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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tatum O'Neal: How many memoirs is too many?

Lunar Eclipse (Photo by Jiyang Chen)
It’s 2011 - which means that seven years have passed
since Tatum O’Neal’s first memoir, A Paper Life. 

The title of this first memoir refers to the movie, Paper
Moon, for which O’Neal famously won an Academy
Award at age 10.  This looked amazing enough to the
public’s unblinking eye – but would have looked even
more amazing had the impending eclipse of that Paper
Moon been fully visible.

In 2004, O’Neal revealed the details of this emotional
blackout.  A Paper Life digs way down into the deepest
craters of her troubled childhood. Dateline NBC’s Stone Phillips summarizes this childhood as follows:  Beatings, hunger, neglect, sexual molestation, underage drinking, car crashes, suicide attempts, and drugs virtually everywhere.  O’Neal’s immediate response to that summary was this:  I thank God everyday that it is so behind me.

However, a wise “Yogi” once said:  It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.  And for O’Neal (as for the rest of us), “it”
seems far from over…

Nevertheless - O’Neal’s second memoir, Found: A Daughter’s Journey Home, seems farther along on the road to healing than her first.  “This book,” O’Neal writes, “is about building a life.”  A large part of this healing seems to be finding a way back to some sort of relationship with her father.  In fact, she and Ryan O’Neal are currently traveling side by side for at least some of this journey.  The release of “memoir two” coincides with the debut of the Oprah Winfrey Network docu-series, Ryan & Tatum: The O’Neals.

Craig Wilson of USA Today asks skeptically whether Tatum is “turning her addictions and turbulent family
life into a cottage industry.”  He then adds:  Will there be a third memoir?

There’s a saying in karmic circles:  The only way out is through.  Therefore, there will be as many rewinds of old tapes as it takes to get us through.  No more, no less…


Copyright July 31, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, July 30, 2011

'Holy' Crusaders! Is Breivik channeling Sigurd I?

(Kings Sigurd I and Baldwin I join forces)
The unholy manifesto of Anders Breivik is eerily reminiscent of King Sigurd I’s Norwegian Crusade.   

Sigurd I, King of Norway for 27 years in the early 12th century, took the throne 16 years before the Knights Templar was even formed.  According to Wikipedia, Norway’s “golden age” was partially fostered by Sigurd I’s leadership.  However, Sigurd often seemed way more intent upon killing Muslims than upon helping Norwegians.

What came to be known as the Norwegian Crusade lasted for three bloodthirsty years – from 1107 to 1110 CE.  It was then that Sigurd the King morphed into Sigurd the Crusader.   In the autumn of 1107, he set sail from Norway with about 5,000 men and 60 ships.  They soon arrived in England, and remained there for that winter.  In the spring, they continued on to Galicia, Spain.  Once there, they repaid the kindness of their host by attacking and looting his castle.

Having snuffed out their welcome, they then moved on to Sintra, Al-Andalus (now Sintra, Portugal).  Once there, they picked right up where they left off in Galicia.  Not only did they once again attack and loot a castle, but this time they also killed all those who refused to be christened.  They then proceeded to kill the
“heathen” Muslims of Lisbon, as well as those of Alkasse (most likely Al Qasr).

It was then time to wreak similar havoc in the Muslim Balearics.  After that, Sigurd and his men found a home away from home in Sicily.  By 1110 they finally arrived in Palestine, and then joined forces with the crusading ruler King Baldwin I in Jersualem.  After that, they all laid siege to the “heathen” city of Sidon, Syria.  Sigurd couldn’t have been more pleased about how things were going.  After all (as he told King Baldwin), “they had come for the purpose of devoting themselves to the service of Christ.”

Although Christ, no doubt, was far from impressed – all of this anti-Muslim sentiment eventually found a home in the ravings of Anders Breivik.  Like Sigurd before him, Breivik seems insanely focused upon the “removal” of all Muslims from Europe.

Tragically, such “chivalry” is still not dead (although its victims are).  History has proven yet again that there’s no such thing as a holy war.


Copyright July 30, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 29, 2011

SETI: Horton hears a what?

(Photo by Ikiwana)
According to Life’s Little Mysteries, one of life’s big mysteries is whether we’re alone in the universe.  In other words, does extraterrestrial intelligent life exist?

Since 1985, the SETI Institute has attempted to answer that question.  According to the website, its mission is “to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe.”  This next part of the SETI mission statement sounds very much like a religious calling:  We believe we are conducting the most profound search in human history – to know our
beginnings and our place among the stars. 

SETI scientists are not necessarily thumbing through Genesis for these answers.  They have instead been
searching for extraterrestrial technological signals.  This requires some pretty advanced technology of our own.  It also requires a belief in the theory that, given the right materials and enough time, life will develop elsewhere as it did on Earth.

This latter theory, however, is currently being chipped away at.  A recent statistical answer to the “Are we
alone in the universe?” question is a less-than-enthusiastic “Well, maybe…”  According to Natalie Wolchover of Life’s Little Mysteries, SETI scientists may have been barking up the wrong equation all these years.  The SETI-utilized Drake Equation, which is based upon the reasoning that “the same fundamental laws apply to the entire universe,” is being challenged by “a statistical method called Bayesian
reasoning.”  This reasoning says that just because life evolved rather quickly on Earth doesn’t necessarily mean that it evolved just as quickly (or even at all) elsewhere.  It simply means that it may (or may not) have.

This certainly has the potential to knock the “ET” right out of SETI’s middle.  However, it also has the potential to put God back on center stage.  After all, if the existence of life is that statistically unpredictable, then perhaps an unseen hand has rolled the dice in our favor.

After all, if an elephant can converse with a microscopic mayor, then pretty much anything’s possible within our miraculous universe…


Coypright July 29, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Nascar pastor: 'Smoking hot' tongues afire

If “smoking hot” connotes enthusiasm (a word which was originally equated with divine inspiration), then Pastor Joe Nelm’s spirit seems “smoking hot.”

When Pastor Nelm isn’t gracing Nascar with his unique style of prayer, he’s generally found stoking up his own congregation at the Family Baptist Church in Lebanon, Tennessee.  A trip to their website yields an instant blast of musical vigor.  The visitor’s ears are greeted with a
rousing rendition of “Let’s Go to Church” that includes lyrics such as these:  Load up in the car, there’s no time to spare, Daddy would say as Mom fixed her hair…  Let’s go to Church to worship and pray, for we want to be thankful come that Judgment Day.  

This ear-catching juxtaposition of the worldly with the otherworldly seems to really work for Pastor Joe Nelms and his spiritually-defined family.  (See website proclamation: 
Not just a church, we’re a family.)  During his recent Nascar invocation, he thanked God for such things as “Sunoco Racing Fuel and Goodyear tires” – as well as for his “smokin’ hot wife” and “Little E’s” (children Eli and Emma).  This “sundae sermon” was topped with a delicious “boogity, boogity, boogity - Amen.”

And what is beneath all this boogalicious froth and frosting?  Just some “old time religion” that was “tried in the fiery furnace” and “will take us all to heaven” – that is, all of us who believe in the following Family Baptist Church tenents:  Exalt the Saviour, Expose the Sinner, Encourage the Saint, Experience the Spirit, and Expound the Scriptures.

Experiencing the Spirit is further defined like this:  We do not operate in plans or programs, but on the principle of the Holy Spirit leading us in all things.  Christian history tells us that the Holy Spirit leads with “tongues of fire” – and can just as easily bring us joy as solemnity.  Those people who most emphasize the crucified Jesus will tend to experience prayer as a serious-type intimacy.  Those who also identify with the
Laughing Jesus will tend to experience prayer as a spontaneous, and sometimes humorous, conversation.

As the good pastor explained about his sizzling Nascar prayer:  Our whole goal was to open doors that would not otherwise be open…  When I accepted Christ, that’s when I really learned what joy was.


Copyright July 28, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Blueberries: Fruits of the Great Spirit

When Paul wrote about the “fruits of the spirit,” blueberries were not on his list.  “Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” were.  (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV)

Perhaps that’s because blueberries aren’t native to the Middle East.  They are, however, native to North America.  Native Americans did take notice of their seemingly spiritual qualities.  They particularly focused upon the five-pointed star on the calyx (blossom end) of each wild berry.  Because these stars seemed so perfectly formed, they were thought to be of divine origin.  According to, Native Americans believed that these “star berries” were sent by the Great Spirit “to relieve the children’s hunger during a famine.”

This is far from the only time that five-pointed stars have been deemed divine.  Wikipedia reports that the pentagram, “the shape of a five-pointed star drawn with five straight strokes,” is spiritually symbolic within a number of faith traditions.  When the pentagram is enclosed within a circle, it is often referred to as a pentacle.

Many Neopagans believe that the five points of a pentagram represent the five elements:  earth, air, fire, water, and spirit.  The outer circle which transforms the pentagram into a pentacle symbolizes “unity, wholeness, infinity, the goddess, and protection.”  An upward-pointing pentagram can denote the dominance of the spiritual element over the physical ones.  A downward-pointing pentagram can denote just the opposite.

Christianity has also made use of the pentagram.  In medieval times, the pentalpha (so-called because of the five-A, otherwise known as five-alpha, configuration of the pentagram) symbolized Christ’s five wounds.  It also symbolized the five senses, the five virtues of Arthurian knighthood (“noble generosity, fellowship,
purity, courtesy, and compassion”), and Mary’s five major joys (“the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Assumption”).

Blueberry blessings have certainly abounded in North America.  These “star berries” have been yielding nutritional and medicinal gifts for centuries.  Americans can therefore thank these lucky stars for such divine bounty.


Copyright July 27, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

For Amy Winehouse: Sitting shiva with the world

Jeremiah Lamenting... (By Rembrandt) 

In some ways, there are as many shades of Judaism as there are Jews.  Some may follow “the letter of the law” - while others may sing to the beat of a different drummer.

Sitting shiva” therefore has many different versions.  The word “shiva” derives from the Hebrew word for “seven” – since “shiva” was traditionally a “week-long period of grief and mourning for the seven first-degree relatives: father, mother, son, daughter, brother,
sister, spouse.”  Many Orthodox Jews still adhere to this seven-day schedule, which technically begins on the day of the funeral.  However, Reform Jews (and others) often vary the schedule – some adhering to a three-day period, others to a half-day period.

Wikipedia reports on the many customs and mandates concerning the shiva period.  These include particular restrictions on bathing and showering, on types of shoes, on marital relations, on Torah study, on laundering clothing, on conversational topics, on cooking, on leaving the home, on choice of chairs, on choice of clothing, on working, on shaving, and on the use of mirrors. reports that Amy Winehouse’s family has already “begun the first official phase of mourning – the sitting shiva – for her.”  It seems that – at least in “the spirit of the law” – Amy’s worldwide fans are being included in this process. reports that “Winehouse’s devastated parents visited mourners outside her north London home to thank them for their support.”

The ever-widening “shiva circle” now includes tweets such as this one from Reba McEntire:  Amy Winehouse found dead.  So sad.  Prayers go out for her family.  This other one from Ricky Martin echoes both the sadness and the solace:  i just found out.  I feel pain.  I feel anger.   Rest beautiful girl rest.  You are free! #RIPAMY 


Copyright July 26, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Saint James: 'Greater' in what sense?

Saint James the Elder (by Rembrandt)
James, son of Zebedee (and allegedly of Mary Salome), has been called ‘Greater’ for centuries.

Wikipedia reports that Zebedee was a somewhat well-off
fisherman – and that Mary Salome (alleged sister of Mary,
mother of Jesus) was one of the three women present at the
Crucifixion.  James the Greater is also said to be the brother
of John the Apostle (the last of the 12 Apostles to survive and the alleged author of the Gospel of John, the Epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation).

Wikipedia also explains that the English name “James” is
derived from the Latin name Iacobus, which in turn is derived from the Hebrew name Ya’akov (“Jacob”).  Other variations of this name include Giacomo (Italian), Jacques (French), Jaime (Spanish), and Iago (Iberian Spanish).  The familiar Spanish name Santiago therefore means “Saint James.” 

James the Greater is also sometimes referred to (along with his brother, John) as one of the “Sons of Thunder.”  It has been suggested that this is because of their fiery natures.  It has also been suggested (by R. E. Nixon) that James’ fiery temper might have been a factor in his relatively early martyrdom.  James, the Patron Saint of Spain, has also been referred to as Matamoros (“The Moorslayer”).  This is in reference to James’ alleged role in the Battle of Clavijo (which took place 800 years after James’ 44 CE martyrdom).

Although James the Greater is heralded for many reasons (he was one of the first Apostles, one of only three Apostles with Jesus at the Transfiguration, and believed to be the very first Apostle to be matyred for the faith) – his connection with Spain remains particularly strong.  His remains are allegedly buried at Galicia, Spain’s Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.  Therefore, the Way of Saint James - a more than thousand-
year-old pilgrimage route across much of Europe – culminates there.

Much of this is certainly cause for considering Saint James to be “Great” – although not necessarily “Greater” than the other Apostles.  He is called “James the Greater” to simply distinguish him from the either shorter or younger Apostle, “James the Less.”


Copyright July 25, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pioneer Day: Native American perspectives

Pioneer Day, very much like Thanksgiving, celebrates events that didn’t always go so well for Native Americans. 

This is particularly ironic since the very name “Mormon” stems from the alleged existence of a fourth-century Native American.  This man, Mormon, is said to have been “a prophet, military general, and record keeper” who “kept extensive historical and spiritual records of his people, who lived in the Americas.”  He is then said to have “compiled and abridged” these records onto the golden plates which Joseph Smith was led to centuries later.

Who were Mormon’s ancestors, and what was their history? According to the Book of Mormon, which is Joseph Smith’s spiritually-guided translation of these golden-plate records, Mormon was a descendent of Lehi and his family.  According to Wikipedia, Lehi was “an ancient prophet” of the Israelite “Tribe of Manasseh” who lived with his family “in Jerusalem in the Kingdom of Judah under the reign of King Zedekiah.” Shortly before the circa-600 BCE destruction of Jerusalem,
Lehi and his family allegedly escaped, and eventually made their way across the great waters to the Americas.  Once there, two of Lehi’s six sons – Nephi and Laman – were said to have established the Israelite nations of Nephites and Lamanites.

Here’s where the story begins to have political ramifications.  Wikipedia also reports that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints seems to have officially accepted that “the Lamanites are among the principal ancestors of the American Indians.”  This might not have been a problem (overlooking the lack of DNA evidence), were it not for the aftermath of this assertion.  According to the article, Mormons and Native Americans: A Historical Overview, there has been a pervasive Mormon belief that – because the Lamanites ended up killing the “righteous” Nephites” – God then “cursed the Lamanites with dark skin and a
degraded existence.”

Ergo, if most (and some say all) American Indians can trace their history to this alleged “curse,” what does that says about the dignity and spirituality of the Native Americans?  It is heartening to note that this spiritual
divide is being slowly bridged by intercultural and interfaith Pioneer Day celebrations such as those in
modern-day Salt Lake City.


Copyright July 24, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Haile Selassie I: An undying Lion of Zion?

(Haile Selassie I)
Most everyone agrees that there are many unanswered questions concerning the alleged 1975 death of Ethiopia’s long-term leader, Haile Selassie I.  For some, the biggest question of all is whether he actually died.

That is because Haile Selassie I, born Tafari Makonnen, is believed by many Rastafari to be the Lion of Zion, Messiah, Power of the Trinity, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and Elect of God.  With attributes like these, he’s also likely to be eternal.

Why do Rastafari believe in Haile Selassie I’s divinity? According to an article by Stephen Woodward, Selassie was the leader of a country long “steeped through the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in biblical myths.”  This alleged “mythology” included the beliefs that Ethiopia is the actual Zion, and that Selassie is a descendent of King David through Solomon’s alliance with Makeda (the Queen of Sheba).  Selassie’s aforementioned titles were seen as descriptions of his true identity – plus, he was “the one independent African leader in a world dominated by white men” (which was tantamount to “miraculous” in the eyes of many).

For a number of Rastafari, Selassie was just not meant to ever die.  After Selassie was ousted from power by a military coup, he was imprisoned.  When word of his death was later released - allegedly from complications of prostate surgery – some believed that he was actually assassinated.  His alleged remains were not discovered until 1992 - and it wasn’t until the year 2000 (due to a “protracted court case” concerning the “mysterious circumstances of his death”) that a funeral was finally held.

Some well-known Rastafari - such as Rita Marley, Bob Marley’s widow - attended this funeral.  Others refused to because they believed that divine Selassie could never die.  Wikipedia reports that there are also Rastafari, such as The Twelve Tribes of Israel, who believe that Selassie was a divinely-appointed king rather than the Christ incarnate.


Copyright July 23, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 22, 2011

Menninger muses: Insane or in sin?

(By:  Moreau.henri)
According to its website, The Menninger Clinic has been ranked “one of the top psychiatric hospitals in the country” by U.S. News and World Report for 17 years in a row.

Reading this, people might therefore associate both the clinic and the Menninger name with the very best that science has to offer.  Indeed, people come there from far and wide to receive help with such complex issues as “difficult to treat brain, behavioral, and addictive disorders.”   Although the clinic was founded by a father (Charles Frederick Menninger) and son (Karl Menninger) team of psychiatrists (with the later addition of another son, William), it is usually Karl Menninger whom the public remembers most.

Karl Menninger certainly began his psychiatric journey by treading what looked to be “a straight-and-narrow” scientific pathway.  According to Wikipedia, he graduated cum laude from Harvard Medical School, and later taught there.  In his 1930 book, The Human Mind, Menninger “argued that psychiatry was a science.”  However, a “little blue book” by L. M. Birkhead was published the very next year.  It’s title?  From sin to psychiatry: An interview on the way to mental health with Dr. Karl A. Menninger

The relationship between sin and mental illness remained a dominant theme in Menninger’s work for years to come.  In 1973, Menninger authored a book called Whatever Became of Sin?  Archbishop Fulton Sheen thought so highly of this book that he referenced it in his own work, Through the Year With Fulton Sheen.
In this day-by-day inspirational book, Sheen’s October 17 passage read:  So general has the denial of sin been, that it has not been theologians who have resurrected the idea, but psychiatrists…  we have many complexes that are produced by sin, and we are blind to the true cause, which is guilt. 

As traditional as this “back to sin” approach sounds, Menninger also demonstrated openness to somewhat radical-sounding theories.  In a now-famous letter to Thomas Szasz (the psychiatrist who was known to have compared the mental health movement to the Inquisition), Menninger appears to embrace at least some of
Szasz’ ideas.  Menninger’s letter states:  Long ago I noticed that some of our very sick patients surprised us by getting well even without much of our “treatment…”  We didn’t know why.  But it seemed to some of us that kind of the “sickness” that we had seen was a kind of conversion experience…


Copyright July 22, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rupert Murdoch: Many religious ties in closet

(Photo by Peng)
According to Karen Fish in Now Public, if you ask Rupert Murdoch what his religion is, he will tell you this:  He is Christian and his wife Wendi is Catholic.  Rupert Murdoch will tell you that he goes to church most Sundays but he hasn’t converted to Catholicism even though he was knighted by the Pope.

What Murdoch won’t necessarily add to this already-convoluted response is that this is just the outermost view of a closet filled with assorted religious ties. emphasizes that Murdoch’s mother, born Elisabeth Joy Greene, was “the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family.”  An article on that website from David Irving’s Action Report claims that Keith Murdoch, Rupert’s father, was “promoted from reporter to chairman of the British-owned newspaper where he worked” because of “his wife’s connections.”  Plus, Murdoch Sr. was then able to “buy himself a knighthood” (like father, like son?).  Irving goes on to assert that this maternal connection makes Rupert Murdoch a Jew “according to the law of the Talmud, and indeed according to the present laws of Israel.”

On this same website, Christopher Bollyn of the American Free Press writes about Rupert Murdoch’s
“support for extreme right-wing Zionists, such as Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon.”  He quotes former New York governor George Pataki as having said:  “There is no newspaper in the U.S. more supportive of
Israel than the [Murdoch’s] New York Post.”  Murdoch himself is then quoted as having said this at a fundraiser for the Museum of Jewish Heritage:  I have always believed in the future of Israel and the goals of the international Jewish community.

Many already know about Murdoch’s affiliation with the New York Post.  What they may not know is that Murdoch’s media empire also includes Zondervan, “the world’s largest publisher of Bibles.”  According to Will Braun’s Holy Moly blog, Zondervan not only owns “exclusive North American print rights to the popular New International Version of the Bible” – but it also “publishes books by leading Christian authors
like Rick Warren…”


Copyright July 21, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Good grief: Nancy's amazing Grace

While being interviewed by Piers Morgan recently, Nancy Grace openly shared what seems to be a raw grief that is more than 30 years withstanding.  Many viewers might be asking:  Why hasn’t she “gotten past it” by now?

Nancy herself explained:  There is no closure.  It’s like breaking your arm and never getting it set…  She then said that you might learn to flip pancakes with that arm again, but you will never flip them in the way that you used to, and it will always hurt.  Not only has it hurt for all these years, but this searing loss
has transmuted her life altogether.

Before her finace’s murder, Nancy Grace had planned on becoming an English professor.  She was thoroughly enamored with Shakespearian literature.  During the immediate aftermath of this personal tragedy, Grace was so shattered that she could barely stand to hear the ticking of a clock.  It was during this period of intense mourning that Grace discovered a new calling.  She would go to law school in order to help victims of criminal tragedies such as hers.

Although there is much debate about the way in which Grace has pursued this goal, there is little debate about her steadfastness of purpose.  There was absolutely no turning back to her former life.  As Grace said during the Morgan interview:  That was a different life, and a different dream, and a different girl, and that girl is gone…

The grief, however, remains very much in tact.  Dr. Darcie Sims – author, speaker, and leader of Grief, Inc. in Louisville, Kentucky – very much agrees with Nancy Grace’s assessment of closure.  Sims asserts:  There is no such thing as closure in grief.  The only thing that closes at the funeral or cemetery is the casket…  YOU DON’T STOP LOVING SOMEONE JUST BECAUSE THEY DIED…  THEY ARE NOW AND ALWAYS WILL BE A LIVING AND LOVING PART OF WHO WE ARE!

And with enough “Amazing Grace,” we will honor that LIVING AND LOVING PART  by paying it forward…


Copyright July 20, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved