility is a virtue hard to come by for most of us. The word has the same root as human and humus. We would do well to cultivate more of it. Humans have no “being” apart from this creation.  We begin by acknowledging that we are merely one part of God’s creation — one part, and one with sacred responsibilities.

The etiology of humility, human and humus affirms that at some deep intuitive level we “get it.”  We know in our bones that the way we relate to creation mirrors the way we relate to God.

We pray as we live… may it be “on earth as it is in heaven.”

 

Jeb’s Lesson Plan

Every day, come hail or high water, Jeb the Dog takes me for a walk along Minnehaha Creek. Jeb is especially excited these days because record high water pushes the creek far beyond its banks. Need it be said that neighbors who feverishly tend sump pumps are not nearly as enthusiastic?

The high water enables Jeb to more easily greet Mama Mallard and her five ducklings. It gives him an edge in tormenting Mr. Snapping Turtle. Watching Jeb’s sheer exuberance and feverish freedom makes me wonder if our wonder-dog faithfully takes me to the creek to remind me of a basic truth:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Jeb’s been with us for almost three years now. He patiently but persistently labors to share with us many truths, adapting his lesson plan with the agility of a master teacher. His core message remains tediously consistent: We urgently need to acquire a new way of looking at ourselves, at the created world, and at God!

The environmental cliff on which we teeter suggests that our head-in-the-sand addiction to immediate gratification is not primarily economic (e.g., portfolio profits), political (e.g., re-election) or technical (e.g., “clean” energy) but spiritual. Jeb might say we are in need of a more fundamental transformation, conversion, metanoia, change-of-heart.

Just before our walk to the creek yesterday I was reading something by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. He laments that we no longer see the world as gift of God or sacrament of divine presence. We no longer have Wendell Berry’s eyes or heart, becoming day-blind to the grace of the world.  We have become pretty hard-core secularists.

Record flooding on the creek tempts me to despair. At times I fear for our lives and what our children’s lives may be. Perhaps wood drakes, great herons and snapping turtles will do what patriarchs and poets apparently cannot.

Jeb, I need another walk!
_________________
Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998.

Encountering the Mystery: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today by Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Doubleday. 2008. pp. xviii-xix. Continue reading

A Master Teacher

Yesterday Jeb the Dog did what he does every day of the year – he took me for a walk around Minnehaha Creek. Whether blustery cold on a typical December day, rainy as usual in April or exquisitely perfect as it was yesterday Jeb is ecstatic because he knows how much I appreciate what he shares with me each day.

Four o’clock sun sent long shafts through cascading willows. A snapping turtle, big as a turkey platter, stubbornly refused Jeb’s excited and extended self-introduction. Delicate violets and pert bluebells have given way to substantial growth below an intensely green canopy. Frighteningly fast currents compensate with sounds seldom heard on the generally somnolent creek. Off-leash in violation of city ordinance, Jeb flashes a telling glance, “This is paradise!”

Science validates the primordial explosion of creative energy that got things going 13.7 billion years ago. Ten billion years later a second creative burst hatched life on Earth. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day. (Gen 1:12-13)

The truth of this story lies deeply planted in the air we breathe and our very bones. On the fourth day God created the sun and moon. Living creatures took to the air and swam in the sea on the fifth day. All the many creatures that move upon the ground – certainly the forebears of that stubborn snapping turtle – made their debut on the sixth day. Throughout, God remains quite pleased and affirmed that all is very, very good!

Yesterday it was as if Jeb were taking me to that precise hour on the sixth day – that majestic moment when God’s fecundity is awash and extravagant, that pregnant moment just before humankind appears on the scene. Science now documents this period — between the dawn of life on the third day and right before humanity’s dramatic debut later on the sixth day — lasting for about three billion years.

The Psalmist evokes praise for this cosmic time in recalling For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” (Psalm 90:4) We cannot help but wonder about the spiritual meaning and moral significance of this pristine epoch prior to humankind – a world drenched with vibrant diversity and teeming vitality! How are we to reverence this heritage which resides in our bones and saturates the air we breathe?

This is the place theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson takes us as well in Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love. Once we encounter the primordial community of life which is equally God’s creation we recognize that our disregard constitutes a grievous omission if not an unspeakable sin.  How can we remain blithely self-centered, ravenously ungrateful, wantonly destructive?

That snapping turtle, the verdant trees and a cascading creek have much to teach. I am eager for Jeb the Dog, my master teacher, to take me for another lesson. I have a lot to learn!

____________________

That incisive image of “unspeakable sin” is directly from Elizabeth Johnson whose book I am now reading and which I highly recommend to any who care to wade through a bit of academic theologizing to get to the spiritual nourishment which we all need.

For the Class of 2056

How can it possibly be 42 years? But it is! Forty-two years ago today I graduated from Creighton University with a B.A. in Political Science.

I was able to earn enough during the summer to pay my private school tuition. I spent a few nights a week at a mortuary and worked a few funerals for spending money through the school year. Living at home with my parents saved room and board expenses.

How things have changed! I graduated from Creighton with $800 in student loans, all incurred during my freshman year. A little over 70% of this year’s bachelors degree recipients – from public as well as private schools – are leaving with loans totaling $33,000 on average!

That really concerns me! It should concern all of us. Imagine what it’s like to be saddled with that sort of debt right out of the starting gate. Seems to me this is evidence of some pretty serious fraying of the social contract we have with one another in this country.

If I were invited to give a commencement address this year I would, of course, touch on that topic. I would also be strongly influenced by the fact that I would be speaking to my grandchildren’s generation. Forty-two years! I would certainly attempt the impossible in my address – to convince the young graduates just how fast life happens.

If I were speaking to the Creighton Class of 2014 I would undoubtedly reinforce the Ignatian character of their education, especially how they are meant to use their talent and education to serve others and promote justice.

I would find some way to explain – despite how hard we think we each have worked for our degrees – how any one of us who had the opportunity to graduate from Creighton was born on third base and should never think we hit a triple.

From the perspective of 42 years and how fast it all happens, I would remind them of something from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. There Ignatius encourages us to consider our actions or choices from the perspective of our deathbed – then and there, when it’s all over, what will I wish I would have done? I have found this to be an almost infallible guideline for making good choices.

There appears from my vantage point a fraying in the “social contract” we have with fellow Americans. Saddling young people with tens of thousands of dollars of debt is simply unsustainable, if not immoral. Our obstinate denial of the consequences of our consumption of natural resources is unconscionable.

What will the Creighton Class of 2056 hear from their commencement speaker? That day will be here before we know it. Today, 2014, what will we wish we would have done for these future graduates?

Musings of An Old Fogie

Too many elders become cynical and fearful as they observe inevitable change occurring within a dynamic culture. I never want to be like that or be dismissed as an “old fogie”. However, I must confess deep concern, worry and skepticism about where our country is headed.

This past weekend we had a terrific weekend at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI centered on the Junior Recital of an extraordinarily gifted young woman. Meeting Elena’s friends was delightful and reason for great hope.

This same weekend a grand-niece was graduating from San Diego State. Yes, amid all the wild fires – only most recent evidence of the climate change which is dramatically transforming what had been considered one of the earth’s most ideal climates. My nephew reported that temps were near 100 in a region where most homes haven’t bothered with air conditioning.

I desperately do not want to be an “old fogie” trapped in fear and cynicism. I am determined to remain hopeful, happy and optimistic. How are we to live with the tension, the very concrete evidence that gives reason for serious concern for our children’s future?

If ever there was a time, we are in need of dusting off what have classically been called the Cardinal Virtues: prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude! Only these seem an adequate antidote to the worry and skepticism even a casual look at “reality” would generate.

A case in point comes from a bastion of conservative American culture, The Wall Street Journal: The class of 2014 is holds a very dubious and discouraging distinction. They’re the most indebted class ever. [link]

The average graduate with student-loan debt leaves with an obligation of $33,000 they need to pay back. Even after adjusting for inflation that’s nearly double the amount borrowers had to pay back 20 years ago. A little over 70% of this year’s bachelor’s degree recipients are leaving school with student loans, up from less than half of graduates in the Class of 1994.

Apparently wanting to avoid the old fogie moniker as well, The Wall Street Journal reports: “The good news for the Class of 2014 is that they likely won’t hold the title of Most Indebted Ever very long. Just as they took it over from the Class of 2013, the Class of 2015 will probably take it from them.”

The Cardinal Virtues were initially articulated by Plato in The Republic and expanded by Cicero. Christianity picked up on them through Ambrose, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. The term “cardinal” comes from the Latin cardo or hinge; these virtues are considered cardinal because they are the basic virtues required for a virtuous civic life.

This old fogie cannot help but look around and be concerned about some pretty significant fraying in America’s “social contract” around civic virtues such as prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. Perhaps this is what The Wall Street Journal sees as well.

Never having been accused of being “conservative”, I cannot help but think of the Preamble to our Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

I worry – in fairness – whether we are passing on what we old fogies received.

Earth Day Reprised

Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit priest.  In addition to sharing one of my personal favorites of his poetry, I also want to remind everyone of a principle set down by Ignatius of Loyola, founder of Hopkins’ religious order: We are to pray as if everything depends on God and we are to work as if everything depends on us!   …wise counsel as we face the life-threatening crisis of climate change!

We should all be concerned and committed to change when credible reports on the climate state that we have only a matter of years, not decades, to dramatically reduce our suicidal alienation from and degradation of the environment.  We need to get our heads out of the sand and stop living in denial  or despair.  To do that we need a healthy dose of hope!  

God’s Grandeur
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Source: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)