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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

St. Paul's Cathedral of London: Down 99%

St. Paul's Cathedral (by Mark Fosh) 
While Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington rest silently within St. Paul’s Cathedral of London, battles quite different from the ones they fought have been unfolding right outside the cathedral's doors.

The BBC News reported that on October 15, 2011 “anti-capitalist demonstrators from Occupy London Stock Exchange” began an encampment in St. Paul’s Churchyard.  Hardly a week later, St. Paul’s (which claims on its website to act “as an important meeting place for people and ideas, as a centre for... learning and public debate”) was “closed to visitors for the first time since World War II because of protesters camping on its doorstep, its dean has said.”

At the time, the closing was partially attributed to an alleged “clear fire hazard.”  OccupyLSX then issued a rebuttal which claimed that “there are no outstanding fire safety issues.”  On October 27th, St. Paul’s Canon Chancellor, Giles Fraser, resigned due to his dissatisfaction with the way St. Paul’s was handling  the situation.  The Guardian reported this about Fraser:  “He had been talking privately about possibly needing to resign when the chapter voted to take action against the protesters, but his hand may have been forced...  there are church conservatives who would be delighted to see him fall.”

The protesters managed to hang in there until February 28, 2012.  The Religion News Service reported that scores of demonstrators were then forcibly evicted “from a makeshift tent city they had erected outside historic St. Paul’s Cathedral more than four months ago…”  On the very same day, St. Paul’s issued this website statement:   In the past few months, we have all been made to re-examine important issues about social and economic justice and the role the cathedral can play.  We regret the camp had to be removed by bailiffs but we are fully committed to continuing to promote these issues through our worship, teaching and institute.


Copyright February 29, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved  

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Elizabeth Debold: Spiritual Boomeritis

Ken Wilber in front (Kanzeon Zen Center)
The literary talents of Elizabeth Debold would have allowed her to aptly review Ken Wilber’s Boomeritis without so much as a glance in the mirror.  Instead, Debold courageously chose to personalize said review with a close look at how Boomeritis is gnawing away at her own heart and soul. 

In her EnlightenNext article titled Boomeritis & Me: Not Just a Book Review, Debold presents Wilber’s definition of Boomeritis:  “pluralism infected by narcissim.”  She then explains that Boomers were the first “major generation in history” to develop a capacity to “appreciate differences, to understand the ways that diverse cultures construct reality, and to fashion an identity, or self, that goes beyond one’s family and culture of origin.”

So far so good…  But along with this appreciation of others came an intense preoccupation with self.  The somewhat “We” generations became predominantly “Me” generations as Boomers passed their narcissism along to Generations X and Y.  However, all is not lost.  Wilber points out that if Boomers could only get over themselves, a quantum leap of consciousness awaits.  Debold therefore asks this pivotal question:  “… which do we trust more, our
survival-conditioned minds, or the evolutionary flow of life itself?”  Debold further explains that this choice is essentially a spiritual one “because it concerns our deepest understanding of who we are and what life is about.”

According to Debold, some signs of being too bogged down in the survival-conditioned mind (and thus too
narcissistic when it comes to spirituality) are the following:  a “Nobody tells me what to do!” type of attitude; a modernist belief in “the omnipotence of reason and the mind”; the reducing of Truth to “our own personal, subjective experience”; a victim-type mentality (which has spawned a multitude of support groups); spiritual one-upmanship; plus a belief that transcendental bliss is the ultimate goal of the spiritual journey.


Copyright February 28, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sri Ramakrishna: Guru of Interspirituality

(Sri Ramakrishna)
According to Swami Nikhilananda, Sri Ramakrishna’s “first experience of spiritual ecstasy” occurred out in nature rather than within a particular religious setting.

The young Gadadhar (Ramakrishna’s birth name, which is an
“epithet of Vishnu”) was walking in some rice fields near his home when he noticed some white cranes flying past a dark thundercloud.  Gadadhar was so overwhelmed by the beauty of this scene that he “fell to the ground, unconscious…”  After being carried home by some villagers, Gadadhar explained that “he had experienced an indescribable joy.”

Nikhilananda goes on to describe Ramakrishna’s attitude towards
different religions.  Ramakrishna is quoted as saying:  Wherever I look, I see men quarrelling in the name of religion – Hindus,
Mohammedans, Brahmos, Vaishnavas, and the rest.  But they
never reflect that He who is called Krishna is also called Siva, and bears the name of Primal Energy, Jesus, and Allah as well – the same Rama with a thousand names.

This reflects interspiritual – even more than interfaith – thinking.  Kurt Johnson points out that “interfaith” generally refers to “a horizontal discussion among various religions, beliefs and creeds in the hope for more tolerance, peace and mutual understanding,” whereas “interspirituality” is so deeply rooted in an experiential
sense of spiritual oneness “that any creed, belief, background, history, indeed anything that could cause separation between beings becomes secondary if not irrelevant.”

Swami Adiswarananda offers this Ramakrishna quote:  “As many faiths, so many paths.”  Adiswarananda then explains:  “The paths vary, but the goal remains the same… communion with God.”  Ramakrishna’s view of different religions was often based on his direct experience with them.  Wikipedia reports that he was initiated into Islam by Govinda Roy, “a Hindu guru who practiced Sufism...”  Ramakrishna embraced Islam fervently and practiced it intensely.  He afterwards also embraced Christianity and experienced visions of Jesus and the Madonna.


Copyright February 27, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ayyam-i-Ha: Beyond space and time

A Bahai House of Worship (by Jeff3000)
Humans seem quite comfortable with their three-dimensional spatial understandings.  Add a fourth – time (which is so integrally tied to space that many suspect they are one and the same) - and things still feel cozy within these cubic walls.  However, when
humans begin to peek beyond these dimensional “cages” - quantum leaps of faith can then occur.

This is sort of the principle beyond the Bahai “Days of Ha” (Ayyam-i-Ha).  Wikipedia reports that “the name Ha “has been used as a symbol of the essence of God in the Bahai holy writings.”  The Arabic abjad system equates the letter “Ha” with the number five, “which is equal to the maximum number of days in Ayyam-i-Ha.”

Although the days set aside for the Festival of Ayyam-i-Ha never exceed five, this Festival is – in a literal sense – beyond the usual constraints of time.  This is because it occurs during the intercalary period of the year.  Dale E. Lehman reports that the “Bahai calendar is a solar calendar (365 days in a year, 366 in leap years) consisting of nineteen months each containing nineteen days.”  The four to five additional days that “do not belong to any month” are those of the Ayyam-i-Ha Festival.

How does one celebrate these four to five special Bahai days that fall outside of typical time (and therefore space) allotments?  Bahaullah left these instructions regarding the Ayyam-i-Ha days that have not been bounded by the limits of the year and its months:  “It behoveth the people of Baha, throughout these days, to provide good cheer for themselves, their kindred and, beyond them, the poor and needy, and with joy and exultation to hail and glorify their Lord…”

In other words, these liminal “Days of Ha” may best be honored by sharing the type of love that transcends all worldly dimensions…


Copyright February 26, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reviving Maslenitsa

(Lady Maslenitsa)
Although traditionally, Lady Maslenitsa (aka Kostroma) was burned on Forgiveness Sunday (aka “Cheesefare Sunday,” the last Sunday before Orthodox Great Lent begins) - she was revived each year at the beginning of Cheesefare Week (the week before Orthodox Great Lent begins).  However, she was forced to remain somewhat dormant and hidden during the repressive years of Soviet rule. 

Post Perestroika, the public Maslenitsa celebrations that once flourished throughout what is now Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are now being vigorously reinstated.  This Maslenitsa period roughly corresponds to the Western Christian Carnival season.  Wikipedia reports that it has roots in both pagan sun festivals (heralding the ending of winter) and Orthodox Christian rituals (being the last week before the fasting of Great Lent begins). 

During Orthodox Great Lent, it is not only forbidden to consume “meat, fish, dairy products and eggs” – but
“parties, secular music, dancing and other distractions from spiritual life” are also frowned upon.  Therefore,
Maslenitsa “represents the last chance to partake of dairy products [meat, fish and poultry have already been forsaken since the “Meatfare Sunday” before] and those social activities that are not appropriate during the more prayerful, sober and introspective Lenten season.”

Maslenitsa is therefore also known as Cheesefare Week, Butter Week, or Pancake Week.  Pancakes (bliny) are especially popular during Maslenitsa, and have represented the sun’s warm and golden circularity since ancient Slavic times.  Kerry Kubilius reports that Maslenitsa activities can include “troika rides, sledding, theater, puppets, singing and fireworks.”  Maslenitsa is also a family-oriented holiday during which much visiting occurs.

At the end of the week-long festivities, Lady Maslenitsa (a straw effigy) is often thrown into a bonfire “in order to say farewell to winter.”  Due to the stalwart efforts of many who refuse to let their heritage die, she shall surely rise again…        


Copyright February 25, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Obama apology: In sync with the spirit of Lent

(Painting by Rembrandt)
Those who are slamming President Obama for sending a letter of apology to Afghan President Karzai regarding the “burning of Korans at a US military base in Afghanistan” might wish to reread the very same Bible that they often refer to in glowing terms.

While thumbing through the Christian Gospel sections (which
these selfsame critics often proclaim must be defended at all
costs), they might also wish to underline the following passages:

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  (Matthew 6:14-15)

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.  (Matthew 18:21-22)

Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  (Matthew 7:3)

The “logs” that are in America’s (and any country’s) eyes are many.  If they are not owned up to (the beginning of all true apology) and repented for, then they will just keep occurring.  If both sides (and all sides) refuse to bend, then they will surely break.  How destructive the breaks will be depends upon how deep the issues are.  In this case, the religious tensions are quite deep.  In order to soften these breakable
rigidities, sincere apologies from all concerned would be a fine place to begin.

President Obama’s detractors could surely rattle off any number of severe offences that have been committed against America.  However, would they be nearly as willing to acknowledge some of the serious offences that America itself has been guilty of?  Against Afghanistan, there have been many.  Phil Stewart
of Reuters lists just a few that came before this latest one:  the previous Koran burnings in Florida; U. S. forces urinating on Taliban corpses; and the recent killing of eight young Afghans in a NATO-led air strike.

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean to ignore all danger.  However, lack of forgiveness is often the greatest danger of all.


Copyright February 24, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Stephen Chen: Pastoring Jeremy Lin

Jeremy Lynn (by nikk_la)
Jeremy Lin was an eighth grader when he first met Pastor Stephen Chen of the Redeemer Bible Fellowship (the English ministry of the Chinese Church in Christ, Mountain View, California).  At that time, the 5’3” (or so) Lin told Pastor Chen “that one day he [Lin] will grow to over six feet and play basketball.”  The young Lin went on to elaborate that he would accomplish this by ingesting plenty of calcium each day.

Today Lin would instead credit God for the realization of these dreams.  Although The Christian Post also reports that “Lin’s parents are devout Christians and his maternal
grandfather was a Taiwanese Christian pastor,” much of Lin’s spiritual inspiration has likely come from Pastor Chen.  In a USA Today video, Chen discusses Lin’s humility and love of the Gospel.  Chen emphasizes that everything Lin has “is a gift from God” - and if it were to all go away tomorrow, “it’s okay…  He [Lin] knows that he can hold on to it lightly because there are more weighty things in store for him. Very
possibly, you know, he can go into the ministry…  I think he understands that the most important thing is not the Linsanity…  the most important thing is that he honors God.”

Chen himself “came to a saving knowledge of Christ at CCIC [Chinese Church in Christ] Mountain View.”
According to the CCIC website, Pastor Chen is “currently pursuing a Th.M. at The Master’s Seminary…”  Prior to pastoring the CCIC, Chen “served at Community Christian Alliance Church with the college ministry.”  He and his wife Shirley also enjoy “reading, hanging out, watching movies, and playing Scrabble.”

Pastor Chen continues to carefully shepherd Lin’s spiritual journey.  Myles Collier, a Christian Post contributor, states that Rev. Chen “is concerned about the temptation and sin that are present” within the trappings of fame.  As Linmania intensifies, Pastor Chen warns:  The Scripture talks about the devil lying in wait like a lion waiting to devour.  All Christians would be foolish to underestimate the devil.


Copyright February 23, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday: The Turning of T. S. Eliot

(T. S. Eliot in 1923)
When Thomas Stearns Eliot first converted (“turned around”) to Anglicanism (or, more specifically, to Anglo-Catholicism) in 1927 - he had already lived quite a full life as a student, poet, philosopher, teacher, husband, writer, publisher, banker and caregiver.  Nearing 40 at that point, he was seeking a spiritual way out of The Waste Land that he had so eloquently described.

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope

This conversion inspired a shift, not only in his poetry, but also in his general approach to life.  Christianity Today reports that Eliot then produced numerous works that addressed “complex moral and religious themes” – and was convinced that society should be ruled, not by the church, but “only by Christian principles, with Christians being ‘the conscious mind and the conscience of the nation.’”

Eliot’s Christianity and Culture (a combination of two long essays – the first, The Idea of a Christian Society, debuted in 1939 – and the second, Notes towards the Definition of Culture, debuted in 1948) met with decidedly mixed reviews from the crowd.  Whereas one reviewer praised Eliot for teaching such things as “greed is likely the dominant vice of the modern age” and “culture is the incarnation of religion” – another panned Eliot’s “snide” comments about the need for social and educational stratification, then added:  “Religious snobbery doesn’t get any worse than this.”    

Philip Yancey, in his article titled T. S. Eliot’s Christian Society: Still Relevant Today?, concludes that “Eliot’s fervent attempts to reshape the actual structure of civilization came to nought, leaving us with many of the same problems he encountered – and few commanding answers.”  For example, many doubt whether a
“Christian elite” such as Eliot proposed would practice and promote true tolerance of other faiths.  Regarding that, Yancey states:  “History gives us little reason for optimism.”

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again…


Copyright February 22, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Comus: Ye Mystick Krewe of Who?

Although the American version of Mardi Gras is most often associated with New Orleans, its roots are actually in Mobile, Alabama. 

It was in Mobile that mystic societies, the forerunners of Mardi Gras krewes (pronounced “crews”), first began.  These societies were called “mystic” because their membership was secret – and often “based in class, economic and racial groups.”  Mystic societies and krewes are both Carnival organizations (“Carnival” being the festive season immediately before Lent) that “build colorful Carnival floats and create costumes around each year’s themes.”

Wikipedia also explains how Ye Mystick Krewe of Comus grew out of these traditions.  Prior to the development of this krewe, New Orleans Carnival celebrations were irregular and mostly informal.  In 1856, six New Orleans businessmen (who were formerly from Mobile, Alabama) organized a “secret society to observe Mardi Gras in a less crude fashion.”  They named themselves “Ye Mystick Krewe of Comus.” 

Comus who?

The answer lies with John Milton’s Comus (the actual title of which is - now take a deep breath – A Mask presented at Ludlow Castle 1634: on Michelmas night, before the right honorable John, Earl of Bridgewater, Viscount Brackley, Lord President of Wales, and one of His Majesty’s most privy council).  If this title sounds a lot more stilted than today’s Mardi Gras ambiance, that’s because Milton’s puritanical agenda was to reign in the hoopla with which Comus (the ancient Greek god of “festivity,
revels and nocturnal dalliances”) is often associated.

Although people now refer to Milton’s masque (“a form of festive courtly entertainment which flourished in 16th and early 17th century Europe”) as simply “Comus” (shows where their minds are at) - the prim and proper heroine of the masque was actually (and aptly) named “the Lady.”  It was she who resisted all of the
less-than-ethical advances of Comus.  However, in true Miltonian fashion, her human efforts alone were not enough to save the day.  It was grace, combined with her valiant and steadfast “works,” that ultimately preserved her purity.  Perhaps this Lady will also provide a much-needed balance for today’s Comus-oriented Mardi Gras revelers.


Copyright February 21, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 20, 2012

U. S. Presidents: Religious affiliations

The White House (by UpstateNYer)
What did Lyndon Johnson and James Garfield have in common besides the White House?  According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, they were both affiliated with the Disciples of Christ.

Martin Van Buren and Theodore Roosevelt were both listed by this Pew Forum as Dutch Reformed - Richard Nixon and Herbert Hoover as Quaker.  John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore and William Howard Taft were listed as Unitarian – and John F. Kennedy as Catholic.  Calvin Coolidge was listed as Congregationalist – and Barack Obama as United
Church of Christ (since he had been a member for more than 20 years).  Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Harry Truman and Warren Harding were listed as Baptist – whereas Andrew Johnson, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson were listed as having no formal affiliation.  George W. Bush, William McKinley, Rutherford Hayes and Ulysses Grant were listed as Methodist.

The two longest listings were for Presbyterians and Episcopalians.  A total of eleven U. S. Presidents were listed as Episcopalian:  George H. W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Franklin Roosevelt, Chester Arthur, Franklin Pierce, Zachary Taylor, John Tyler, William Harrison, James Monroe, James Madison, and George
Washington.  Nine were listed as Presbyterian:  Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower, Woodrow Wilson, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, James Buchanan, James Polk, and Andrew Jackson.

A discerning reader might immediately note the absence of any non-Christian religious affiliations (and of atheists, too, for that matter).  A discerning reader might also wonder why Episcopalians and Presbyterians together comprise almost half of the total listed.  Regarding this latter point, Wikipedia explains that the “Episcopal Church had been the Church of England before the American Revolution and was the state
religion in some states (such as New York and Virginia).”

Another point worth noting is that these Pew listings are based upon formal religious affiliations, and not necessarily upon more private beliefs.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Marvin Winans: Gospel through and through

Detroit Historic District (by A. Jameson)
Pastor Marvin Lawrence Winans, who delivered the eulogy at Whitney Houston’s funeral,  was singing the Gospel long before he was preaching it.

Born in Detroit, Michigan into a family of eventually ten children (many of whom are also well known in the music biz, such as BeBe and CeCe Winans), Winans first performed in a group called The Testimonial Singers at a high school talent show.  Winans became a songwriter for the group, which later changed its name to The Winans.  Wikipedia reports that the group flourished during the 1980s and 1990s, and that their music was heavily
influenced by Queen of Gospel Albertina Walker.  In addition to his singing and songwriting, Winans also played organ and piano.  Plus, he “produced for The Winans records, for solo projects from family members, and on other gospel releases.”

Growing up, Winans attended the Zion Congregational Church of God in Christ (C.O.G.I.C.) of Detroit, which was founded by his great grandfather.  During the 1970s, Winans acknowledged his own call to ministry.  His Perfecting Church, also in Detroit, was “born out of the scripture found in Colossians 1:28,” which exhorts that “we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”  The Perfecting Church website further explains how Winans’ pastorate call began:  After Mother Estrella Boyd [of the Shalom Temple] had laid hands and prayed with me, I was slain in the spirit.  I began to see people trickle toward me as water…

This trickle turned into a steady stream as the original membership of eight swelled to over 3,000.  With the
growth of the Perfecting Church also came other ministries such as the Marvin L. Winans Academy of
Performing Arts, the Amelia Agnes Transitional Home for Women, the Jenesta McCraw Youth Activity Center, and the Perfecting Community Care Center.

For Winans, “Ministry means People.”  He has graciously stated:  I would rather preach than eat, pray than sleep, and give to the ministry than receive the accolades of men.  The zeal for God’s house has eaten me up.  


Copyright February 19, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, February 18, 2012

New Hope in Newark

(Newark, New Jersey)
The New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey
has been receiving worldwide attention for being the site
of Whitney Houston’s funeral.  However - long before that, and even long before Houston first began performing there at age 11, New Hope had been a steady force for good within the Newark community.

According to its website, The New Hope Baptist Church began as a home-based mission and was first organized in 1903.  It then became incorporated on May 1, 1918.  New Hope has had only six pastors to date; some of these six served for decades (such as Reverend Terry Redd, who served from 1908 until his death in 1936 – Reverend C. H. Walters, who served from 1937 until his death in 1966 – and Reverend Doctor Charles Everett Thomas, who served from 1968 until his retirement in 1998).

Rev. Dr. Thomas carefully planned his retirement way in advance.  During the 1990 National Baptist Convention, Thomas “had the occasion to hear a young preacher from Oklahoma City, OK deliver with resounding power and conviction, the unadulterated Word of God…”  This 21-year-old preacher was Pastor Joe A. Carter, who had been preaching the Gospel since age 9.  Reverend Dr. Thomas “discerned the spirit of God working in this young preacher,” and Pastor Carter was called to begin serving at New Hope in 1993.

Carter became New Hope’s pastor in 2000, and has served in that capacity ever since.  He has proven himself to be a strong “advocate for cohesive change within the community and religious sector by developing and organizing Christian Leaders for Community Empowerment (CLCE)…”  Pastor Carter also leads the Vision of Hope Community Development Corporation, which helps with “counseling, substance abuse
referrals, mental health issues, afterschool tutorial program/activities and food and clothing.”

The church website displays this quote from Abdul Taylor:  “New Hope Baptist Church is the church to go to if you are looking for powerful word, worship and work.”  There are services on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in addition to the three on Sundays, plus “a slew of other ministries…”  All this truly offers New Hope in Newark and beyond.


Copyright February 18, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved