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

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cesar Chavez Day: Si, se puede

The inspiring expression “Si, se puede!” is reminiscent of this Matthew 19:26 quote:  …with God all things are possible.  Although God isn’t directly mentioned in the first expression (which loosely translates as “Yes, it can be done!” – or even more loosely as “Yes, we can!”),
Cesar Chavez’ use of it certainly stemmed from his deep faith in God’s compassion.

Born into a Mexican-American family with many children, Chavez grew up in a small adobe home in Yuma, Arizona.  His family lost their possessions in the Great Depression, and went on to struggle as migrant farm laborers in California.  Even as a teenager, Chavez would assist other workers by driving them to hospitals when needed.  He dropped out of school after eighth grade in order to insure that his mother wouldn’t have to work in the fields.  Chavez then became a
full-time migrant farm worker.  Except for a two-year stint in the Navy, Chavez continued such backbreaking labor for the next ten years. reports that Chavez learned the value of hard work from his father, who also “opened his eyes to the inequities of the farm labor system.”  His mother was “a deeply religious and compassionate woman” who “emphasized the importance of caring for the less fortunate, and the power of love.”  Chavez was also greatly influenced by Father Donald McDonnell, a San Jose priest “who introduced him to the writings of St.
Francis and Mahatma Gandhi, and the idea that non-violence could be an active force for positive change.”  He was also mentored by community-organizer Fred Ross, who hired and trained Chavez to work in the Community Service Organization.

Chavez went on to spiritually develop as an extraordinary leader.  Wikipedia reports that he cofounded the National Farm Workers Association (along with Dolores Huerta), which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW).  According to, the UFW went way beyond typical “bread and butter” union issues with its vision of “reclaiming dignity” for those marginalized by society.  In 1968, Chavez began fasting – not only for social change, but also as an expression of his own religious beliefs.  He was a devout Catholic whose vision for the UFW foreshadowed liberation theology.


Copyright March 31, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, March 30, 2012

MC Hammer: Still nailing lofty goals

Even at the height of fame, Stanley Kirk Burrell did not forget to Hammer out love between his brothers and his sisters…  It therefore came as no surprise when his MC morphed from Master of Ceremonies into Minister of Christ.

Burrell was born in Oakland, California, and first began performing in the parking lot of the Oakland Coliseum.  At age 11, he was “discovered” by the Oakland A’s team owner Charles Oscar Finley, then hired by him to be a batboy and clubhouse assistant.  For a while, Burrell dreamed of being a professional ball player, but wasn’t quite good enough at it.  After graduating high school and studying some at a local college, Burrell joined the Navy.  He served for three years and was honorably discharged.

By the mid-80s, Burrell (now calling himself MC Hammer) was seriously trying to make it as a rapper.  Wikipedia reports that he had formed a Christian rap music group called the Holy Ghost Boys.  After borrowing money from two former Oakland A players, Hammer was able to start his own record-label business.  Due to a campaign of “tireless street marketing,” his debut album, Feel My Power, “sold over
60,000 copies.”  He later signed with Capitol Records – to the tune of a US $1,750,000 advance.

At the height of his financial success, Hammer had amassed a fortune of approximately US$33 million.  This he spent quite freely – buying a mansion for $12 million, and employing about 200 people “with an annual payroll of US$6.8 million.”  During an Oprah Winfrey interview in February 2011, MC Hammer explained “how employing/helping so many people in the past never really caused him to be broke in terms of the average person, as the media made it seem, nor would he have changed any experiences that have led him to where he is today.”

Today MC Hammer is not only an ordained minister - but also a dedicated husband (to his wife of 26 years whom he originally met at a church revival meeting) and father (to his five children), as well as a “tech media-mogul.”  That’s a lot to celebrate on this – his 50th birthday.


Copyright March 30, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

John Tyler: Upholding religious freedom

(President John Tyler)
For those who may still be wondering whether America was essentially meant to be a Christian nation, here’s a quote from tenth-President John Tyler (born in 1790) that might help clear things up:  The United States has adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent – that of total separation of Church and State.  No religious establishment by law exists
among us.  The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgment…

For those who may still be asking, “But what about _______?” (fill in this blank with names of today’s often-misunderstood U.S. minority groups), Tyler goes on to explicitly explain what such religious freedom entails:  The Mahommedan, if he will to come among us would have the privilege guaranteed to him by the Constitution to worship according to the Koran; and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma if it so pleased him…  The Hebrew persecuted and down trodden in other regions takes up his abode among us with none to make him afraid…  Tyler then famously concluded that “our system of free government would be imperfect” without provisions for these vital rights.

Although some have called Tyler “His Accidency” (since he was the first vice president to become president due to a predecessor’s death in office), there was nothing accidental about Tyler’s stance on religious freedom.  He had been mentored by Bishop James Madison, who in turn was a close friend of Thomas Jefferson’s.  Although Madison was a Bishop of the Episcopal Church, he was also known to philosophize quite a bit about religion.  Tyler was therefore most likely steeped in a healthy amount of religious diversity from early on.


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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lenin to Gorky: No God-building on my watch

(Maxim Gorky circa 1906)
Much to Lenin’s dismay, his "friend" Maxim Gorky had embraced an idea called “God-building.”

For Gorky (“Gorky” meaning “bitter” in Russian – not his real name, but a pseudonym he adopted to reflect his initial journalistic “determination to speak the bitter truth”), this notion of God-building was an optimistic stretch.  After all, his youth had not been an easy one.  Wikipedia reports that Gorky became an orphan at age nine, ran away from home at age 12, and attempted suicide at age 19.  He later began to write “incessantly” because he viewed literature “as a moral and political act that could change the world.”

His characters, like Gorky himself, struggled mightily to “resolve contradictory feelings of faith and skepticism, love of life and disgust at the vulgarity and pettiness of the human world.”  Not a small task…

For Gorky, “God-building” became an attempt to resolve such primordial angst.  In an October 1907 Social Democrat article called Maxim Gorky on Religion and Socialism, this quote from Gorky is presented:  “Religious feeling, as I understand it, is a joyous and proud feeling of harmonious unity existing between man and universe.”  (So far, so good – except, perhaps, for the “proud” part…)  Gorky then continues with his own spin (and don’t we all to some extent?) on how religion tends to evolve:  “It is created by that inherent tendency towards synthesis, which is common to all men” (i.e. man creates God, rather than the other way around).

Gorky then adds a strong dash of what he calls pathos to this God-building recipe.  And, voila!  What ensues is “…an onward march towards spiritual perfection” which all but those “with sluggish livers” can
relish.  Lenin’s own liver must have been more than a tad out of kilter when Gorky’s God-building notions came down the hepatic pike.  Here’s a whiff of Lenin’s allergic reaction to Gorky's ideas:  Whatever are you doing?  This is simply terrible, it really is!  …any religion idea, any idea of any god at all, any flirtation even with a god, is the most inexpressible foulness... 


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

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tennessee Williams: Sermon notes

(Tennessee Williams in 1965)
Although yesterday would have been Tennessee Williams’ 101st birthday, the spiritual themes that he wrestled with are as young as this moment.

Williams was born to tackle such subjects, as his grandfather (one of Williams’ strongest overall influences) was an Episcopalian minister whom Williams described as “higher church than the pope.”  According to Canon Patrick Comerford, this grandfather – “the Revd Walter Dakin (1857-1955)” – baptized Williams “soon after his birth.”   Williams then spent many of his formative years “in his grandfather’s rectories, first in Saint Paul’s Parish in Columbus, Mississippi, and then in Saint George’s Parish in Clarksdale, Tennessee, from 1917 to 1933.”

Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Columbus, MS now has an annual tradition of focusing a sermon upon one of Tennessee Williams’ plays.  This is in honor of the fact that Williams was baptized there, then lived in that rectory (where the chapel stands today) for the first two years of his life.  Today’s Rector, the Very Rev. James F. Carlyle, preached such a sermon called Sweet Bird of Youth: The Part We Play in 2010. 

In this sermon, Carlyle mentions a “stained glass window in the center of the east wall of the nave” that was given to Saint Paul’s in memory of Walter Dakin and two other rectors from his era.  Carlyle also point out that Sweet Bird of Youth begins on Easter Sunday “within earshot of an Episcopal Church filled with worshippers singing, praying, praising, and communing with God and each other…”

This act of  “communing with” one another was a central theme in Williams’ life and art.  In a 2008 sermon, Carlyle presented this quote by Williams (from a Studs Terkel interview):  The drama in my plays, I think,
is nearly always people trying to reach each other…  I can’t think of any better example than my grandparents [Walter and Rose Dakin] who were so close together they were like one person.


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

Monday, March 26, 2012

Meat: Seeing red

(Photo by Michael C. Berch)
Kashrut laws have long dictated that certain parts of even a “kosher” animal are not to be eaten.  Blood is definitely one of those forbidden components.

Drawing out the blood from meat is called kashering.  This process is supposed to take place within three days of slaughtering the animal.  The meat is first rinsed - then soaked for 30 minutes in lukewarm water.  This half-hour soak opens the pores of the meat so that its blood may seep out more easily.  The meat is then carefully washed and allowed
to partially dry (if the meat becomes too dry, salt will later stick to it).

A medium grade of salt is then used on all sides of the meat in order to draw out any remaining blood. Academy BJE states that the meat “must be left covered in salt for an hour on a sloped board so that the blood can drain off into a sink or container.”  Afterwards, the meat is rinsed three more times in order to remove any remaining salt and blood.

Torah law only permits the eating of meat from certain animals.  “Red meat” animals must “have cloven hooves and chew the cud.”  These “kosher species” include “goats, sheep, cattle and deer.”  However the “red” in “red meat” does not pertain to blood.  Wikipedia reports that the overall phrase “red meat” refers to “meat which is red when raw and not white when cooked.”  This includes the meat of “most adult mammals and some fowl.”  What gives such meat its red color is actually the “iron and oxygen-binding protein” called myoglobin.  Myoglobin is related to hemoglobin, but is found in muscle (prefix myo) tissue rather than in blood (prefix hemo).

Los Angeles Times reporter Eryn Brown wrote a March 12, 2012 article titled All red meat is bad for you, new study says.  Harvard researcher An Pan stated that “any red meat you eat” contributes to a higher risk of death.


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

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Hail Mary on Lady Day

The Annunciation (Painting by El Greco)
Anno Domini (abbreviated A.D. or AD, meaning “in the year of the Lord” from Medieval Latin) is usually thought to begin with Christ’s birth. 

However, AD 1 can also coincide with the Annunciation (aka “the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary” or “the Annunciation of the Lord” – meaning “the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Virgin Mary, that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus the Son of God…”).   Wikipedia also reports that since there is no year zero, AD 1 immediately follows BC 1.

The Feast of the Annunciation usually occurs on March 25th (nine months before the December 25th “birthday” of Jesus).  It is one of the Church’s twelve Great Feast days, and is close to the New Year on some calendars.  English speakers of the western liturgical traditions have often referred to this Great Feast as Lady Day.  The term “Lady,” of course, is used in honor of the Virgin Mary.

There are two Annunciation stories in the Bible – one within Luke 1:26-38, and the other within Matthew 1:18-21.  The Matthew version focuses upon Joseph’s role, and explains that “an angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream” to assure him that Mary’s child was, indeed, “of the Holy Ghost.”  Many sections of the Hail Mary prayers have been derived from the Luke verses.  For example, Luke 1:28 states:  …Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women…


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

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Unplugging Day: One of 365 for most Amish

(Photo by Matthew Trump)
If you’re reading this on the web today, chances are well-nigh 100%  that you are not participating in this year’s National Unplugging Day.

And who can blame you?  According to the LA Times, Internet use has become a full-blown addiction for many.  A recent survey by the technology firm Tele Nav indicates that “more than half of Americans would rather give up chocolate, alcohol and caffeine for a week before parting temporarily with their phones…”  Not only that, “one-third would give up sex, 22% would give up their
toothbrushes… and 21% would rather go shoeless before separating from a mobile phone.”

It’s no wonder then that the idea of a National Unplugging Day - devoted to turning off, tuning out, and dropping in (on family and friends) - would strike terror into these addicted hearts.  However, this initiative does not just focus on what not to do.  It is also part of an overall Sabbath Manifesto (“with roots in Jewish tradition”) that is designed to “bring some balance to our increasingly fast-paced way of life…”  This Sabbath Manifesto includes “10 core principles” to follow while unplugged.  They include some of the following:  get outside, find silence, connect with loved ones, nurture your health.

For most Amish, these Sabbath-type principles are a way of life.   Albrecht Powell reports that “the Amish are adverse to any type technology which they feel weakens the family structure.”  This includes a general avoidance of “electricity, television, automobiles, telephones and tractors” (although some Amish will share telephones that are housed in wooden structures between homes, and others will utilize small amounts of electricity to power cattle fences and buggy lights).  On the other hand, the New Order Amish allow such
modern conveniences as electricity and telephones within their homes.


Copyright March 24, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke

Friday, March 23, 2012

Rama Rajya: What did Gandhi really mean?

(Lord Rama)
According to the Forum for Hindu Awakening, the real meaning of Ramrajya is far more spiritual than it is political. 

Since ayan means “the path” or “to go,” Ramayan means “that which leads one to the Supreme Lord” (Ram being an incarnation of Lord Vishnu).  The Ramayana is therefore the story of how Ram (the ideal son, brother, husband, friend, king – and even
enemy) and his divine family led lives of Supreme Righteousness.  Wikipedia states that the Ramayana thematically “explores human values and the concept of dharma.”  Dharma is defined as “Law or Natural Law” that is a “concept of central importance in Indian philosophy and religion.”  Adherents of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism agree that living in accordance with dharma facilitates the process of spiritual liberation.

Kulbhushan Singhal, who writes about “problems faced by Indian people and how they can be sorted out by revival of Hindu religion,” explains in his blog that Shri Ram and Mata Sita set an example for society of what the correct path was so that the “Vedas cannot be misrepresented” by false gurus.  He describes Ram Rajya as insuring that “the Dharmic laws, and the Civil Laws were appropriate and harmonious for the welfare of the entire society on equal opportunity basis.”

In 2007, Vinay Lal wrote that “Gandhi not only declared himself a votary of Ram, but increasingly, in the last years of his life, held on to the idea that the India of his dreams would be something of a ‘Ram Rajya.’”  In the same article (titled Modi, the Mahatma, and Mendacity), Lal criticized leaders such as Narendra Modi for hypocritically appropriating Gandhi’s Ram Rajya vision for their own political gains. 

Lal stated that some “Marxist critics” have been calling Gandhi a “Hindu chauvinist” – and warned that “Gandhi” has become “an empty vessel” that politicians have been pouring their own agendas into.


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

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Nevada Desert Experience: Interfaith action

(1951 Nuclear Test at the Nevada Test Site)
People often equate a Nevada desert experience with
the bright lights of the Vegas Strip.

However, illumination of another sort will be gracing
Nevada’s landscape from March 31 to April 6, 2012.  During that time, participants of the Nevada Desert Experience Sacred Peace Walk will be making their annual 63-mile pilgrimage.  This Sacred Peace Walk (SPW) begins with an orientation at the Las Vegas Catholic Worker House, and ends at the Mercury entrance to the Nevada Test Site (Nevada National Secuity Site, aka NNSS).

This Sacred Peace Walk embodies interfaith, as well
as interspiritual, principles.  (The Free Dictionary
defines “interfaith” as “of, relating to, or involving persons of different religious faiths” – and the term
“interspiritual” reflects Mahatma Gandhi’s belief that “when you go to the  heart of your own religion, you go to the heart of all others, too.”)   A Passover Seder will take place at the Catholic Worker House.  The main Walk then begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Good Friday.  There will be a Good Friday Stations of the Cross Reenactment.

On Wednesday, April 4 there will be a Ritual of Peace, Forgiveness and Healing at the Temple of Goddess Spirituality in Cactus Springs.  This temple is dedicated to Sekhmet, who is described on the temple’s website as a “very ancient goddess; with her lion’s head and woman’s body, she is the opposite of the Sphinx who has a man’s head and a lion’s body.”  She is also described as “the great Being in us all… who will not allow the destruction of a Mother Earth.”   Johnnie Bobb, Chief of the Western Shoshone National
Council, will be leading a Welcoming Ritual on Thursday, April 5.

This week-long gathering of the faithful from many traditions is one that is committed to “a nonviolent campaign of change.”  It is meant to “humanize the many victims of nuclear testing and war-making.” 


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

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Nowruz: From Pisces to Aires

(Zoroaster holding the Celestial Sphere)
Nowruz (aka New Day, New Light, Navroz, Navreh, Newroz, Novruz, Navroj, Naw-Ruz, and Nauruz) marks the Spring Equinox time when the sun moves from the zodiacal sign of Pisces into that of Aires.

K. E. Eduljee, in Introduction. Zoroastrianism & Astrology, explains that “astrology plays a prominent role in Middle Persian (8th to 10th century CE) non-scriptural Zoroastrian religious texts…” - and that the cultural role of astrology in Zoroastrianism is “deep-seated.”  Eduljee goes on to explain that a Zoroastrian approach might utilize astrology “to indicate potential rather than absolute fated destiny, or perhaps favourable and unfavourable timing to undertake a venture.”

In February 2010, the U.N. General Assembly “recognized the International Day of Nowruz, a spring festival of Persian origin…” and further explained that it “has been celebrated for over 3,000 years…”  Wikipedia reports that Nowruz was originally “a Zoroastrian festival, and the holiest of them all.”  It is the first day of the unique Iranian solar calendar – a day in which “the sun is observed to be directly over the
equator…” and “sunlight is evenly divided between the north and south hemispheres.”

Few astrological transitions are as dramatic as this one from Pisces to Aires. explains that “Pisces is the 12th and final Sign of the Zodiac; Aires is the first.”  Pisces can be “indirect and unfocused,” whereas Aires often “rams” its way to a goal.  Pisces is the “Sign of Dreams and Secrets,” whereas Aires
is the “Sign of new beginnings.”

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Green Men: Right here on Earth

(Carving from Dore Abbey)
While scientists are exploring Mars, they tend to ignore the Green Men that have allegedly been living right here on Earth for ages.

The often-hypnotic eyes of these Green Men gaze upon us from the columns of churches, from the slabs of grave markers, from secular buildings, from wood and stone carvings, from manuscripts,
from paintings, from garden designs, from masks, and from chapels, abbeys and cathedrals.  Wikipedia describes three main forms of these Green Men:  the Foliate Head (which is all covered in green leaves); the Disgorging Head (which spews vegetation from its mouth); and the Bloodsucker Head (which spouts
vegetation from every facial orifice).

These artistic forms are compelling enough, but their reputedly numinous aspects are even more so.  These numinous qualities are said to reflect a vitality that is equated with fertility, rebirth, renaissance, and the “cycle of growth each spring.”  These qualities are also associated with Elijah, Khidr, Sylvanus, Jack in the Green, Puck, Robin Goodfellow, Cernunnos, John Barleycorn, Green George, Pan, and even Father Christmas.

They are also associated with what are now termed “vegetation deities.”  Wikipedia defines “vegetation deity” as “a nature deity whose disappearance and reappearance, or life, death, and rebirth, embodies that growth cycle of plants.”  Examples of these deities include Osiris (whose skin is green, and whose reassembled body parts bring forth new life).  The Parables of Jesus also associate God’s Kingdom with the sowing and growing of seeds.


Copyright March 20, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 19, 2012

Feast of Saint Joseph: Happy Father's Day

St. Joseph and the Infant Jesus (by Reni)
Although a majority of nations celebrate Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June, a number of others (such as Italy, Spain and Portugal) celebrate it on March 19th.   And why not?  March 19th is also the Feast Day of Saint Joseph, which honors the “earthly father” of Jesus Christ.

Deacon Dana of Being Is Good states that Saint Joseph is “the perfect model for fathers today.”  He goes on to list Joseph’s many attributes:  his obedience to God, his protectiveness of the Child and His Mother, his humility, his willingness to endure hardships, his patience and his perseverance.  Deacon Dana then suggests that fathers accept Saint Joseph as their model - and that single
mothers “turn to him, asking for fatherly intercession in the lives of their children.”

Wikipedia reports that Joseph is “venerated as a saint in the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran faiths.”  Joseph is considered to be the patron saint of the Catholic Church, as well as of workers.  He is said to pray “especially for families,
fathers, expectant mothers…  travelers, immigrants, house sellers and buyers, craftsmen, engineers…”

Joseph is called San Giuseppe in Sicily, where his Feast Day is celebrated with gusto.  Legend has it that San Giuseppe prevented a medieval famine by sending rain to water the Sicilian fava bean crops.  To this day, the fava bean looms large in Saint Joseph’s Day traditions there.  Other Sicilian ways of celebrating this Feast Day include the wearing of red clothing and the eating of sweets.

Saint Joseph’s Feast Day is also honored by Italian communities within the United States (e.g., within New York City, Chicago, and Kansas City).  New Orleans, which once was “a major port of entry for Sicilian immigrants,” celebrates Saint Joseph with citywide altars and parades.


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

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Grover Cleveland: The minister's son

Stephen Grover Cleveland (US-PD)
Although 22nd (and 24th) United States President Stephen Grover Cleveland was the son of a Presbyterian minister (and was even named after another Presbyterian pastor), states that he did not seem “especially religious himself.”

Nevertheless, Cleveland seemed to be somewhat preoccupied with God and the hereafter, especially after the death of his
daughter Ruth.  A few days after she died, Cleveland made this understandably bleak entry in his diary:  “I had a season of great trouble in keeping out of my mind the idea that Ruth was in the cold, cheerless grave instead of in the arms of her Saviour.”  After some merciful time had passed, he added:  “God has come to my help…”   Two years later, he wrote these words to Rev. Wilton Smith:  I know as no one else can know my limitations…  but I shall trust God, as I have in the past, for strength and opportunity for further usefulness. mentions that there are those who link Cleveland’s politics to his “Calvinist upbringing.” Others fail to see such a connection.  In any event, Cleveland was known for his “honesty and good character.”  Wikipedia quotes biographer Allan Nevins as saying that Cleveland “possessed honesty, courage, firmness, independence and common sense” – qualities that many others have; however,
Cleveland “possessed them to a degree other men do not.”

The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs reports that Cleveland “was tolerant of religious diversity, although staunchly opposed to polygamy.”  When prejudice arose against the United States envoy to Austria-Hungary because his wife was Jewish, Cleveland refused to withdraw the envoy’s appointment - and openly stated that doing so would have violated “the precepts of the Constitution.”

However, Clevelands's views about Native Americans seemed far less tolerant, and perhaps far more influenced by his own roots.  In his 1885 State of the Union address, Cleveland stated:  The history of all progress which has been made in the civilization of the Indian I think will disclose the fact that the beginning has been religious teaching, followed by or accompanying secular education.


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

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Leprechauns: The wearing of the red

(Leprechaun Engraving, c. 1900)
Leprechauns didn’t always look like they leaped from the depths of a Lucky Charms box.  In fact, the green that has become symbolic of their Irish heritage was “historically” red.

Wikipedia cites many examples of leprechauns that were decked out in red.  This 1831 description comes from Samuel Lover:  quite a beau in his dress…  for he wears a red-square coat laced with gold…  Yeats agreed that solitary leprechauns wore “red jackets” (each with seven rows of buttons - and with seven buttons per row), yet he described more gregarious leprechauns as wearing green.

McAnally, in his 1888 book Irish Wonders, adds “red breeches buckled at the knee” to the fashion statement.  McAnally also emphasized that style
changed, depending upon which region a leprechaun was from. Leprechauns from the North wore military red coats and white breeches.  Those from Tipperary wore “antique slashed” red jackets “with peaks all round.”  Leprechauns from Kerry had “jolly round” faces that were nearly as red as their cut-a-way jackets.  Those from Monaghan wore “a swallow-tailed evening coat of red with green vest.”

Although modern-day leprechaun outfits are mostly green, some still see red upon viewing them.  In an article titled Dispelling Irish Stereotypes, Marese Heffernan cautions against confusing Irish people with the Irish leprechaun stereotypes:  Irish people are not all particularly short, we are not all elderly males, we incorporate a range of colours into our wardrobes, we do not carry alcohol wherever we go and have better things to do than stand under a fictitious rainbow.


Copyright March 17, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, March 16, 2012

Palladius the Pelagian: Becoming 'St. Patrick'

Irish Clover (by George McFinnigan)
Before there was a Saint Patrick, there was a Saint Palladius. Because both were associated with the Christianization of Ireland, they are sometimes confused with one another– even to the point of being perceived as one and the same.

Wikipedia reports that Palladius is believed to have “flourished” (engaged in peak activities) circa 408 – 431 CE, and to have died circa 457 - 461 CE.  His date of birth remains unknown.  His father was thought to have been Exuperantius of Poitiers, a prefect
of the Gallic provinces (one of four large divisions of the Late Roman Empire) – about whom was written:  “he re-establishes the laws, brings freedom back and suffers not the inhabitants to be their servants’ slaves.”

Palladius was apparently leading a somewhat conventional life (complete with a wife and a daughter) when he “came under the influence of Pelagius in Rome.”  Pelagius was an ascetic’s ascetic who blamed society’s “moral laxity” on Saint Augustine’s “divine grace” teachings.  At the time that Palladius came under his influence, Pelagius was already known for his radical views (which are still being heartily debated); however,
the name “Pelagius” had not yet become as closely associated with the term “heretic” as it later was.

Palladius was so impressed with Pelagius that he parted from his wife, gave his daughter up to a Sicilian convent, and became an ascetic circa 408/409 CE.  He then authored six Pelagian documents, and seems to have become a priest circa 415 CE.  (Whether Palladius was forced to recant the Pelagian teachings before becoming a Catholic priest remains unknown.)

In The Lives of the Saints, Rev. Alban Butler states that Saint Palladius was a Deacon who urged Pope Celestine I to send Bishop Germanus to bring “back the Britons to the Catholic faith.”  Butler also mentions that “St. Palladius had preached in Ireland a little before St. Patrick…”   


Copyright March 16, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Northern Arapaho: Dancing with Eagles

Golden Eagle (by Jason Hickey)
Before European expansion into the Great Plains, members of the Arapaho tribe were living in what is now Kansas, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado.  These Arapaho bands eventually coalesced into two tribes:  the Southern Arapaho and the Northern Arapaho.

Wikipedia reports that members of the Northern Arapaho Nation, along with members of the Eastern Shoshone Nation, have lived on the Wind River Reservation (which a February 2012 New York
Times article describes as “a rambling stretch of scrub in central Wyoming the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined”) since 1878.

Worldwide Religious News reported that Winslow Friday, a member of the Northern Arapaho Nation, had killed a bald eagle for use in the 2005 Arapaho Sun Dance “without first obtaining permission to do so from the Interior Department…”  Friday had thus violated the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act; however, he did so in order to uphold a key religious tradition of his people.  In 2006, U. S. District Judge William Downes therefore dismissed a federal charge against Friday on the grounds that “it’s important for the federal government to protect bald eagles, but it also has a compelling interest in preserving Indian tribes and their cultures.” describes the vital roles that eagles play within traditional Sun Dances of the Great Plains. The eagle is referred to as “one of the Plains Indians’ most sacred animals.” Because it flies so high, it is thought of as “the link between man and spirit” and “the messenger that delivers prayers to the Wakan- Tanka (god).” reports that Native tribes from other regions have also considered eagles
to be spiritually essential.  The Aztecs compared “the daily journey of the all-important sun to an eagle’s
flight,” and the Iroquois presented this same analogy within the following poem:  I hear the eagle bird  
With his great feathers spread,  Pulling the blanket back from the east,   How swiftly he flies,   Bearing the sun to the morning.


Copyright March 15, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ralph Abernathy: Fighting the good fight

(Dr. Ralph David Abernathy, Sr.)
Dr. Ralph David Abernathy, Sr.’s father once told him:  If you see a good fight, get in it and fight to win it!  Abernathy’s biography is filled with evidence that he took these words to heart.

Abernathy, also a Baptist minister, was described by Martin Luther King, Jr. as “the best friend that I have in the world.”  Wikipedia reports that they were not only friends, but also civil-rights partners
who shared “the same hotel rooms, jail cells and leisure times…”  At the time that King was killed, Abernathy shared Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee with him.  They were both
there to support the on-strike sanitation workers of Memphis.  After King was shot, it was Abernathy who cradled him in his arms as King drew his last breaths.  It was also Abernathy who then led the
march for these same sanitation workers.

Abernathy and King had both been leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).   This organization had originally been formed in order to “coordinate and support nonviolent direct
action as a method of desegregating bus systems across the South.”  SCLC greatly struggled to gain initial momentum.  It was opposed by two polarized factions:  those who believed that social activism was beyond the purview of churches (and that churches should only be involved with “spiritual needs” and “charitable works”) - versus those who believed that SCLC wasn’t being militant enough.

In the course of his social-activist ministry, Abernathy had personally “endured with equanimity” bombings,
severe beatings, death threats against himself and his family, 44 arrests, murders of close companions, and
confiscation of his property.  Undaunted, Abernathy pressed bravely on in the mighty struggle for civil
rights.  The 1968 Poor People’s Campaign (which included “the nation’s poor Blacks, Latinos, Whites
and Native Americans”) was uplifted by his steadfast conviction that “the key to the salvation and redemption of this nation lay in its moral and humane response to the needs of its most oppressed and poverty-stricken citizens.”  

Copyright March 14, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Robert H. Schuller: Controversy continues

Crystal Cathedral  (Photo by Buchanan-Hermit)
Recent announcements about the Crystal Cathedral have been somewhat controversial.  Controversy, however, is nothing new to Robert H. Schuller.  It seems that he’s been successfully bucking the tide practically all of his life. reports that when Schuller was fairly young, a tornado destroyed his parents’ home and farm.  Although eight other nearby farms were also destroyed, the Schullers were the only ones to rebuild on the devastated site.  While on summer leave from Hope College, Robert helped his father to dismantle and reassemble a replacement house that they had bought. By summer’s end, the Schullers once again had a home on their land, and Robert was able to begin studies at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.

Although Western Theological Seminary is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America and Schuller was ordained as a Reformed Church minister, some say that he later strayed quite far from his theological roots.  Wendy Goubej, in an article titled Robert Schuller’s Distorted Doctrine, claims that Schuller finds sermons to be “offensive” because they often “imply indoctrination more than education.”  She also claims that Schuller has been more concerned with catering to “people’s psychological and emotional needs” than with preaching “God’s Word.”  Goubej then adds that Schuller is overly ecumenical, as well as New Age in some of his beliefs. presents transcript highlights from a 1992 discussion between Michael Horton and Robert Schuller.  According to, Dr. Michael S. Horton “has taught apologetics and theology at Westminster Seminary California since 1998,” and is a well-known scholar of “Reformation theology in American Christianity.”  Here is a controversial excerpt from that discussion:

RS:  If we want to win people to Jesus we have to understand where they are at.  MH:  I agree absolutely.  And they are in sin, that is where they are at.  RS:  They are in the state of condition called sin which means they don’t trust.  They are lacking faith.  MH:  I guess the difference would be our definition of sin, because what I see in scripture is that we’re dead in sin and cannot respond to God even if we are trusting.


Copyright March 13, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 12, 2012

Scout's honour: For dharma and country

(Robert Baden-Powell)
Although it is often assumed that “Scout’s honor” is specifically associated with an Abrahamic type “God,” that assumption is not necessarily true.

Wikipedia reports that when Robert Baden-Powell founded the Scout movement, it was “independent of any single faith or religion, yet still held that spirituality and a belief in a higher power were key to the development
of young people.”  Because scouting organizations have since interpreted this conceptual foundation in a variety of creative (and sometimes secular) ways - their promises, prayers and laws can differ significantly from one another.

For example, Baden-Powell’s original “Scout’s honor” promise reads as follows:  On my honour I promise that - 1. I will do my duty to God and the King.  2. I will do my best to help others, whatever it costs me.  3. I know the Scout law and will obey it.  Although this may sound traditionally English to many modern minds, Baden-Powell had actually drawn his inspiration from such interfaith/intercultural sources as “the
Bushido code of the Japanese Samurai, laws of honor of the American Indians…  and the Zulu fighters he had fought against.”

When this original promise is contrasted with some modern-day versions, the differences can be striking. Here is a current FOS Open Scouting promise from Belgium:  I promise, on my honour, to try:  To be loyal to a higher ideal, our group and democracy   To obey the guides/Scouts law   To help where
possible.  Here is one from The Bharat Scouts and Guides of India:  On my honour, I promise   That I will do my best   To do my duty to Dharma and my country,   To help other people and   To obey the Scout/Guide Law.  The Israeli version reflects a Jewish avoidance of the explicit word “God”:  I promise to do my best to fulfill my duties to my people, my country and my land, to help others at all times and to obey the Scout Law.

Although significant differences do exist within these promises, the spirit of each remains remarkably in sync with this final message from Baden-Powell to his beloved Scouts:  Happiness doesn’t come from being rich, nor merely from being successful in your career, nor from self-indulgence…  the real way to get
happiness is by giving out happiness to other people.  Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy…


Copyright March 12, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 11, 2012

ChurchLite: Goes down easy, comes up how?

Wu ("Without")

There’s a movement afoot in San Diego.  The pitter patter of atheistic soles can be heard crossing into the Lite – ChurchLite, that is.

Although ChurchLite professes to have “no need for God,” it nevertheless confesses to having a need for such warm and fuzzy things as the fellowship of disbelievers, action-based judgment, and non-genitalized morality.  This Church is therefore described as “a place for us to come together and
celebrate life…  to share our triumphs…  to seek support in our trials…  to laugh at life’s absurdities, and shout at its injustices knowing that our voices will carry farther if we shout in unison.”  Not only that, ChurchLite purports to offer all this with “half the guilt, and 0 grams of metaphysics per service.”

The Reverend James Huber (whose stated influences have been Zen Buddhism, Universal Unitarianism, Neo-Paganism, Carl Sagan, British comedy, sunsets, and a – pardon the term – “host” of others) is one of two listed ChurchLite staff members - the other being “serene” (aka “Sandra Vannoy”), who “likes to say that one day she saw God and left the church.”  Reverend Huber (aka “jhuger” in Internet land) proclaims
that when his diabetic blood-sugar levels “were about 3 times normal,” never once was he “tempted to blame God or call upon His help.”

This “churching of atheism” seems, in part, to be a response to the “throw out the bathwater with the Baby Jesus” type of atheism that was espoused by Christopher Hitchens.  In Austin Cline's article subtitled Religion and Atheism Are Not Contradictory Or Opposites, Cline points out that “Atheism is not the same as being irreligious; theism is not the same as being religious.”  He then claims that because atheism is “nothing more than absence of belief in the existence of gods,” it can still include belief in the supernatural and the irrational.  Cline also explains that there are religions (such as “many forms of Buddhism”)  that are
“essentially atheistic” (in that “often they dismiss gods as simply irrelevant to the important task of overcoming suffering.”   


Copyright March 11, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mike Tyson: Gentle as a dove

(Photo by J. M. Garg)
… be wise like a serpent, and gentle as a dove…
(from Matthew 10:16)

Most everyone knows that Mike Tyson is no stranger to serpentine ways.  As a youth, he was wise enough to shift from a delinquent lifestyle into becoming one of the world’s most striking opponents.

What the world may not know is that Tyson also has (in this case, quite literally) a dove side to his nature.  During a 2011 New Yorker interview, Tyson discussed his long-time “love affair” with pigeons.  Growing up in a tough section of Brooklyn, Tyson had turned to pigeons for solace.  He confided to the interviewer:  It took my mind off the world I was living in, people bullying me and stuff.  I’d just go on the roof and fly my birds

Although the first punch that young Tyson ever threw was due to a stolen flock of pigeons - these days, he is
way more the lover than the fighter.  [And… according to, there are a number of amazing
things to love about these descendents of rock doves – things like the following:  Pigeons saved thousands of
lives during both World Wars by carrying messages across enemy lines; pigeons were greatly appreciated
by Sikh Guru Gobind Singh; Navy researchers have found that pigeons can be trained to locate shipwreck
survivors; pigeons are able to undertake tasks (such as recognizing all 26 letters of the English alphabet) that
were previously thought to be only within the purview of humans and primates; and – saving the “best” for
last - pigeon excrement has been an essential crop fertilizer for centuries.]

As if it weren’t enough to be kissing a pigeon on its beak (as Tyson gently demonstrated during the first
episode of his “Taking on Tyson” Animal Planet series), Tyson has also now “gone vegan.”  During a Fox News interview with Greta Van Susteren, Tyson said that he had been a vegan for two years and felt “awesome.”  He then stated:  I wish I was born this way…   I wonder why I was crazy all those years…

Copyright March 10, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Holy Holi

(A Holi Bonfire)
In true spiritual fashion, the two-day Hindu festival of Holi brings people together - irregardless of their social classes.

This winter’s end celebration, which occurs each year on the final full-moon day of Phalguna (a lunar month which aligns with late February or March), not only marks the beginning of spring, but also honors some legendary Hindu events.  In Vaishnavism, a form of Hinduism in which Vishnu is particularly focused upon, the “great king of demons” Hiranyakashipu had been granted a boon by Brahma which made it almost impossible for Hiranyakashipu to be killed (due to the penance that he had previously shown). Wikipedia reports that this boon made Hiranyakashipu so smug that he then became a tremendous threat to both the Heavens and Earth.

However, Hiranyakashipu had a son named Prahlada who was a steadfast devotee of Vishnu.  Because this maddened Hiranyakashipu, he made numerous attempts to kill Prahlada.  All these attempts miraculously failed.  Finally, in desperation, Hiranyakashipu devised a plan that he thought was foolproof.  He lured Prahlada onto the lap of his sister Holika, intending to then burn him to death.  Because Holika also had a special boon from Brahma, Hiranyakashipu figured that only Prahlada would be harmed by the murderous flames.  He figured wrong.  Vishnu saw to it that Prahlada remained unharmed.  Instead, it was Holida who burned to death.  Holi bonfires therefore commemorate the power of such faith in Vishnu.

Devotees of Krishna associate Holi with the divine love of Radha for Krishna.  There is also a Holi tradition that centers upon Kamadeva, the Hindu god of love.  According to this tradition, Kamadeva violently interrupted Shiva’s meditation so that Parvati could marry Shiva.  Shiva’s third eye suddenly opened, and the gaze was so powerful that Kamadeva’s “body was reduced to ashes.”  Shiva then restored only the “mental image” of Kamadeva in order to emphasize that love is more spiritual than physical.   


Copyright March 9, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved