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'You're so heavenly minded, you're no earthly good'


Throughout the 1990s I became involved in a dispute between the Trappist monks Our Lady of the Assumption Abbey in southern Missouri and some of their neighbors.

The monastery was founded in the 1950s by a contingent from New Melleray Abbey in Iowa. A St. Louis newspaperman had given the Trappists a 5,000 acre tract of land that he owned and has used as a hunting preserve. He had constructed a stone lodge on the grounds near the Bryant River. The monks moved into the abandoned lodge and built onto it, even adding some army surplus barracks for extra space.

Their aim was to live off the land, so they also built a carpentry barn, large tool sheds and a milk cow operation, and put in an extensive orchard on a hilltop. In the 1960s after the failure of the milk operation, they constructed a plant for making concrete blocks on the banks of the river. This operation brought income. The cattle were sold and the orchard abandoned. In the late 1960s they built a new monastery at the top of the hill above the old buildings.

Humility before the forces of nature


Don’t underestimate Mother Nature. She may invoke images of a goddess-like maiden with flowers in her golden hair dancing in the fields, which seems harmless enough. But what if she’s really more like a determined matriarch, with her children behind her, wielding her broom, fire in her eyes, daring anyone to harm her brood? We’d know to steer clear, because her protective instinct once aroused, makes for a dangerous woman. How, then, did we fail to take into account just who or what we were dealing with when we plundered the Earth? It’s probably one more manifestation of the patriarchal mentality, dismissing the Earth as a powerless feminine reality.

As a result, we haven’t seen the connection between God and creation. We have been taught to “fear” God, meaning to take God seriously, to reverence God who clearly has power over us. But we never thought that applied to what God has created, even though creation does God’s bidding, is embedded with God’s characteristics, and partakes of the nature of God. Thus we are learning the hard way that we cannot get away with our transgressions against nature, so perhaps it’s time for some appropriate humility.

The river of grace found in silence


I’ve only been to a casino a couple of times, and to me, it was a bit of hell on earth — constant clicking and clacking of machines, loud music, bright lights, and frenetic energy everywhere. To me, this kind of a place with its constant noise and stimulation symbolizes what is wrong with our culture —glorifying incessant activity and sound. Even at home, many people have the television or radio on, lest that feared enemy — quiet -- should sneak in their doors. And apparently jogging or driving are only made tolerable by listening to music or NPR or talking on a cell phone.

Leonardo Boff: Enact a law of socio-environmental responsibility


Leonardo Boff is professor emeritus of ethics, philosophy of religion and ecology at Rio de Janeiro State University.

There is already a law of fiscal responsibility. A government cannot
spend more than it takes in as income gathered by taxes. This has
significantly improved public management.

The accumulation of ecological disasters that has occurred recently, with the collapse of hillsides, devastating floods and hundreds of fatalities, plus the destruction of whole landscapes, forces us to think of enacting a national law of socio-environmental responsibility, with severe punishment for those who fail to respect it.

A step in that direction has been taken with the awareness by the enterprises of social responsibility. They cannot consider only themselves and the benefits for their stockholders. They must assume clear social responsibility, because they do not live in a world apart: they are part of a specific society, in a State that creates laws, they are located in a specific ecosystem, and they are being pressured by a citizenry that is aware and that constantly makes greater demands for the right to a good quality of life.

Leonardo Boff: The Franciscan truth: It is in giving that we receive


Leonardo Boff is professor emeritus of ethics, philosophy of religion and ecology at Rio de Janeiro State University.

We are in the period of setting up the government. There are disputes over places and functions by parties and politicos. There are negotiations, charged with differing interests and plenty of vanity. In this context one hears the inspiring prayer for peace of Saint Francis: «it is by giving that we receive», invoked to justify the exchange of favors and support amid a torrent of money. It is a crass manipulation of the generous and selfless spirit of the saint of Assisi. But let's put aside these diversions and look at its true

Leonardo Boff: The difficult transition from the technozoic to the ecozoic


Leonardo Boff is professor emeritus of ethics, philosophy of religion and ecology at Rio de Janeiro State University.

Great crises demand great decisions. There are decisions that involve life or death for some societies, institutions or people. The present situation is like that of a sick person, to whom the physician says: Either you control your high cholesterol and blood pressure or you will have to face the consequences. You decide.

Humanity as a whole has a fever and is ill; humanity must decide: either continue its delusional cycle of production and consumption, always ensuring the growth of the national and world GNP, a cycle very hostile to life, or promptly confront the reaction of the Earth-system, that is already giving clear signs of global stress. There is no nuclear cataclysm, which is not impossible but improbable, and would mean the end of the human species. But we do fear, as many scientists predict, a sudden weather change, so abrupt and drastic that it would rapidly decimate many species and put our civilization at grave risk.

Leonardo Boff: Nature -- our access to God's revelation


Leonardo Boff is professor emeritus of ethics, philosophy of religion and ecology at Rio de Janeiro State University.

Many people wonder why, as a theologian and a philosopher by training, I should address topics that are alien to these disciplines, such as ecology, politics, global warming and others.

I always reply: I do pure theology, but I also deal with other topics
simply because I am a theologian. "The job of a theologian," as Thomas Aquinas, the master theologian of them all, explained in the first question of the Summa Theologica, "is to study God and divine revelation, and after that, everything else 'in the light of God'(sub ratione Dei), because God is the beginning and the end of everything."

The poor need justice, not charity


My wife’s career for many years was in social work. Among other jobs, she staffed a downtown day center for the homeless and later ran an inner-city food pantry. She finally retired from such endeavors, weary of what she called the “charity game.”

At the pantry, for example, her clients, most of whom were working but employed at minimum-wage jobs, ran a bureaucratic gauntlet that demanded proof of income, expenditure records and other documentation before they could a receive a couple of bags of macaroni and cheese dinners, a jar of peanut butter, cans of corn and peas and maybe, if they were lucky, a frozen chicken.

The documentation, of course, was to allay concerns that someone might be scamming the system out of a few bags of stale, donated food.

In the 1980s, President Reagan cited a Chicago “welfare queen” who had ripped off $150,000 from the government, using 80 aliases, 30 addresses, a dozen social security cards and four fictional dead husbands. The country was outraged; Reagan dutifully promised to roll back welfare, and ever since, the “welfare queen” driving her Cadillac has been a key figure in American political folklore.

World's coral reefs could all be gone by 2050, report says


A recent study has found that all of the world's coral reefs could be gone by 2050. If lost, 500 million people's livelihoods worldwide would be threatened.

The World Resources Institute report, "Reefs at Risk Revisited," suggests that by 2030, over 90 percent of coral reefs will be threatened. If action isn't taken soon, nearly all reefs will be threatened by 2050. Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states, "Threats on land, along the coast and in the water are converging in a perfect storm of threats to reefs."

The report is intended to raise awareness about the location and severity of threats to coral reefs. "These results can also catalyze opportunities for changes in policy and practice that could safeguard coral reefs and the benefits they provide to people for future generations."

Climate refugees plight will be in Oscar spotlight


Carteret Islanders have been called the world's first climate refugees. Their homeland, a remote chain of six small islands in the South Pacific, is fast losing ground to rising sea levels. The 1,000 or so people whose families have lived there for dozens of generations have made an agonizing decision to relocate their entire community before it disappears beneath the rising waves.

In June of 2008, filmmakers Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger learned of the refugees' plight and headed to the Carteret Islands, video equipment in tow, hoping to share their story with the world. Their documentary, "Sun Come Up," was released last year. Sunday night, it’s up for an Academy Award in the best documentary short category.

Read more on the On Earth blog from the Natural Resources Defense Council.


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May 22-June 4, 2015


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