Thursday, October 7, 2010

Religion & Spirituality

One popular idea is that there exists a distinction between two different modes of relating with the divine or the sacred: religion and spirituality. Religion describes the social, the public, and the organized means by which people relate the the sacred and the divine while spirituality describes such relations when they occur in private, personally, and even in eclectic ways.

Is such a distinction valid? In answering such a question, it is important to keep in mind that it presumes to describe two fundamentally different types of things. Even though I describe them as different ways of “relating to the divine or the sacred,” that is already introducing my own prejudices into the discussion. Many (if not most) of those who attempt to draw such a distinction do not describe them as two aspects of the same thing; instead, they are supposed to be two completely different animals.

Religion vs. Spirituality

One clue that there may be something problematic in this distinction comes when we look at the radically different ways in which people actually try to define and describe that distinction. Consider these three definitions drawn from the internet:
Religion is an institution established by man for various reasons. Exert control, instill morality, stroke egos, or whatever it does. Organized, structured religions all but remove god from the equation. You confess your sins to a clergy member, go to elaborate churches to worship, told what to pray and when to pray it. All those factors remove you from god. Spirituality is born in a person and develops in the person. It may be kick started by a religion, or it may be kick started by a revelation. Spirituality extends to all facets of a person’s life. Spirituality is chosen while religion is often times forced. Being spiritual to me is more important and better than being religious.
Religion can be anything that the person practicing it desires. Spirituality, on the other hand, is defined by God. Since religion is man defined, Religion is a manifestation of the flesh. But Spirituality, as defined by God, is a manifestation of His nature.
True spirituality is something that is found deep within oneself. It is your way of loving, accepting and relating to the world and people around you. It cannot be found in a church or by believing in a certain way.

These definitions aren’t just different, they are incompatible! Two define spirituality in a way which makes it dependent upon the individual — it is something that “develops in the person” or is “found deep within oneself.” The other, however, defines spirituality as something which comes from God and is defined by God while religion is “anything that the person desires.” Is spirituality from God and religion from Man, or is it the other way around? Why such divergent views?

We can better understand why such incompatible definitions (each representative of how many, many others define the terms) appear by observing what unites them: the denigration of religion. Religion is bad. Religion is all about people controlling other people. Religion distances you from God and from the sacred. Spirituality, whatever it really is, is good. Spirituality is the “true” way to reach God and the sacred. Spirituality is the right thing to center your life on.

t’s popular, especially in America, to distinguish between spirituality and religion. It’s true that there are valid distinctions between the two, but there are also a number of problematic distinctions which people try to make. In particular, supporters of spirituality tend to try to argue that everything bad lies with religion while everything good can be found in spirituality. This is a self-serving distinction which only masks the nature of religion and spirituality.

Problematic Distinctions Between Religion & Spirituality

One principal problem with attempts to separate religion from spirituality is that the former is saddled with everything negative while the latter is exalted with everything positive. This is a totally self-serving way of approaching the issue and something you only hear from those who describe themselves as “spiritual.” You never hear a self-professed religious person offer such definitions and it's disrespectful to religious people to suggest that they would remain in a system with no positive characteristics whatsoever.

Another problem with attempts to separate religion from spirituality is the curious fact that we don’t see it outside America. Why are people in Europe either religious or irreligious but Americans have this third category called “spiritual”? Are Americans special? Or is it rather that “distinction” is really just a product of American culture?

In fact, that is exactly the case. The term itself came to be used frequently only after the 1960s when there were widespread revolts against every form of organized authority, including “organized religion.” Every establishment and every system of authority was thought to be corrupt and evil, including those which were religious — but of course, Americans weren’t prepared to abandon religion entirely. So, they created a new category which was still religious, but which no longer included the same traditional authority figures.

They called it Spirituality. Indeed, the creation of the category “spiritual” can be seen as just one more step in the long American process of privatizing and personalizing religion, something which has occurred constantly throughout American history.

It's no wonder that courts in the America have refused to acknowledge any substantive difference between “religion” and “spirituality,” concluding that “spiritual” programs are so much like religions that it would violate the separation of church and state to force people to attend them (as with Alcoholics Anonymous, for example). The religious beliefs of these “spiritual” groups do not necessarily lead people to the same conclusions as organized religions, but that doesn’t make them less religious.

Valid Distinctions Between Religion & Spirituality

This is not to say that there is nothing at all valid in the concept of spirituality — just that the distinction between spirituality and religion in general is not valid. Spirituality is a form of religion, but a private and personal form of religion. Thus, the valid distinction is between spirituality and organized religion.

We can see this in how there is little (if anything) that people describe as characterizing spirituality but which has not also characterized aspects of traditional religion. Personal quests for God? Organized religions have made a great deal of room for such quests. Personal understandings of God? Organized religions have relied heavily upon the insights of mystics, although they have also sought to circumscribe their influence so as not to “rock the boat” too much and too quickly.

Moreover, some of the negative features commonly attributed to religion can also be found in so-called “spiritual” systems. Is religion dependent upon a book of rules? Alcoholic’s Anonymous describes itself as spiritual rather than religious and has such a book. Is religion dependent upon a set of written revelations from God rather than a personal communication? A Course in Miracles is a book of such revelations which people are expected to study and learn from.

It is important to note the fact that many of the negative things which people attribute to religions are, at best, features of some forms of some religions (usually Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), but not of other religions (like Taoism or Buddhism). This is perhaps why so much of spirituality remains attached to traditional religions, like attempts to soften their harder edges. Thus, we have Jewish spirituality, Christian spirituality, and Muslim spirituality.

Religion is spiritual and spirituality is religious. One tends to be more personal and private while the other tends to incorporate public rituals and organized doctrines. The lines between one and the other are not clear and distinct — they are all points on the spectrum of belief systems known as religion. Neither religion nor spirituality is better or worse than the other; people who try to pretend that such a difference does exist are only fooling themselves.

Religion & Spirituality
Is Religion Organized Spirituality? Is Spirituality Personalized Religion?

By Austin Cline

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Gathering Leaves by Robert Frost

Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.

I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight,
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who's to say where
The harvest shall stop?

by Robert Frost

Friday, September 10, 2010

Choir of New College, Oxford - Fauré

1-'Pie Jesu', from Requiem 2-'Ave verum corpus' From the Album: 'Agnus Dei...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In September

"Spring scarce had greener fields to show than these
Of mid September; through the still warm noon
The rivulets ripple forth a gladder tune
Than ever in the summer; from the trees
Dusk-green, and murmuring inward melodies,
No leaf drops yet; only our evenings swoon
In pallid skies more suddenly, and the moon
Finds motionless white mists out on the leas."
- Edward Dowden, In September

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Sad fight in NY

Keith Olbermann Special Comment


Religion is not the problem. Genuine religion is subverted by opportunists who use it as a weapon. Hunger can be used as a weapon, greed, nationalism, race, class etc. It is very naive to suggest religion is the problem. It is being made a scapegoat. Let's not forget Karl Marx was all about doing away with religion and the Russians tried it. So did the Chinese and the Cubans. When you take away peoples faith you take away their hope. I do not want to live in a world without hope. All the worlds great religions advocate peace and brotherhood. What you see with zealots and religious extremists has nothing to do with God. All of this fighting is about oil and empire not about religion. The worlds religions are being pitted against each other in the war for wealth and empire.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

New atheists embody the very things they hate

by Paul Prather

Atheists have gone on the offensive.

We've seen a spate of popular books demeaning any form of belief in God, from Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion to Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great.

In 2008, comedian Bill Maher got a ton of attention for his anti-faith film Religulous.

I'm equally intrigued by the online comments that follow every news story online about religion; the responses seem to come disproportionately from readers who jeer at all references to God or piety.

There's an increase in the number of atheists and of open doubters in the United States. A study of religious identification by Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., found that 15 percent of us now claim no religion, almost twice the percentage found in 1990.

Most of these "nones," as they're called in the Trinity report, aren't atheists per se, but rather agnostics, deists and others of similar views.

Only 2 percent of U.S. adults are atheists, the Trinity study found. Still, by another estimate I saw, that's three times the percentage of avowed atheists 20 years ago.

Atheists remain a tiny minority, but they're far more vocal and combative than they used to be, an approach advocated by Dawkins and others. They have every right to state their views.

The irony is that this current brand of aggressive atheism is just another form of fundamentalism. These particular atheists are zealots on the subject of faith who see no shadings of gray, only black and white. They're dead-set against religion but weirdly obsessed with it.

The "new atheism," as it's called by its adherents, is itself a kind of church. An anti-church church, granted, but a form of lockstep belief nonetheless. It reminds me of Hazel Motes' Church Without Christ in Flannery O'Connor's novel Wise Blood.

This might surprise you, but I have nothing against atheists. And I have a great deal of empathy with agnostics, those who say they just don't know whether there is a God.

If you weigh the circumstantial evidence for and against the existence of God, there's about as much evidence on one side as the other. Ultimately, people can find reasons to believe and reasons not to, and various people will arrive at varying conclusions.

Even as a longtime Christian minister, I still have days when I wonder whether this whole God thing is a figment of my imagination. I can't denigrate those who don't believe at all. That's between them and their maker — or, if they might prefer, them and their rational senses or their artistic sensibilities.

My objection to the new atheists isn't that they're atheists.

It's that they strike me as hypocrites, which is the charge they unfailingly level, with mixed justification, against the religious. In opposing religion in the manner they do, they betray themselves as possessing the traits they profess to loathe.

They're smug, dogmatic and mean-spirited. They trot out tired, half-truthful stereotypes, and they cherry-pick historical examples of religious wrongdoing while ignoring the innumerable instances in which the faithful have performed great acts of decency and charity.

They pretend that all Christians are bigots prone to violence. They claim that Christians are by definition illogical bumpkins who mindlessly accept fairy tales.

They act as if Thomas Merton and Bob Jones were of one cloth.

It's absurd, and it's especially grating because it comes from people who flaunt what they consider to be their own relentless logic, superior intellect and brave candor.

Dawkins, for instance, is a retired Oxford University science professor. Hitchens, a prominent journalist, attended Oxford.

No one who presumes to possess grandiose mental gifts should stoop to lumping all believers of all faiths, or for that matter all Christians, or even all Baptists or Catholics, into a single mindless blob.

I wish these atheists would venture, say, into a seminary library. They'd find tens of thousands of volumes written by thinkers great and obscure across two millennia.

They'd find works by scholars who take every word of the Bible literally and works by others who argue that most of the Scripture is made up and that Jesus said almost nothing attributed to him. They'd find every gradation between those extremes.

They'd find the musings of Christians who are pompous, exclusionary and delusional. They'd find Christians who are tolerant and humble and pillars of common sense.

They'd learn that Christians were the driving force behind the establishment of public schools and the abolition of slavery, just as, regrettably, other Christians launched the Crusades.

Christianity is a big, organic, complex system of beliefs with a long, diverse history. It's not just one thing.

I haven't even mentioned the varying theologies, contradictions and contributions of Judaism, Islam or Hinduism.

If the new atheists are as bright as they claim, they ought not imitate the worst traits of the very people they consider their inferiors.

Paul Prather, pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling, has a new book, A Memory of Firelight: Selected Columns From the Lexington Herald-Leader. E-mail him at

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Prayer for Love

God of grace, help us to love you and to love our neighbors more fully. Open our eyes to the needs of those around us; open our ears to the cries of the poor and the hurting; open our hearts to share and show the love of Christ. In his name we pray, amen.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Copper Toxicity in Sheep

NEVER feed pig, cow or horse feed to sheep it can result in sudden death or liver failure. Today feed companies formulate feeds very specifically for the species. Sheep are unique in that they cannot excrete accumulated copper and poisoning or death will be the result of a high intake of copper. Horse feed has killed many sheep because the owners mistakenly feed sweet feed or a grain mixture designed for equines to their sheep. Often the ram or the dominant ewe will be the first to show signs of poisoning from being fed too much copper as they dominate the feed trough and eat the lions share of grain. Sun sensitivity and sun burn is one of the signs your sheep may have liver damage from too much copper. Often people are not aware until one of their strongest sheep becomes listless that they have a problem. In some cases it can result in a sudden death of an otherwise very robust ram or ewe.

Copper toxicity in sheep is more often a problem of nutritional management than it is excess copper intake. The purpose of this paper is to look at such factors as nutrient interactions, animal management, and environmental conditions that may increase the risk of copper toxicity and how the sheep producer can minimize these risks.

The importance of copper as an essential nutrient has been known since the 1920's. Copper is required for normal iron metabolism, elastin and collagen synthesis, melanin production and integrity of the central nervous system. There are numerous metalloprotein enzymes, metalloporphyrin enzymes and non-enzyme metalloproteins in animals that require copper to be biologically active. More recently it has been shown that copper is one of the key trace minerals required for an effective immune response. The bottom line is that copper is essential for life. Consequently, most trace mineralized salt products contain 0.03 to 0.04% (300 to 400 ppm) of copper to prevent copper deficiency.

Sensitivity of Sheep

Like most nutrients, excessive concentrations can cause toxicity. However, sheep tend to be much more sensitive than other farm animals. For example, growing swine are often fed copper concentrations as high as 250 ppm in the diet to improve performance. Cattle can consume diets containing 100 ppm copper with no problem, while toxicities have occurred in sheep with concentrations as low as 10 ppm (Church and Pond 1988).

Copper toxicity in sheep usually results from the accumulation of copper in the liver over a period of a few weeks to more than a year with no clinical signs followed by a sudden release of liver copper stores to cause toxicity. In these situations, chronic copper poisoning may result from excessive copper intakes or from low intakes of molybdenum, sulfur, zinc, calcium or following liver damage (Kimberling, 1988). Sheep accumulate copper in the liver more readily than other farm animals and over a period of time, 1000 - 3000 ppm on a dry weight basis may be achieved. During the accumulation phase, blood copper levels are normal in the 0.10 to 0.20 mg/dl. Toxicity results when stress conditions cause the liver cells to die and release the stored copper into the blood. Plasma copper levels then increase 10 to 20 fold. These elevated blood copper levels (500-2000 mg/dl) usually precede clinical signs by 24 to 48 hours (Kimberling 1988). The most common symptoms are anorexia, excessive thirst and depression. These are accompanied by severe hemoglobinemia, anemia, icterus and methemoglobinemia. Most sheep will die within 1 to 2 days of the onset of these signs (Merck Veterinary Manual 1979).

Molybdenum Ratio

The ratio of copper to molybdenum is the most important dietary factor affecting copper toxicity in sheep. Ratios of 10:1 or less will prevent toxicity in most cases. The exact mechanism by which molybdenum prevents copper toxicity is poorly understood. However, it is known that an insoluble complex, CuMo04, can be formed in the gastrointestinal tract thus reducing copper absorption. This theory is substantiated by the fact that increasing dietary copper is an effective treatment of molybdenum toxicity.

Molybdenum concentrations in most feeds are in the range of 1 to 3 ppm in the total diet. If molybdenum concentrations are low (less than 1 ppm), diets containing copper in the range of the normal requirement (8 - 11 ppm) have been known to produce toxicity (NRC 1975). Sheep producers who live in or buy feed from molybdenum deficient areas should pay close attention to dietary copper levels. Such feeds as distillers dried grains and soybean meal which are normally high in copper should be limited in the diet. Trace mineralized salt should not be removed from the diet because it contains zinc which also reduces copper absorption. Diets containing high concentrations (100 ppm) of zinc have been shown to reduce liver copper stores. In addition, eliminating all trace mineral supplementation may actually worsen the situation by creating an even greater mineral imbalance.

Although prevention is much preferred, there are times when mass treatment is indicated. The most common treatment is to give a drench daily containing 50 to 100 mg of ammonium molybdate and 0.5 to 1.0g of sodium sulfate per animal for three weeks. To reduce labor, an aqueous solution of the two salts can be sprayed onto the feed. This approach is recommended as a treatment procedure only if all animals are eating regularly.

Animal Management and Environment

Besides nutrition, animal management factors can affect the incidence of copper toxicity in sheep. For example, although this disease can occur in both sexes of all breeds, mature ewes of British breeds seem to be the most susceptible. In the United States this disease is most common in the western states of the intermountain region. Although the disease can occur anytime, peak incidence usually is in the fall and winter.

Environmental factors and stress can also affect the susceptibility of sheep to this disease. For example, grazing sheep in areas containing certain potentially toxic plants may predispose them to copper toxicity. Plants such as lupines, which contain toxic alkaloids, produce copper toxicity by impairing the liver's ability to metabolize ingested copper. Chronic toxicity is also common in sheep grazing subterranean clover and is associated with normal levels of copper, low levels of molybdenum and no apparent liver damage. The stress associated with shipping ewes from mountain ranges to pastures some distance away appears to make ewes more susceptible.


In summary, sheep producers should become familiar with copper and molybdenum levels of feeds grown in their area. If the area is deficient in molybdenum or high in copper, feed samples should be analyzed routinely to monitor the copper: molybdenum ratio in the diet. Supplemental feeds which are known to be low in copper should be used whenever possible. Feeding a properly fortified trace mineralized salt is essential to the health and production of the sheep flock.

Literature Cited

Church, D.C. and W.G. Pond, 1988. Basic Animal Nutrition and Feeding, 3rd Edition. Published by John Wiley and Sons, New York. pp. 196-199.
Kimberling, C.V. 1988., Jensen and Swift's Disease of Sheep, 3rd Edition. Published by Lea and Febiger, Philadelphia, PA. pp. 372-374.
Merck Veterinary Manual, 1979. 5th Edition. Published by Merck and Company. Rahway NJ. pp. 977-978.
NRC., 1975. Nutrient Requirements of Sheep. 5th Edition, National Academy Press. Washington DC.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


By Lee Bain

Forget-me-nots I’d press on your mind’s eye;
Bright silent messengers of sky’s wild blue…
That from your thoughts my name would never die,
I’d bid them haunt you with their heavenly hue.
Bold blooms would border every path you bent
In blue profusion, like a blossomed lea;
My fragrance would enhance their subtle scent
To blend their perfume with the breath of me.
And when, at end of day, you’d sip and sup
Or finely dine in stately pomp and grace,
You’d find forget-me-nots twined ‘round your cup
Or gaily patterned in the table’s lace.
Through such sweet sorcerers’ spell would I secure
Some memory of me that may endure.

A prayer for Memorial Day

Oh Creater our one God and Father,
your love is stronger than death,
and your life-giving power has no end.
We commend to your eternal care
all who have died in the service of others,
even as we lament the violence of war.
Comfort and sustain all those who mourn.
Heal the wounded body, mind, and spirit.
Bring justice, freedom, and dignity to all people
and bring an end to war throughout the earth
so that all may know your promised peace;
through Christ, the resurrection and the life.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

a plentiful land

I brought you into a plentiful land
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination.

- Jeremiah 2:7

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pentecost: the birth of the church

Pentecost: the birth of the church

After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and instructed them for 40 days, after which he ascended to heaven. While with them, he said: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:4-5). That first baptism of the Spirit would be the birthday of the church.

Jesus’ words were fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4), and the apostle Peter preached his first sermon, urging the crowds to repent, to believe in Jesus Christ as their Messiah and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (verse 38). That very day of Pentecost some 3,000 people were baptized and became the people of God (verse 41). The church had been born.

The day called Pentecost is named after the Greek word pentekostos, which means 50th. It is the Mosaic festival observed by Jews, Shavuoth, sometimes called in the Old Testament the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22; Leviticus 23:15; Numbers 28:26; Deuteronomy 16:9-12). Other names for the day are the Feast of the Harvest and Day of First Fruits (Exodus 23:16; Numbers 28:26). Pentecost was to be observed in ancient Israel on the 50th day after the priest waved a selected sheaf of the first grain that had been harvested in the spring (Leviticus 23:15-21). That meant that seven weeks elapsed between the day of the wave sheaf offering and the beginning of Pentecost, thus the name of the festival—the Feast of Weeks. This festival had come to signify for Jews the commemoration of the giving of the Law of Moses (the Torah) at Mount Sinai 50 days after the Exodus Passover (Exodus 20–24).

Pentecost or Whitsunday

Many Christians celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in worship activities on Pentecost, or as it is sometimes called, Whitsunday. This name is said to arise from the traditional ancient practice of newly baptized individuals wearing white robes during this time. In the Christian liturgical year, Pentecost is the seventh Sunday after Easter and closes the Easter season.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit first came specifically on the Jewish day of Shavuoth, or Pentecost, to signal that God had now moved to write the Law not on tables of stone, but in the hearts of his people through the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3). The indwelling Spirit, the Comforter or Advocate Jesus had sent, was replacing the external "schoolmaster" Law of Moses that had supervised ancient Israel’s worship under the old covenant (Galatians 3:23-25).

"And I, if I am lifted up," Jesus said, "I will draw all men to myself" (John 12:32). God had moved once and for all through his Son to rescue humanity from sin and death. The coming of the Spirit into human hearts and minds on that Day of Pentecost in the early 30s was God’s sign that in Christ he was creating a new people—a new Israel—an Israel of the Spirit (Galatians 6:16) that included Jews and Gentiles alike.

Come Holy Spirit!

by Annie Karto

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Adopted Daughter Graduated on Sat!

This is a video slide show with bagpipe music of Danielle Lynn Matthews' Graduation from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, May 8, 2010 . Photos were taken on campus and at the Riverside Inn in Cambridge Springs. PA. The Field House was packed with 949 graduates and their families for the commencement ceremony. Dani recieved her Bachelor of Science in Education-
Special Education/Elementary Education

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord

Hallelujah from the heavens
Hallelujah in the heights above the earth
Hallelujah all His angels
Hallelujah for the last will be first
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord

Hallelujah in the morning
Hallelujah for the beauty of His scars
Hallelujah in the twilight
Hallelujah sun and moon and shining stars
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord

When the night seems so long (throw your hands to the sky)
You can sing a new song (wipe the tears from your eyes)
When you're weak, He is strong
He can heal your wounded soul
And calm the storm inside

For all your times of laughter
In every hopeful prayer
When the world weighs on your shoulders
Through sorrow and your despair
With everything, with every breath, praise the Lord
Let everything, let every breath praise the Lord
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord
Let everything, let every breath praise the Lord

When the night seems so long (throw your hands to the sky)
You can sing a new song (wipe the tears from your eyes)
When you're weak, He is strong
He can heal your wounded soul
And calm the storm inside

Thursday, April 29, 2010



May is so beautiful:
Orchards are fair;
Branches of fruit trees
Make gardens of air.

Flowers of fragrance
Bloom in the light;
Fall like the snowflakes
Showering white.

Orchards of heaven
Grow with a grace,
And like a blessing
Perfume the place.

Each tree in blossom,
Each lovely spray,
In this month of Our Lady,
Bring glory to May.

Helen Maring
The Magnificat. Volume LXVIII. Number 1. May 1941.

Theft'? Loss of cheap power at issue

Theft'? Loss of cheap power at issue
Low-cost electricity that benefits WNY may shift to statewide program for businesses
By David Robinson

A chunk of cheap electricity that now helps hold down the monthly power bills of Western New Yorkers and other upstate residents could be snatched away and used as the cornerstone of a plan to expand a program that provides inexpensive electricity to businesses statewide.

Supporters say the proposed shift would make better use of a valuable resource that currently saves upstate residents just a few dollars a month, when it could be turned into a powerful tool to create jobs.

But critics say the proposal is another power grab by downstate interests that will prevent businesses from Buffalo Niagara to Albany from reaping all of the benefits from one of upstate's most valuable economic resources.

"To me, it's really just a theft of a regional asset," said Assemblyman William L. Parment, D-North Harmony.

At issue is the future of the state's Power for Jobs program that provides low-cost electricity to 440 businesses and nonprofit groups across the state.

While four competing proposals — one from Gov. David A. Paterson and three from state legislators — are being discussed, the existing program is set to expire May 15.

Each of the proposals would expand the availability of low-cost power to businesses by taking the 455 megawatts of low-cost hydropower that now is used to reduce upstate utility bills by an average of $2 to $4 a month and shifting that electricity to businesses.

That move would more than double the amount of reduced-cost power available to businesses under a program that currently supports 440 companies that provide nearly 240,000 jobs statewide. A total of 72 companies with nearly 14,400 employees in Erie and Niagara counties receive more than 36 megawatts of low-cost power through the program, which typically costs 5 percent to 20 percent less than market rates.

Supporters of the shift contend that using the power to encourage business growth will provide a much greater economic boost to the state by creating or retaining jobs, rather than providing upstate consumers with a small savings on their electric bills.

Critics, however, say the reallocation will shift electricity that currently benefits only upstate consumers and put it into an economic-development program that operates statewide.

One of the bills, from State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, would allow companies statewide to participate in the expanded program, but upstate recipients would reap far greater cost savings than firms downstate.

"I think upstate has to be given preference," said Maziarz, the chairman of the Senate's Energy Committee.

Parment, for instance, said he would support a plan that moved the residential electricity into the economic-development program if it limited its use to businesses located within the areas served by National Grid, New York State Electric & Gas and Rochester Gas & Electric — the only utilities that now benefit from the low-cost "rural and domestic" power.

But Andrew J. Rudnick, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, said he doubts such an approach would win approval in the State Legislature.

That puts upstate business interests in a sticky position. On the one hand, they can go along with an enlarged statewide Power for Jobs program that will benefit more businesses upstate and also includes new guidelines that would help prevent past abuses, which in the past has seen cheap electricity flow to downstate nonprofits, including a Boys & Girls Club in the Bronx.

Or they can fight an uphill battle politically to keep the power exclusively upstate, and risk a stalemate that could jeopardize the entire Power for Jobs program, said Rudnick, whose group has long advocated converting the residential power into an economic-development tool.

Paterson administration officials defended taking what is now a benefit for upstate residential customers and spreading it around to industrial and commercial users across the state. They said upstate manufacturers will be heavy beneficiaries of the additional power allotment.

"It's a statewide asset. Why should only one area be able to take advantage of that asset?" said Thomas Congdon, Paterson's deputy secretary for energy.

Each of the proposals would try to offset the impact of the shift in varying ways. The Paterson proposal would offset the costs entirely for one year by providing a $70 million subsidy funded by the Power Authority that then would phase out in equal increments over the following five years. The Paterson proposal also would provide a $5 monthly credit to low-income customers and create a $10 million program to fund energy-efficiency improvements by consumers, a 38 percent increase from current funding levels.

Paterson vowed Wednesday that he will not settle for anything less than a long-term extension of the program after five years of stopgap, one-year extensions that the governor and business leaders have said makes long-term planning difficult.

Richard M. Kessel, the Power Authority's president and chief executive officer, said the Paterson plan would remove a legislative roadblock that has prevented new companies from enrolling in the program in recent years. He also noted that the Power Authority must walk a fine line as it reviews the qualifications of existing recipients at a time when jobs are scarce and the economy is sputtering.

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y, wrote a letter to Kessel, urging him to craft a longer-term energy agreement with Steuben Foods of Elma.

The food company is planning a major expansion, but the Power Authority only offered Steuben a seven-year contract for low-cost hydropower — even though the agency also offers 10- and 15-year contracts. A longer contract would help the company with its expansion plans, Schumer said.

Tom Precious of The News Albany Bureau and News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski contributed to this report.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

John Deere Tractor

John Deere Tractor

Hey momma here's a letter from your son
well I think my city days are done Ma
and it ain't been three weeks since I came

Hey momma
I do remember what you said
say your prayers before you go to bed son
and remember city women ain't the same

I'm like a John Deere tractor in a half acre field
trying to plow a furrow where the soil is made of steel
Oh I wish I was home Ma where the bluegrass is growin'
and the sweet country girls don't complain

Hey momma
so much perfume I thought I'd drown
and the Lord didn't seem to be nowhere around
hey I fell like a flower from the vine

Ah she was pretty lord knows
I thought she would bring me joy
she laughed she called me country boy ma
and after she had been so kind

I'm like a John Deere tractor in a half acre field
trying to plow a furrow where the soil is made of steel
oh I wish I was home ma where the bluegrass is growin'
and the fire light shimmers and shines.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Cardigan Welsh Corgi Bitch

Cati my dear little companion dog.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Algernon Charles Swinburne

For winter's rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909)

From the poem “Atalanta in Calydon” as published at the Swinburne Archive


I HEARD a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:--
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.
If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature's holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

by William Wordsworth

SOME keep the Sabbath going to church

SOME keep the Sabbath going to church;
I keep it staying at home,
With a bobolink for a chorister,
And an orchard for a dome.

Some keep the Sabbath in surplice;
I just wear my wings,
And instead of tolling the bell for church,
Our little sexton sings.

God preaches,—a noted clergyman,—
And the sermon is never long;
So instead of getting to heaven at last,
I ’m going all along!

Emily Dickinson (1830–86). Complete Poems. 1924.

IT ’S like the light,—

IT ’S like the light,—
A fashionless delight,
It’s like the bee,—
A dateless melody.

It ’s like the woods,
Private like breeze,
Phraseless, yet it stirs
The proudest trees.

It ’s like the morning,—
Best when it’s done,—
The everlasting clocks
Chime noon.

Emily Dickinson (1830–86). Complete Poems. 1924.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886)

Dickinson was an American poet. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, to a successful family with strong community ties, she lived a mostly introverted and reclusive life. After she studied at the Amherst Academy for seven years in her youth, she spent a short time at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary before returning to her family's house in Amherst. Thought of as an eccentric by the locals, she became known for her penchant for white clothing and her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, even leave her room. Most of her friendships were therefore carried out by correspondence.

Although Dickinson was a prolific private poet, fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime. The work that was published during her lifetime was usually altered significantly by the publishers to fit the conventional poetic rules of the time. Dickinson's poems are unique for the era in which she wrote; they contain short lines, typically lack titles, and often use slant rhyme as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation. Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality, two recurring topics in letters to her friends.

Although most of her acquaintances were probably aware of Dickinson's writing, it was not until after her death in 1886—when Lavinia, Emily's younger sister, discovered her cache of poems—that the breadth of Dickinson's work became apparent. Her first collection of poetry was published in 1890 by personal acquaintances Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, both of whom heavily edited the content. A complete and mostly unaltered collection of her poetry became available for the first time in 1955 when The Poems of Emily Dickinson was published by scholar Thomas H. Johnson. Despite unfavorable reviews and skepticism of her literary prowess during the late 19th and early 20th century, critics now consider Dickinson to be a major American poet.

Each-Life-Converges by Emily Dickinson

Each life converges to some centre
Expressed or still;
Exists in every human nature
A goal,

Admitted scarcely to itself, it may be,
Too fair
For credibility's temerity
To dare.

Adored with caution, as a brittle heaven,
To reach
Were hopeless as the rainbow's raiment
To touch,

Yet persevered toward, surer for the distance;
How high
Unto the saints' slow diligence
The sky!

Ungained, it may be, by a life's low venture,
But then,
Eternity enables the endeavoring

by Emily Dickinson


THE ROBIN is the one
That interrupts the morn
With hurried, few, express reports
When March is scarcely on.

The robin is the one
That overflows the noon
With her cherubic quantity,
An April but begun.

The robin is the one
That speechless from her nest
Submits that home and certainty
And sanctity are best.

Emily Dickinson (1830–86). Complete Poems. 1924.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Lamb

Little Lamb, who make thee
Dost thou know who made thee,
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, wolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee;
Little Lamb, I'll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb
He is meek, and He is mild,
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!

William Blake

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


"Nymphs and a Satyr" by William Bouguereau, 1873.

by Katharine Tynan

‘Where are ye now, O beautiful girls of the mountain,
Oreads all ?
Nothing at all stirs here save the drip of the fountain;
Answer our call
Only the heart-glad thrush, in the vale of Thrushes;
Stirs in the brake
But the dew-bright ear of the hare in his couch of rushes
Listening, awake.’

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New Lamb born today

The End of the Day

The night darkens fast & the shadows darken,
Clouds & the rain gather about mine house,
Only the wood-dove moans, hearken, O hearken!
The moan of the wood-dove in the rain-wet boughs.

Loneliness & the night! The night is lonely
Star-covered the night takes to a tender breast
Wrapping them in her veil these dark hours only
The weary, the bereaved, the dispossessed.

When will it lighten? Once the night was kindly
Nor all her hours went by leaden & long.
Now in mine house the hours go groping blindly.
After the shiver of dawn, the first bird's song.

Sleep now! The night with wings of splendour swept
Hides heavy eyes from light that they may sleep
Soft & secure, under her gaze so tender
Lest they should wake to weep, should wake to weep.

by Katharine Tynan

KATHARINE TYNAN, A Favorite Irish Poet of Mine

Katharine Tynan was an Irish-born writer, known mainly for her novels and poetry. After her marriage in 1898 to the writer and barrister Henry Albert Hinkson (1865–1919) she usually wrote under the name Katharine Tynan Hinkson (or Katharine Tynan-Hinkson or Katharine Hinkson-Tynan). Of their three children, Pamela Hinkson (1900-1982) was also known as a writer.

Tynan was born into a large farming family in Clondalkin, County Dublin, and educated at a convent school in Drogheda. Her poems were first published in 1878. She met and became friendly with the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1886. Tynan went on to play a major part in Dublin literary circles, until she married and moved to England; later she lived at Claremorris, County Mayo when her husband was a magistrate there from 1914 until 1919.

For a while, Tynan was a close associate of William Butler Yeats (who may have proposed marriage and been rejected, around 1885), and later a correspondent of Francis Ledwidge. She is said to have written over 100 novels. Her Collected Poems appeared in 1930. She also wrote five autobiographical volumes.

Tynan produced a great deal of writing during her career. It is reported that she was capable of delivering one novel per month! Apart from two anthologies, sixteen other collections of poetry, five plays, seven books of devotion, and one book about her dogs, she wrote over 105 popular novels, twelve collections of short stories, and innumerable newspaper articles. Her work was marked by an unusual blend of Catholicism and feminism, but was always drawn from real life.

Tynan suffered from bouts of depression throughout her life, but particularly after the sudden death of her husband in 1919. However, she kept writing, especially poetry, up until her death in London in 1931.

Tynan died in Wimbledon, London, in 1931 at the age of 70.


by: Katharine Tynan Hinkson (1861-1931)

When I was young the days were long,
Oh, long the days when I was young:
So long from morn to evenfall
As they would never end at all.

Now I grow old Time flies, alas!
I watch the years and seasons pass.
Time turns him with his fingers thin
A wheel that whirls while it doth spin.

There is no time to take one’s ease,
For to sit still and be at peace:
Oh, whirling wheel of Time, be still,
Let me be quiet if you will!

Yet still it turns so giddily,
So fast the years and seasons fly,
Dazed with the noise and speed I run
And stay me on the Changeless One.

I stay myself on Him who stays
Ever the same through nights and days:
The One Unchangeable for aye,
That was and will be: the one Stay,

O’er whom Eternity will pass
But as an image in a glass;
To whom a million years are nought,--
I stay myself on a great Thought.

I stay myself on the great Quiet
After the noises and the riot;
As in a garnished chamber sit
Far from the tumult of the street.

Oh, wheel of Time, turn round apace!
But I have found a resting-place.
You will not trouble me again
In the great peace where I attain.



Our father, ere he went
Out with his brother, Death,
Smiling and well-content
As a bridegroom goeth,
Sweetly forgiveness prayed
From man or beast whom he
Had ever injured
Or burdened needlessly.

'Verily,' then said he,
'I crave before I pass
Forgiveness full and free
Of my little brother, the ass.
Many a time and oft,
When winds and ways were hot,
He hath borne me cool and soft
And service grudged me not.

'And once did it betide
There was, unseen of me,
A gall upon his side
That suffered grievously.
And once his manger was
Empty and bare, and brown.
(Praise God for sweet, dry grass
That Bethlehem folk shook down! )

'Consider, brethern,' said he,
'Our little brother; how mild,
How patient, he will be,
Though men are fierce and wild.
His coat is gray and fine,
His eyes are kind with love;
This little brother of mine
Is gentle as the dove.

'Consider how such an one
Beheld our Saviour born,
And carried him, full-grown,
Through Eastern streets one morn.
For this the Cross is laid
Upon him for a sign.
Greatly is honourèd
This little brother of mine.'

And even while he spake,
Down in his stable stall
His little ass 'gan shake
And turned its face to the wall.
Down fell the heavy tear;
Its gaze so mournful was,
Fra Leo, standing near,
Pitied the little ass.

That night our father died,
All night the kine did low:
The ass went heavy-eyed,
With patient tears and slow.
The very birds on wings
Made mournful cries in the air.
Amen! all living things
Our father's brethern were.


Sheep and Lambs

All in the April evening,
April airs were abroad;
The sheep with their little lambs
Passed me by on the road.

The sheep with their little lambs
Passed me by on the road;
All in the April evening
I thought on the Lamb of God.

The lambs were weary and crying
With a weak, human cry.
I thought on the Lamb of God
Going meekly to die.

Up in the blue, blue mountains
Dewy pastures are sweet;
Rest for the little bodies,
Rest for the little feet.

But for the Lamb of God,
Up on the hill-top green,
Only a Cross of shame
Two stark crosses between.

All in the April evening,
April airs were abroad;
I saw the sheep with their lambs,
And thought on the Lamb of God.

Katharine Tynan

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Better Resurrection

By Christina Rossetti

I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb’d too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall–the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish’d thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.

Friday, April 2, 2010

“GOOD FRIDAY” – by Christina G. Rossetti

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky.
A horror of great darkness at broad noon –
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

-Christina G. Rossetti(5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894

Thursday, April 1, 2010

‘Twas on a Holy Thursday, Their Innocent Faces Clean

By William Blake

‘Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two and two, in red and blue and green,
Grey-headed beadles walk’d before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul’s they like Thames’ waters flow.

O what a multitude they seem’d, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own.
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among.
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor;
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

Holy Thursday: ‘Twas on a Holy Thursday, Their Innocent Faces Clean

The Last Supper (1542), Rome, Galleria Borghese

Jacopo Bassano (also known as Jacopo da Ponte, c. 1510 – 13 February 1592) was an Italian painter active in the Republic of Venice. He was born and died in Bassano del Grappa near Venice, from which he adopted the name.

His father Francesco Bassano the Elder was a "peasant artist" and Jacopo adopted some of his style as he created religious paintings with novel features including animals, farmhouses, and landscapes. He trained initially with his father, Francesco da Ponte the Elder, then in the studio of Bonifacio Veneziano. His mature style, however, followed the example of Titian. Having worked in Venice and other Italian towns, he established a workshop in Bassano with his four sons: Francesco the Younger , Girolamo, Giovanni Battista and Leandro. They shared his style, and some works are difficult to attribute precisely.

While he learnt from other artists of the time, his relationships with them varied, notably when he portrayed Titian as a moneychanger in Purification of the Temple. Other particularly notable works include Jacob’s Return to Canaan, Dives and Lazarus, Acteon and the Nymphs, The Last Supper and Annunciation to the Shepherds.

He died in Bassano.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Third of people in Scotland believe religious freedoms are being restricted

March 18, 2010

Nearly a third of people believe that religious freedoms have been restricted in this country over the past decade, a new survey shows.

The results came as an influential think tank warned that keeping religious voices out of public life "undermines democracy".

In a paper for the public theology think tank Theos, Roger Trigg, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick, called for more respect to be given to the right of religious freedom when it clashed with secular rights and principles.

He wrote: "A free society should never be in the business of muzzling religious voices, let alone in the name of democracy or feigned neutrality."

The professor added: "We also betray our heritage and make our present position precarious if we value freedom, but think that the Christian principles which have inspired the commitment of many to democratic ideals are somehow dispensable."

The survey conducted on behalf of Theos by ComRes found that 32 per cent of people believed religious freedoms have been eroded over the past ten years.

• Full story at the Daily Telegraph.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Saturday, March 27, 2010

For Palm Sunday

by Benjamin Robert Haydon

Benjamin Robert Haydon, an English painter, born in Plymouth, Jan. 25, 1786, died by his own hand in London, June 22, 1846. Disre-; garding the wishes of his father that he should adopt his own business, that of a bookseller, he went to London at the age of 18, and became a student in the school of the royal academy. He was an enthusiast in the pursuit of what is called "high art," and prosecuted his studies in drawing and anatomy with singular earnest- ness. His first picture, "Joseph and Mary resting with our Saviour after a Day's Journey on the Road to Egypt," was exhibited in 1807, and immediately purchased by Thomas Hope, the author of "Anastasius." This was followed by "Dontatus," a work which established his reputation, but involved him in a quarrel with the academy, whose hanging committee had placed the picture in a small side room. A fondness for controversy led him to publish several attacks upon the academy, which had only the effect of estranging some of his most valuable friends, of exasperating his own temper, and of cutting him off from what was the chief ambition of his life, the honor of being an academician. From this time forward, notwithstanding the frequent production of eminent works, who had constantly to struggle with pecuniary difficulties.

In 1815 he established a school, in opposition to that of the academy, in which the Landseers and Eastlake were instructed, and about the same time became associated in the conduct of a periodical entitled "Annals of the Fine Arts." Having no tact for either pursuit, he failed in both; and in 1823, two years after his marriage, he was so involved in debt that he became an inmate of the king's bench prison, where he remained two months. Subsequently he painted here one of his most characteristic works, "The Mock Election," representing a scene which took place within the prison walls in July, 1827, and which was purchased by George IV. for 500 guineas. For his "Pharaoh and Moses," painted soon after his release, he obtained an equal sum. Notwithstanding these and similar emoluments, in 1836 he again became a prisoner for debt, but was soon after enabled to compound with his creditors. About this time he lectured on painting with considerable success. Upon the publication by government, in great part through Hay-don's own exertions, of proposals for decorating the new houses of parliament with frescoes representing scenes in the history of the nation, he sent to the exhibition in Westminster hall two cartoons, "The Curse" and "Edward the Black Prince." No notice was taken of his performances, and his hope of executing some great public work of art was crushed for ever.

To show the world how erroneous had been the decision of the judges, he commenced a series of gigantic pictures, including " Uriel and Satan," "Curtius Leaping into the Gulf," the " Burning of Rome," and the " Banishment of Aristides," the two latter of which, while on exhibition in London, attracted but 133 visitors during the time that Tom Thumb in an adjoining room received 120,000. Under the weight of this neglect and of pecuniary embarrassments his reason gave way, and while engaged on his last great picture, " Alfred and the Trial by Jury," he put an end to his life, having first written in his journal: "Stretch me no longer on this rough world." A postmortem examination discovered a long-seated disease of the brain, which may account for much of his eccentricity. His family were provided for by a public subscription. Hay-don's autobiography, edited by Tom Taylor in 1853 (2d ed., 3 vols. 8vo), lays bare the character of the man, and explains his unhappy career. His love of art was a passion rather than a principle. An impetuosity of temper, impatience of criticism, and an exaggerated estimate of his own powers and of his mission as the apostle of high art, were continually involving him in disputes.

His "Judgment of Solomon," "Christ's Entry into Jerusalem," "Christ Rejected," "Christ's Agony in the Garden," and "Raising of Lazarus," all painted previous to his first imprisonment for debt, and in the maturity of his artistic powers, are among the most favorable specimens of his style. Several of these pictures contain portraits of eminent personages, and the " Christ's Entry into Jerusalem " is now the property of the Catholic cathedral in Cincinnati. His literary efforts are confined chiefly to his "Lectures on Painting and Design" (2 vols. 8vo, 1844-'6), which are bold and clear expositions of the principles of art as he understood them. He also wrote the article on painting in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica," and induced the government to purchase the Elgin marbles.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Taking Christianity to Ireland A.D. 432

St. Patrick is credited with taking Christianity to Ireland around A.D. 432. To sell his message, Irish legend says he chose the shamrock as a symbol of the Christian church. Its three leaves were meant to represent the Holy Trinity: God, Son and the Holy Spirit, joined together by a common stalk. Apparently, the shamrock campaign worked: by the time of St. Patrick's death on March 17, 461, he had created a number of churches, schools and monasteries dedicated to the faith.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Teaching kids to read from the back of a burro

Magdalena, Colombia (CNN) -- To the unaccustomed eye, a man toting 120 books while riding a stubborn donkey would seem nothing short of a circus spectacle. But for hundreds of children in the rural villages of Colombia, Luis Soriano is far from a clown. He is a man with a mission to save rural children from illiteracy.

"There was a time when many people thought that I was going crazy," said Soriano, a native of La Gloria, Colombia. "They'd yell, 'Carnival season is over.' ... Now I've overcome that."

Soriano, 38, is a primary school teacher who spends his free time operating a "biblioburro," a mobile library on donkeys that offers reading education for hundreds of children living in what he describes as "abandoned regions" in the Colombian state of Magdalena.

"In [rural] regions, a child must walk or ride a donkey for up to 40 minutes to reach the closest schools," Soriano said. "The children have very few opportunities to go to secondary school. ...There are [few] teachers that would like to teach in the countryside."

At the start of his 17-year teaching career, Soriano realized that some students were having difficulty not just learning, but finishing their homework assignments. Most of the students falling behind lived in rural villages, where illiterate parents and lack of access to books prevented them from completing their studies.

To help bridge the learning gap, Soriano decided to personally bring books to the children.

"I saw two unemployed donkeys at home and had the idea [to use] them in my biblioburro project because they can carry a heavy load," Soriano said. "I put the books on their backs in saddles and they became my work tools."

Every Wednesday at dusk and every Saturday at dawn, Soriano leaves his wife and three young children to travel to select villages -- up to four hours each way -- aboard a donkey named Alfa. A second donkey, Beto, follows behind, toting additional books and a sitting blanket. They visit 15 villages on a rotating basis.

"It's not easy to travel through the valleys," Soriano said. "You sit on a donkey for five or eight hours, you get very tired. It's a satisfaction to arrive to your destination."

At each village, some 40-50 youngsters await their chance to get homework help, learn to read or listen to any variety of tall tales, adventure stories and geography lessons Soriano has prepared.

"You can just see that the kids are excited when they see the biblioburro coming this way. It makes them happy that he continues to come," said Dairo Holguin, 34, whose two children take part in the program. "For us, his program complements what the children learn in school. The books they do not have access to ... they get from the biblioburro."

More than 4,000 youngsters have benefited from Soriano's program since it began in 1990. Soriano says countless others have been helped, too; parents and other adult learners often participate in the lessons.

Soriano has spent nearly 4,000 hours riding his donkeys, and he's not traveled unscathed. In July 2008, he fractured his leg when he fell from one of the donkeys; in 2006, he was pounced on by bandits at a river crossing and tied to a tree when they found out he had no money. Despite these injuries, which left him with a limp, Soriano has no intention of slowing down.

In addition to the biblioburro program, he and his wife built the largest free library in Magdalena next to their home. The library has 4,200 books, most of which are donated -- some from as far away as New York City. They also run a small community restaurant.

Soriano's hope is that people will understand the power of reading and that communities can improve from being exposed to books and diverse ideas.

"For us teachers, it's an educational triumph, and for the parents [it's] a great satisfaction when a child learns how to read. That's how a community changes and the child becomes a good citizen and a useful person," Soriano said. "Literature is how we connect them with the world."

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I grew up in Chautauqua County, NY. I graduated from Edinboro University of Pennyslvania in 1981 with a BFA in Jewelry and Metalworking. I have been married 31 years. I currently run a small business with my husband. We both enjoy the outdoors and animals a great deal and live on a tiny farm in Western, NY.