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Take a sabbatical in nature

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I know I’m talking to a select audience here, as most people are tied to jobs and family and would find it hard to get away for a sabbatical. But for some of you, it could be arranged if you really wanted to do it. And for the rest of you, maybe I can convince you to at least take your next vacation in nature.

This whole idea is no abstract theory for me. My passion for recommending this is based on my experience of a two-month sabbatical in 1997 at Shantivanam, a nature-based retreat/prayer center near Kansas City, Mo. Guests stay in small cabins in the woods, and join the staff for contemplative prayer and meals in the main building (a barn in another life), and otherwise amuse themselves with silence and the bounty of the natural world.

God will not fix the environmental mess

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It’s funny how our faith is so selective. When it asks us to do something like love our enemies, it’s weak to non-existent. But when we can employ it to our advantage, it soars. Take the issue of the environment. People that aren’t normally that trusting in God suddenly have unshakable faith that God is going to fix the problem. Well now, isn’t that convenient? We can just keep on with business as usual, with nary a care about the consequences to the Earth, because God is going to take care of everything. Now why didn’t I think of that? No change or sacrifice required. Great!

My first reaction is to say the burden of proof lies with those who think God will solve everything. Since when? I didn’t see God jump in and save the Jews from the holocaust, stop the oil spill, or miraculously eliminate the AIDS epidemic. God has never stopped great evils and tragedies from happening in human history, and we have no reason to believe that God ever will.

Green tips for ovens and broilers

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These are some good tips for conserving energy this winter while using your oven and broiler.

1. Preheat an oven only if necessary. Baked goods, roasted meats and poultry are more likely to need initial hot cooking, but most casseroles can go directly into a cold oven.

2. Don’t open the oven door unless necessary. The temperature drops about 25 degrees every time you do.

3. Adjust your oven racks to the desire position before heating the oven.

4. Don’t overcook. Set a timer and use a thermometer.

5. Clean your oven window to monitor progress. Scrape away gunk with a one-sided razor blade.

6. Line your oven floor with oven mats and clean those as needed instead of using the self-cleaning option.

7. Keep air flowing; don’t cover racks with foil, and don’t block heat vents on the oven floor with foil.

8. Bake or roast more than one item at a time. Ask yourself: What else can I cook at the same time?

9. Since the oven will be hot, you can also pop something else into when the first dish is done and make use of the existing heat. Getting an oven up to a desired temperature takes a lot of fuel.

Automakers seek help on reducing new fuel economy standards

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The Wall Street Journal reports that auto makers are asking newly empowered House Republicans to help fight a proposal under consideration by the Obama administration to boost fuel-economy standards for new cars and trucks to as high as 62 miles per gallon by 2025.

"The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the car industry's main trade group, wrote in a letter to U.S. Reps. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) and Fred Upton (R., Mich.) that fuel-economy standards are "by far the most expensive regulations auto makers face." The group warned that the 62 mpg proposal—backed by the state of California—would boost the price consumers pay for a car by as much as $6,400, resulting in a possible 25% drop in car sales and the loss of 220,000 automotive jobs."

Debunking the bird apocalypse

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Experts from the Audubon Society have been monitoring recent reports of thousands of bird deaths in Arkansas and Louisiana. “Mass bird die-offs can be caused by starvation, storms, disease, pesticides, collisions with man-made structures or human disturbance,” says Greg Butcher, Audubon’s director of bird conservation.

“Scientists are still investigating what happened to the birds in Louisiana and Arkansas," Butcher said, "but initial findings indicate that these are isolated incidents that were probably caused by disturbance and disorientation.”

A report is available on the Audubon Society Web site.

Toronto Catholic high schools work to eliminate bottled water

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By Vanessa Santilli, Catholic News Service

TORONTO (CNS) -- Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Toronto are working to create "bottled water-free zones" within their schools.

The "Water for All: Let Justice Flow" movement is part of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace's yearlong campaign against the privatization of water.

"The idea is to create a culture where students don't bring bottled water or
use bottled water even though they may have the right," said Luke Stocking, who works with Development and Peace in central Ontario.

Bottled water companies are buying more water sources and denying access to
local communities in the Southern Hemisphere, said Stocking.

"Bottled water is the most visible symbol of turning this public good into a
private good for private profit," he said.

At Toronto's Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts, school officials plan to
stop selling bottled water at the concession stand by the theater, said
chaplain Marilyn Grace.

She said campaigners hope to create a Cardinal Carter reusable water bottle that students could take to shows.

'Water is a mirror of our communal soul' -- a ritual for healing a watershed

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Sara Leeland put together a wonderful ritual titled "In Living Community: A Spirituality of Water," that was first presented in Prince Frederick Md., on Jul. 22, 2006.

Her local watershed, Chesapeake Bay, was in trouble. Its waters are on the edge of dying. Population growth overloads the water's edges; nitrate fertilizers from local farms add up to dead zones in rivers and in the Bay.

She notes that waters are in trouble everywhere -- in Michigan, in Kansas, in the Great Lakes as a whole, in China. In Africa and South Asia, hundreds die every day as a result of drinking dirty water.

"Water is a mirror of our communal soul." Leeland's ritual and presentation is available on the Web. It is available for use by anyone and can be modified to fit your own particular watershed.

Moving beyond 'jobs at any price'

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Emotions run high when discussing unemployment. Most of us have a loved one who can’t find work. We murmur and worry about how they are going to survive. We can empathize, imaging ourselves out in the streets with no home, begging for food. The instinct for survival is primal and strong, and our current economy brings up many fears. Nothing is certain anymore. The days of milk and honey and unlimited prosperity appear to be gone. Being able to work is not a given anymore.

All we can collectively think of is, “We have to create more jobs.” And usually that means jobs like we are used to, jobs that revolve around producing goods and jobs created by big corporations or government. There’s only one tiny little problem with this—the way we’ve structured our economy, and thus our jobs, is unsustainable. There it is again—that naughty word that no one wants to utter, that innocuous-sounding word explosive with calamitous consequences.

Book Review: The Best Spiritual Writing, 2011, edited by Philip Zaleski, published by Penguin Books, $16

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This anthology appears every year, and I always look forward to it. The introductory essay is a wonderful reflection on the oft-heard quip, “I’m spiritual but not religious,” by former American Poet Laureate Billy Collins. He chronicles his own move out of his childhood Catholicism, his “nest of religious beliefs,” to his middle years when he was “pulled in opposite directions by my almost congenital faith and the multiplying, sirenlike voices of the secular world.”

He describes how the iconography and vocabulary of the Catholic church persists, even as the doctrinal faith melts away. “As one lapsed Catholic paradoxically put it: ‘I don’t’ believe in God, but I believe Mary was his mother.’”

The commonplace grace of lichens

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Lichens are pioneer plants that grow on rocks, trees, or on the ground where the leaf litter or grass has been disturbed. A symbiotic life form, they consist of an alliance between a fungus body and colonies of one-celled algae. The algae do the photosynthesizing and manufacture food. The fungus provides the structure and decomposes the rock underneath, thus aiding in soil formation.

There are three kinds and each finds its niche in the landscape. Crustose lichens attach to rock surfaces. They form crusts in broad round patches. The foliose varieties grow as green leaf-like lobes or plates attached to tree bark or rock. The hanging fruticose lichens are the most advanced types with stalked branches that sometimes resemble weird coral growths.

Lichens are tough and long-lived. They are highly resistant to cold, intense heat and to drought. Their growth is extremely slow. Lichens reproduce by means of spores from the fungi which combine with the algae, or by breaking off and reattaching in new locations.

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October 10-23, 2014

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