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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Utah Goat Man: Could have been Pan

Pan (Mikhail Vrubel, 1900)
Pan is said to be the only Greek god besides Asclepius who actually died.  Nevertheless, he might not have been able to resist the heavenly delight of wreaking havoc in the Utah hills.

According to Fox News, a man had recently been "spotted in a goat suit among a herd of wild goats in the mountains of northern Utah."  (A man?  Are they sure?)  The news report goes on to explain that this middle-aged male was simply testing out his goat suit for next year's archery hunt.  (A likely story…)

Another "likely" story is that it was Pan.  Not Peter Pan (although that too seems within the realm of "we report, you decide" possibility), but (according to Wikipedia) Pan the Ancient Greek "god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature, of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music…" (in other words, Utah) – that is, when he wasn't being every nymph's closest companion.

Since Pan already has "the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat," the aforementioned "goat suit" alibi would be quite believable to a group of unwitting (and perhaps nearsighted) journalists.  But what about motive?
Why would an erstwhile god resort to such out-of-the-way hijinks?  Why wouldn't he instead be cavorting
within what's left of the Coliseum (or it's modern-day counterpart, Hollywood)?

Pan has never been as cultured as Greek yogurt, that's why.  Regarded as somewhat of a bumpkin by the city folk of Athens and such, Pan was mostly worshipped in caves rather than temples.  He was also known to let his id hang out in all the wrong places.  This, too, has not endeared him to those who consider themselves civilized.

All this "proves" just one thing.  It definitely, most positively, could have been Pan on that Utah hillside.  So there you have it.  "Fair and balanced" all the way to the newsstands…


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

Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympics: Interfaith considerations

(Olympic Flag)
The Huffington Post reports that the "London Olympics will try to accommodate religious athletes with 193 chaplains, a prayer room in every venue and a multifaith center in the Olympic Village."

According to the BBC, these accommodations grew out of a well-orchestrated interfaith effort.  Reverend Canon Duncan Green, an Anglican Priest, has been at the helm of this endeavor.  Facing such upcoming challenges as Muslims observing the Ramadan fast (which this year coincides with the Olympics scheduling) and
Christians observing the Sunday day of rest, Green began by forming a "faith reference group" composed of representatives from
the following nine religions:  Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Sikhism, the Bahai Faith, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Jainism.

Canon Green is delighted that the group's focus has been serving the Olympics rather than just "talking about what we do and don't believe."  The chaplains will be part of any emergency response that is needed.  Other
concerns will also be addressed, such as the opening of predawn dining facilities and the availability of "break-a-fast packs" for those observing the Ramadan fast.

This is not the first time that Olympian efforts have been made to accommodate religious needs.  The Huffington Post reports that in 2008, "Israeli President Shimon Peres received special housing accommodations at the Beijing opening ceremony so that he would not have to drive in a car on the Jewish Sabbath."   

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

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Olympics and Christianity: Off and on

Theodosius I (Uploaded by Erine)
Although the Olympics have religious roots, these roots are not Christian ones.  Never was this point driven more homeward than during the reign of Theodosius I.

Theodosius I (short for Flavius Theodosius Augustus) ruled the 
Roman Empire from 379 to 395 CE.  Although Constantine had been the first Roman Emperor to ostensibly convert to Christianity, Theodosius I was the first to effectively make Christianity the empire's official religion.   More specifically, Theodosius promoted that form of Christianity which is espoused by the Nicene Creed.

All this Christian zeal on the emperor's part did not bode well for the Olympics of those days.  In fact, Theodosius I banned this Ancient Greek tradition in 393, and it did not surface again until 1896.  According to Steven Gertz of Christian History, the emperor had his reasons.  First off, there were those nasty chariot pile-ups to contend with.  Then there were the no holds-barred "boxing" matches.  One such Olympian, Damoxenos, was known to have jabbed out his opponent's intestines with his bare fingers.  Not to mention the sacrificing of pigs to Zeus and the swearing of allegiance to the Ancient Greek gods…

Ironically, it was also Christianity that helped to bring the Olympics back in full force.  Pierre de Coubertin, the Frenchman who instituted a modern version of the games in 1896, promoted "Olympism" (an idealistic spin on what the ancient Olympics were allegedly about).  Olympism was proclaimed to be "humanity's superior religion."  Nevertheless, the games seemed a good fit for the "Muscular Christianity" that was then developing.

According to Elesha Coffman of Christian HistoryMuscular Christianity was based upon the belief that
"physical vigor" is "a reflection of moral and spiritual health."  Stemming from this belief was the proliferation
of YMCAs "which envisioned a union of body, mind and spirit, as represented in the Y's triangle."  Coffman reports that even today "the idea that fit and fresh-faced Christians make the best ambassadors for faith lives on" (an idea not lost upon countless Tebowers).


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

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Olympians: Not just human

Tanzanian Cheetah (Gaurav P)
Mount Olympus, called "home" to the Twelve Olympiansis the highest mountain in Greece.  It was said to be formed after these Olympians defeated the Titan deities.

The Twelve Olympians are as follows:  Zeus (sky god and leader of the Olympians); Hera (Zeus' wife and sister – incest laws apparently do not apply here); Poseidon (Zeus' brother and ruler of the sea); Hades (Zeus' other brother and ruler of the underworld);  Hestia (virgin goddess and Zeus' sister); Ares (Wikipedia states that he was disliked by his parents, Zeus and Hera – no wonder he became the god of war); Athena (favorite child of Zeus and goddess of wisdom); Apollo (god of light, truth and music who is the son of Zeus, not known for his fidelity to Hera, and Leto); Aphrodite (either the daughter of Zeus and Dione or the result of Uranus' castration by Cronus – as well as the goddess of love); Hermes (son of Zeus and Maia and the messenger god); Artemis (daughter of Zeus and Leto, Apollo's twin sister, and goddess of the wilderness); Hephaestus (said to be the "ugly" son of Zeus and Hera, married to Aphrodite – talk about beauty and the beast – and the god of fire).

Non-human "Olympians" can also be found in the natural world.  Alan Boyle, Science Editor of, tells us that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has its own list of Olympians.  These include the cheetah (the fastest land animal at 70 mph, as compared to famed human sprinter Usain Bolt at 27.79 mph), the rhinoceros beetle ("which can lift more than 30 times its body mass," as compared to famed human weight-lifter Hossein Rezazadeh who can't even lift twice his body mass), and the froghopper insect (that "can jump 115 times its body length," which is "1.25 times the height" of the human record-holder, Javier Sotomayer).

Boyle also reports that there's a fungus that grows on Mount Olympus called Zeus olympius which should
surely be an honored guest at the London festivities.

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

Friday, July 27, 2012

Devil's Bridges: Animals beware

Devil's Bridge Switzerland (Chris 73)
People are interesting creatures.  When they think that something couldn't have possibly been built by human hands, they often assume that the Devil rather than God intervened.  Such is the case with many a medieval European bridge.

Professor D. L. Ashliman of the University of Pittsburgh translated and/or edited a series of folktales that attempt to explain how these bridges were built.  Three of the referenced bridges are in Germany, one is in Austria, two are in Switzerland (one of which crosses over to France), two are in Wales, and four are in England.   Not only do these folktales attribute human architectural ability to the Devil, but they also attribute devilish animal brutality to the humans.

Two out of three of the Germany bridges started out innocently enough.  The Sachsenhauser Bridge at
Frankfort was begun by a human builder.  When he fell way behind deadline, he desperately called upon
the Devil for help.  The Devil agreed to finish the bridge on time if the builder were to give him the first living being that then crossed it.  The builder agreed to these terms, but arranged for a rooster to be the first one that crossed.

Needless to say, it didn't end well for the rooster.  Not only did the Devil kill it, but also tore it apart in a rage about being fooled.  The Bamberg Bridge legend ends similarly with the Devil taking possession of a rooster.  The switching of animal "souls" for human ones has been presented as amusingly clever.  No animal-friendly perspectives are offered.

This same type of scenario is repeated with most of the other Devil's Bridge stories.  If it's not a rooster that's being mercilessly sacrificed, it's a dog (so much for man's best friend).  If it's not a dog, it's a chamois (look it
up).  If it's not a chamois… (The pattern seems clear – within these Grimm tales, animals don't intrinsically


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

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Judith Viorst: Alexander and the Buddhist Day

(Photo by Michel wal)
Although Judith Viorst’s Alexander had a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” he was also learning (sooner than the sheltered Siddhartha Gotama allegedly did) that suffering is a part of life (even in Australia).

Siddhartha’s father is said to have shielded him from the painful sides of life throughout all of his childhood years.  Efforts were particularly made for Siddhartha to avoid encountering sickness, old age and death. Nevertheless, Siddhartha inevitably (although some biographies claim not until age 29) met up with an elderly person.  When he was furthermore told that all people are subject to growing old, Siddhartha wanted to learn more.  In the true spirit of “watch what you ask for,” he was then shown that sickness and death were also a part of “the plan.” 

After further discovering that neither asceticism nor sensuality could negate this “plan,” Siddhartha was ready to accept what Alexander the Not-So-Great would also come to terms with.  In Siddhartha’s case, this realization translated into a set of Four
Noble Truths – the first of which is that life entails suffering. tells us the following:  During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression.

Why, then, would Alexander (or the rest of us) want to put up with these “No Good, Very Bad Days” for years to come?  The Buddhist answer lies in the other three Noble Truths:  The origin of suffering is attachment; the cessation of suffering is attainable; following an Eightfold Path of gradual and balanced self-improvement can lead one beyond attachment and into liberation.

What might that look like?  Viorst has explained:  Strength is the capacity to break a Hershey bar into
four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces.


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

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Kanye West: Speaking up about religion

Kanye West (by Renan Facciolo)
Kanye West is far from shy when it comes to talking his walk.  At the 2006 MTV Europe Music Awards, he "stormed the stage" over not having won for Best Video.  The 2009 MTV Awards seemed somewhat of a replay when West grabbed the microphone in order to proclaim his displeasure with Taylor Swift's victory.

It should therefore come as no surprise that West has also sounded off about religion.  According to Andres Vasquez, West aired some of his personal views about Christ and Christians during a 2008 New Zealand press conference.  The following are some of West's most quotable comments from this interview:  I was raised as a Christian, and they're like "Be Christ-like.  Be Christ-like…"  I'm like, "No! I don't wanna… be Christ-like.  I want to be me-like."

Afterwards, West "bloggedly" admitted that he sometimes speaks without a filter.  With reference to his press-conference remarks, West explained:  I did not mean to be so harsh on the subject of Christianity being that I was a well-known Christian…  My entire life, being an African-American, Christianity was forced down my throat.  Since I was a child, I would ask questions like, "So are little babies that can't speak yet going to hell also?"  

For West, religion seems to be an ever-evolving process.  Back in the Jesus Walks heyday, West was looked upon as a Christian preacher in hip-hop clothing.  Wikipedia reports that more than three hundred fans "gave their lives to Christ" after West performed at their youth center.  So what happened?  Functional Culture somewhat answers this question by presenting these West quotes from a Bossip interview:  Christianity is embedded in who I am…   But, I do not believe that other religions are going
to hell.


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


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Jerry Lee Lewis: Devil's the real Killer

1977 Concert (Photo by Klaus Hiltscher) 
Jerry Lee Lewis, "killing us loudly" with his songshas spent a lifetime claiming that the Devil makes him do it.

According to, Lewis (like his cousin, Jimmy Swaggart) frequently attended Assemblies of God (AOG) churches while growing up.  He was even a student at AOG’s Southwestern Bible Institute and did some preaching, “but was expelled after only three months when he played a boogie-woogie version of the hymn ‘My God Is Real’ for morning assembly.”  His trademark music style has since included “more than a few Pentecostal hymns.”

Although Lewis is often remorseful about the life he has led (which has included bigamy, drug and alcohol
abuse, physical abuse, and a whole lotta profanity), he has also claimed to be a “rock ‘n’ roll cat” who is just
“too weak for the gospel.”   He is quoted in Steve Turner’s Hungry for Heaven as saying: I have the Devil in me.  If I didn’t, I’d be a Christian.

As for where he’s headed?  Way back in 1980, Lewis told People magazine:  …I don’t think I’m heading in the right direction…  If Lewis still feels too weak for repentance (metanoia – “doing a spiritual 180”), then repeatedly asking for the strength that only God can give might just be the next best step.


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

Monday, July 23, 2012

Gurcharan Das: Envy a formidable foe

(Krishna and Arjuna at Kurukshetra)
When acclaimed author Gurcharan Das spoke at
Emory University in 2010 regarding The Difficulty
Of Being Good, he was describing an all-too-human
dilemma that we all face.

Although Das explained that he certainly doesn’t have an answer key to the age-old struggle between good and evil, he nevertheless presented a number of intriguing guideposts upon which people can hang their ethical inquiries.  These guideposts were mostly drawn from the Mahabharata, an ancient Sanskrit epic that has been compared in scope and impact to the Bible and the Qur’an.

Within this epic tale, the Pandavas (“good guys”) and Kauravas (“bad guys”) are engaged in an all-out battle.  Although the causes of such bloodshed are often complex, Das focused upon the envy factor when analyzing the roots of this Kurukshetra War.  When the Pandavas were repeatedly successful despite their many difficulties, the raging envy (envy, not jealousy – jealousy is when you’re afraid of losing that which you already have, whereas envy is when you begrudge others their successes) of Duryodhana went a long way toward precipitating the hostilities.

Bravely and authentically, Gurcharan Das disclosed that he, too, has (as have we all) been fraught with envy at times.  He talked of a childhood companion whose toy was one that Das wished to have.  Envy drove Das to eventually break this toy. 

Das also stated that he had often wondered why the goodhearted citizens of Germany participated in a vicious Nazi campaign against the Jews.  In light of his research and experience concerning envy’s destructive potential, Das then theorized that it was envy (of the Jews’ prominence in professional German society, even though Jews only comprised 5% of the German population at that time) which had fueled this extreme hatred.

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

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mother Teresa: Great love in small things

Beautiful Smile (Photo by Yosarian)
Many know this famous quote of Mother Teresa’s:  Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love.

Fewer know these other quotes that reflect her faith in the power of everyday kindness:  Peace begins with a smile…  Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless…  If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one…  Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies…
Never worry about numbers.  Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.

In line with this philosophy, Prevention’s Stephanie Castillo came up with a list of “13 Ways To Be Nicer: Even when you don’t really feel like it.”  These acts of kindness include driving a friend to a necessary destination, ushering someone ahead of you in line, paying the toll for a stranger in the next car, giving an honest compliment, and over-tipping a service worker.

Not only can acts like these be spiritually edifying, but they can also help to relieve anxiety.  Castillo cites the results from a University of British Columbia research study in which people “with high levels of anxiety” were assigned “to do kind acts for other people at least six times a week.”  At the end of this time period, participants gained significantly in positive moods and relationship satisfaction.  These participants also experienced “a decrease in social avoidance.”

As Oscar Hammerstein II once wrote to his starMary Martin (words which later became part of the song “Sixteen Going on Seventeen (Reprise)”:   A bell is no bell til you ring it, A song is no song til you sing it, And love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay, Love isn’t love til you give it away.


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

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Jon Stewart: Sacrilegious humor?

Feast of Esther (by Jan Lievens, 1625)
Before focusing upon Jon Stewart’s Daily Show humor, it might be better to first consider this more fundamental
question from CNN’s Todd Leopold:  Is ‘religious humor’ an oxymoron?

In a 2002 article, Leopold began tackling that question by reporting about a Chicago painting titled “The Last
Pancake Breakfast.”  This painting parodied Da Vinci’s
“The Last Supper” by displaying such breakfast-cereal
icons as Tony the Tiger and Trix the Rabbit “surrounding
a Jesus-posed Mrs. Butterworth.”  Although some (mostly city) folks enjoyed it, other (mostly suburban) folks were outraged.

This outrage, which called for the removal of the painting, was mild compared to what some religious humorists have endured.  As Leopold pointed out, “in history, in general, to laugh at religion was to invite harsh criticism, ostracism – or worse.”  Leopold also mentioned a 17th-century ban on “games, sports, plays [and] comedies” because they clashed with “Christian silence, gravity and sobriety” – then stated that “people have been killed for less throughout history.”

Nevertheless, there are those brave souls who refuse to go somber into that good night.  In 2010, Paul Vitello of The New York Times reported on a four-hour “Humor in Ministry” workshop at Union Theological Seminary.  Up for discussion were “Jesus’ use of irony and exaggeration, and the ribaldry in the Book of Esther.”  Also reviewed was “the basic etiquette of being funny at a funeral.”

So it seems as though Jon Stewart might be right on track after all.  There are certainly those who appreciate
his ability to present factual religious information in an entertaining way.  Mark Oppenheimer calls Stewart a
Religion Teacher Extraordinaire,” and applauds his way of winning laughs “without deforming, or even
exaggerating, the religion’s actual beliefs.”

And Stewart himself?  During a Sojourners interview, he stated:  Religion makes sense to me.  I have trouble with dogma more than I have trouble with religion.


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

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ragged riches: Statistically speaking

(Chart by Analoguni)
Horatio Alger notwithstanding, research indicates
that Americans who fall from riches to rags number twice as many as those who rise from rags to riches.

MSNBC’s Economy Watch recently reported on a Pew Charitable Trust’s Economic Mobility Project report which shows that only “4 percent of people who grew up in the bottom fifth of the household income ladder made it to the top fifth as adults,” whereas “8 percent of people whose parents were in the top fifth of households dropped to the bottom fifth as adults.”

Even though “the vast majority” of American families are bringing home bigger paychecks (“adjusted for
inflation”) than their parents did, they still haven’t been able to climb “the income ladder.”  This is largely because “median income has increased at all levels.”  However, most of those at the lowest rungs remain quite poor.  This report indicates that “70 percent of Americans whose parents were in the bottom fifth of the income ladder stayed below the middle as adults.”

Economic disparity is even more evident when international statistics enter the mix.  In 2006 the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER) released results from “the most comprehensive study of personal wealth ever undertaken…”  Within this study, “wealth” refers to “the value of all household resources, including human capabilities.”

Results from this study indicated the following:  “Average wealth amounted to $144,000 per person in the USA in year 2000, and $181,000 in Japan.  Lower down among countries with wealth data are India, with per capita assets of $1,100, and Indonesia with $1,400 per capita.”

This paints a frightening picture of the haves and have nots.  Although “fair is not equal,” perhaps “fair” should not be that unequal, either…


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

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tisha B'Av: Messianic hope

Jerusalem Temple Destruction (Hayez)
Although Tisha B’Av has been traditionally associated with many of the worst calamities in Jewish history (sins of the scouts of Moses, destruction of the First and Second Temples, destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt, the First Crusade, the expelling of Jews from England and Spain, and the Holocaust) - from out of the depths of this despair springs hope eternal. 

That is because Tisha B’Av has also been linked with the arrival of the Jewish Messiah.  The Hebrew words for “Messiah” (moshiah, moshiach, mashiahand mashiach) each mean “anointed [one]” – and often described kings and priests who were anointed with the type of oil described in Exodus 30:25 (a
“fragrant blend” of liquid myrrh, cinnamon, cane, cassia, and olive oil).  For example, the Bible refers to Cyrus the Great of Persia as “God’s anointed.”

The Orthodox Jewish term “Messiah” often refers specifically to a patrilineal descendant of the King
David/Solomon lineage “who will gather the Jews back into the land of Israel, usher in an era of peace, build the Third Temple, have a male heir and reinstitute the Sanhedrin, among other things.”  Wikipedia reports that many details concerning the advent of the Messiah can be found in the Talmud, which “describes a period of freedom and peace, which will be the time of ultimate goodness for the Jews and for all mankind.”

There are some Conservative Jews who already commemorate the establishment of the State of Israel as a Messianic sign.  They are prone to advise that Tisha B’Av fasting be ended at midday.  Others continue to fast all day while awaiting the Messiah’s complete arrival.  They, along with Maimonides and Habakkuk, proclaim:  Though he linger, wait for him; he will certainly come and will not delay.   


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

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ramadan: Dates so sweet

Dates (Photo by abcdz2000)
It is said that Muhammad broke his fasts with dates so sweet that Muslims around the world continue this tradition each Ramadan evening.

Miracles of the Qur’an cites a number of scriptural passages in which the fruit of the date palm is highly praised.  Qur’an, 55:68 praises this fruit as “one of the blessings of Paradise.”  In Surah Maryam (Qur’an, 19:23-26), Mother Mary is experiencing excruciating labor pains as she gives birth to Baby Jesus.  This passage reads:  The pains of labour drove her to the trunk of a date-palm.  She [Maryam] said, “Oh if only I had died before this time and was something discarded and forgotten!”  A voice called out to her from under her, “Do not grieve!  Your Lord has placed a small stream at your feet.  Shake the trunk of the palm towards you and fresh, ripe dates will drop down onto you.  Eat and drink and delight your eyes…”

In Shake the Palm Tree, Um Yusuf as-Siddiq recounts the story of  “The Muslim and the Date-Palm Tree.”  In it the Prophet compares the date-palm tree, “the leaves of which do not fall,” to Muslims.  Sheikh Ibrahim Dremali concluded that Muhammad said this because Muslims will bring benefits “wherever they are and at any given time.”  The Sheikh also emphasized that every single part of the tree is beneficial “from the roots to the leaves to the dates.”

The dates are particularly beneficial after a fast because of their nutritional value.  The easily-accessible fructose and dextrose in dates quickly raises post-fasting blood sugar levels.  According to, dates are also rich in dietary fiber, tannins, antioxidant flavonoids, Vitamin A, iron, potassium, pyridoxine, calcium, manganese, copper and magnesium.


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

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Saint Vladimir of Kievan Rus

(Saint Vladimir)
If you’re looking for Kievan Rus on today’s map, you might be hard pressed to find it.  According to Wikipedia, it only existed “from the late 9th to the mid 13th century” - but at its peak “encompassed territories stretching south to the Black Sea, east to the Volga, and west to the Kingdom of Poland and to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.”

During the ninth century, the Varangians (Vikings) seized Kiev from the Khazars.  In 882 CE, Kiev became the capital of Kievan Rus, the first East Slavic state.  Approximately a century later, the reign of Vladimir the Great began in a decidedly non-saintly fashion (a nice way of saying that Vladimir slew his brother in order to take control of Kiev, and along the way slew his future wife’s father in order to take control of her).

This was just the beginning of Vladimir’s appetite for conquest (and so much else).  While continuing to seize one territory after another, he also managed to get 800 concubines and numerous wives under his belt.  It was said that he engaged in “idolatrous rites involving human sacrifice.”  One such incident occurred in 903, after one of Vladimir’s military successes.  Lots were drawn, and the son (Ioann) of a Christian (Fyodor) was slated to be sacrificed.  When Fyodor vehemently protested the sacrificing of his son, and openly proclaimed these Rus gods to be nothing but idols, an incensed mob killed both father and son.  Fyodor and Ioann were later considered to be the first Christian martyrs in Rus.

To Vladimir’s credit, this incident weighed heavily on his conscience (and on his political sensibilities) – so much so that he wound up sending “envoys throughout the civilized world to judge at first hand  the major religions at the time…”  Byzantine Orthodoxy won out (partly because Islam banned alcohol, and Vladimir considered drinking to be “the joy of all Rus”).  Vladimir was not only enamored by his envoys’ descriptions of Divine Liturgy at the Hagia Sophia, but was also anticipating “political gains of the Byzantine alliance.”

Vladimir became a baptized Christian, which greatly assisted his next goal of marrying into Byzantine royalty.  After returning to Kiev, he destroyed many a pagan monument and established many a church.  He was now well on his way to becoming Saint Vladimir.


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

Monday, July 16, 2012

St. Paul Aint what?

St. Paul (Clio20)
Ever since it was revealed that the St. Paul Saints will become the Mr. Paul Aints for “A Night of Unbelievable Fun” in August 2012, the Internet’s been buzzing with commentary.

Although not everyone’s enamored with the idea, Saints general manager Derek Sharrer defended it.  He told Tyler Mason of FOX Sports North:  When we were approached by the Minnesota Atheists, we felt like it was within our nature to be inclusive and certainly work with them to provide them the opportunity to provide their message in the same way that we have worked with hundreds and hundreds of faith-based groups over our 20 years here in St. Paul.

Sharrer further explained that “the team name itself is just that – it’s a team name.”  He emphasized:  We didn’t name the team the Saints to make any sort of
religious statement.

Nevertheless, the term “saint” has been fraught with religious meaning since at least the time of the Saint Paul.  Paul (aka “Apostle Paul” and “Saul of Tarsus”) is believed by many to be the foremost author of the New Testament (a collection of 27 books, thirteen of which are traditionally attributed to Paul). reports that the Greek word hagios, which means
“the set apart one” and is usually translated in English as “saint,” appears 233 times in the New Testament.  In 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul seems to couple the term hagios with “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  By this definition, Paul would be considered a “saint,” as would many others within such a “priesthood of all believers.”

But not everyone wants to be marching in with the Saints.  The Minnesota Atheists reports that many of its own number will be instead be “rooting on the Mr. Paul Aints” at Midway Stadium on August 10thas well as “cheering for American Atheists President Dave Silverman as he delivers the first ceremonial pitch of the game.”


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

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cleanliness: Next to what?

That great sage, Erma of Suburbia, warned householders that they could not scrub their way to enlightenment.  The following exhortation comes to us directly from the wisdom writings of BombeckCleanliness is not next to godliness.  It isn’t even in the same neighborhood.  No one has ever gotten a religious experience out of removing burned-on cheese from the grill of the toaster oven [except, perhaps, those who see Jesus within grilled-cheese sandwiches].

Bob Deffinbaugh, in his painstaking exegesis of Acts 9:32 – 10:23, is only too glad to agree with Bombeck.  He begins with a “most unusual conversation” in which a woman tells him the following about her “biblical grounds” for divorce:  Well, you know the Bible teaches that ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’, and my husband was a very dirty man

Although the Bible does not contain that cleanliness/godliness quote per se (which seems to have first been popularized by the writings of Francis Bacon, and then revisited two centuries later by John Wesley) - the Bible instead dwells upon the dichotomy between “clean” and “unclean” quite a bit.  In Acts 10:10-16, Peter has a vision in which a voice says, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!”  When Peter views some of the unorthodox food choices that are being presented, he exclaims, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.”  The voice then answers, “What God has cleansed is not unholy to you.”  Passages such as this one make it somewhat easy to confuse physical cleanliness with spiritual holiness.

However, that type of confusion can wreak havoc with moral sensibilities.  In 2008, The Economist ran an article titled “Cleanliness is next to godlessness” which emphasized that “soaping away your outer dirt may lead to inner evil.”  The results from a study at the University of Plymouth showed that those who washed with soap and water before viewing “unethical activities” (such as “taking money found  in a lost wallet”) were likely to have “a more relaxed attitude toward morality” than those who didn’t wash up before viewing the same activites.  In a Real Simple Magazine article titled “Secrets Behind Why We Really Love to Clean,” Kate Rope furthermore explained that acts such as “cleaning the fridge” can foster feelings of accomplishment, control, and even inner calm.  (“Godliness,” however, was noticeably absent from her list of squeaky-clean results.)


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