Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Pope Francis' Eco Love Letter to the World: A look at "Laudato Si"




In his intro to his autobiography "Drama", John Lithgow relates a powerful moment he experienced while caring for his ailing father toward the end of his life. Following abdominal surgery his father became uncharacteristically quiet and depressed. He had enjoyed a vigorous life acting and directing Shakespeare on stages across the country. John's mother watched her husband silently disappear, as he slipped away into a heavy sense of waste and futility, his life drawing near to an end. Lithgow flew East to take care of the man who had punctuated his childhood with boistrous laughter and wit, and with a literary education that had instilled in John an early love for the greatest works of literature and stage. Desperate to reach his Father, John grabbed a book from the shelf in his parents home. It was a well-worn copy of short stories he had grown up listening to his Father read to him, snuggled beside him on the family couch. P.G. Wodehouse soon proved the key to provoke the belly laugh that had all but died away in his father. Lithgow describes the scene as pivotal in his life. He was in his mid-fifties, and suddenly realized story-telling was one of the greatest gifts he had experienced in his life, and the greatest gift he was capable of giving others. Nothing else forges bonds so well as a common story shared.

This is, I think, why Pope Francis felt so compelled as to send the world a letter regarding the "care of our common home." We find ourselves, whether conscious of it or not, whether willing or no, co-characters in a shared story. It is a story we share with those that came before us, and with those that will come after us. No matter what Religion you espouse, relationships hold the key to the answer to "why we are here". They are the source of all our strife and bliss. We are all connected. Rich and Poor. City-Dwelling and Rural living. In the

developed world, and in the third world. Sharing the same story.
After reading the Pope's encyclical I find myself unable to walk by trash and not pick it up. Its a long overdue start. The encyclical is hefty, so I've written up a reader's digest version for those interested:



A look at Pope Francis’ Encyclical “Laudato Si”


Knocking us out of our Comfort Zones


Pope Francis’ encyclical letter “Laudato Si’, is addressed to all people who share our common home, the earth. Not that it will be well received by all people. Specifically mentioned in many passages, religious conservatives may well wonder why the Pope of all people, has made so free as to weigh in on Climate Change, Economics, the Free Market, and Private Property. Those on the “left” will find the Pope’s linking the degradation of our earth, and her rights, with the degradation of the unborn and the elderly, and their rights little more than a political bait and switch, gaining an international audience and ear on the subject of eco-conversion, and finding the Pope quoting Pope Benedict and other Popes as often as he brings forth something of his own, as for example in section 217 when he calls for an interior conversion as an answer for solving our eco-crisis. “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.” (Benedict XVI, Homily for the Solemn Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry, April 24, 2005)

            Indeed one could call this encyclical co-authored. So many other bishops from around the world and past Popes are cited, John Paul II and Benedict the XVI especially, it truly represents the mind of the church, past and present, and often reads as a tutorial on the traditional longstanding Thomistic understanding of the common good, and private property. But old teachings applied to fresh new situations can yield much insight, and especially self-discovery.


Promoting Dialogue and Mutual Responsibility


Fungi Fascination
The purpose of the encyclical is to promote dialogue between men of all faiths and political persuasions about how best to care for the earth, and for each other in the safeguarding of the earth’s precious resources. It is evident that the Pope’s eyes are on the poor, whose livelihoods are most at risk in the exploitation of the resources in the developing world, and in the gearing of economies to big businesses, which not only box the smaller producers out of the market, but create infrastructure and products with profit in mind, and not the long view of the well being of local economies, watersheds, and communities. It is a personal note to each citizen of the earth: a call to “Dare to turn what is happening to our world into our own personal suffering.” (Section 19) It is something that many on the left have been doing for a while, but the Pope calls even them to a deeper ecological consciousness and friendship, as he links our maltreatment of the earth to our maltreatment of human beings, the deterioration of nature with the deterioration of our culture.

            It is a simple and almost fatherly reminder to become students of Nature. It is the cyclical order and pattern in nature herself that provides the whys and wherefores for recycling and composting and re-using. As more and more of the world’s population is becoming city-dwelling, it is often easy to forget the closed circle of fertility that occurs in natural ecosystems, as the Pope reminds us of in section 22, plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants.” The industrial system does not emulate this model, found in nature. The Pope is suggesting we stop buying into the “modern myth” which presupposes unlimited material growth as undeniably good for us all, and which gives the industrial system a pass in the name of that myth, despite the waste and injustices, which such a system incurs in its process. He is asking us to question this system, and to use our modern talents and ingenuity to devise new means of production that place the long term good of both the earth and its inhabitants at their core, rather than profit. “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption.” (Section 23)


The Problem of Over-Consumption


Specifically the Pope draws attention to several issues in which human over consumption has contributed to. Among them: water pollution and waste, Climate Change, extinction of various species, loss of marine and forest ecosystems of the world, and also mental pollution (brought on by the modern “technocracy”.)


CSA Harvest Day
Speaking to people of Christian faiths, he explores Genesis to show that God’s gift of reason, which sets man apart from His other creations, is not to encourage domination on the part of human beings, but rather stewardship. God’s words to Adam and Eve in the garden, charging them to “till and keep” creation, refer not to domineering exploitation, but to working it and keeping/protecting it. “(The creation accounts in Genesis) suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.” (Section 66) The Pope points to sin as that which causes the ruptures in these three relationships, both inward and outwardly.


In Section 95 the Pope quotes the New Zealand Bishops who suggest that the over consumption of the developed world is a sin against the 5th commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” It’s a sobering thought. One that is backed up by big guns, the likes of Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Francis quotes him in section 206, when he urges us to vote with our food dollars for a more eco-friendly world: “Purchasing is always a moral-and not simply economic-act.” (Caritas in Veritate 2006)


Veggie Share Box Goodness
Reminding us of our universal solidarity with all men and creatures on this planet, the Pope has some important reminders about private property: “If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. “ Section 95 And “The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property.” (Section 93). This may prove to be something of a shocker to many politically conservative Christians. Which brings us to perhaps the crux of this encyclical and why it’s proving to be so pesky to so many. This letter suggests that there is really no distinction and separation between what we do financially and what we do morally, that our consumption is a civic act, not a private one. It suggests that our Religious beliefs and our environmental actions are interconnected more that we might care to think, that the action of buying mass-produced Chinese goods in a big box store which underpays it’s workers, and contributes to massive amounts of material waste, flooding lives with goods that are not needed, and often discarded after a few uses, that this may not indeed be the action of a Christian.

Any time the church seeks to infiltrate the part of our lives spent outside of the pews, it gets pesky. Things get uncomfortable. At rock bottom, we like our lives to be neatly separated into Tupperware containers, faith and worship over here, shopping over there, what goes on in our bedrooms in this box, and what we eat over in this other one. In his encyclical the Pope is reminding us of the interconnectedness of things. Our relationship with the earth is connected to our relationship with our fellow human beings, and vice versa. What we believe in church affects where we should shop, and what we should buy. It is not simply a matter of looking into the companies that produce the goods we buy, we ought to ask ourselves how we can better pursue a path of simplicity, and in this, we can be inspired by people of other faiths and political persuasions, who have chosen to invest in time to contemplate and renewable energy sources, and lifestyles which involve less consumption as a whole.
Jam Making Day


Technocracy and the “Modern Myth”


One of the most interesting critiques of the encyclical is the one of modern technology. The Pope points out that over-mechinization has not only unemployed a great deal of humanity, it has also furthered our ability to dominate nature while at the same time separating us farther from it. “Technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups.” (Section 107) He points to the fruits of the Technocracy as bitter indeed. Already they are clearly seen: “ environmental degradation, anxiety, loss of the purpose of life, and of community living.”(Section 110) The fragmented knowledge imparted in this modern technocracy that we live in, often leaves us with no clear sense of the whole, nor any means with which to answer deeper questions of philosophy and ethics, which underpin the whole of our existence on earth. Life in a technocracy also lends itself to a frenetic pace, we are constantly “connected” electronically, and consequently never really in one place wholly, for any amount of time, a fraction of ourselves somewhere else via text, or twitter, or any of the other social media outlets. #Half There Anywhere. In response to the technocracy the Pope advocates a big SLOW DOWN, a recovering “of the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.” (Section 114) He reminds us to reacquaint ourselves with reality, and its limits. Limits, which our over-consumption and our use of technology in the pursuit of our wants have obscured.


The free market is profit driven, and is governed by wants rather than needs. This is why, the Pope points out, it is insufficient to leave to the “invisible hands” of the free-market the job of governing the economy and solving the eco-crises we find ourselves in today.


The Dignity of Work


Resident Trelliser
One of the ways  to self govern our impulse toward over consumption is developing a vivifying understanding of work. If more people choose to do more for themselves, and not rely on the expensive and elaborate system of distribution of goods and food that we find ourselves in in the developed world, there would be less of a burden placed on local economies, many of which, (in developing nations), export commodity crops to their detriment. “We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.” (Section 128)


Global Eco-Initiatives and Oversight


Some global goals that the pope sets are:

1. Sustainable and Diverse agriculture

2. Renewable Energy

3. Efficient Use of Energy

4.Better use of Marine and Forest Resources of the World

5. Universal Access to Drinking water. (Section 164)


Regarding Energy:

1. Favoring Production with maximum energy efficiency

2.Diminishing the Use of Raw Materials

3. Removing from the market products which are less energy efficient or more polluting

4.Improving transport systems

5. Encouraging construction and repair of buildings aimed at reducing energy consumption and pollution. (Section 180)


He makes it very clear that there needs to be global authority (with the claws and teeth necessary to enforce the laws) to hold nations and states and businesses accountable with regard to eco-abuse. The responsibility is Universal, but the developed world, being as it has helped itself to more of a piece of the global resource pie, has a responsibility to contribute more to these efforts at accountability.


Personal Responsibility and New Paths of Simplicity


Strawberry Season is Here!
While making it very clear that the actions of concerned individuals will not be enough to stave off further ecological disaster, and coming class and resource wars, he does encourage us to follow the example of St. Therese of Lisiuex, performing little acts with great love, in solidarity with our fellow man and with the earth we co-inhabit. Using less energy, avoiding plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, recycling, composting, using public transportation or carpooling whenever we can, planting trees, turning out lights when not using them, all these things “reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings. They benefit society, often unbeknownst to us for they call forth a goodness which albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread.” (Sections 211, 212)


In the end, Pope Francis reminds us that “though capable of the worst, (we) are also capable of rising above (ourselves), choosing again what is good and making a new start…I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours.”


It is hoped, that in following paths of greater simplicity we will be freed up to respond to the poverty our heedless actions have caused in our neighbors, our planet, and in our own hearts. Listening to and deeply considering the words of Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato Si” will help carve out a space in us internally, and in our lives externally, which love will fill.


Gardens by Golly!

View of the Goat Barn over the Brassica Patch

According to an article in the Small Farmer’s Journal written by Stephen Scott of Terroir Seeds in Chino Valley, Arizona, 71% of Russia’s polulation grows food-producing gardens on their urban plots. This according to government statistics from 2000. These gardens account for 3% of the arable land used in Russian agriculture yet grow 50% of the food eaten by the Russian people.

Given that an estimated 30-40% of food waste in our country occurs before the f ood reaches our homes, perhaps we ought to take a page out of Russia’s food production playbook.

The question of how best to feed the world is a complicated one, but one which yields surprisingly simple answers. Agribusiness answers the question with mass production, low wage minority workers, and exported commodity crops. But this solution renders local economies weaker and politically dependent.

Packing up First Week's CSA Shares
In order to efficiently answer the question of how best to feed the world, perhaps we should pursue economically inefficient agriculture, such as the growing of hand-crafted veggies in our city and suburban yards, thus reframing the question as “How can we best feed ourselves, and thus encourage foreign countries in their own local economies? In doing so we would no doubt find more to add to the tally than rate of return per hour of labor. We’d have something to get up in the morning for, exercise right outside our front door. We could cancel our gym memberships and reduce our waistlines in the pea patch. We’d have something to share with our children and grandchildren, and even if they drag their feet and odn’t want to week the onions, they will grow stronger and straighter for it, fortified in their mid-life crises with memories of our example of fulfilling steady contented work. We’d have something to do with fellow Catholic families beyond dinner parties, at which we talk about the weateher, and cnfirm our prejudices, and bemoan the secular age. We’d have something to share with our neighbors, and with the poor, and we’d have a bridge of unity to meet our liberal friends halfway upon.
Three Generations of Woodsmen

Food security reasons aside, to garden is to imitate the Creator, who, when he set oabout to make mankind, played in the mud. Perhaps in hopes of renewing mankind we ought to follow suit.
Almost Finished Mountain of Split Wood ready for Winter

The Little Flower Farm roadside stand
Kale as Bathing Beauties
Bradishing Chard for the Weekly CSA Harvest



Squirrel Suits and Lamb Suits are essential for what we do here.

Boadacious Broccoli

Summer Squash Growing steadily

Garden in the Evening


We work the garden while the goats work the brush

Hauling Manure

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The earth is a sermon.

  “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it. I think a question that we are not asking ourselves is: isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature? Safeguard creation because, if we destroy it, it will destroy us. Never forget this.”

The earth is a sermon.

It was crafted to tell us about God, and about ourselves who are made in His image. How fitting that it was made “through the word”, since it itself is also a living “word”. As Catholics we can’t ignore it. We must take the earth very seriously to heart.

One of the great Catholic champions of the land was an Irish-born Dominican priest named Fr. Vincent McNabb. Ordained in 1891, he tramped across London and the English countryside in monstrous second-hand boots, slept on the ground for nearly the whole of his professed life, and met his death singing, full-throated, the Nunc Dimittis.
 G.K. Chesterton said of him that “he (was) one of the few great men I have met in my life”. A friend of McNabb’s said “he seemed to bring back the schoolboy conception of Friar Tuck with Robin Hood just round the corner.” His own prior said that having McNabb in the community was like “keeping a lion on a string”, the lion being McNabb’s eccentric character and passion, the string being his whole-hearted and unfailing obedience.

Fr. McNabb preached that Catholics must safeguard the earth, and pursue responsible agriculture if for no other reason than to ensure there will always be wheat for the altar bread, and grapes for the altar wine.

He saw stewardship of the earth a way to turn away from token things and back to real things themselves.

“Inside the great world of things created by the Will of God are many worlds of tokens created by the will of man. The (token-things) can excite an unsatisfied desire which can at least fill the time if not the heart of man. Far otherwise is it in the greater world of realities. The very fullness of their reality limits man’s desire. If food is needed, no man desires an infinite meal, if clothing, no man desires an infinite garment, if shelter, no man desires an infinite house…Man’s being and powers of doing have a bound which sets a limit to the things he needs.”

He recommended farming for many reasons, but one of the chief reasons was it makes a person busy producing real wealth versus token wealth, producing things people need, versus things people want. Agribusiness was not what he was recommending, which results in commodities able to be used as political tools, but rather, small traditional farms, which treating the land as a living entity, are limited by her limits, and result in a life which ennobles and not degrades, both the producer and the receiver of farm goods.

For these reasons it seems the duty of every Catholic to champion responsible stewardship of the earth. Like St. Therese of Lisieux, we ought to do little things with great love. We may not be able to farm, or get back to the land in an off-grid cabin, but we can certainly cancel our lawn services, vote with our food dollars against the poor treatment of the earth by Agribusinesses by shopping at co-ops and establishing relationships with local small farmers, and take a stab at growing some of our own food.

In doing so we will be establishing better solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the world, most of whom do not enjoy the comparative wealth that we do here in America. We will be putting ourselves out to safeguard our and our neighbor’s watersheds and wells, and our planet’s future.

It is my great hope that Pope Francis’ new encyclical on the environment will make us all a bit uncomfortable, and that we will be like hard-pan soil that has been disturbed and agitated so as to be more receptive to seeds that will bring new life.

“If my readers will but admit the phrase “Alma Mater Terra”-Dear Mother Earth-
 I shall be encouraged to speak. But if they will not admit the phrase-their back-to-back houses,
their canned goods, their margarine, their dole, their tenement bugs and lice be on their head! I have delivered my soul!”

-Fr. Vincent McNabb-

Dear Mother Earth essay in his book Nazareth or Social Chaos first published in 1933

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Robin's Eye View of Little Flower Farm

A "domestic monastery" garden where last year's woods once stood.
Wheel-Hoeing the onions

Lillie contemplates the good life
Spinach is up!

Late May surprise. Twin does born to Rosa

The Kid Crew

Little Flower Farm's Lawn service

peas up!

Preparing ground with Marta and Tilda

potatoes are up!
phlox haunts the peripheries
The brassica patch, sunbathing


Goats for Sale!

Interested in a Farm Share?
Call (651) 433-3611
On-Farm pick up only. Space Limited.