From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Owning the sun: Like owning the earth

The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) have a sacred tradition of sending greetings and thanks to “our eldest brother, the Sun.”  They thank Him for “being the source of all the fires of life,” and for showing up “each day without fail.” 
NASA Photo

This sacred tradition extends to Mother Earth, as well.  She is continuously thanked for giving us “all that we need for life,” and for supporting our feet even as we walk all over Her.   

In order for Sun and Earth to be honored, the People must remember to “live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things.”  Each Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address:  Greetings to the Natural World therefore begins with that reminder, and continues with extending “greetings and thanks to each other as People.”

What, then, can be said of a world that has enslaved people for commercial profits (from cotton fields to office cubicles), divvied up the earth into real-estate chunks, hawked bottled water, and even stalked Grandmother Moon?  Is any one of these deeds more ethically untenable than any other?

Yet folks are suddenly up in arms over one woman’s claim to the sun  Following the well-trodden path of legally-sanctioned commercialism, Angeles Duran – a logically clever, 49-year-old woman from Spain – has now registered this ownership claim with her local notary.

She, unlike many others of her ilk, has at least allowed for some vestiges of humanitarianism.  She’ll only be charging a fee to those of us who wish to benefit in any way from the sun’s heat and light – plus, she’ll donate some extorted profits to government pension funds.  There’s even a plan in there somewhere to make a dent in world hunger.

Karma, however, can be a very strict taskmaster.  Stephen Messenger cautions that Ms. Duran may soon find herself with some hefty debts of her own.  After all, he reasons, someone might soon lay claim to the entire universe, and then bounce her great ball of fire on out of there if she fails to pay up…


Copyright November 30, 2010 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ziguang Shang Shi: What would Buddha do?

Photo by Michel wal
According to Michael Cooney’s 11/28/10 Upstate Earth post, Lucas Wang (aka Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi) has been thinking of moving to France. 

He and his avowed followers are finding the climate in Amsterdam NY to be harsher than hoped for.  Not only have they been robbed of sacred statues, but they have also been subject to a level of criminal mischief that seems driven by hatred.  Ziguang therefore recently told an Amsterdam group that “he might go to France if people here do not want him.”

This seems to be a radical turnabout from Ziguang’s former stance.  When previously asked about why he chose Amsterdam NY as his central location, he had hinted that this was divinely ordained.  Pete Iorizzo of the Albany Times Union had reported Ziguang as saying that he intends to “transform this old mill city along the Mohawk River into a booming monument to health and wealth.”

For one with this strong a vision – and especially for one who purports to heal the incurable – this sort of abrupt plan-reversal (and accompanying rationale) seems rather odd.  After allegedly casting out numerous demons, Ziguang could conceivably also be able to overcome these Amsterdam challenges.

Iorizzo reports some details from a dream that Ziguang had in which Jesus comes to him and says:  I’m just the same as you.  We’re teaching the same dharma... 

Would Jesus have changed so strong a vision in this manner?

For that matter, would Buddha?


Copyright November 29, 2010 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Vegetarians love turkey, too

Photo by Xuaxo
Vegetarians don’t eat turkey for the same reason that meat-eaters do.  It makes them feel all warm and fluttery inside.

It might even be good for the soul.  In Genesis 1:29 (KJV), God tells the first male and female:  Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

Many holiday feasters might be asking themselves:  Why would God say such a thing?  (And on record, yet…)  Some even say that God then sealed this deal with the Exodus 20:13 (KJV) Commandment:  Thou shalt not kill.

Others (who particularly enjoy their turkey dead) beg to differ.  “Why God didn’t mean kill,” they say.  “He meant murder.  Thou shalt not murder – you know, non-fetal, non-embryonic, non-enemy human beings…”

Scientifically-oriented folks jump on this bandwagon as well.  “Whaddya mean, thou shalt not kill?  It’s impossible to live without killing…  ergo, to live is to kill.”  Quite logical, thus far.  However, given the premise that to kill less is better than to kill more (a leap of faith for many), logic can then be utilized to
untangle its own Gordian Knots.

Since most have not actually heard celery scream during crunch time, there is much doubt about whether vegetables even feel the pain of impending digestion.  However, there are some who still argue that killing
celery is every bit as evil as killing turkeys.  Only a hefty dose of logic can convince these latter folks that
it's still better to kill the celery directly than indirectly because...

Turkeys, too, prefer vegetarian fare.  Andrew F. Smith, in his opus The Turkey: An American Story, depicts the ideal turkey feast (theirs, not ours) as a potpourri of nuts, seeds, fruits, and plant tops (plus a smattering of slugs on the side).  The discerning reader might have already concluded that to eat even one turkey is to also eat that turkey’s gross sum total of chowed-down plant tops.  This inherently entails more overall plant killings than any gentle vegetarian could ever stomach…


Copyright November 28, 2010 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Guthrie et alia: Blues in the belfry

Photo by Aaron Logan
After all these years, you’d think that Arlo might have been able to move past Obie.  But no – he’s still needing to conscientiously sing those Alice’s Restaurant belfry blues. 

As part of Macy’s 2010 Thanksgiving Day Parade, Guthrie proclaimed his sad truth once again.  Folks got to hear - some for perhaps the very first time – all about how the bell tower played a subtle (yet instrumental) role in garbage that went down long ago (but continues to fester deep within the American soil).

You see, if Alice hadn’t lived in the bell tower, she might have lived in the sanctuary - and if she had lived in the sanctuary, she might have been more prone to taking out the garbage - and if she had been more prone to taking out the garbage, then Arlo might never have needed to get stuck on replay for years to come. 

But that’s not what I came to tell you about, as Guthrie would say.  Came to talk about a belfry across the pond.  The one that’s been leaning way left these days.

It seems that while Guthrie’s been promoting his message, students in Italy have been doing the same with theirs.  They, too, became entangled with a belfry.  More specifically, they “captured” the Leaning Tower of Pisa by encircling it with a 2,000-strong human moat.  Their plea regarding Italy's education-reform plan is this:  No cuts, no profit!

This certainly got Italy’s attention – every bit as much as Arlo has gotten America’s.  Hopefully, both countries will finally take more heed of their prophets than of their profits.


Copyright November 27, 2010 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday: In the sweet buy and buy

Photo by Jonathan McIntosh
Black Friday, so-named because it helps change the red ink of debt into the blank ink of profit, has become the high holy day of consumerism.

Worse than that, it has become the ultimate symbol of what Dr. John B. Cobb, Jr. calls “economism” - which he defines as “the conviction that economic values are the most important, and the restructuring of society to express that valuation.”  Economism not only encourages consumerism, but also fosters a clinging to wealth (investments, possessions, savings) as a means of insuring security and worth.

Since insuring security and worth used to be the purview (and lure) of religion, Cobb also defines economism as “the first truly successful world religion.”  He describes it as “the most powerful and successful idolatry of all time.”

Case in point:  Are people rolling out of bed and shivering on long lines in order to catch Sunday morning’s sermon?  How about Saturday morning’s minyan?  Friday’s noon prayers?  Are the masses stampeding the pearly gates the way they are the mall ones?  Do they come bearing gifts – or do they leave buying gifts?

A person’s true faith is more often revealed by a checkbook than by an autobiography.  Money not only goes where the mouth is, but also where the heart is.  The beloved Unitarian theologian, James Luther Adams, claimed that everyone has a religion, many just don’t know it.  Religion is focused upon that which people have confidence (faith) in.  This can often be determined by where they commit their time, energy, attention and resources.

Mart or heart?  For some, there’s a huge theological gulf between the two…


Copyright November 26, 2010 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 25, 2010

President Obama, the turkeys should be pardoning us

Long ago, another president – Abraham Lincoln – is said to have visited a prison with the intention of pardoning just one death-row inmate. 

As Lincoln strode through the dank corridors, many begged for mercy.  When Lincoln asked why they were there, each categorically denied deserving such a punishment.  Each said that their sentencing had been a horrible mistake.  That is, all except one.

This one exceptional prisoner admitted to having committed a hideous crime, and added that he would regret it for the rest of his waning days.  It was that prisoner whom Lincoln chose.  When the others demanded to know why he was pardoning the only guilty one amongst them, Lincoln explained that it is only the guilty who need pardoning.

Using this logic, turkeys should be pardoning humans, and not the other way around.  Turkeys have been nothing but decent to people – keeping the creepy-crawly slug population in check for centuries.  And what were they given as thanks?  Nothing but Thanksgiving.

This is just plain injustice.  Deep down in their respective guts, citizens of America know it.  That is why comments regarding Obama’s well-publicized pardons of turkeys Apple and Cider included these:

Obama pardons this turkey but in a move that can only be
described as hypocritical will be eating turkey on Thanksgiving.

I bet that guilty people on death row find stories like this to be

Stop this tradition America.  It’s not funny and it’s in poor
taste to joke about sparing a turkey’s life when the reference
is to sparing a human’s life.  Capital punishment is considered
barbaric in the civilized world.

In Lincoln’s case, the comments were even more to the point.  His former bodyguard noted that – although Lincoln had been able to grant many a pardon – he, like Christ, was unable to spare himself.


Copyright November 25, 2010 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dementia: Who's really present?

Alzeimer's Neurofibrillary Tangle
When my landlord’s memory “went” (as they say, although they don’t say where), he seemed to be a much happier person.   Gradually, he was able to talk back to his wife (a skill he had not exercised much during their 50 plus years together) - and was even able to muster up an additional rant or two.

When my friend’s memory went, she seemed to be a much kinder person.  It no longer mattered who shafted whom, how cheap an outfit they were wearing at the time, or what nasty chain of events followed.  She would instead just smile sweetly – then punctuate every other sentence with an “It’s so good to see you!”

The groundbreaking work that Dr. Michelle S. Bourgeois has been doing with Alzheimer’s and dementia-categorized clients resonates with these experiences.  Coauthor of the comprehensive text Dementia: From Diagnosis to Management – A Functional Approach, Bourgeois presents a host of effective strength-based communication tools, based upon the premise that – first and foremost – your loved one is still very much present.  Not only that, your loved one may very well be feeling that his or her present life is a good one.

Contrary to popular opinion, you’re not what you eat.  Neither are you what you think.  Nor are you what you remember.  If you were Ronald Reagan before Alzheimer’s, you remain Ronald Reagan throughout it all.  For who - after all - is Ronald Reagan?  A president?  A husband?  A father?  All of those – yet, eventually, none of those…  We all must shed such “identities” when death do us part (and other roles even before then).

If reincarnation theory is correct, we’ve all had numerous identities, and have (blessedly) forgotten most of them.  Life would be on continuous overload if we constantly remembered everything.  Buddhism teaches us not to cling to even our own bodies and minds.  Perhaps dementia is one way of forgetting the Many in order to truly remember the One.


Copyright November 24, 2010 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Swiebodzin to Rio: Our Jesus is bigger than yours

(Image by ProhibitOnions)
Does size matter?  The approximately 15,000 who came to herald the new Christ the King statue in Swiebodzin, Poland seem to think that it does. 

Many from this rally-round-the-statue crowd seem intent upon pointing out its vertical measurements - and seem equally intent upon factoring in the statue’s mound as part of its height.  (Would the Rio folks therefore be allowed to factor in the Corcovado mountain as part of their statue’s height?)

Other contenders for the "NBA Jesus club" include:  Cristo de la Concordia of Cochabamba, Bolivia (33 meters); Christ of Vung Tau, Viet Nam (32 meters); Cristo Rei of Lisbon, Portugal (28 meters); Cristo Rei of Dili, East Timor (27 meters); Cerro del Cubilete of Guanajuato, Mexico ( 23 meters); Cristo Redentore of Maratea, Italy (21.23 meters); Christ of the Ozarks, Arkansas, USA (20 meters); and Christ of Havana, Cuba (20 meters).  (Are the matching heights of the American and Cuban statues an example of cosmic humor?)

Just as many believe that might makes right, many also believe that size makes wise.  The Associated Press of Warsaw quotes Bishop Stefan Regmunt (one of the leaders of this monumental gathering) as proclaiming:  The monument is a visible sign of faith in Christ.  (Isn’t a ten-meter monument also visible?  Isn’t faith the belief in things unseen?)

Not everyone is as pleased as Bishop Regmunt about the height of the Swiebodzin statue.  Some have even accused Father Sylwester Zawadzki (the priest who told CathNews that building this statue was his “second vocation”) of “megalomania.”  The AP reports these same accusers as saying that the statue’s “grandiosity violates Christ’s spirit of humility.”


Copyright November 23, 2010 by Linda Van Slyke  All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monks on Mars: It's worth a thought

Because two prominent scientists, Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies, are recommending that Mars be initially colonized by four older humans who won’t ever return to Earth – the question is now on the table…

Who wants to go?

Both the recommendation and the question have provoked a range of intense responses from the general public.  Some have called this a “suicide mission” – others have likened it to earlier explorations of planet Earth.  After all, did Lewis and Clark, Columbus, and numerous others know for sure that theirs was a round-trip? 

What prompted them to go?  Some say fame and fortune.  Some say newfound freedom and opportunity.  
Others claim there’s an innate drive in humans that prompts them to travel where none have gone before. 

Call it a “holy curiosity.”  Einstein did:  The important thing is not to stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existing.  One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality…

It often seems as though explorations of outer space can’t help but evoke explorations of inner space.  Even
the most mundane of minds can’t help but contemplate the big questions when faced with a one-way ticket to
possible oblivion.  Robert Zubrin of the Mars Society offers this rationale:  Life is a one-way trip.  If you
don’t go to Mars, you’re going to die on Earth.  You’re going to die somewhere.

It is being recommended that the first settlers on Mars be non-childbearing (due to high radiation levels), as
well as psychologically equipped to withstand this sort of existential angst.  Monks (of many different faiths)
might therefore be an ideal population from which to recruit.  Many have already chosen not to procreate,
and many have already spent years preparing themselves for just this sort of holy quest.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why does antimatter matter?

For those who have deeply pondered the first three words of Genesis, antimatter just might provide some specifics.

That’s why it greatly matters that CERN researchers in Switzerland, using the Large Hadron Collider, were able to “trap” 38 atoms of antihydrogen for a fraction of a second.  This accomplishment not only paves the way for seemingly miraculous feats such as interstellar travel (through the development of antimatter fuel, which has an incredibly high energy density), but also helps to solve some ultimate mysteries.

According to CERN’s  “Antimatter Academy Briefing Room,” two of the basic universal particles (electrons and protons) are thought to be “immortal” in that they will continue to exist far longer than the Universe itself.  (Since human atoms contain both these particles - are humans, then, at least somewhat immortal?)

Electrons and protons are said to have resulted from the Big Bang approximately 15 billion years ago.  As Einstein said, energy (such as that of the Big Bang) can transform into matter under certain conditions. However, a multitude of physics experiments has also shown that the creation of particles is always accompanied by the creation of mirror-image antiparticles.  Not only that, these “twin” particles/antiparticles tend to annihilate one another (in a burst of energy) when brought back into close contact.  (Worse than Jacob and Esau…)

How, then, does matter (including all of God’s creatures) even exist in our universe?  If matter is composed of particles with “evil twins” that blow them to smithereens, then how does anything we call life even survive?

If the CERN researchers can take a bite out of this apple, the Tree of Knowledge may yet yield its closely-guarded secrets.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Lord's Prayer: Carlin, Crossan and Jesus

George Carlin had probably thought longer and deeper about The Lord’s Prayer than many who lip sync it each Sunday.

What Carlin found is an inherent discrepancy between different parts of this prayer.  In its beginning, the Lord is so praiseworthy that His name be hallowed and His will be done.  What immediately follows is an all-too-human lapse into desire-driven commands (Give us this…  Forgive us that…), sweetened by some flattery-laden comments (For Thine is…  the Power…  and the Glory…).

Others, too, have been highly dissatisfied with the turns this prayer has taken.  So much so, that they doubt its current usage has much to do with the original intent of Jesus.  According to Mitchell Landsberg of the Los Angeles Times, John Dominic Crossan is one of those others.

Crossan, a co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, has recently written a book titled The Greatest Prayer:  Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer.  In it, he contextualizes the prayer’s wording within first-century perspectives.  He thus describes the Lord’s Prayer as “a prayer from the heart of Judaism on the lips of Christianity for the conscience of the world.”

Not many would disagree with this.  However, many do disagree with some of Crossan’s other conclusions.
Crossan states that the Lord’s Prayer is a “revolutionary” plea for “distributive justice.”  For example, his definition of “hallowed” is “a fair distribution for all, the justice of an equitable household.”  Some find this to be “a stretch” from more commonly-accepted interpretations.

At the very least, contextualizing the Lord’s Prayer within its own Biblical passages can be quite thought-provoking.  When it appears in Luke 11, this prayer is couched between the Martha/Mary story of Luke 10 and the “ask and ye shall receive” motif of Luke 11:5-13.  Is it social justice for Mary to be solely focused upon Jesus while Martha is doing all of the dishes?  When we ask and receive, does this include worldly boons for ourselves and others? 

When the Lord’s Prayer appears in Matthew 6, it is accompanied by a set of specific instructions.  Jesus
seems to make it clear that it’s not just what you say, but why and how you say it.  He also makes it clear
that prayer goes hand-in-hand with actions that are based in mutuality.  (Forgive us…  as we also have

Resources (Many four-letter words!)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hitler Exhibition: It takes a country to raise a dictator

The Hitler Exhibition at the German Historical Museum in Berlin is showing the world just what it takes to raise a dictator.

The focus is not upon the machinery of war – it is instead upon the props of war.  These props are much more likely to be found in homes and schools than they are to be found on battlefields.  At least initially…  Without the bottom-up support of everyday families, these same battlefields might never have become so bloodied. 

What do these props look like?  They look like tiny toy Hitlers that lurk beneath the Christmas tree.  They look like swastika-laden lanterns that hang in living rooms.  They look like playing cards that advertise Schutzstaffel (SS) faces.  Perhaps worst of all – they look like church-woven tapestries that integrate the Lord’s Prayer with Nazi imagery.

Calling Hitler the one-and-only monster has been the commonly preferred means of coping with Nazi horrors.  This practice of scapegoating (putting collective blame upon one individual) goes back to ancient times.  Leviticus 16:1-10 tells about Aaron’s God-given task of presenting two goats as offerings - one to the Lord, and the other to Satan.  Collective sinfulness therefore bleeds into scapegoat sinfulness.  Atonement could then become more about sacrificing goats than about reeducating people.

Today’s systems-theory psychology closely examines the group dynamics of scapegoating.  Family therapist Murray Bowen notes triangulation patterns in which tension between two people is deflected onto a third party.  For example, a husband and wife are arguing in the kitchen until their child wanders in for a snack.  Suddenly, the child is being “ganged up on” for not having done the dishes.  The child now becomes the
“bad guy” so that the parents can feel better about themselves and their own relationship.  Nothing like a common enemy to quickly unify a group…

However, scapegoating is not nearly as effective in the long run.  Collective guilt tends to fester when not acknowledged.  In all countries, history tends to repeat when not truly atoned for…


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Facebook infidelity: A case of blaming the tools?

When not comparing life to a box of chocolates, Momma always (also) said:  A poor workman blames his tools.

Many of today’s mothers (and grandmothers) spend hours swapping tidbits on Facebook.  According to New Jersey Rev. Cedric Miller, this could be far worse than a mere diversion.  This could, in fact, be just one click shy of adultery.   As he sees it, all married individuals had better steer clear of Facebook’s fatal attractions.

According to the Associated Press, that is why he is ordering his married church leaders to either “delete Facebook or resign.”  And the buck doesn’t stop there.  Rev. Miller is also urging the married couples within his large congregation to share Facebook passwords with one another.  More than that, he’s planning to “strongly suggest” that spouses forsake Facebook completely. 

Perhaps there’s some wisdom in this approach.  After all, that old high school flame (you know, the one that got away) might still be hoping for a virtual reunion.  Stranger things have, indeed, happened.  Saying “No way!  Not me!” is no insurance, either.  Thinking oneself above such temptation is the proverbial pride before the fall.

On the other hand, remember what Momma always said…  Assuming that Facebook itself is the culprit is like blaming poor workmanship upon the tools.  Illicit romance of all kinds has been around far longer than Facebook.  Romeo and Juliet did not need MapQuest in order to make their way to one another.

Temptation lies within the human heart, and the ability to withstand it lies within the human soul.  Thankfully, neither the heart nor the soul can be controlled by mere technology.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Parents are junkies: Along with most everyone else

It seems as though Shankar Vedantam of Slate is first discovering that which Buddha warned about long ago.  Parents are junkies - just like all other non-enlightened beings.

Define junkie?  Vedantam does:  We have a name for people who pursue rare moments of bliss at the expense of their wallets and their social and professional relationships:  addicts.

Buddha’s definition was a bit more verbose. What is commonly referred to as Buddha’s Four Noble Truths goes something like this:  There is almost universal suffering; it arises from clinging, craving (attachment); it abates with letting-go (the liberation of non-attachment); liberation is accompanied by rightful living (which includes understanding of the first three Noble Truths, mindfulness, meditation, plus an ethical lifestyle).

It’s no wonder that what began as just AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) - has now proliferated into NA(Narcotics Anonymous), OA (Overeaters Anonymous), WA (Workaholics Anonymous), and a host of other such groups.  Perhaps soon, thanks to Vedantam, the already-existing PA (Parents Anonymous) will need to broaden its scope to include not just some parents, but all parents.

Truth be told (which was one of Buddha’s favorite pastimes), humans seem hard-wired for addictions of all kinds.  Check the media. Check the schools.  Check the mini-marts.  Check the maxi-marts.  And yes, check the all-too-often “opiate of the masses” worship centers.

Buddha’s “cure” is summarized within his Eightfold Path.  According to, this Path consists of right understanding, right thinking, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation.

Seems a bit more encompassing than birth control…