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The gecko in the sky

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My little altar in my home is an exercise in diversity. It mirrors a spiritual journey marked by unanticipated twists and turns along the way.

One of my favorite Robert Lentz icons, “Christ of the Desert” graces the center. A white slender statue of Mary stands to one side of the icon. Kwan Yin, the Buddhist Bodhisattva of Compassion, occupies the other. Filling the rest of the space are a white candle with Monarch butterflies embossing its surface, a photo of Fr. Thomas Berry and snapshots of cherished friends who have become my anam caras, soul companions, through the years.

Each altar resident has its own history but I want to tell you about one in particular: The Gecko.

Gecko is a sparkling silver pin with tiny ruby eyes and he rests at the foot of my Jesus icon.

I keep him there to remind me of the Holy One’s penchant for sending us messages through her creatures. Barely two inches long, Gecko arrived in a carefully wrapped gift box from a good friend for my going-away party. It was January, 1992, a few days before my departure from Columbus, Ohio to study at a creation spirituality master’s degree program at Holy Name University in Oakland, California.

When your exposure is gravical, you need bombproof pro

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Puppy Dome is a rock outcrop near Tuolumne Meadow in Yosemite National Park, Calif. The dome was often my weekend destination years ago when I was an avid rock climber and lived four hours away. A hunk of granite 300 or 400 feet high, it had many easy through moderate to difficult routes up its faces, great places to practice the art and technique of climbing.

Have Chinese coal plants been keeping global warming in check?

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Global warming theory predicts an overall temperature rise over decades, but slowdowns, and even brief periods of cooling are not only possible; they’re inevitable. The climate system is complex and influenced by ocean currents, wind patterns, changes in vegetation and ice cover and dust particles in the air.

The decade that just ended is a case in point. While it was the warmest ten years on record, temperatures didn’t rise as fast during the 2000s as they did for the previous 30 years or so. And while they aren’t at all surprised by this, scientists are still trying to figure out why it happened.

One culprit named in a new study is the coal plants in China, according to a new study just released. If unchecked by pollution controls, the sulfur spewing from their smokestack creates atmospheric particles that reflect some sunlight back into space, counteracting the warming effect from rising amounts of CO2.

'Great Ball of Fire' author combines Carl Sagan with Dr. Seuss

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For most of her life, Betty Kissilove hasn’t sent commercial holiday greeting cards to her family and friends. She writes her own ‘happy birthday’ messages using the medium of poetry.

So when this San Franciscan felt moved to write her own book about the universe story, the original birthday for us all – the planets, stars, galaxies, the bacteria, fungi, oceans, trees, rocks, critters, and human beings – she found herself naturally turning to verse once again. The result is a delightful retelling of creation in this frequently humorous, thought provoking work she has entitled Great Ball of Fire. It is dedicated to the late Passionist Fr. Thomas Berry, co-author of The Universe Story with Brian Swimme.

Professor proposes 'green Thomism' to reconnect Catholics to creation

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ST. PAUL, MINN. — When St. Paul Seminary professor Chris Thompson recently went searching for the top agriculture programs at U.S. Catholic universities, what he found — or, rather, what he didn’t find — shocked him: There aren’t any.

He made the discovery after receiving an invitation to present a paper on developments in American agriculture over the past 50 years at a conference in Rome in May.

“There seems to be no presence of [agriculture] as a focused discipline or professional formation in [any of the 244] Catholic universities across the board,” he said in an interview at the seminary, where he is academic dean. “That’s how I became the expert.”

Thompson serves on the board of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and has lectured and participated in conferences on Catholic social thought regarding the environment. He is slated to teach a seminary course on the topic in the fall.

“How can it be that the single largest economic force in the country has no presence or standing in the modern Catholic university?” he asked. And, he added, what impact does that have, not only on Catholics interested in farming as a career, but also on society at large?

Hospitality and generosity: Opening the 'universal door'

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The people of Kazakhstan are generous in their hospitality. There’s a saying: “Kazakhs’ hearts are like the steppes – wide, kind and generous.” Regardless of the hour of arrival of guests, Kazakh women will immediately set to work to prepare a dahsterhahn – a table full of food. If guests arrive and the table remains empty, the host is greatly shamed. Each guest must sit for tea, which includes bread, fruits, nuts, sweets and cookies.

We all have our dahsterhahns, feasts of remarkable generosity that have been extended to us in our lives.

Years ago, a friend and I boarded a westbound Amtrak train in Kansas City, getting off when it made a short stop in a Wyoming town. From there we hitchhiked up to the eastern side of the great Wind River Range. We rode in the back of a VW bug with our heavy backpacks on our laps. The driver, a young woman with a German Shepherd, drove 40 miles out of her way to drop us at the trailhead we sought.

Belize: Consumerism in Central America

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When Mercy Sr. Mary Pendergast recently traveled to Belize to present an environmental awareness symposium, she hoped the people there hadn’t yet succumbed to “the treacherous path of mindless U.S. consumerism.”

Unfortunately, they have,she discovered. “'Things' are expected to fill the hunger in the human heart, and it doesn’t work any better in Central America than it does here,” said Sr. Mary, in a June 23 article published on the “Awakening the Dreamer” website.

The nun and two of her Mercy colleagues -- Srs. Nancy Audette and Kathleen Erickson, all from the U.S. Northeast region of their community – spent several days presenting “Dreamer” symposiums to nearly 100 participants – including students of St. Catherine Academy, to Mercy nuns and associates. students and faculty from Muffles College, the Ministry of Education, to local leaders, and to members of the UN Development Program.

Carl Pope: America's nuclear power plants far from safe

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The Missouri River floods have threatened Nebraska's Ft. Calhoun and Cooper nuclear power plants putting tremendous stress on both the systems and their operators, but the immediate risk of a meltdown like those that occurred in Japan at Fukushima is small.

Carl Pope, former director of the Sierra Club writing on The Huffington Post Green Blog says it's also clear "that if these same floods had occurred a year ago, before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission forced plant operators to upgrade safety standards, Ft. Calhoun, at least, would have been at serious meltdown risk. If the floods recede with no further damage to these plants, President Obama could, quite legitimately, claim that he saved Omaha. He probably won't, though, because the politics of doing so would reveal a deeper and more disturbing truth: while the Obama Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), led by Gregory Jaczko, has begun to take seriously the problems it inherited, America's fleet of 104 operating nuclear power plants is anything but safe."

Saving our antibiotics

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By overusing antibiotics on farms and feeding them to healthy animals we’re making the drugs doctors rely on to treat illnesses like pneumonia, strep throat, and childhood ear infections less effective.

Antibiotics are not necessary for livestock production but they are essential to modern medicine. Find out why they are used on farms, the problems they pose and what you can do to keep you and your family healthy.

"Saving Antibiotics" is a good resource on this subject, found on the Smarter Living Blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council. It has links to further information on the use of antibiotics in meat production.

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November 21-December 5, 2014

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