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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Biodiversity needs truth and love

There’s a new and chilling study about the failure of management techniques to protect the planet's needed biodiversity. Some of the reporting on the study is also chilling.

(If interested, the article from the Marine Ecology Progress Series is here. After the download, scroll to page 251.)

The findings suggest that in the marine world, the use of “protected areas” do not adequately protect the variety and health of species—certainly not to the extent necessary. I’ve covered the decline in biodiversity elsewhere and this new news shows that the problem is not going away.

But there’s a double threat to the story. Besides understanding and mitigating the loss of global biodiversity, we must also understand its root causes. Scientists and commentators often claim two related ones: overconsumption and overpopulation. The adjective they often use is anthropogenic, which means you and me. People are the problem, some say, because we consume too much and there’s just too many of us.

In, Dr. Peter F. Sale, one of the study's authors, says this:
"Our study shows that the international community is faced with a choice between two paths . . . One option is to continue a narrow focus on creating more protected areas with little evidence that they curtail biodiversity loss. That path will fail. The other path requires that we get serious about addressing the growth in size and consumption rate of our global population."
Now, I don’t know what Dr. Sale means by getting serious, but if he means—like so many do—that we are to encourage artificial birth control and abortion, then I take issue. One does not protect life by waging war against it.

This is exactly where ecology benefits critically from a Catholic perspective, most especially the Holy Father’s third letter to the Church and the world, Caritas in Veritate. In it, he connects the many hurdles facing the human race, and he does so by offering as a solution the Christian anthropology of relation and love and the recognition of human dignity.

Dr. David Cloutier, an associate professor of theology at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, writes about all this in the winter 2010 edition of Communio, a theological journal founded with others by Joseph Ratzinger. Cloutier’s excellent essay “Working with the Grammar of Creation” uses Wendell Berry's writings to get at the Holy Father's concerns. In Berry, we hear an American voice exploring issues of industry, sexuality, marriage and, especially, community, all in context of what it means to be human. When we're not what-it-means-to-be-human—when we're not in a healthy relation with our world, our community, our environment, our family, our neighbor—we create problems, the kind we read about in the papers. There's so much in Cloutier's article, you really should read it all yourself. For the present, I'll just note that Cloutier brilliantly places Berry in dialogue with the pontiff’s important words. And the pontiff does have much to tell us. For instance, from Caritas in Veritate, we read that
in order to protect nature, it is not enough to intervene with economic incentives or deterrents; not even an apposite education is sufficient. These are important steps, but the decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society. If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development.
Benedict XVI's next words are those used in the masthead of this blog.

We must take from these warnings that in discussing issues like planetary biodiversity losses—or the world economy, or the health care system, or any discussion about people’s relation to the world—there are moral and ethical issues at play that can not be ignored because they drive everything.

World strife and ecological crises will not be solved with a view that other humans are the cause. One can not love thy neighbor and then wish to control them. Humans can only begin to address worldwide ills when we live in solidarity—in communion. We must see ourselves as creatures of relation, because only then will we realize ourselves that we really do affect everyone else. Only by living in accord with our true nature—that of being in relation to each other, to creation, and especially the Creator—can we as a race live within our planetary means and still live very, very well.

And so to the authors of this most important study, I would add what the pontiff wrote elsewhere, “it is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love.”

May God bless these researchers in their work, and may they always be guided to the fullness of truth.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

House gardens: reminders of who created beauty in the first place

If we’re to think globally and act locally, then I suppose we must be especially ecologically minded at home.

But this must mean more than using organic lawn products or reducing household toxins. We also do well in making our homes and yards reminders for all of the beauty of creation.

I was thinking of this driving home from lunch with long-time, long-unseen friends. To avoid the summer beach traffic, I took the back roads from Rhode Island’s coastal south. This brought me through rural areas that had wonderful house gardens—whether modest or elaborate, or just a few planters on the front steps. These were the gardens of mostly small, simple homes—and yet with their gardens, they looked to be nestled in Eden.

As a gardener myself, I appreciate when people say how much they enjoy passing by my yard. I’m glad that my efforts delight others. Home gardens transform communities and lift souls. They remind us of the great glory of God’s work in the world.

This takes me to an observation made after lunch by one of my friends. She is a woman who does not adhere to an organized family of faith—but she was interested in what I had to tell her about Benedict XVI’s teachings about love, relationship and much more. Turns out, what she had to say was a wonderful, theologically powerful statement in itself, one which the likes of Benedict XVI and Karl Barth would have approved. As we were talking about our gardens, I noted that much of my yard’s beauty comes from various types of hosta—those easy-to-maintain, fast-growing, lush-leaved shade-loving plants. Within a few days in early spring, I said, my borders are transformed from barren stretches to leafy beauty, thanks primarily to hosta being hosta and sprouting their leaves with majesty. This prompted my friend to say something like “I know, we take all the credit for our gardens when it’s really God doing all the work.”

How true she was! It’s always good to be reminded of the primacy of God’s grace.

So, a quick prayer: Thank you, God. People may compliment me on my yard, but its beauty is part of your creation, for which you rightly deserve our praise.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Nature and relationship

“Society is absolutely dependant for its vitality and existence on its ability to bring about adequate friendships among its people,” writes the Jesuit James V. Schall in his essay “The Totality of Society.” He’s writing about the commonalities between Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas in understanding how relationships—“friendships,” as a catchall term for all loving bonds—underpins what it means to be human.

Schall takes some of the best of pagan antiquity and Western medieval thought and finds them completing each other’s sentences. We learn that the human soul is made to reach outward, to be in relationship with someone else—ultimately and perfectly, we are only fully human when in relationship with everyone else.

Schall notes elsewhere that this grand, universal vision of relationship troubled Aristotle. But for St. Thomas, with his Triune God of relation and love—in whose image all humanity was created—such a vision made absolute sense. St. Thomas wrote that “all precepts of law, especially those ordered to the neighbor, seem to be ordained to this end, that men love one another.”

But people and cultures can choose not to love one another. Or they can order society to encourage the love of only certain types of humans, or, worse, the love of only one person. Societies can also order relationships towards pleasure alone, at the expense of sacrifice. All this reverses the natural course of humanity, which must be open to the universal.

I say the “natural course of humanity” because we are meant to be in relationship—indeed, all creation is. You'll find elements of this truth throughout nature, such as in this news story from about the fraternal socialization of Asian elephants. Here’s a clip of the story:
A new study shows that many female Asian elephants are more like social butterflies, with numerous pals. And they're able to maintain strong friendships even with those they have not seen in a year or more. 
The study adds Asian elephants to a short list of other species, including dolphins, that are able to maintain complex social relationships despite not having daily contact, an ability regarded as being cognitively demanding.
"People thought they knew what Asian elephants were doing [socially] based on what they saw them doing in captivity," says Shermin de Silva, a behavioral ecologist with the Elephant, Forest and Environment Conservation Trust in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and the lead author of the new study.
One wonders what observers of the human race would discover about our relationships. Certainly, they would see much that is beautiful—affection, forgiveness, joy, camaraderie and sacrifice. But they may also observe class warfare (and warfare in general), loneliness, abuse, aggression, murder and many other crimes against relationship.

Indeed, over time they might even note that in some cultures (like in America and much of the Western world) we humans are re-embracing a kind of primitive mentality that, while needed during our species’ evolution, encourages isolation. We hear such isolation, for instance, in the common defense for redefining marriage, which is something to the effect that “no one else’s marriage affects mine.”

Sadly, we humans often fail to embrace our true, God-given nature—that is, to be creatures in relationship with everyone, not for sentimental and passing notions of earthly bliss, but because that's what it means to be human. Let us pray to the Triune God, then, that we ever more grow in friendship with Father, Son and Holy Ghost, as well as with each other, and with the entirety of creation that God has made and called very good.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bring back Friday’s fast

Recent news about the global impacts of blighted local ecosystems spotlight how human consumption—especially in the developed world—can have significant impacts elsewhere, and everywhere.

This goes particularly for food consumption.

For instance, widespread cattle ranching in and around the Amazon Rainforest is causing dire effects to one of the planet's most critical ecosystems. NASA has a terrifying array of information on the issue here, as does the National Science Foundation.

And this recent story from the Kansas City InfoZine reports on work by Marcelus Caldas, an assistant professor of geography at Kansas State, who worked in conjunction with researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Michigan State University. The group published “Statistical confirmation of indirect land use change in the Brazilian Amazon" in the journal Environmental Research Letters. In part below, we read just a little of the complexities and the seriousness of the issue—such as the relation of changing food and biodiesel markets and how the global demand for soybeans and for beef play off one another, and the effects of it all.
"Between 2003-2008 soy production expanded in Brazil by 39,000 square kilometers," Caldas said. "Of this 39,000 square kilometers, our study shows that reducing soybean production by 10 percent in these pasture areas could decrease deforestation in heavily forested counties of the Brazilian Amazon by almost 26,000 square kilometers -- or 40 percent."

Caldas said he hopes this link between crops and deforestation will motivate Brazil's environmental policymakers to develop more dynamic agricultural regulations to slow deforestation.

Although the numbers and data back this connection, the notion that deforestation will cease completely is unlikely because of other complexities like money and livestock. Demand for Brazil's crops is high and there's a desire to produce more for buyers. 
"In the international market, China is buying a lot of soybeans from Brazil," Caldas said.

The Brazilian government says soybean and sugarcane are grown largely in degraded pasture, but data from the team's work with geographic information systems, or GIS, shows that many of these crops have crept into the Brazilian savanna, a large area bordering the Amazon that's used for cattle. Consequently, this has created deforestation in the savanna, driving cattle inside the Amazon.

"Our data shows that the Amazon now has 79 million heads of cattle," Caldas said. "Fifteen years ago, it had less than 10 million. That means that there's a problem with cattle moving inside the forest."
Of course, the messy business of cattle ranching and beef processing creates problems here in America, too. This news from the Department of Justice tells how last month Swift Beef Company, a subsidiary of JBS S.A, the world’s largest beef producer, agreed to pay $1.3 million to the United States and state of Nebraska to settle alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act and Nebraska state law at its Grand Island, Neb., beef processing plant.

All this has people urging us to cut back on our cheeseburgers. The Meat Eater's Guide, for instance, is a wonderful source of information and suggestions about being a carnivore in the modern world. Naturally, this is the type of thing that gets a lot of press coverage. (See here, and here, and here, and there’s much more, too.)

But when Catholic ecologists do the math, we have to come to one simple conclusion: Bring back the Friday fast.

Remember, it wasn’t long ago that Catholics abstained from meat on Fridays all year long, not just during Lent. If we were to return to that practice, the world's 1.2 billion Catholics could, theoretically, cut their beef intake by some 14%. Not too shabby!

But we shouldn’t simply transfer our Friday appetites to other areas. That would just transfer the problem of over consumption. The fish industry is one that can suffer, too.

(Of course, some of our non-Catholic ecologist friends are going to say that the world’s population is the biggest problem, and that the Church should change its ways on artificial birth control and abortion. But I for one would like to think there are better ways to get at the pollution-from-over-consumption-of-food issue than rejecting the dignity of the human person, or by outright murder.)

And so for those Catholics who medically can do so, year-round Friday food (especially beef) consumption could be reduced—for spiritual, penitential and ecological reasons.

I’ve covered the ecological reasons above. As for the spiritual, fasting has been part of Christian (and many other faiths) history since the beginning. Remember Christ in the dessert? His immediate followers, and their followers, and so on (and on), have routinely fasted as spiritual exercise—that’s how we got our year-long Friday fast in the first place. So how come so many of us don’t fast any longer?

And as for the penitential aspect of fasting, a good many in the Church have much to make reparation for—and so we as members of the Body of Christ must all do our part, too. A Friday fast would be a good start. Indeed, the bishops in Ireland are saying exactly this.

So, how ‘bout it? I’ll be starting a Friday fast this week. Who’s joining me?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Reflecting on Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha

July 14 is the Memorial for Blessed [now Saint] Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), the Native American daughter of a Christian Algonquin woman (who herself had been captured by the Iroquois) and a non-Christian Mohawk warrior-chief. Blessed Kateri is a patron of ecology and ecologists, of the environment, environmentalism, environmentalists, exiles, orphans, the exiled, those ridiculed for their faith and for World Youth Day.

Our friends at the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center (formerly the Catholic Conservation Center) provide a comprehensive biography of this amazing young woman—the first Native American on the path to sainthood. In this biography we hear from Bishop Stanislaus Brzana of Ogdensburg, N.Y.:
Kateri was a child of nature. Her sainthood will raise the minds and hearts of those who love nature and work in ecology.
As you read more about this woman, you’ll see the intimacy with which Kateri found God in the natural world. She was this “child of nature” in her birthplace—what is now upstate New York—and in her later home of refuge, near what is now Montreal. For this intimacy, the Church declared her the patroness of ecological and environmental causes.

Of course, as a Native American, Kateri would have lived a lifestyle considered primitive to the European settlers that baptized her. But is this not what (then and now) intrigues so many? For instance, her propensity of making crosses from sticks—and then hanging them from trees as “stations” at which one should be reminded to pray—is a charming example of the Christian’s task to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout all creation. As her biography tells us, “she often went to the woods alone to speak to God and listen to Him in her heart and in the voice of nature.”

Does this not remind us of the following words of Blessed Mother Teresa?
We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence . . . We need silence to be able to touch souls.
Because Kateri so easily found God in creation, she is so easily associated with ecological protection and environmentalism—modern concepts that would have been incomprehensible to the people of her day, living long before worldwide ecological damage wrought by modern technologies and lifestyles. Which is why today, where far too many Catholics shun an overt appreciation of nature—partially in response to far too many other Catholics elevating nature seemingly to divine status—Kateri and the Magisterium’s response to her life should remind us all of the place of nature in our faith.

To this point, it is stunning that her feast day precedes by one day that of St. Bonaventure (1221-1274)—indeed, in Blessed John XXIII’s Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, July 14 is his feast day. What brilliant coincidence!

Bonaventure, too, knew and taught that creation held signs that could lead one to the Triune God.  Read the passage below from his Journey of the Mind to God.
He Who is the image and likeness of the invisible God [Col.,1, 15] and "the brightness of His glory and the figure of His substance" [Hebr., 1, 3], He Who is everywhere through His primal generation, as an object generates its likeness in the whole medium, is united by the grace of union to an individual of rational nature--as a species to a corporeal organ--so that by that union He may lead us back to the Father as to the primordial source and object. If then all knowable things can generate their likeness (species), obviously they proclaim that in them as in a mirror can be seen the eternal generation of the Word, the Image, and the Son, eternally emanating from God the Father.

In this way the species, delighting us as beautiful, pleasant, and wholesome, implies that in that first species is the primal beauty, pleasure, and wholesomeness in which is the highest proportionality and equality to the generator. In this is power, not through imagination, but entering our minds through the truth of apprehension. Here is impression, salubrious and satisfying, and expelling all lack in the apprehending mind. If, then, delight is the conjunction of the harmonious, and the likeness of God alone is the most highly beautiful, pleasant, and wholesome, and if it is united in truth and in inwardness and in plenitude which employs our entire capacity, obviously it can be seen that in God alone is the original and true delight, and that we are led back to seeking it from all other delights.
Does one not hear echoes of Kateri, who “often went to the woods alone to speak to God and listen to Him in her heart and in the voice of nature?”

It is fortuitous for us in the Northern Hemisphere, when summer surges with the life and light of nature, that Blessed Kateri and St. Bonaventure are to be remembered.

For the saint and doctor of the Church, more will be coming later on these pages. But for now, let us familiarize ourselves with Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, and let us pray to her for wisdom and for peace in sharing in the sometimes simple and sometimes awesome beauty of the created world, which in the beginning God made team with life and found it all to be very good.

For more on Blessed Kateri, read the commentary about her at

Monday, July 11, 2011

What he said

It's always nice to know that you're in line with the Pope. And so I was glad to read the last paragraph of this VIS story, especially in light of yesterday's blog post.


VATICAN CITY, 10 JUL 2011 (VIS) - After praying the Angelus at midday today from the central courtyard of the Apostolic Palace at Castelgandolfo, the Pope mentioned the fact that today marks the "Day of the Sea", in other words "the day dedicated to the apostolate in the maritime world".

The Holy Father addressed a special greeting to "chaplains and volunteers who work to being pastoral care to seafarers, fishermen and their families. I also give assurances of my prayers for those seafarers who, alas, find themselves as hostages of pirates", he said. "My hope is that they be treated with respect and humanity, and I pray for their families that they may remain strong in the faith and not lose hope of soon being reunited with their loved ones".

Turning then to address French-speaking pilgrims including members of the choir from the basilica of Notre-Dame de Lausanne, Switzerland, Benedict XVI invited them "to draw strength from contemplating the splendour of the Creation. Parents, teach your children to observe nature, to respect and protect it as a magnificent gift that makes us aware of the greatness of the Creator. Speaking in parables, Jesus used the language of nature to explain the mysteries of the Kingdom to His disciples. May the images He used become familiar to us all!"

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The nature of today's readings and the Holy Father's eco-speak

Some still lament when the Holy Father or anyone else connects ecology to theology, or to our battle with the culture of death. Let us consider, then, today’s Mass readings (or just scroll to the commentary at the end).

The opening reading is from Isaiah (55:10-11) and is one of my favorites) . . .

Thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
and do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.
. . . next comes the Responsorial Psalm (65:10, 11, 12-13, 14), which takes us to Paul’s interconnectedness of creation and anthropology (Rom 8:18-23) . . .
Brothers and sisters:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing
compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God;
for creation was made subject to futility,
not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it,
in hope that creation itself
would be set free from slavery to corruption
and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
we also groan within ourselves
as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
. . . and this brings us to the (short-form version of the) Gospel (Mt 13:1-9)—in which Our Lord Himself uses examples of nature to (in part) echo, expand and explain what Isaiah prophesied to the human race centuries earlier . . .
On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea.
Such large crowds gathered around him
that he got into a boat and sat down,
and the whole crowd stood along the shore.
And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:
“A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up.
Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,
and when the sun rose it was scorched,
and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.
But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
Now, let us read from the Holy Father, who in Caritas in Veritate wrote this (and the italics are his):
Today the subject of development is also closely related to the duties arising from our relationship to the natural environment. The environment is God's gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole. When nature, including the human being, is viewed as the result of mere chance or evolutionary determinism, our sense of responsibility wanes. In nature, the believer recognizes the wonderful result of God's creative activity, which we may use responsibly to satisfy our legitimate needs, material or otherwise, while respecting the intrinsic balance of creation. If this vision is lost, we end up either considering nature an untouchable taboo or, on the contrary, abusing it. Neither attitude is consonant with the Christian vision of nature as the fruit of God's creation.

Nature expresses a design of love and truth. It is prior to us, and it has been given to us by God as the setting for our life. Nature speaks to us of the Creator (cf. Rom 1:20) and his love for humanity. It is destined to be “recapitulated” in Christ at the end of time (cf. Eph 1:9-10; Col 1:19-20). Thus it too is a “vocation”. Nature is at our disposal not as “a heap of scattered refuse”, but as a gift of the Creator who has given it an inbuilt order, enabling man to draw from it the principles needed in order “to till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). But it should also be stressed that it is contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more important than the human person. This position leads to attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism — human salvation cannot come from nature alone, understood in a purely naturalistic sense. This having been said, it is also necessary to reject the opposite position, which aims at total technical dominion over nature, because the natural environment is more than raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure; it is a wondrous work of the Creator containing a “grammar” which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation. Today much harm is done to development precisely as a result of these distorted notions. Reducing nature merely to a collection of contingent data ends up doing violence to the environment and even encouraging activity that fails to respect human nature itself. Our nature, constituted not only by matter but also by spirit, and as such, endowed with transcendent meaning and aspirations, is also normative for culture. Human beings interpret and shape the natural environment through culture, which in turn is given direction by the responsible use of freedom, in accordance with the dictates of the moral law. Consequently, projects for integral human development cannot ignore coming generations, but need to be marked by solidarity and inter-generational justice, while taking into account a variety of contexts: ecological, juridical, economic, political and cultural. (CV 48. See the full text for the Holy Father's notes.)
Again and again we find the Holy Father using ecology (a very real issue of its own) to help us connect what the Triune God reveals to us in sacred scripture with very real choices before us in the here and now—choices that will resonate among all humankind well into the future, and "after" the eschaton. Benedict XVI’s use of ecology is not some faddish attempt to appease “the left.” Rather, it is just the most recent example of revelation baptizing history.

And so for Catholic ecologists, our mission is to help those who dismiss ecology learn from what ecology can teach us, and for those who dismiss revelation to help them see a pathway to salvation that’s embedded in the inner logic (the logos) of all creation.

May Almighty God bless and protect all those who seek to preserve the natural order of life and of all creation, which (and who) should always and everywhere rightly give Him praise.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sin, science, and letting there be light

A new report on the dangers of broken compact fluorescent light bulbs (“CFLs”) is again sounding alarms about what was once seen as a white knight in the eco-friendly world.

As noted earlier in these pages, a concern with these bulbs—which in the United States will slowly be replacing the more familiar but energy-hungry incandescent light bulb—is that, when damaged, CFLs release small but hazardous amounts of mercury, a known neurotoxin. (Mercury is needed to make the bulbs work, just like the more common fluorescent lighting used in almost every office building in the Western world. To learn a little about these bulbs and why they need mercury, visit here.)

But is the amount of mercury in a CFL really dangerous if the bulb breaks?

Based on the new study by Yadong Li and Li Jin of Jackson State University in Mississippi, the short answer is yes, there really is a concern about mercury from a damaged CFL, but maybe not as much as once feared.

UPI has a straightforward summary of what the new study is telling us. Janet Raloff at Science News provides a balanced, detailed take on the report's good news and bad.

For an overview of the dangers of (and how to clean up from) a broken CFL, the US Environmental Protection Agency shares some good information here.

For the Catholic ecologist, all this gets to the complexities of environmental protection in fallen world. CLFs greatly reduce energy use, which reduces our dependence on foreign oil as well as pollution from power plants, especially mercury from coal powered plants. But to get these goods we must use a bulb that contains small amounts of mercury—which can be bad. And so we need to be responsible and a bit selfless when using this technology. It is here we get into the unpleasantries of Original Sin colliding with our best intentions.

Once again, the real story here is that where some would seek salvation from human ills solely through the wonders of human ingenuity, others know better. New technologies hardly ever come without a price. And they hardly ever take away the need for informed, selfless users of that technology—that is, people who are ready to do their part to protect themselves, others and the environment in the certain event that something will go wrong.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

America the Beautiful and God's Grace

This is one of the greatest hymns for the Fourth of July here in America. The lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929) begin with reflecting on the natural beauty of Americaand the resources that helped build this nation. But the hymn quickly reminds us of that all things begin with God's grace, which perfects our nature.

As we Americans pause this weekend and this Fourth of July to reflect on our nation, its beauty and ourselves, let us particularly reflect on these lyrics from America the Beautiful:

America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

And now, for the master who can sing this hymn like no other . . .

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassion'd stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.

America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

O beautiful for heroes prov'd
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life.

America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine.

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.