Sunday, February 28, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #29... Ecology of daily life for 7.4 billion

Call it coincidence (or not), but after last week's reflection on a grassroots cultural ecology, I kept running into news stories about the Site C Dam in BC. Here's a case where it seems that our big natural resource businesses have decided that they need more energy -- to be derived from damming the Peace River, in spite of the objections of First Nations Treaty 8 people. I don't know enough about Site C, but the story is definitely on my radar now. Are there examples of cultural clashes around land or project development where you live? I expect there are more than a few even closer to my home!

The idea of understanding the needs of society's grass roots comes up frequently in Pope Francis's letter to the world, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. And here's a question I forgot to ask last week -- just who makes up these grass roots? Quite often they are the poor, the lower class, the voiceless, the people without power, until they organize around a cause and make their voices heard. They are the few at Site C who are protesting because of the value of the land that will be flooded, the species that will be displaced, loss of their agricultural livelihood, and creation of energy that will fuel the exploitation of more resources, creating more fossil fuel emissions and increased climate change.

The voices of those who make up grass roots movements need to be heard, and that theme continues in this week's reading of paragraphs 147-151 of Laudato Siwhich can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down. This week, though, we shift focus toward urban issues as we are start a new section called Ecology of Daily Life, which talks about quality of life for human beings, particularly in cities. Did you know that of the world's 7.4 billion people, 53% of us are city dwellers, and a full 80% of Canadians live in urban settings? You can find stats for other places by clicking here -- it's actually quite interesting.

Pope Francis and friends want to point out the importance of beauty, simplicity, and order in human life. Paragraph 147 notes that "We make every effort to adapt to our environment, but when it is disorderly, chaotic, or saturated with noise and ugliness, such overstimulation makes it difficult to find ourselves integrated and happy."

Even so, "An admirable creativity and generosity is shown by persons and groups who respond to environmental limitations by alleviating the adverse effects of their surroundings and learning to orient their lives amid disorder and uncertainty." Paragraph 148 underlines the fact that even when our living situations are chaotic, "a commendable human ecology is practised by the poor in spite of numerous hardships" and human beings can find a sense of belonging and solidarity by working together to improve their surroundings in their homes and neighbourhoods.

I especially love the example of the people in the al-Zaitoun neighbourhood in Gaza:


These people are fairly well-off, but many of the neighbourhoods inhabited by the poor are "lacking harmony, open spaces, or the potential for integration" as noted in paragraph 149. Unfortunately, such places often attract a criminal element that aims to exploit the poor. Pope Francis and his encyclical writers are very aware of the fact that violence, drug culture and antisocial behaviour are often present in these situations, but the Pope says, "I wish to insist that love always proves more powerful. Many people in these conditions are able to weave bonds of belonging and togetherness which convert overcrowding into an experience of community in which the walls of the ego are torn down and the barriers of selfishness overcome."

Friends of mine took their family and lived in Ghana for several months, and experienced this first hand. There were no green spaces where the children could play -- they all played together in the streets of Accra, and everyone knew and looked out for each other.

By contrast, in our wide open spaces here in Canada, and here in Edmonton, urban planners have tried to find solutions to inner city problems by creating "integrated communities" where people of different social strata can live together... but they often meet seemingly insurmountable opposition from people who fear that their way of life will somehow be undermined by the presence of low-income housing, halfway houses or Housing First accommodations which give homeless people roofs over their heads and then deal with their social challenges. My question is -- how do we allay the fears of people who have never met the poor?

As a middle class person who once fit that category, but who now knows the homeless to be the salt of the earth in spite of their many challenges, I would love to see more integrated communities in my city and country. I suspect the only way to bring that about is to offer more people a chance to walk with our inner city brothers and sisters on a regular basis, to meet them and learn about their lives. On Good Friday, March 25th, the 36th annual Edmonton Outdoor Way of the Cross offers one such opportunity. You can learn more about it by clicking here or here. Many cities offer similar opportunities; it's just a matter of seeking them out through inner city agencies.

Paragraph 150 draws us back into the land of consulting with the grass roots when it says, "those who design buildings, neighbourhoods, public spaces and cities, ought to draw on the various disciplines which help us to understand people's thought processes, symbolic language and ways of acting. It is not enough to seek the beauty of design."

Conservation also needs to be a part of what we strive for in our communities. In paragraph 151, we see that it is important to preserve those parts of a landscape which help to create our sense of belonging as human beings. Elements that create cohesion are important because they unite us, toppling the belief that we are all strangers and preventing us from creating "us vs. them" neighbourhoods. Natural areas that create a sense of well-being help us to realize that we belong to the great "we," that we are all one family. If we understand Jesus at all, we know that he came to knock down our divisions and to remind us that every one of us is an equally beloved child of God.

Just imagine if our communities could reflect this fact! In the week ahead, let's focus on the idea that really, the grass roots of any society is made up of people who are all equally beloved of God, and that we should all be working together to create a lifestyle that reflects the beloved-ness of every human being, all 7.4 billion of us. How might that understanding change our society and our world? Would terrorist organizations have any reason to be so hateful, or would love prove more powerful, as Pope Francis says?

How can we create a sense of equality and beloved-ness for everyone we meet, regardless of their place in society?

Stay tuned...

*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,

that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Up next: #30... Respect for home

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A few gorgeous moments from Taizé

Today we had a lovely Lenten Taizé retreat day, and I am still humming the music. To introduce the day to the almost 30 (!) participants, we showed the video below. I share it with you, just because I love these few gorgeous moments which remind me that such a wonderful, hopeful, prayerful place exists. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #28... Grassroots cultural ecology

File:Georges Bizet - Rosabel Morrison - Carmen poster.pngA few weeks ago, my three daughters and I went to see Georges Bizet's opera, Carmen. Though it was set in pre-civil war 1930s Spain and lacked the rich costumes of the usual late 1800s portrayal, the singers were strong, the orchestra wonderful, and the music was magical -- if you know Carmen, you know what I mean. It's a little piece of human culture that has enriched our planet for the past 140 years.

Where would the human race be without art, music, architecture, drama, and the languages that give voice to who we are as God's children? I recently saw a clever bit of graffiti that said, "Earth without art is just "Eh."

Unfortunately, human history has seen many eras when cultures clashed and history was re-written by the winners. As a result, we lost whole civilizations and communities which had important things to say about our place in God's creation -- so much so that Pope Francis and his encyclical writing team saw fit to include a section on Cultural Ecology in Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. This week we are looking at that section, which can be found by clicking here and scrolling down to paragraphs 143-146.

When our ecological heritage is under threat, so is our cultural heritage. As is noted in paragraph 143, "Culture is more than what we have inherited from the past; it is also, and above all, a living, dynamic and participatory present reality, which cannot be excluded as we rethink the relationship of human beings and the environment."

And what is that endangers our cultural heritage? You probably know my bias -- I would point to the way our media/marketers plant artificial desires in the hearts of so many people -- to keep up with the Joneses, to be like everyone else rather than acknowledging that we are all unique and beautiful children of God who don't have to look and dress like the flavour-of-the-month celebrities in any given country. That's only one example... Pope Francis and friends say in paragraph 144 that "There is a need to respect the rights of peoples and cultures, and to appreciate that the development of a social group presupposes an historical process which takes place within a cultural context and demands the constant and active involvement of local people from within their proper culture."

Too often in human history, cultures that saw themselves as "more advanced" or that were wealthier or more scientifically educated (read: superior) imposed themselves upon unsuspecting original populations with disastrous results! I'm thinking of French explorers who brought smallpox and alcohol to the First Nations Peoples of Canada without appreciating the gifts they offered -- a deep understanding of the land and creation. Or of well-meaning scientists who tried to control "pest populations" by introducing a predator species that was more invasive and devastating than the original pest. Paragraph 145 states, "The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems."

But paragraph 146 contains the critically important lines of this entire section -- "...it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed..."

Of course, this is not how our world operates. Mining operations, pipelines, agricultural projects, hydroelectric dams, water bottling plants -- to name just a few -- have been established without appropriate consultation or studies with/of the people and other species who live on and take their livelihood from the lands where such projects have been planted. In our past, some cultures have completely disappeared due to the ignorance of other "invasive cultures," and there are, unfortunately, too many examples of similar things going on at present.

Pope Francis and Laudato Si call us to change that. How? Well, we need to stop acting like superior invaders who impose upon creation, upon cultures, and become co-operators with who and what is already present instead.

If you follow my moodlings at all, you'll know that I particularly like the example given by Development and Peace, a Canadian organization, part of Caritas International, which has learned to listen to people "on the ground" when it comes to offering development assistance. I've heard of too many organizations that parachute people into communities in the developing world to build orphanages or start programs without a real understanding of what is needed. Wouldn't it be better to enter into dialogue and to empower those communities to find their own solutions? To respect their wisdom and protect their way of life with a grassroots cultural ecological model?

Here's Development and Peace's Lent 2016 campaign video, which talks about their approach:



In the week ahead, I would invite us all to consider the culture in which we live, and the ways we celebrate it. We might also give some thought to how we can support struggling cultures in our world without imposing our expectations and solutions upon them. 

They don't need invaders, but I'm sure they can use more friends. Maybe it's time to research organizations in your neck of the woods that support grassroots cultural ecology?

*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,

that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

No stones in my soul

This is just too beautiful for words.



Kudos to L'Arche International for these wonderful shorts, which touch on the most important things in life.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #27... An integral way of thinking

The last few weeks of these reflections have been a pretty tough slog, I'll admit. I laugh at myself because I hated writing essays as a student -- and here, what have I done but set myself the challenge of an essay a week on some darn difficult topics! But it's all worth it if it spreads the ideas of Laudato Si even just a little bit further. Thanks to all of you for reading along with me as I go -- knowing that you are participating in this project keeps me motivated.

I'm actually looking forward to reflecting on the rest of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, because the second half of the encyclical is going beyond the problems toward solutions. Not that they will be easy solutions. The reason Pope Francis's letter to the world is something of a hard sell is that, if we are to make it work, it is the wealthy 8% of the world's population who will have to overhaul our lives with an eye to what the planet requires for the survival of life. We are the ones who will have to rethink our jet-setting vacations, recreational vehicles and oversized homes. And it comes down to the wire -- will we change willingly, or will the increasingly dangerous climate conditions force change upon us?

It also comes down to being willing to sacrifice for the common good, and to reducing our ecological footprints so we can live more sustainably andLaudato Si. This week we are reflecting on paragraphs 137 to 142, which can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down.

Before I get into the Pope's discussion of an integral ecology, I'd like to share a little piece I came across from Australia's Rolling Stone Magazine (Issue 771, February 2016). David Suzuki, our Canadian environmental scientist and global climate change crusader, had this to say:

We are enmeshed...
"I'm an atheist, but the Pope's environmental Encyclical [June 2015's 'Laudato Si'] was such a mind-boggling event: I'd kiss his hands, his feet and any other place he'd want me to kiss him, just for publishing that amazing document! He's done something that we don't tend to do: we tend to go, 'Oh, this is an issue of hunger and poverty, that's Oxfam; this is an issue of social justice, that's Amnesty International; this is an issue of environment, that's the Suzuki Foundation' – we act as though these are separate issues. And the Pope doesn't separate them: he says, 'We've spent all our time focused on two relationships: our human relationship with God, and our relationship with each other. But there is a third relationship, and that's our relationship with the rest of Creation.' Thank you, Francis. It's an astounding thing to come out of the Catholic freakin' Church!"
- See more at: http://rollingstoneaus.com/culture/post/david-suzuki-encounter/3089#sthash.29L9Togm.dpuf
Suzuki is right -- the beauty of the Pope's letter to the world is that it underlines, over and over again, the importance of realizing that everything we do impacts life on this planet in some way, and that there are no "separate issues." We are enmeshed in creation, in our world's many issues, in each other's lives.

Paragraph 137 begins with the refrain that everything is closely interrelated (we hear it twice more in these 6 paragraphs!), followed with the reminder that we need to take into account "every aspect of the global crisis" using an integral ecology. In other words, we must look at what is happening to the environment through the lenses of science, culture, politics, technology, faith, health, resource use, equality and solidarity, climate change, economics, everything.

Facing up to the challenge of employing an integral ecology requires "reflection and debate about the conditions required for the life and survival of society" (paragraph 138), not to mention the rest of creation. "Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it" (paragraph 139). And the crises we face are both social and environmental, demanding "an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature." If we can do those three things, our ecology becomes pretty wholistic or integral.

Paragraph 140 notes that researchers have an important role in determining the environmental impacts of human activity, and that they must have the academic freedom to help us to understand the balance of the ecosystems that make up our planet because otherwise, we can't begin to live sustainably. We humans are pretty good at seeing the things that directly impact us, but wear blinders when it comes to the importance of other creatures essential to the world's survival, not to mention our own. Case in point? The past and present use of DDT and other pesticides -- that we now know are found in our own bodies, though they were only supposed to suppress certain "pests."

Pope Francis is trying to make us realize that the economy's "predictable reactions and... standardization with the aim of simplifying procedures and reducing costs" can no longer be the driving force in our earth's development (paragraph 141). The quality life for all creatures and the human institutions that protect justice, peace and freedom for all of creation need to be given higher priority than the many financial and political forces that have overseen our planet and allowed it to fall into ruin.

One major problem, according to paragraph 142, is that lack of respect for the law has become more and more common at all levels. The pope and friends cite the continuing destruction of forests in countries that have clear forest protection legislation, and the importing of drugs to affluent societies from poor regions that suffer because of the drug trade. If we follow world news at all, we can probably name dozens of other examples of international, national, and local laws that are being ignored all the time, or situations where industry or politics find and exploit loopholes in various social and environmental regulations.

It makes me happy that more and more, activists are discovering and speaking up about the places where laws are ignored to the detriment of our planet -- and that average citizens are getting involved through social media campaigns. But what really needs to happen is that we all need to develop an integral way of thinking at all levels, all the time.

Today is the first Sunday of Lent in the Christian world, and perhaps our challenge for these days leading to Easter can be to see our lives with integral ecology in mind. Almost every choice we make as human beings, whether we realize it or not, has an impact on our planet. For example, my choices this morning have included what to eat for breakfast (what do my food choices cost my planet?) how to prepare it (how is my energy use impacting the environment?), what I will wear (how has it been produced, and who or what is affected by that?) and how I will get to church (what are my fossil fuel emissions?) Seeing how we are enmeshed in the bigger picture takes effort and practice, but it can help us to live more sustainably.

This Lent, we can ask ourselves: How am I enmeshed in God's creation? How can I live more sustainably? How do I fit into an integral ecology?

*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Up next: #28... Grassroots Cultural Ecology

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Hope for the present

On Tuesday evening, we attended a small celebration of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation's Top 30 Under 30, which launched the magazine (posted below) highlighting the work of some remarkable young adults. You can turn the pages and read about these fine people who are committed to working for a more just and sustainable world.


ACGC deserves its own award, I think, for noting and highlighting the work its annually chosen Top 30 have been doing for the past 5 years. They are all contributing in some way toward meeting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations last September -- to end poverty, address and end inequality, protect ecosystems, combat climate change and ensure fair access to food, water and resources, especially in the developing world, to mention just a few. The magazine was launched to mark this year's International Development Week, February 7-12.

Prime Minister Trudeau has it right when he says in his letter (on page four) "You are not the leaders of tomorrow; you are all the leaders of today, and the things you do can have a tremendous impact and change the country and our world."

I was very impressed by Nosiphu Ngqula, the young woman from South Africa (p. 31), who spoke about her work with the young people of her town, and by Michael Glazier (p. 21), whose short speech on leadership should be studied and taken to heart by every world leader. About half of the Top 30 members were present at the event, and it would have been interesting to speak with each one, I'm sure. 

Every one of these young people is a reason for hope for our world, and happiness, in my books. Especially the one I am proud to call my daughter.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

It is well with my soul

As I've mentioned before, I have the privilege of accompanying three of the able-bodied young adults who are assistants to our L'Arche core members with disabilities. Basically, that just means that I listen to the assistants, appreciate them, and encourage them on what is sometimes a very difficult journey. And as I've mentioned before, often I find that in the listening and sharing, I inadvertently receive really beautiful gifts.

Last week during an accompaniment session, I heard about Mariette*, a core member who is struggling with pain that the doctors are unable to identify at present. The team of assistants who are trying to help her are baffled, and things at the house are a bit chaotic as she is unable to communicate the problem, her schedule has become unpredictable, she doesn't sleep well at night and just isn't like her usual self.

L'Arche assistants consistently amaze me with their patience and love as they live with their core member friends, and the mutuality of their relationships flow both ways -- assistants often share anecdotes about how the ones they care for care deeply for them in return. My concern as an accompanier is always with the wellness of the assistants in their roles as caregivers. Though it had been a particularly taxing week for the young woman who shared with me about Mariette, when I asked her how her spirits were doing in the midst of the struggle, she played me the song below on her phone and told me, "I listen to this song every night before I sleep, and it really is well with my soul."

The video below isn't the exact version that she played for me. Providence led me to this version, which just came out just this week, with an album to be released Friday by young mom and singer-songwriter Andrea Assad. It gives me goosebumps with its simplicity and beauty. Her voice is a treasure, don't you think? And I really wish her well! (You can find her website here.)


The hymn's lyrics were written by a man named Horatio Spafford, a well-to-do Presbyterian businessman who suffered several serious calamities in his life, the worst being the loss of 4 daughters in the collision of two ships at sea. As he travelled near the place where the disaster occurred while on his way to catch up with his grieving wife, who was the only one to survive the original journey, these words came to him. In the following years, the Spaffords' losses were seen as divine punishment by their church, but that didn't fit with their understanding of God, so they sold everything and went to Jerusalem to help found a Christian group who provided soup kitchens, hospitals and orphanages for poor Muslim, Jewish and Christian people there.

Coming from a Catholic background, I had never heard Horatio Spafford's hymn before (every Christian denomination seems to have developed its own hymns and ignored all others, somehow, which is another good reason for ecumenism!) The melody is gorgeous, and while I struggle a little with some of the lyrics, I find it deeply moving, especially knowing about the Spaffords' struggles, the struggles in Mariette's situation, and the strength and solace the song has given in both cases. My young assistant friend had no way of knowing what a gift this song was to me in the week that I missed my godfather's funeral. We all come up against "sorrows like sea billows" on occasion, but worship music's potency can bring us healing and hope.

Whatever struggles and challenges you may be facing, may it also, somehow, be well with your soul -- simply because God loves you and never leaves you, no matter what. Have a good Lent.

*I use pseudonyms for all my L'Arche friends.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #26... How to cure a technological headache

To be totally honest, this last section of the third chapter of the Pope's letter to the world gives me a bit of a headache. Or maybe it's just this whole chapter on technology. I guess I'm something of a Luddite at heart, or at least someone who sees where technology has taken us away from much simpler and healthier ways of living. There are just so many contradictions, and contradictions give me a headache!

Yes, it's wonderful that I don't have to wash all our clothing by hand like my grandmothers did -- or hang everything out on the line in the deep of winter -- but all these amazing, convenient, time-saving machines that we own have come with a huge price tag for our planet, too (and did you know that clothes dryers can account for 15% of your monthly electricity bill?) The resources required to make and power enough washers and dryers to handle the clothes of the world population would probably bankrupt the earth -- good thing many of us rely on other methods to clean our clothes. But therein lies the issue – we in North America are spoiled by technology in so many ways that the thought of going back to simpler living is a hard sell. Even for me.

Still, this week's paragraphs of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (130-136, which can be accessed by clicking here) almost make me wish we hadn't progressed in technology for changing biology in particular as far as we have. Paragraph 30 quotes section 2417 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it notes, "While human intervention on plants and animals is permissible when it pertains to the necessities of human life... experimentation on animals is morally acceptable only "if it remains within reasonable limits [and] contributes to care for or saving human lives"" (paragraph 130).

But Pope Francis and his writing team also underline the words of St. Pope John Paul on the 1990 World Day of Peace when he said that it is part of our vocation as human beings to "participate responsibly in God's creative action" while paying close attention to how human interference affects the all-important links between ecosystems and their species. Human experimentation involves considerable risks, as many sci-fi movies have had fun pointing out in rather horrific ways. This is exactly why we must constantly "rethink the goals, effects, overall context and ethical limits" of the biological experimentation that technology affords us (paragraph 131).

Paragraph 132 is where my headache really begins. It is all very well and good to say that we need to be careful and to experiment on nature only in such a way as "to favour its development in its own line, that of creation, as intended by God," as St. Pope John Paul told the World Medical Association in 1983. The problem here is that no one can really say what God intends, as we can't begin to know the mind of God. Does God really want us to play with human DNA to the point that we thereby rid the world of Trisomy 21 and the gorgeous and loving people who have Down Syndrome? Is our experimentation using animals really something that God appreciates even if it saves people from medical problems? If God had really wanted us to have corn that has built in pesticide to kill corn weevils (not to mention other insect life as "collateral damage"), wouldn't God have come up with it?

Paragraphs 133 and 134 try to address the issues of genetic modification, but it seems a pretty wishy-washy effort that only managed to warn us against corporations who are running small producers into the ground through control of genetically modified seed and fertilizers that have been patented by said corporations. But the infertile seeds mentioned at the end of paragraph 134 already exist; surely the Pope and friends are aware of that and could have used stronger words!

The ethical implications of biological technology and genetic modification are topics about which a lot of the world's population is oblivious, and I suppose a papal encyclical isn't exactly going to be the thing to wake us all up and impress upon us the need to call our scientists and the corporations involved to accounts. There are many activists who try to make us aware; unfortunately they don't have Pope Francis's star power. But the best the Pope can do, it seems, is to say that "Discussions are needed in which all those directly or indirectly affected... can make known their problems and concerns, and have access to adequate and reliable information in order to make decisions for the common good, present and future" (paragraph 135). It seems that no one is able to definitively state what is right and what is wrong when it comes to genetic modification because we are unable to see what the future holds.

There's mention of the common good, at least. As we complete the reading of this chapter about the human roots of the ecological crises we are facing on so many different fronts, Pope Francis and friends remind us that "the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development," pointing out the importance of protecting human life in all its ages and stages (paragraph 136). Would that we could feel that way about all life on earth – that environmentalists and medical ethicists and scientists could all see through the same lens, or through God's glasses, to what is the common good for all life.

But no one has actually found God's glasses yet, so the best we can do is be vigilant – to try to see where human activity is overstepping its bounds, and to refuse to support those projects, even to protest if necessary, while supporting more positive choices. My husband and I know that supporting the development of alternate forms of energy rather than fossil fuel pipelines is better for our earth, so we've been buying green power for years, and we're always looking for the healthiest options for our planet. It takes work, and I'll admit that we're not always successful.

While I don’t much like the biological manipulation of anything, preferring to trust that things will unfold as they should in God's loving hands, I'm also pretty aware that "when technology disregards the great ethical principals, it ends up considering any practice whatsoever as licit... [and] will not easily be able to limit its own power" (paragraph 136).

But facing facts, if it wasn't for biological manipulation, I wouldn't be here. For ten years, I lived thanks to pork and beef insulin. Now I take five injections of synthetic, human-made insulin each day. And I have to thank God that Banting and Best and other scientists have figured out medications that keep me and others alive, that medicine has evolved to the point that it has perhaps saved my dad from his particular cancer, that we human beings have developed ways to live in cold climates like mine, and that we can transport the things we need from one place to another, to name just a few of the ways technology has made life better. I bet we could come up with thousands more.

Life must be lived with a sense of balance if we are to truly create a common good that works for all of creation. Sometimes that work involves these headache-inducing contradictions. So for this week, perhaps we can reflect on how human creativity and manipulation of our planet and its resources has made the good things in our lives possible. What do we most appreciate that we have received through the work of human hands? What are the positive technological options that we can support to enable life on earth for future generations? And have we thanked God enough for those things lately? (Or prayed the prayer below?)

I suspect the cure for a technology headache comes from a combination of vigilance, action in support of positive options, prayer, and gratitude.

 *******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Up next: #27... An integral way of thinking

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Simple Suggestion #246... Let little things be little things

Apostrophe quiz image
Im having a difficult time as a writer lately. Wouldnt you know it, I accidentally knocked my keyboard off my desk last week and now I have no apostrophes or quotation marks when I type. Its rather frustrating, as all my contractions and possessives have turned into misspellings and bad grammar, and I usually pride myself on knowing things like when to use its vs. its. Quotation marks are also pretty necessary when Im working on a conversation or trying to emphasize a word.

It wouldnt be so bad if I could figure out how to turn on my hubbys computer in order to make little fixes here on my moodlings, but I cant even find an ON button on his fancy-schmancy tablet thingy. So here I sit, complaining about nothing important and looking like I cant spell or punctuate properly. Oh, the horrors!

The interesting thing is that the vast majority of the things we North Americans complain about are little things like this, or what we could call First World Problems, but we often dont realize it until we come up against Real World Problems. Serious health issues. Alcohol or drug abuse. Homelessness. The death of a loved one. Domestic violence. We dont have to face war or extortion on a daily basis... but there are many in our world who do. So not being able to find the ON button on a fancy-schmancy tablet thingy when 96% of the worlds population cant even own a fancy-schmancy tablet thingy is small potatoes, right?

It helps to keep perspective, and to remind ourselves, daily, that our FWPs arent really anything to complain about. Its even better when they motivate us to do something about RWPs. Why not get involved in the excellent programs created by Development and Peace or other justice-based organizations of your choice, or participate in the work of groups dedicated to a cleaner and healthier world, like the Blue Dot movement here in Canada? Im sure you could probably name a fistful of other possibilities...

I was tempted to post a sort of snarky video about the minor irritations known as FWPs, but Id much rather post todays suggestion: to let the little worries go, and contribute toward solutions for the big problems.

After all, whats a missing apostrophe in the grand scheme of life?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Early spring time in January

Back in December, I was feeling pretty crummy. By that I mean that I was miserable, snappish, cranky, and probably kind of hard to live with. Fortunately, my spiritual director was able to make some time for me, and when I told him how I was feeling, he listened patiently and finally suggested that I might need something to look forward to -- a retreat, or at the very least, a bit of break from being a mom.

See the deer?
The minute the words left his mouth, I knew exactly where I would go and what I would do. I called my dearest, longest-standing friend and asked if I could come for a visit. It had been well over a year since we had been together, and a visit was long overdue. So we set a date for the end of January, and I booked my trip.

Looking out the window of the plane as we touched down in Nanaimo, BC, I remarked to my seat mate that Vancouver Island has to be Canada's closest thing to paradise. I walked onto the tarmac carrying my winter coat, and into 5 days of heaven.

I call it heaven because I recently read something somewhere that said, in effect, that any moment that your heart feels like it will burst with happiness is a little bit of heaven here and now. And the weekend was a necklace of joyful moments strung close together like beads. Singing Kookaburra as we poured tea. Walking in the rain and sun. Marvelling at beauty. Cooking wonderful meals and drinking home made wine. Enjoying good music. And talking about all the things that never make it into our phone calls, letters, emails or texts.

Friend time was what I needed the most. The bonus was that it is very early Spring on Vancouver Island, and we visited my favourite garden on earth in the one season I hadn't seen it.


It was a cool and rainy day,
but we had dressed for the weather, 
and seeing palm trees made it seem much warmer!


We ducked out of the rain for High Tea
in the Butchart home -- as you can see, it was delicious!


The Butcharts' beautiful home houses an historical display
from January 15th to March 15th, so we enjoyed seeing
the lifestyles of the rich and famous from the early 1900s. 
Below, my friend is standing in front of an orchestrion 
(the early twentieth century version of a synthesizer)
and we are enjoying the sounds of a Swiss music box 
that plays eight different tunes.


When we headed out to walk the garden paths,
it had stopped raining.
The garden looks very different in dormancy...
but that's the wrong word -- there are buds everywhere.


This is the first time I really noticed the terraced landscaping.


The heather's starting to bloom, 
and who knew there were so many berries on the shrubs?


Faint bits of colour appear on the budding trees, even in the reflecting pool.


I  never noticed the tree trunks before,
but even they are pretty!


And the moss on the trees and rocks 
in the Japanese garden is incredible!
Unfortunately, my camera doesn't do justice 
to the colour of green. It's more like this:


The Blue Poppy Cafe had signs declaring a Spring Prelude,
and when we went in, we discovered that the cafe had been transformed
into an indoor garden complete with a large fish pond... 
Things were much more colourful inside!












I have seen spring at Butchart Gardens before
but I must admit that I also enjoyed winter there,
mainly because the company I kept 
was just as enthralled with everything as I was.


Sunset on the ferry home was pretty amazing, too.

It was a perfect weekend, except that I missed a pretty important funeral back home. Life is bitter sweet, but when we really get to heaven to stay, it will be one long diamond necklace of joy!