Book Read: Inconspicuous Consumption

Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don't Know You HaveInconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have by Tatiana Schlossberg

Readers might experience a bit of cognitive dissonance as they move through this book. The message of the book could easily be “If you aren’t experiencing waves of panic, you aren’t paying attention.” But the text reads like the transcript of a comedy routine in many places. Here are a few examples:

As we covered in our section on monocultures that everyone will force their children to memorize because of the beauty of the prose and the fundamental wisdom of the insights, crops that are planted as monocultures are more susceptible to extreme weather events and pests.
(Page 91, in a chapter on food waste)

And what do we do with that excess of stuff that we now have? Do we treasure it and thank our lucky stars that we can buy an imitation Gucci bomber jacket for $10 and kiss the ground and love our parents and their parents for putting us on this verdant, splendid earth? Yep.
(Page 152, in a section on fast fashion)

There are so many things to give the British credit for: scones with cream and jam, Shakespeare, the idea that no one is above the law, ruthless colonialism, warm beer, I could go on.
(Page 186, in a section on using wood as a fuel)

In twenty-four chapters, Schlossberg covers much of our daily lives and activities, from entertainment to shopping to food to fashion to transportation to heating and air conditioning. In short, if we put on clothes, eat breakfast, go to work (even if we’re working from home), eat dinner, or watch a movie before heading off to bed, we’re doing something that in some way is damaging the environment. What’s worse, those of us who are fortunate enough to be considered middle class are damaging the environment in ways that will have a greater effect on those in lower socioeconomic strata.

At the moment it’s a bit harder than usual to focus on the environmental impact of my choices. I read the last chapters of Inconspicuous Consumption one evening. The next morning I was in line outside the local supermarket at 5:55 a.m., waiting to try my luck at finding ten days’ worth of groceries on shelves that had been stripped bare by panic shopping. It was five weeks into the state of emergency declared by the governor of New Jersey to curtail the spread of COVID-19. I’ve ordered things online, from e-tailers that I’ve never done business with before, that I can ordinarily find in the local supermarket. We haven’t had to put gas in our cars for weeks, which is a blessing, but we’ve used more soap and hot water, bleach and paper towels, in those five weeks than we have in the past five months.

On the other hand, It would be easy to pat myself on the back for long practices of composting kitchen scraps, recycling, drinking filtered tap water instead of water from plastic bottles, using reusable grocery bags, and wearing clothes until they are frayed and threadbare (much to my beloved wife’s chagrin). But I leave our WIFI router, cable TV box, digital clock-radios, and other devices that are constantly drawing power plugged in all day, every day. I can do more. I should do more.

I seldom say things like this, but every conscientious American should borrow this book from their local library and read it. It will open eyes and change attitudes. It won’t prescribe behavior or remedies to every concern that Tatiana Schlossberg raises. She admits in several places that there are no easy or obvious solutions, and it is impossible to say that things like e-commerce, fish farming, and large-scale agriculture are completely bad for the planet. But she connects enough dots to allow the reader to draw some pretty firm conclusions in many areas and take appropriate remedial action. She does so in a way that is approachable, not filled with dry statistics, nonjudgmental, and engaging in many places.

Thanks for stopping by.

Pat

How Will We Eat When the Pandemic Is Over?

Your approach to food may have changed in the past few weeks. Mine has. Before the pandemic I could demolish a jar of Planter’s peanuts in a few days. Now I make it last more than a week. I was used to fixing myself a mid-morning snack or a second breakfast, but I haven’t done that in weeks. The biggest meal I’ve had in over a month was Easter dinner, and even then I probably ate only about two-thirds of what I might otherwise have eaten.

One reason for the change, to be frank, is to conserve TP. But I’m not as hungry because I’m not as active and not burning as many calories. I also really want to stretch our food supply so that I don’t have to make as many trips to the supermarket.

The health-related risks that we, especially those of us who have reached senior-citizen status, now incur in the supermarket make us think twice about our food purchases. How can I plan and execute my purchases, with the flexibility needed because some items may not be available when I go, to make my food purchases stretch as far as possible without hoarding? Will I then plan and prepare my meals carefully so as to avoid wasting it once I get it home?

That got me thinking of food waste in broader terms. (That, and Tatiana Schlossberg’s book, Inconspicuous Consumption) For the past several years, and even in the past few months, major news outlets such as the BBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post have published articles on the connection between food waste and climate change. They all cite an alarming statistic: Globally between thirty and forty percent of food is wasted. “If food loss and waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest [greenhouse gas] emitter—surpassed only by China and the United States.” (Source: World Resources Institute)

Some food waste occurs before the food even leaves the fields where it is grown. Fruits and vegetables that are less than perfect are left in the field to decompose. I’ve picked produce as a volunteer at a local urban farm and I’ve dropped blemished peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes on the ground because they won’t sell at the farm’s markets (although I have taken some home, with the farm’s knowledge and permission). Some food is discarded by the stores or restaurants that purchase it because it has become unfit to sell or serve. I’ve passed over bruised fruit in the supermarket many times. Some food, such as bagged lettuce, packaged meat, or milk is discarded because the sell-by date has passed. Some food goes to waste in our refrigerators either before we get a chance to prepare it or after we prepare it and we forget about the leftovers.

Minnie_Mouse_Strawberry
Would you buy this strawberry?

Does the pandemic offer us an opportunity to think more carefully about food and food waste? Eventually the pandemic will end. Retail food supplies will stabilize and we’ll go back to a more casual approach to grocery shopping. But can we hold back from resuming that casual approach? Can we carry forward the more deliberate approach that we’ve developed in this moment of emergency? Can we plan and execute our food shopping trips and our food preparation and consumption to reduce the amount of food we waste?

Asking if we can do things like putting a blemished apple or a misshapen pepper in our carts may be a bridge too far. I understand the hesitation when a single bruised apple or pear might still cost $1.00 or more. But maybe not. There are businesses that offer produce that’s less than perfect but edible and affordable. Imperfect Foods and Missfits Market both deliver in New Jersey. City Saucery makes tomato sauce from imperfect produce. Do you have sources for imperfect produce that you can share? Leave a comment.

On the local retail front, maybe if enough consumers got together, grocery stores and other produce vendors might offer some of their less-than-perfect wares at reduced prices as well.

The real struggle, though, will be over what we do with leftovers and food that we can’t use because it’s gone bad or it’s well past its “sell by” date. We’ll look at some of those concerns in a future post.

For now, though, you’ve probably already rethought your approach to food because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have modified that approach in such a way that is better for the environment, for the local community, or for your family or neighbors, please share what you’ve done and how you will carry that practice forward when the pandemic ends. May you and those close to you stay well and may you have peace in these trying circumstances.

Thanks as always for stopping by.

Pat

Grace in a Time of Uncertainty

In a chapter entitled “Sovereignty in a Time of Spanners” in Faith Across the Multiverse, Andy Walsh considers chaos theory, parabolas, and strange attractors in a discussion of God’s sovereignty and grace. God is sovereign, yet God has given the created universe, including humanity, some agency. People make mistakes. Errors occur. Mutations occur, as humanity is seeing now with the transmission of the COVID-19 virus from an animal to a human. But God’s creation is not so rigidly constructed that it can’t recover from mistakes, errors, and mutations.

The mutations resulting in COVID-19 have produced a plague, the magnitude of which humanity has not seen in a century. Left unchecked, the plague would likely sicken billions and kill millions or tens of millions. Eventually enough people would contract the disease caused by the virus and recover, or develop specific immunity through encounters with the virus that don’t make them sick. Humanity would survive. Then, if the virus were to reemerge in the human population years later, the people at greatest risk would mostly be those born since the first outbreak.

Scientists, governments, and health agencies around the world are racing to check the spread of COVID-19 and identify effective therapies, so the devastation to human populations will not be as great as it might otherwise be. That is not to say that the outbreak represents a manageable risk. Far from it; the risk from the outbreak to any one individual, or to the healthcare system in a given location, is still enormous. But the error-correcting capabilities, the grace built into the created universe, are at work through both medical science and natural defense mechanisms. As of this writing, more than 150,000 people around the world who were sickened by COVID-19 have recovered. Grace is at work.

Are there other evidences of grace in the moment? My wife is an elementary school teacher, and her students are currently learning at home. Recently she participated in a video conference with the students in her class. Some of them are using the time at home with their families to learn skills and engage in activities that they might not have time for otherwise: gardening, riding a bike, running, making home movies, cooking. Home schooling and remote instruction are not optimal in these circumstances, but families and educators are adapting.

My wife teaches in an affluent suburban district, and the children in her class have resources that children in urban districts only a few miles away do not have. Is grace is still at work in those districts as families adapt to cope with this disruption? I pray that it is.

Grace is at work as religious congregations, clubs, and other voluntary organizations are finding ways to stay connected by means that were unavailable even a few years ago, such as video conferencing. The church I where I worship has been holding services via Zoom, and it is so good to see the faces and hear the voices of people that I would ordinarily see in person every week. The congregation is filled with huggers, though, and I know hearts ache even now for resumption of in-person worship.

Grace is evident in the work of people who are still caring for at-risk populations such as those experiencing short-term homelessness, chronic homelessness, and food insecurity. Grace also allows those of us with means to support those efforts.

Is grace at work in the natural world? There is evidence that reductions in airborne pollution, including carbon emissions, can be traced to restrictions placed on travel and commerce in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. These reductions, unfortunately, are not sustainable in a world whose economy depends on global travel and commerce and where employees must look many miles from their homes for affordable housing, then commute long distances to their jobs. As the outbreak wanes in the coming months, those pollution-creating features of the global economy will return. Maybe, though, we are discovering during this time how much we don’t need some of the stuff that we have become accustomed to having, and that we can conserve the resources need to produce and ship them. That may be a long-term grace that this pandemic bestows on the creation.

forsythia_lr

I see grace that has no connection to the COVID-19 virus, but that might lift the spirits of those who are living with the fear and uncertainty of the moment. Spring seems to be lasting longer than it has in recent years, in spite of the warmer-than-usual February we experienced. The magnolia tree around the corner that blossomed many days ago still has flowers on it, as do the forsythias in our neighbors’ yards. In recent years March days with temperatures in the seventies would have accelerated the bloom-shedding process for trees and shrubs, but now those blossoms are lingering. We have a primrose in bloom in our front garden that doesn’t bloom every year. There are no dots to be connected, no lines to be drawn, between COVID-19 and what I see as a longer spring, but maybe God is leaving the beauty of these blooms around a little longer this year for a reason.

Primrose_lr

I’m not a Pollyanna. Because of my age I have an elevated risk of developing severe illness or dying should I become infected with COVID-19. So all of this is not to say that I am assured of passing through this pandemic unscathed. But individual cases notwithstanding, there is evidence of grace, bestowed on the creation by a loving God, all around. I hope you, dear reader, will take some time to look for it. I wish you and your family peace and well-being in this time of uncertainty and fear. Thank you for stopping by.

Pat

Can a Tree Be Lonely?

In the spring of 2017 the city of Clifton’s recreation department planted a tree in a nearby park in memory of my brother, Tim, who had passed away the previous fall. (We had paid to have the tree planted.) The tree, a thundercloud plum, is a native species that is known to thrive in a variety of soil conditions.

Blossoms_on_Tim's_tree
Our thundercloud plum in bloom in April 2019

I’ve done what I could to help the tree thrive. I filled the Treegator® bag that the city placed around the tree with water throughout that first spring and summer. Last year I top-dressed the soil around the tree with manure and spread a layer of mulch around the trunk, being careful not to pile the mulch against the trunk.

To my eye the tree hasn’t grown much, if at all, in the three years since it was planted. It’s certainly not thriving, as other thundercloud plums in the neighborhood are. Was it a poor specimen to begin with? Is the soil in that park especially poor or too damp? There aren’t any other trees or shrubs in the park area, so there is little to which to compare our tree’s growth.

I’m beginning to wonder if the tree might be lonely.

In recent months I’ve read two books that discuss tree communication. Both are works of fiction. Most recently I’ve read The Overstory by Richard Powers, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019. It was a gift from my friend, the poet Sandra Duguid Gerstman. The chapter that introduces Patricia Westerford, and later sections where her work intersects with the activities of other characters, are full of fascinating tree science. Part of her story line focuses on the science of how trees communicate with one another. Even though the book is a novel, I understand the science to be authentic and accurate.

Last year I read Sue Burke’s debut novel, Semiosis, which is set in an alien world. It features trees and plants that not only communicate with one another but also learn to communicate with the humans who have come to live on their planet. The plant science is extrapolated to fit the alien environment and serve the purposes of the plot, but again, I understand the underlying phenomena to be observable here on earth. Then there’s The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. The book, and Wohlleben’s work, are discussed in a 2018 article published online by Smithsonian.

Is our thundercloud plum lonely? It’s surrounded by grass. The nearest other trees are old oak trees that are about a hundred feet away. The possibility of them being “aware” of the presence of our tree, or sharing resources with a tree of a different species, is very slight. So what should I do to help our tree thrive? I don’t know if I could justify the cost of a companion, and I don’t know if the recreation department would supply another thundercloud even if I could. I will try again to fertilize it this spring. When I applied fertilizer last spring, I did so after the tree had flowered last year, and fertilizer should be applied before it flowers. So maybe that did more harm than good.

The notion that our solitary tree might be lonely reminds me of the words of Ecclesiastes 4:9–10. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.” (NIV)

Whether you’re a person dealing with the realities of everyday life or a tree trying to survive in an unfavorable environment, it’s always better to have company.

Thanks for stopping by.

Pat

Saturday in the Soil

The soil is finally warm enough to be worked. It’s also not muddy, unlike in past years. So a mild Saturday provided a great opportunity to start preparing the garden, all one hundred square feet of it, for planting.

We sowed winter rye in the fall. Winter rye is one of several plants that local garden experts recommend as cover crops. Cover crops grow quickly, protect the soil from erosion, and pull carbon from the atmosphere. Because they grow later into the fall they provide these benefits when all the other annual plants have died from the cold. In the spring it’s a simple matter of turning the soil, plants and all, to keep the carbon and other organic matter safely in the ground and available for new crops.

Winter rye grass
Winter rye grass in late winter.

We compost all year long. Several times a week we take a repurposed cookie jar filled with egg shells; vegetable and fruit cores, stems, peels, and rinds; coffee grounds; and tea bags out to a large beehive-shaped composting bin. Once or twice a month, maybe more frequently in some months, this hash of rotting vegetable matter gets mixed up to help even out and accelerate the process. Several buckets of compost came out of the bottom of the bin this year. After sifting, the yield was about a cubic foot of humus, which was supplemented with some commercially produced compost and manure and dug into the garden.

Composting has the added benefit of reducing the municipal waste stream. A conservative estimate puts the amount of vegetable matter that goes into our compost bin at over two hundred pounds per year. It includes approximately 300 egg shells, 200 banana peels, 500 tea bags, and enough grounds for 300 cups of coffee. If ten percent of the households in our city kept 200 pounds of vegetable matter out of the garbage every year, that would reduce the amount hauled to landfills by several truckloads every year. My approach to food and food waste is not entirely consistent with sustainable consumption practice, however. Bananas, for example, are never in season in New Jersey. Neither are oranges, coffee, or tea, but that doesn‘t stop me from consuming them. I have some work to do.

There’s a lot of good, interesting (yes, really!) reading available about soil health and its relationship to food security and the environment. Below are some suggestions for your reading pleasure. If you have read something else and would like to recommend it, please leave a comment.

Meanwhile the garden, with its seedlings and seeds, compost and mulch, is an exercise in hope. In a few weeks, God willing, we will have salad greens and more. In a few years, God willing, a larger “we” will see the results of our efforts to keep additional carbon out of the atmosphere. The effort we put into our hundred-square-foot garden will bear infinitesimal results toward that end, but we hope that others will make a similar effort toward sustainable food production and consumption and add their infinitesimal results to a larger total.

Meanwhile, I wish you God’s blessing, abundance, and peace this spring and for the balance of the Lenten and Easter seasons.

Thanks for stopping by.

Pat

Cleaning Up Halloween

Is there a Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge character associated with Halloween? If there is, I am about to channel that character.

Halloween is a low-risk holiday that can be fun for so many people and for so many reasons. Creativity in costume design is the rule of the day. Kids get to dress up, pretend to be someone or something else, and ask perfect strangers for treats. Adults sometimes get in on the act, too. There are parties, games, parades, contests, and less of the sense associated with other holidays that everything has to be perfect.

Cleaning up after Halloween can be stress free, unless you spend lots of money and hours decorating your house. Yes, there may be some leftover candy if your neighborhood doesn’t see many trick-or-treaters—ours doesn’t—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We bought three bags of candy and we gave out about twelve pieces, so we have lots of leftovers. But we may need to give more thought to cleaning up Halloween.

pumpkin_november_2018

The morning after Halloween I had an errand to run on foot and what I saw in my travels got me thinking about the holiday in a different way. It started when I saw some neighbors putting their pumpkins into a plastic garbage bag. The pumpkins probably weighed several pounds each. Multiply that by the number of households in our neighborhood that had pumpkins or jack-o-lanterns on their front steps, and that’s a lot of organic matter that will end up in a landfill and that will have little chance of nourishing the soil. That’s not to mention the fuel that will be spent collecting them and hauling them to the landfill. In another neighborhood there might be enough squirrels and other pumpkin-eating creatures to provide a more environmentally friendly solution. If I had been less preoccupied I might also have taken the pumpkins to my compost pile. Shame on me for not thinking of that.

candy_wrapper_November_2018

Along my brief walk I also spotted plastic candy wrappers. Our neighborhood is pretty clean and litter free, so an occasional piece of trash doesn’t send me into a rage. But plastic is the demon substance of 2018, with good reason. Single-use plastic items, such as candy wrappers, the bags in which the candy is sold, and the bigger bags in which the bags of candy are hauled home from the store, account for so much waste that the state of New Jersey is looking to ban some of them. I picked up a few candy wrappers, but they will end up in the landfill with the pumpkins. Others will end up in municipal compost piles with the leaves and lawn clippings. Some may get washed into the storm drains and end up in the Passaic River and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean, where they may become hazards for sea creatures. The wrappers and bags can probably be recycled but the value of the resources required to clean them and gather them for recycling is probably several times greater than the value of the recycled plastic itself. That’s when there are markets for recyclable plastic, and some of those markets don’t exist or have shrunk dramatically.

lawn_decorations_November_2018

Finally there are decorations. Unless your house and several of your neighbors’ houses are decorated and lit up for Halloween, trick-or-treaters tend to skip your block. Durable decorations like these inflatable characters can be used year after year. (They do require electricity to stay inflated.) Much of what is sold for Halloween decoration consists of cheaply made plastic items that are designed to be used once or a few times then discarded. Think of the spider webs, skeletons, and gravestones that you see in the yards in your neighborhood. How many of them will end up in a landfill in a few days?

Where is this discussion headed? Not toward a proposal for a ban on Halloween. If Halloween celebrations were to cease, there would be a significant economic impact involving candy manufacturers and retailers, manufacturers and retailers of costumes and decorations, and the transport and logistics companies that get all of it from the manufacturers to the retailers and on to the consumers. The benefit for the environment might be negligible; little would arise from such a ban to improve the chances of avoiding a major climate catastrophe. The same might be said for a ban on plastic drinking straws, plastic grocery bags, and polystyrene foam take-out food containers when examined as a single isolated measure.

Still, if individuals are to have any positive impact on the environment and the climate, we need to pay closer attention to the complete life cycle of each product that we purchase and consume. What resources are used to make the product? What resources are used to get the product to us? What happens to the product when we’re done with it? What waste is generated along the way, and where does that waste go?

You may do some of your most creative thinking around Halloween. What ways can you think of to clean up the holiday, make less use of stuff that we send to the landfill a few days afterward, and still keep the fun in?

Thanks for stopping by!

Pat

Richfield Farms

Richfield Farms is nursery and garden center in Clifton, New Jersey. They raise  vegetables on approximately two acres and sell them on site. Their total property comprises just under five acres. They are faced with a large property tax bill, which they struggle to pay, because their property is not large enough to qualify as a farm and therefore a reduced tax rate. This week an article appeared in the Herald News and the Clifton Journal describing an effort that the City of Clifton is making to resolve the dilemma.

The rest of this post is the the text of a letter to the editor that I had drafted in response to the article. The Herald News asks that letters to the editor be kept to 250 words or fewer, and this draft is much longer, but it includes observations that I still wish to make.

Late season lettuce.

It is heartening to see that the City of Clifton is willing to help Richfield Farms stay solvent without having to sell property to a developer. Matt Fagan’s fine piece from Thursday, June 21, mentions several options under consideration. Might a land conservancy or other nonprofit also be interested in purchasing part of the property and leasing it back for a nominal fee so that it could continue as farmland? If the city or another nongovernmental organization takes ownership, the property is removed from tax rolls and taxes may increase for other Clifton property owners. For this Clifton property owner, it’s worth the investment.

Deborah Morton and her family might be inclined to scale back or eliminate the farming operations at Richfield Farms. It should be their prerogative to do so. Farming, even on a small scale, is hard work. Farming and running a retail nursery and garden center has to be an exhausting way to earn a living, but if the descendants of Leenhardt Van Breeman wish to continue raising vegetables on some of their acreage, that would be a very good thing.

First, although nostalgia and romance are important, there is more at stake than the nostalgia and romance associated with a century-old business such as Richfield Farms. When family-owned and operated businesses thrive, the community around them thrives. Big-box retailers that provide the same goods and services provide jobs and tax revenue, but the profits don’t stay in the community. If a big-box store thrives, the local community doesn’t necessarily thrive with it.

Second, small local farms can be part of a food supply that is more resilient in the face of climate change. Third, and related to the second, Richfield Farms, along with other local farms, is in a position to model sustainable and even regenerative growing techniques for local gardeners. By such practices as composting on site and planting cover crops in the fall they are helping to nourish the soil. Through social media and other advertising they are encouraging local gardeners to do likewise. Recent coverage of soil science in the The New York Times, in The Atlantic, and on NPR point out that such practices can remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil. Such practices also foster biodiversity, which is important for a healthy planet.

Best wishes to Clifton’s city officials and to the Morton family for success in this enterprise. Clifton will be a better community if Richfield Farms can begin its second century with solid support from city officials and the community at large.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Pat

Darkness Isn’t All Bad . . .

Except When It Is

The first time I saw the Milky Way, some time in the late 1960s, I was on a ballfield at a Boy Scout camp in Morris County, NJ. It was awe inspiring, even to a largely clueless junior high kid. It’s no longer possible to see the Milky Way in many, if any parts of New Jersey. Maybe deep in the Pine Barrens or in the northwestern hills, but probably not within fifty miles of New York City.

Center_of_the_Milky_Way_Galaxy_from_the_mountains_of_West_Virginia_-_4th_of_July_2010
Center of the Milky Way Galaxy from the mountains of West Virginia. Photo by Forest Wander from Cross Lanes, USA (Center Milky Way Galaxy Mountains) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
The ability to view such sights is so important that some people are working to create dark sky reserves in such places as central Idaho. The absence of light is essential for those who want to observe celestial phenomena. Light pollution from cities and suburbs interferes with astronomical work that makes use of optical telescopes.

Darkness is beneficial to astronomers and to those of us who relish the sight of the stars and planets on a clear night and who hope to see a meteorite now and then. Darkness, though, has a [clears throat] dark side.

We are now in the liturgical season of Advent, the beginning of the Christian liturgical year. Advent occurs as the daylight hours are shortest in the Northern Hemisphere. This alignment of the seasons seems particularly appropriate now. Darkness fills more of the twenty-four hour day. Darkness also seems to want to fill our lives as the social, cultural, and political atmospheres in the United States are dominated by dense clouds of hatred, bigotry, and contempt for those with opposing views.

Darkness characterized the first Advent. The years between Ezra and Nehemiah, the last narratives of the Old Testament, and the Nativity stories of Luke and Matthew were dark years for Israel. Under the Persians, who were in power when Nehemiah rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem, Israel was essentially a vassal state. The Persian overlords were replaced by the Seleucids, including Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and ultimately the Romans.

Through this time Israel carried with them the promise spoken through Isaiah in 49:6 that God would send one who would be “a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (ESV) Thinking of Israel during this period calls to mind the candle that remains lit after a Good Friday Tenebrae service. Did Israel remember that promise? When we see Anna and Simeon greeting Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus at the temple we know that some remembered (Luke 2:22–38).

The One who was to be the light for the nations did come. He told us that we were to let our lives shine before others that they would glorify God (Matthew 5:14–16). Yet He who is the light of the world was hidden momentarily in the darkness of the grave. In glory He arose and ascended to heaven, sending the Holy Spirit as a flame, bringing light and passion to our work (Acts 2:1–4). We also have His Word, a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Psalm 119:105).

A further remark by Saint Paul seems particularly timely as well: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible.” (Ephesians 5:11–13 ESV) So too this remark by Justice Louis Brandeis: “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

As we approach Advent and the short days of winter, and as we await the Second Advent, we can remember that we have sources of light that can help us see through any darkness. Let us live in that light, speaking what we know to be true, kind, and edifying, and shining light on the darkness that is all around us.

Thanks as always for stopping by!

Pat

Buy Local, Give Local

Thanksgiving is followed quickly by two important days: Small Business Saturday (Saturday 25 November 2017) and Giving Tuesday (Tuesday 28 November 2017). Intelligent readers will have no trouble deciding what to do on either day. For Giving Tuesday in particular I thought it might be good to highlight some of the small nonprofit organizations that I’ve had contact with this year.

market&allwood_web

I haven’t donated cash to or volunteered with all of these organizations. In fact I’ve volunteered with only two; three if you count playing in the Bloomfield Civic Band as volunteering. The point of this list is to encourage you to think about the charitable organizations in your own local area and think about ways that you can support them on Giving Tuesday and throughout the year.

What I would also like most of all is for you to comment with suggestions for local charities in your area that deserve support. Updates will be posted to my FB page and Twitter feed as they come in. If you and I are friends on FB or Twitter your friends will see the posts and may also be prompted to take action. I do not plan to filter any suggestions out unless they happen to be for some organization that most readers would find abhorrent. Please supply a URL along with the name of the organization.

I look forward to hearing from. Now, here’s my starter list:

Urban Farming, Sustainable Agriculture

Environment

Autism Awareness and Advocacy

Services for the Homeless and Other Neighbors in Need

Welfare of At-Risk Moms and Children

Music Education and Performing Arts

Miscellaneous

  • Friends of the (your town name here) Public Library

From Andy Walsh  (Mostly Pittsburgh Area)

  • Light of Life Rescue Mission serves the needs of the homeless and others in the Pittsburgh North Side community where I work; in fact, their newest facility will be going up where I used to park.
    https://www.lightoflife.org/
  • The Watson Institute provides services for many individuals and families with special needs, including those with autism spectrum diagnoses. The organization has a rich history, having previously served polio patients and working with Jonas Salk in developing the vaccine.
    https://www.thewatsoninstitute.org/

Final Thoughts

It should be clear to any observer, regardless of their political leanings or affiliations, that the current philosophy and actions of the U.S. federal government will make the need for private charitable enterprise much greater for the foreseeable future. Whether the enterprise is care for the environment, care for people who have fallen on hard times, or any of the dozens of other social concerns we could name, private individuals and small organizations will have a greater role to fill to meet the challenges of the coming years. Some may think that is as it should be. No matter; the needs will be there and they will be substantial. This Giving Tuesday I hope we can all stretch our imaginations and our budgets a little to stand in the gap.

Thanks as always for stopping by!

Pat

Painted Ladies, Hurricanes, Earthquakes

A painted lady (Vanessa cardui) stopped and visited our coneflower (echinacea purpurea) today.

Painted lady butterfly on purple coneflower
Painted lady, wings closed

This butterfly visited as fall was arriving in the northern hemisphere. Like its more well-known cousin the monarch, the painted lady doesn’t stick around for winter. It gets out of winter’s way and heads toward a warmer locale. Some butterflies, such as the mourning cloak, can winter over in the temperate zone. That’s why mourning cloaks are among the first butterflies to be sighted in the spring.

Painted lady butterfly on purple coneflower
Painted lady, wings partly open

Sometimes we can see changes or events coming and we can prepare for them or get out of their way. In the past few weeks millions of people saw storms coming and got out of way or prepared to weather the storms. In spite of their preparations, many people suffered great personal harm from the storms. In Mexico many thousands of people had no way of knowing that earthquakes were coming and also suffered great personal harm.

Painted lady butterfly on purple coneflower
Painted lady, wings open

If you are like me, you do not have the skills to help the survivors rebuild their lives. But we can give, and we can pray. Please do both as you think about creatures who are preparing now for the coming of winter.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

Pat