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Prophet for the Earth: An exploration of the thought of Fr. Thomas Berry

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The late Fr. Thomas Berry is one of the key figures that have shaped the Catholic ecology movement. This is the first of a series of articles that will explore his thought and writings.

Many believe that the roots of our environmental crisis today lie in our values, grounded solidly within our religious concepts. As we believe and hope, so do we act and behave. We must discern our proper relationship with nature, and this is fundamentally a religious search. Its answers are found in an encounter with the Creator, and that encounter takes place within the created world. Until this religious perspective changes, the plundering and destruction of the natural world will probably continue.

New report details how factory farms have displaced small farmers

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Washington-based Food and Water Watch has released a report titled "Factory Farm Nation: How America Turned Its Livestock Farms into Factories." The report includes a map that pinpoints the areas nationally, by state and county, with the highest numbers of factory farm livestock.

"Between 1997 and 2007, there was a geographic and economic shift in where and how food is raised in the United States," the report states. "Even a few decades ago, there were small- and medium-sized dairy, cattle and hog farms dispersed all across the country. Today, these operations are disappearing. The remaining operations are primarily large-scale factory farms that are concentrated in specific regions, states and even counties where the thousands of animals on each farm can produce more sewage than most large cities, overwhelming the capacity of rural communities to cope with the environmental and public health burdens.

How do we craft a message to the stars?

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Douglas Vakoch is the Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, Calif.

The SETI Institute (www.seti.org) has been part of a search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe that has been ongoing for 50 years now. SETI astronomers use big radio telescopes to search for electromagnetic transmissions from civilizations on distant planets. Its mission statement states: “We believe we are conducting the most profound search in human history — to know our beginnings and our place among the stars.”

Dr. Vakoch researches ways that different civilizations might create messages that could be transmitted across interstellar space, allowing communication between humans and extraterrestrials even without face-to-face contact.

Vakoch leads an international group of scientists, artists and scholars from the humanities, as they ponder how we could communicate what it’s like to be human across the vast distances of interstellar space.

Pope creates Vatican watchdog laws that criminalize environmental pollution

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On the NCR Today blog, senior correspondent John L. Allen Jr. reports on Pope Benedict's creation of a new in-house watchdog to promote compliance with international rules against financing terrorism, money-laundering, insider trading and market abuse. In addition to creating new penalties for financial misconduct, Benedict XVI has also criminalized environmental pollution.

In article 18, the new law establishes a penalty of up to six months imprisonment and a fine of $3,500 to $35,000 for anyone who pollutes the soil or water, and establishes the same penalties for polluting the atmosphere. The jail term rises to a year, and the fines range from $7,000 to $70,000, if the pollution occurs with hazardous substances.

Interviews with Fr. Diarmuid O'Murchu and Sr. Gail Worcelo

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Michael Dowd's Advent of Evolutionary Christianity site will run a podcast interview with Fr. Diarmuid O'Murchu tonight. Dowd interviews Fr. O'Murchu on the subject of "Meeting God in Our Evolutionary Story." Tomorrow night an interview with Sr. Gail Worcelo on "Sisters of the Earth and Thomas Berry."

Sign up to be a regular member on the Advent of Evolutionary Christianity's Community Blog Web site and receive information on how to download these podcasts and many others.

The problem with 'abundance' theologies

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Recently, a friend said, “We need to have a mindset of abundance. God is infinite and there is no lack in God.” I’m decidedly uncomfortable with this sentiment and similar popular ideas, all about material wealth with a spiritual spin to it.

I am amazed at how clever we’ve been at using the Bible and theology to justify our positions. And we are still at it, justifying our extreme wealth in the face of global poverty with platitudes about abundance.

Beyond oil in 20 years

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We have an unhealthy dependency on 19 million barrels per day of liquefied plant and animal matter from the Mesozoic era. That works out to almost three gallons every day for every man, woman, and child in the country. Remember the harrowing footage of oil spewing out of BP's Gulf well? The United States uses more than four times the amount of the spill in one day.

The easy portability of oil's explosive energy has made us the most mobile humans in history. Fears of peak oil notwithstanding, it is also still very cheap. The gallon of gas that was $2.30 in real dollars in 1960 cost only $2.73 in 2010. No surprise, then, that petroleum powers 95 percent of all transportation in the United States.

The Sierra Club's Beyond Oil campaign proposes to move the United States off oil in the next 20 years. An article on the Club's Web site sketches out how it can be done.

New calendar, new beginnings

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I like the Christmas season, with its unique high spirits, days of leisure, and surcease from normal workloads. But you can’t beat the feeling I get in early January when the decorations are put away and things return to normal. I’ve had my fun and relaxation, and now it’s time to get moving with renewed purpose. It’s almost like there is a palpable, collective energy in the air whispering, “Arise. It’s a new beginning.”

So hope emerges, oozing out of the fresh pages of a colorful new calendar. The past is gone, the future allures, silently beckoning with a finger to come try again. Whether written or not, most of us make some sort of new year’s resolutions, in spite of the fact that we usually don’t keep them for very long, if at all. Is there any way out of this pattern of zeal and determination morphing into laziness and the comfortable old status quo?
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I am here to support your desire for self-improvement. I am the Angel of Encouragement drowning out the voices that tell you not to bother trying. I am Lady Wisdom offering advice on how to make this year different.

The gifts of darkness

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Many people lament and resist the darkness of these winter days, refusing to find anything good about them. But since they are a reality, how much better to put aside our prejudices and find joy in them. Genesis 1 says, “God separated the light from the darkness,” and “God looked at everything God had made and found it very good.” If God finds the darkness very good, then surely we can too.

My kinship with the dark began in childhood when my brothers and I spent long hours outside at night playing hide-and-go-seek. I recall the thrill of lying in the bushes, one with the shadows, as silent as the night, heart pounding, evading my pursuers. I would run far into the pasture or hide in the grain bins with no thought of fear or danger. The things of earth were my friends, so what lay there beyond my sight caused no alarm. The dark was my ally, the less moon and stars the better.

Ecopsychology: Healthy planet, healthy people

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The following little drama takes place often when we visit our nearest organic food emporium. My wife and I wait in the checkout line. We watch the persons in front of us pay for their free-range eggs, their pesticide-free spinach, their freshly-squeezed herbal tinctures and their organic vitamins. Then the checker asks them to choose between paper or plastic. Either option is a choice that harms the environment, either by destroying trees or clogging landfills.

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July 4-17, 2014

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