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

Monday, April 30, 2012

National Honesty Day: Is that an oxymoron?

Diogenes (searching for an honest man)
It seems that in order to convince the majority (or a so-called representative minority) of anything, a certain amount (often large) of honesty must be sacrificed.  Case in point:  the United States
presidential elections.

Each side is accusing the other of lying.  If even one side is correct about this, then there’s no such thing as nationwide  honesty.  If both sides are correct, then worse yet.  If neither side is correct, then truth is still not nationally prevailing.

Why, then, is it so difficult for nations to practice what they preach (honesty being just one of many Commandments that are routinely broken by those who favor the display of all Ten on governmental buildings)?

Perhaps the somewhat-scary phenomenon of groupthink has something to do with it.  Although Wikipedia defines “groupthink” as “the mode of thinking that happens when the desire for harmony in a decision-making group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives” -  a “desire for harmony” may have little to do with it.  Group members might instead fear persecution for being too “different” from the “herd” or “mob.”

Ironically, the originator of National Honesty Day was himself a press secretary (a job which often entails putting words into political mouths).  This former press secretary, M. Hirsh Goldberg, has also authored many books, among them The Book of Lies: History’s Greatest Fakes, Frauds, Schemes and Scams
and The Complete Book of Greed: The Strange and Amazing History of Human Excess.

Perhaps Diogenes, that Ancient Greek thorn in the side of Athenian groupthink), was right.  Perhaps it’s
harder to find an honest man (let alone, nation) than it is to distinguish the bones of emperors from those of


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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Enough about Enoch: What about us?

(There goes Enoch!)
Genesis 5:21-24 is pretty much all that the Bible has to say about Noah’s great-grandfather, Enoch.  We are told that when Enoch was 65, he “became the father” of Methuselah (aka “Man of the Spear” – which may explain how Methuselah managed to survive for 969 rugged years).

Enoch, on the other hand, was no Methuselah.  Not only did he hardly live (by Genesis standards), but he also hardly died.  After fathering Methuselah, Enoch “walked faithfully with God” for another 300 years until poof… “God took him away.”  Mind you, the phrase
“took him away” is not the Torah’s polite way of saying “bit the dust.”   It is instead the Torah’s way of letting you know that Enoch never actually died.  Like Elijah, he simply up and left for some heavenly abode.

Now why is that?  Why do you and I have to hang out in coffins while Enoch and Elijah get handpicked off the street?  Could it be that while Enoch and Elijah were walking faithfully with God, we were hightailing it in other directions?  And what does it mean to be “walking faithfully with God,” anyway?

One possible meaning is that Enoch not only walked the talk, but also talked the walk.  In other words, Enoch was probably in constant communication with God.  He didn’t have to slip away to a cave to say some prayers every once in a while.  He had already figured out that every moment was a holy opportunity to commune directly with his Maker.  While walking down the street (trail?), he knew enough to repeatedly whisper: “Hello God – it’s me, Enoch.”

This is something that you and I could also do.  While walking our own little Methuselahs to school, or while zipping down a six-lane freeway – we, too, could be actively choosing to directly communicate with God.  Fancy speeches are not necessary.  All it takes is a willingness to remember (in word, thought and deed) the One who is always present.


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

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Sunlight diet: Not even 'in the beginning'

First Day of Creation (Schedel, 1493) 
As reported by The Christian Post, a Swiss woman who “attempted to live off of an unusual diet of only air and sunlight” has died.

She attempted this lifestyle after viewing the 2010 documentary “In the Beginning There Was Light,” which tells “of an Indian guru who claimed to have lived off sunlight and without food and water for 70 years.”  Austrian filmmaker Peter-Arthur Straubinger may have derived the title of this documentary from Genesis 1.  If so, it seems misleading because Genesis (KJV) outright tells us that “In the beginning…” there was “darkness upon the face of the deep” before there was light.

Not only that, God proceeded to retain both, calling the light "Day" and the darkness "Night."  God then proceeded to also divide waters from waters, Heaven from Earth, grass from trees, sun from moon, fish from fowl, and beast from man.  So here’s the question:  If Light were the only spiritually valuable (and/or nourishing) part of Creation, then why did God bother to sculpt out the rest?

Okay, you say, this is just the Bible’s “take” on things.  Perhaps this Indian guru (the word “guru,” by the way, has two components:  “gu” meaning “shadows” – and “ru” meaning “he who disperses them”) was instead inspired by Yoga (meaning “yoke”).  This leads right to another question:  What, exactly, is being “yoked” with what?  (Possible answer:  Creation with Creator?)

In any event, Yoga is often associated with Hindu teachings.  The Hindu Trimurti includes three essential forms:  Creator (Brahma), Sustainer (Vishnu), and Destroyer (Shiva).  Perhaps, then, Light is mostly associated with Creation - whereas Sustenance may come in other forms (such as earthly food and water).  Omitting the Vishnu part of the Trimurti “equation” could tragically result in a premature shift from Creation to Destruction (as it seems to have done in the case of this Swiss would-be Breatharian).


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

Friday, April 27, 2012

Arbor Day: Somewhat like Easter

Fukushima Blossoms (by Kropsoq)
As I walked past a local church around Easter time, I noticed a sign outside stating “Jesus has risen!”  On either side of that sign were two flowering cherry trees.  It occurred to me that these blossoms conveyed
the Easter message better than any sermon ever could.

Now it is some weeks later, and Arbor Day is being celebrated.  Is there a link between these two special days, or is Arbor Day merely another notch in a Boy Scout’s belt?

Wikipedia states that the United States Arbor Day began in 1872 with the efforts of J. Sterling Morton.  Although not particularly salty (that was his son), this Morton also found ways to preserve and savor life’s
bounties.  He was the Secretary of Agriculture under Grover Cleveland, as well as an ardent lover of all things arboreal.  Perhaps this was due to his birth in the Tug Hill Plateau of Upstate New York, an area known for its wilderness beauty.  Although his later youth was spent in Detroit, Morton then moved to Nebraska (before it was even a territory).  Once there, he “indulged his fascination for trees” by planting many rare varieties and “setting up national forest reservations.”

Arbor Day celebrations, however, are neither confined to the United States, nor to the more secular aspects of agriculture and forestry.  One major purpose of India’s annual Van Mahotsav tree-planting festival is “to inculcate tree consciousness and love of trees amongst the people.”  Mike Harding has discovered that Green Man symbolism is quite prevalent in India and Nepal, where He is often referred to as “The Face of Glory.”  In Borneo, He is considered to be “a Guardian of the Forest therefore a protector deity and a bringer of good fortune.”   

Harding also theorizes that “Jesus, Osiris, Odin, the Green Knight, John Barleycorn, the Holly King and
Thamuz of the Mesopotamians are all related to the Green Man who symbolizes the triumph of Green Life
over Winter and Death.”


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

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mirabai: Ode to Krishna

Mirabai (Author: Onef9day) 
This being April, and April being National Poetry Month, it’s time for another look at Spirituality & Practice’sSacred Poetry” pages.  There the reader can find (for the fourth April in a row) a poem a day, just to get those spiritual juices flowing.

This year’s selection has so far featured a poem by Mirabai titled “The Way They Held Each Other.”  Its gripping simplicity is well worth repeating here:  A woman and her young daughter were destitute and traveling to another country where they hoped to find a new life.    Three men stole them while they were camping.    They were brought to a city and sold as slaves; each to a different owner.    They were given one minute more together, before their fates became unknown.    My soul clings to God like that, the way they held each other.

Mirabai was not just being metaphorical here.  She had dedicated her entire being to the devotion of Krishna (whom Hindus believe to be the final and complete avatar of Lord Vishnu).  Many historical details of Mira’s life are not certain - and have been mostly gleaned from the more than one thousand bhajans (prayerful poetic songs) that are attributed to her.

Mira’s love of Krishna is said to have begun when she was just an infant.  (She was allegedly born a Rajput princess - and the great-granddaughter of Rao Jodha of Mandore, Mumbai’s founder).  She had an arranged marriage at an early age, but was already wedded in her heart and spirit to Krishna.  Although her love for Krishna was at first kept private, it eventually overflowed into ecstatic public dancing (somewhat reminiscent of another Psalmist, King David – who, as 2 Samuel 6 tells us, was “leaping and dancing” while bringing the Ark into Jerusalem).

Because ecstatic public displays like these tend to flaunt convention, Mira is said to have incurred the wrath of her powerful brother-in-law.  Legendary stories claim that he tried to murder her in many different ways, and that God miraculously saved her each time. 


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

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

National Poetry Month: Muse news

(Guess who?)
According to Ancient Greek philosophy, behind every good poet there poses at least one hot Muse.

Although some who lived in Boeotia (“one of the earliest inhabited regions of prehistoric Greece”) claimed that there were originally only three Muses – Hesiod (also from Boeotia), as well as Homer, upheld the notion that there were nine.  These nine were said to be the daughters of Zeus (ruler of the Olympian gods) and Mnemosyne (the Titaness personification of memory).

Wait a minute, wasn’t Zeus married to Hera?  Perhaps so, but that didn’t stop him from dilly-dallying with Mnemosyne for nine days (and
more pertinently, nights) - thus resulting in the births of (count them) Calliope (Epic Poetry), Clio (History), Erato (Love Poetry), Euterpe
(Music), Melponeme (Tragedy), Polyhymnia (Hymns), Terpsichore (Dance), Thalia (Comedy), and Urania (Astronomy).  Although these Muse specialties may seem somewhat disjointed, a poet of Shakespeare’s caliber might need to call upon them all in order to create a Romeo and Juliet type opus.

Aside from their half-dressed voluptuous bodies, how can these nine be spotted in a crowd?  Most of them don’t exactly travel light.  Wikipedia reports that Calliope carries a writing tablet, Clio a scroll and some books, Eurato a lyre (plus, her crown of roses is a dead giveaway), and Terpsichore also a lyre (but she’s the one without the crown of roses who can’t sit still).  Unless it’s either Mardi Gras or Halloween, Thalia’s comic mask and Melpomene’s tragic one will also scream “Muse on board!”  Now it might seem that Polyhymnia’s trademark “pensive expression” would not ID her very easily.  However, in today’s extroverted society, pensive expressions are all too rare.


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

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Noah: One more Crowe on the Ark

(Painting by Edward Hicks, 1846)
Word has it that Russell Crowe will be playing Noah in Darren Aronofsky’s upcoming movie by the same name.

Those who picture Crowe as simply a barroom-brawling brute may be shocked to learn of this biblical role.  However, Crowe’s spiritual side could perhaps be as strong as Noah’s human one.  As the saying goes:  We are not essentially
humans  having a spiritual experience, but rather Spirits having a human one.

During a interview with Paul Giamatti, Crowe discussed his spiritual leanings.  His parents were both baptized, but preferred that Crowe make that decision for himself.  Crowe took this decision-making seriously.  He began visiting various type services, such as Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Baha’i, etc.  Not following one particular doctrine, he instead drew inspiration from a number of religious traditions.  He also believed in a “karmic cycle,” which he called “very, very obvious.”

Crowe stated that the Ten Commandments seem as though they were written “by somebody other than a human being” – and that if we were to just adhere to these “10 really basic rules,” then thousands of laws could be removed from the books.  He concluded that these Ten were foundations upon which a society could be built.

When Crowe was a young struggling actor, he starred in a Seventh Day Adventist pastoral-recruitment film titled A Very Special Person. reports that Crowe played the part of “a farm worker who decides to devote his life to the church.”

Perhaps Crowe’s role in Noah is not such a stretch, after all.  Perhaps this is just Crowe returning to his roots – spiritual as well as secular.


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

Monday, April 23, 2012

Chuck Colson's final warning: Get Moving

(Charles "Chuck" Colson)
The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview offers a series of “Two–Minute Warnings with Chuck Colson,” which its website describes as “hard-hitting video commentary on the news and culture topics that matter to you.”

Colson, certainly no stranger to the news, has made a number of “hard-hitting” headlines of his own.  Formerly known as Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man,” Colson was one of the Watergate Seven that Wikipedia reports “pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for attempting to defame Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg.”
He also has the dubious distinction of being “the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges.”

If that were all there were, people would not be mourning Colson’s death the way they have been recently.  In 1973, Colson experienced a conversion that radically moved him along the sinner-to-saint continuum.  This was not just a jailhouse-related ploy, but rather a lasting change.   It began with a reading of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, and continued to gather momentum.  Since then, Colson has walked his talk in the following ways:  he founded Prison Fellowship and Justice Fellowship, both of which promote reform in the criminal justice system; and has worked tirelessly promoting “ChristianWorldview” via radio, video, books, newsletters, speaking engagements, etc.

His final Two-Minute Warning, titled Get Moving, is dated April 17, 2012 (four days before Colson’s death).  The promo for this video asks readers:  Do you want to be part of the cutting edge of societal transformation?  The question is then answered in this manner:  Develop a robust Christian worldview.  Come explore the Colson Center.

Colson begins the video with a reference to a book, How Now Shall We Live, that he coauthored approximately 12 years ago.  He then goes on to explain that Christianity is not simply a personal relationship of “just Jesus and me,” but rather a movement “to renew culture and reawaken the world to Christ.”  In order to do this, he warns:  “Don’t stand on the sidelines wringing your hands – get going!”


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

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bob Marley: Rastafari Way of Life

(Haile Selassie I)
Although Bob Marley wasn’t the founder of the Rastafari Way of Life, he has become the personification of it to many.  In other words, although there would have been a Rastafari movement without Bob Marley, there would not have been a “Bob Marley” without the Rasta inspiration.

Wikipedia defines “Rasta” as a “new religious movement” that “arose in the 1930s in Jamaica,” a country “where 98% of the people were the black descendants of slaves.”  “Rastafari” is a name derived from the Ethiopian title “Ras” (meaning “Head” or “Duke” in Amharic), plus the birth name (“Tafari”) of Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974.  The name “Haile Selassie” means “Power of the Trinity” in Ge’ez.

Haile Selassie I is said to be heir to a dynasty that traces its origins all the way back to King Solomon and Queen Makeda (aka “Queen of Sheba”).  An Ethiopian Orthodox Christian throughout his life, Haile Selassie is “revered as the returned messiah of the Bible” by Rasta adherents.  Some Rastafari refer to him as “Jah” (from the Tetragrammaton YHWH - which in Latin is JHWH, as in the ending of hallelujah).  Others use the acronym HIM, meaning “His Imperial Majesty.”

Many perceive HIM to be the One who will “lead a future golden age of eternal peace, righteousness, and prosperity.”  They refer to Haile Selassie’s many achievements during his years as Ethiopia’s ruler. Wikipedia reports that Haile Selassie’s “political thought and experience in promoting multilateralism and
collective security have proved seminal and enduring.”

Rasta-Man-Vibration explains that “Bob Marley has been able to do what many intellectuals… have not been able to do and that is to articulate the ideas of the Rastafarian community to the wider world.”  Marley himself said:  Mi see myself as a revolutionary.  Who don’t have no help and take no bribe from no one and fight it single-handed with music.  This “it” that Marley was fighting was the “downpression” of people by colonialism and equally-Babylonian “isms.”  


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

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Stroke: When luck runs amuck

(Photo by Ken Wieland)
Even the luck of perpetual teenagers can eventually run out.  However, Dick Clark did not necessarily see it that way.  Although he seemed down for the count in 2004, by 2005 he was once again up for the countdown.

Within a Los Angeles Times article, Rene Lynch reported the following:  “It was assumed that Clark would have to step down from his iconic ‘Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve’ duties” after his 2004 stroke.  However, Clark went on to not
only usher in a Rockin’ 2005, but also a Rockin’ 2006 through 2012.  Because “all too often, stroke victims – particularly celebrities – shrink back from life and become isolated,” Clark’s refusal to retreat in such a manner became “a symbol of hope” to the millions who are also struggling with stroke-related difficulties.

One of these millions is a man known to spiritual seekers the world over as Ram Dass.  Ram Dass, author of such classics as Be Here Now and How Can I Help?, experienced a “benevolent” stroke in 1997.  This stroke resulted in an inability to move his right arm and leg, and a difficulty with verbally expressing concepts.  There has also been “plenty of pain” since. 

Ram Dass reported to  David Jay Brown that all this suffering is bringing him “closer to God.”  He says that before the stroke, he used to “do, do, do” [and help, help, help] all the time.”  Now he is in the position of not being able to do much of what he used to (i.e., play the cello, golf, drive sports cars, etc.).  He also needs help “going to the bathroom, eating, going anywhere.”  Ram Dass says that all of this “powerlessness” has increased his “humanness,” and has gotten him “deeper into karma yoga.”

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

Friday, April 20, 2012

Earth Day: The new Christmas?

Although many will be flocking to Earth Day celebrations, some non-feathered bipeds will be asking themselves (while pouring a few more
gallons into their gas-guzzling tanks):  Is environmentalism now a religion?

In order to logically answer that question, it first seems necessary to define “religion.”  Religion has been described as “what keeps the poor from murdering the rich” (Napoleon Bonaparte), as “kindness” (Dalai Lama), and as “the art and theory of the remaking of man”
(Edmund Burke).  Exact definitions, however, have been hard to come by.

In his Miami Herald article Earth Day’s environmental‘religion, Robert H. Nelson offers this explanation (based upon the work of William James):  “it is not necessary to ‘positively assume a God’ in order to have a religion.”  Nelson then offers Paul Tillich’s view that religion is “a comprehensive belief system that seeks to answer questions of ‘ultimate concern’ to human existence.”  Nelson concludes that environmentalism is a “new secularized Protestantism: the religion of green, the religion of Earth Day.”

In his American Thinker article The Religion of  Global Warming, W. A. Beatty describes the “earth-worshipping” tendencies of those he calls “global warmists.”  He lists the following “trappings of religion” that are part of an “unshakable faith” in Gore’s gory pronouncements:  original sin (it’s all our fault); atonement and repentance (downsize now); rituals (recycle or die); indulgences (purchase carbon offsets); and dire prophecy (the end is nigh).


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


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Megillat HaShoah: Lest we forget

Rail to Auschwitz (Photo by Pimke) 
Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah (“Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day”) - otherwise known as Yom
HaShoah (“Holocaust Remembrance Day,” or simply
“Holocaust Day”) – commemorates the millions who were murdered by Hitler’s Nazi regime, as well as the heroic efforts to resist such evil.

Officially begun in 1953, this Israeli national day was signed into law by then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and then-President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi.  It generally occurs on the 27th of Nisan (March/April), eight days before Israeli Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzma’ut).  The Megillat HaShoah, which Wikipedia defines as “a scroll and liturgical reading for Yom HaShoah, a joint project of Jewish leaders in Israel, the United States and Canada,” has become an integral part of many Yom HaShoah events.

Why add to the already-rich liturgy of Judaism?  Why not just continue on with the Mourner’s Kaddish and the Kel Maleh RachamimRabbi David Golinkin of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem explains:  “The idea was to compile a short liturgical piece in six chapters that would outline the main experiences of the Holocaust:  the background for the Holocaust in Europe; the ghetto; work camps; concentration camps and gas chambers; an elegy for the victims of the Holocaust; and the survivors and
the establishment of the State of Israel.”

Rabbi Golinkin compares the Megillat HaShoah to the Megillat Eichah (the Scroll of Lamentations which
“commemorates the destruction of the First Temple”).  He further notes that the presence of Exodus liturgy
within Passover Seder rituals insures remembrance of another key cataclysmic event within Jewish history.
Golinkin concludes his explanation of why the Megillat Hashoah is sorely needed with these three points:  survivors (and therefore living testimonies) of the Holocaust are rapidly disappearing; historic events in Judaism have been traditionally “anchored in religious rituals;” plus, there is a growing movement of Holocaust deniers and of Holocaust distorters.


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

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

National Garlic Day: Some say no way

(Photo by Lee Kindness)
Although garlic is sometimes touted as a panacea for everything from the common cold to cancer, not everyone is convinced.  In fact, there are some who think that it literally stinks to high Heaven.

Garlic (not to mention its alliaceous cousins – onions, leeks, chives and shallots) is considered to be both rajasic and tamasic, which amounts to a double whammy in certain circles.  Harmonist   reports that Aruyveda, “India’s classic medical science,” considers rajasic foods to increase passion and tamasic foods to increase ignorance.  (And Lord knows, there are few things worse than passionate ignorance…)

This same Harmonist article, titled “Why No Onions and Garlic,” goes on to explain that some “Vaishnavas – followers of Lord Vishnu, Rama and Krishna – like to only cook with foods from the sattvic [increasing of goodness] category.  Sattvic foods include the following:  legumes, grains, fresh fruits, dairy products, vegetables and herbs.

If passionate ignorance isn’t argument enough against the national celebration of garlic, perhaps this quote from the ancient poet Horace might do:  Garlic is “more harmful than hemlock.”  Harmonist theorized that Horace was referring to “the fact that garlic in the raw state can carry harmful (potentially fatal) botulism bacteria.”

What, then, were proponents of National Garlic Day ever thinking?  Holiday Insights claims that garlic has
not only “been used medicinally for thousands of years,” but is also “believed to ward off evil spirits.” Come to think of it, no one’s seen Dracula lately, have they?  Perhaps there’s something to this holiday, after all…   


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

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

YOLO: For real?

If you happen to see a tee-shirt go by that says “YOLO,” try asking its hipper-than-hip owner what that acronym stands for.

Although the answer will occasionally be “You obviously lack originality,” it will more likely be “You only live once.”  This “seize the day” stamp of approval gives the owner a sense of immediacy.  So if you’re wondering whether or not to take that trip to Hawaii, the answer is YOLO.  If you’re even thinking about sky diving, what are you waiting for? YOLO!

YOLO enthusiasts not only obviously lack originality, but they also have obviously never so much as heard about the Wheel of 84.  This Wheel is not a sequel to the Beatles’ “When I’m 64.”    It instead refers to the 84 lakh species that one may be reborn into.  Since just one lakh equals 100,000 – 84 lakh adds up to a whole lot of reincarnation possibilities.

According to The Hare Krishna Revolution website (which in turn refers to the Vedas), “if one is attached to eating meat, he gets the body of a tiger wherein he gets full facility for eating flesh without the encumbrance of cleaning and cooking the meat” (sounds convenient if
you don’t take into account the down-and-dirty aspects of stalking and pouncing).  It might be a better idea to cultivate piety in order to earn a demigod body on a higher planet.

But alas!  Even demigod bodies must one day shrivel and die.  For that is the Law of Karma which keeps the Wheel turning…  Therefore, the wisest among us seek liberation from such Wheeling and dealing.  In order to break the cycle of endless births and deaths,  it is necessary to “understand the futility of all the activities that one carries out during his lifetime…”  Such insight results in the gift of an eternal body that is liberated from birth, death, stalking, pouncing, and even YOLO tee-shirts.


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

Monday, April 16, 2012

Patriot's Day: Old North Church

(1940s depiction of Paul Revere's ride)
It’s Patriot’s Day – do you know what your children are up to?  If they are reading Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, then they’re right on track.

This famous “Listen my children, and you shall hear…” poem was directly inspired by Longfellow’s climb within the tower of Boston’s Old North Church on April 5, 1860.  Since the United States at that time was just on the verge of the Civil War, longstanding abolitionist Longfellow wrote it as a call to Northerners for action, noting “that history favors the courageous.”  Wikipedia also reports that Longfellow deliberately took poetic license with some historical facts in order to create a heightened sense of legendary inspiration.  Nevertheless, the crucial role of the Old North Church tower in this saga remains undisputed.

The Old North Church was built in 1723, and the first service was held there on December 29th of the same
year.  Interestingly, even on the verge of the American Revolution, “the majority of the congregation were loyal to the British King and many held official positions in the royal government…”  The King had even given the Old North Church “its silver that was used in services and a Bible.”  This made the church’s role in Paul’s Revere’s urgent warnings that “the British are coming” (actual words more like “the Regulars are coming out”) all the more astounding.

According to, the actual event that occurred on the evening of April 18, 1775 was that sexton Robert Newman “climbed the steeple and held high two lanterns as a signal from Paul Revere [who was, according to, a vestryman at Old North Church] that the British were marching to Lexington and Concord by sea and not by land.”   This signal was quite visible since the church tower was (is) 197 feet tall.

Today, the Old North Church is still going strong.  It is an Episcopal Church that “worships according to the
Common Book of Prayer.”  According to its website, guests are welcome, and seating “is always available…” 

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

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Stress Awareness Month: A God's-eye view

Tang Dynasty, c. 650 (Photo: Rosemania)
Sometimes seeing the “big picture” just isn’t enough.  For example, if a doctor pronounces that a patient has six months to live, is that “big picture” big enough?  Might there be an even bigger picture – one that leaves room for miracles, both within and beyond this world?

Rather than focus upon disease from an “MR-eye” perspective, perhaps it would be better to highlight ease from a “God’s-eye” perspective.  Such seems to be what the life’s work of Alexander Tsiaras is about.  According to, Tsiaras is “an artist and technologist whose work explores the unseen human body.”  However, he doesn’t just view this work anatomically.  As he delves into the very beginnings of embryonic life, Tsiaras observes:
Even though I am a mathematician, I look at this with marvel: How do these instruction sets not make these mistakes as they build what is us? explains that Tsiaras is currently involved with an “online compendium of health visualizations” called The Visual MD.  One series of videos within this compendium deals with the causes, effects and
alleviation of stress.  These videos are brief, to the point, and greatly enhanced by “God’s-eye” glimpses of actual bodily processes.  Therefore, the viewer is not only imagining the effects of stress, but is also
observing them (often at microscopic levels - God presumably sees smaller, as well as bigger, pictures). 

The benefits of mindfulness and meditation practices are also convincingly addressed.  In one of these videos, Deepak Chopra refers to “over 800 published studies on the benefits of meditation.”  Neurobiologist Daniel Siegel then states that mindfulness training strengthens the circuits of the brain which regulate emotion, attention, interpersonal interactions, immune functions, and stress response.  He asserts that the structure of the brain is actually changed by such training.

It’s no wonder that Alexander Tsiaras concludes:  The magic of the mechanisms inside each genetic structure saying exactly where that nerve cell should go – the complexity of these mathematical models is beyond human comprehension.


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

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Eye on Titanic: Father Browne's photos

Titanic Departing Southampton (by F. G. O. Stuart) 
The man who was to become “the most outstanding
Irish photographer of the first half of the Twentieth
Century” had the good fortune (or Divine assistance)
to disembark from the Titanic at its last stop before
hitting the iceberg.

His name was Francis “Frank” Browne (or Father
Browne, as his parishioners later called him).  When
Browne was just a child, his mother died – and when
Browne was a teen, his father died also.  His uncle -
Robert Browne, Bishop of Cloyne - took Frank and
Frank’s siblings under his wing.  Titanicphotographs.
com tells us that Frank plus three of his siblings later
entered “religious life.” 

While still a secondary-education student, Frank already knew that he wanted to become a Jesuit.  Before actually entering the Order, Frank received these two significant gifts from Bishop Browne:  a Grand Tour of Europe, and a camera to take with him.  This combination inspired a lifelong love of travel-based photography.  One later gift from Bishop Browne insured Frank’s place in history:  “a first-class ticket for the Maiden Voyage of the Titanic to bring him as far as Cobh” (an Irish port that was the Titanic’s last stop before heading across the North Atlantic to New York City).

Frank Browne took one picture after another during his port-to-port sojourn.  These photos became a detailed visual record of “life aboard the Titanic.”  Neither they nor he might have survived had he accepted an American couple’s invitation to continue on with them to New York.  Browne was so serious about remaining on board that he had wired for permission to do so.  Fortunately, such permission was not granted.  Browne was told, in no uncertain terms, to “Get Off That Ship------Provincial!”

Browne was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest on July 31, 1915.  He went on to valiantly serve as a chaplain in the Irish Guard, and later preached “at missions and religious retreats all over Ireland.”


Copyright April 14, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, April 13, 2012

Moment of Laughter: Is life a cosmic joke?

(Photo by Wm Jas)
Perhaps the biggest “cosmic joke” of all is people’s inability to define this phrase.

When Yahoo! Answers put forth the question “What is a cosmic joke?” – readers couldn’t seem to fully agree.  One quoted theJoker, Batman’s enemy, as claiming that he’s “the Cosmic joke.”  This reader went on to explain that this is “kind of like saying he’s the ultimate joke, or the height of all jokes, or made of the essence of joking itself, or the joke that is so deep it’s beyond the understanding of all but himself.”  This same reader astutely observed that “people apply ‘cosmic’ to all sorts of things to make them sound deep or mysterious or elemental…”

However, there must be something to this “cosmic joke” stuff, or the Buddha wouldn’t be laughing so much of the time.  Budai (as he is called in Chinese, akin to Hotei in Japanese and Bo Dai in Vietnamese) is usually depicted as “a fat bald man wearing a robe.”  He also wears prayer beads and carries his few worldly
possessions in a sack.  Although this may not seem like such a jolly good lifestyle, Wikipedia describes
Budai as “poor but content.”

Ever wonder why there are so many Jewish comedians?  Rabbi Noah Weinberg at thinks maybe its because “laughter is a deeply spiritual emotion.”  He explains that jokes not only have “the power to grab
our attention and focus our mind,” but also “can snap us out of melancholy, put things back into perspective, and provide the momentum to make the best of life.”  That’s a mighty tall order for a bunch of giggles, guffaws, cackles, snickers and snorts.

Izzy Gesell, founder of April 14’s International Moment of Laughter Day, offers these suggestions for making Moment Day mountainously momentous:  show your baby pictures to someone who’s never seen
them; laugh out loud at the funny cards in a greeting card shop; laugh at your naked image in the mirror; and (if you’ve survived that last one) laugh for no apparent reason at all (go ahead, you’ve earned it). 

Copyright April 13, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Yuri's Night: Will God attend?

(Helix "Eye of God" Nebula)

Yuri’s Night seems to be expanding faster than the universe itself.  This international celebration of cosmic proportions honors Yuri Gagarin’s “where no man had gone before” 1961 flight, as well as space exploration in general.

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight, and this year’s celebrations are maintaining that full-throttle ambiance. reports that Yuri’s Night “already has 170 parties registered in 42 countries.”  Some of these include the following:  South Pole Station (Hey Polies! Come celebrate…); Ballarat Observatory, Australia (Update on Jupiter); Toronto, Ontario (SpaceCamp is an unconference);
The Veggie Table, Beijing (Let’s talk about manned space, Moon, Mars, etc.); and Mali Losinj, PGZ, Croatia (rock koncert).

Others includeCamaguey, Cuba (Introduction to Radio Amateur Satellites); Itea, Fokida, Greece (Everyone is welcome to drink a vodka under the starry night sky); Shahin Shahr, Esfahan, Iran (One sky, one earth); Daegu, South Korea (Rave!!! Everyone is invited!); Amsterdam, Netherlands (A new born child is trying to make its first steps reaching out to the unknown); Moscow, Russia (A pseudo-scientific lecture about kosmism in work of Russian futurists); Hanksville, Utah, USA (At the Mars Desert Research Station); and Internet Pralaya Sessions (In collaboration with NASO, the Nepal Astronomical Society).

Amidst these inspiring events, it could be earth-shattering to also include the following possibilities:  Interfaith and Interspiritual gatherings at temples, mosques, churches, synagogues, mountains, valleys, fields, deserts, etc. in order to communally ponder whether Yuri did or did not “see” God during (before or after, for that matter) his historic flight.  Plus, it could be earth-mattering to include a meditative invitation for God (as is understood by Earthlings) to attend each and all such events.


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

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kobayashi Issa: Flea, fly, flew

Issa (Photo by Yoshi Canopus)
Long before microscopes were part and parcel of commonplace nature study, Kobayashi Issa was taking his own very close look around.

As a poet, he was probably expected to focus more upon flowers and trees than upon their creepy-crawly inhabitants.  Issa, however, defied expectations by writing approximately 230 haikus about fireflies, 150 about mosquitos, 100 about fleas, 90 about flies, and 90 about cicadas.  Zooming into their Lilliputian world, Issa was able to wax eloquently about creatures
that the rest of humanity might rather forget.

These aren’t cheap-shot “Waiter, what’s that fly doing in my soup?” haikus either.  They are sensitive, even empathetic, portrayals of our six-legged winged cousins.  So here’s to them that buzz and bite: 

Don’t swat: the fly wrings his hands on bended knees.      Who said this is a barren land? What fireflies!      Congratulations Issa… you have survived to feed this year’s mosquitoes.      House burnt down – fleas dance in embers.

Issa’s empathy was most likely honed by intense grieving.  His mother died when he was only three.  His grandmother, who had sustained Issa after his mother’s death, died when he was 14.  Wikipedia reports that Issa then “felt estranged in his own house, a lonely, moody child who preferred to wander the fields.”

Issa did not marry until age 49.  After just a brief period of joy, grief intensely resurfaced.  Issa’s first child died shortly after birth.  Two years afterwards, his daughter died.  Issa’s wife, Kiku, and a third child later died within three years of one another.


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

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mike Wallace and Reinhold Niebuhr: An interview reviewed

(Mike Wallace in 1957)
For Mike Wallace, religion might never have been a lukewarm topic.  Just the fact that his Russian Jewish family’s surname had been changed from “Wallik” to “Wallace,” and his birth name “Myron” had morphed into "Mike,” may speak volumes about a pressing need to assimilate into the majority culture.

Therefore, it may come as no surprise that when Wallace
interviewed Reinhold Niebuhr on April 27, 1958, he asked this question of the great Protestant theologian:  …Dr. Niebuhr, how do you account for Christian anti-Semitism in the United States?  Dr. Niebuhr replied:  I account for it, first, on the basis of a general human failing.  We misjudge anybody who’s different from us.  The Jews diverge from our type ethnically and religiously…

Perhaps not quite willing to accept that generic a response, Wallace pressed on:  Why does the Jewish stereotype unhappily survive?  Dr. Niebuhr’s reply to this, too, was quite simplistic:  Well, that’s a long story.   It came out of the Middle Ages and was transferred here, according to our American historians, through populism. 
The Jews were the money-lenders of the Middle Ages so there’s a stereotype of the slightly or more than slightly dishonest businessman.  This stereotype covers and obscures all the facts.

This latter explanation says nothing of the fact that Christian anti-Semitism has been around a lot longer than the past thousand years.  It also says nothing about outlandish stereotypes such as Jews with horns, Jews draining the blood of children, Jews responsible for all of a nation’s woes, etc.

To be fair to Dr. Niebuhr, it is impossible to explain centuries of Christian anti-Semitism within one or two
sound bites.  The interview ended on a philosophical note.  After all was said and said, Wallace concluded: 
Dr. Niebuhr would seem to be saying that if a nation would survive and remain free, its citizens must use religion as a source of self-criticism, not as a source of self-righteousness.


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

Monday, April 9, 2012

Stephen Hawking's 'complete mystery'

(Stephen Hawking with daughter Lucy)
Stephen Hawking has certainly had his share of mysteries.  These are not your average “whodunit” conundrums, but rather the types of questions that seers and scientists have been wrestling with for centuries.

New Scientist recently reported that Hawking has been enthusiastically following discoveries made by the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WAMP) –  both of which have been measuring “the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the afterglow of the big bang that pervades all of space.”   The findings of both these satellites support the “theory of inflation, which predicts that the universe underwent a period of breakneck expansion shortly after the big bang…”

New Scientist also reported that Hawking considers the search for supersymmetric partners (of known
fundamental particles) to be the undertaking that could most revolutionize human understanding of the universe.  Evidence of this type of partnering would support the M-theory, “the 11-dimensional version of string theory that is the best stab so far at a ‘theory of everything…’”

Well, almost everything…  At the conclusion of this New Scientist interview, Hawking did admit that there remains one “complete mystery” that he thinks “most about.”  That inscrutable mystsery is “women.”

Certainly, Hawking has “studied” women as much as he has studied other cosmic wonders.  Wikipedia
reports that he has been heterosexually married twice:  the first time for approximately 25 years, and the
second time for approximately 11 years.  Plus, he has a daughter who is an accomplished writer.

This makes for a great deal of female energy within Hawking’s personal universe.  Which just goes to show that inner space can be a lot more daunting than even outer space…


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

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Tim Tebow: Parading Easter on Rabbit Hill

(Easter Parade, Fifth Avenue NYC, 1900)
Tim Tebow is at it again.  This time he will be parading his Easter message in front of an expected crowd of 30,000.  This “event” will take place at the Rabbit Hill Road, Georgetown, Texas campus of the Celebration Church.

Pastor Joe Champion of this church was careful to emphasize the following to KVUE NewsThere will be the sacredness of Easter.  It’s not a Tim Tebow show.  It’s not about a celebrity… Nevertheless, in practically the same breath, Champion also stated:  Obviously, it’s our Super Bowl…

And Champion should know about such Super things…  The church website states that he was “a football player at Louisiana State University” who had “once considered following in his father’s footsteps with a career in the National Football League…”  Champion instead opted to follow in his Father’s footsteps by entering full-time ministry in 1989 “after a life-transforming experience with Christ.”  His wife, Lori, a cancer survivor, co-pastors the church with him.  Her “relational style” of ministry assures women that “no matter what crisis they’re facing or life-stage they’re in, God will use all things for His glory to impact eternity.” 

According to its website, the mission of Celebration Church is threefold:  To Connect People With Christ   To Connect People With Our Church   To Connect People With Their Call.  To these ends, weekly services are held across several campuses in the Austin, Texas area.  As Celebration Church’s twelfth anniversary approaches, thousands are attending these services on a regular basis. 


Copyright April 8, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Capuchin Crypt: Honoring Sister Death

Capuchin Crypt (Photo by stanthejeep)
One of the best-selling travel books of all time is Mark Twain’s humorous account of his 1867 “Great Pleasure Excursion” through Europe and the Holy Land.  Titled The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrim’s Progress, it contains a more-than-memorable description of “the picturesque horrors of the Capuchin Convent.”

While surrounded by the thigh-bone arches and grinning-skull pyramids that the Capuchin Crypt is famous for, Twain could not help but ask a few pressing questions of the monk who served as his tour guide.  The first - “Who were these people?” – was answered simply and to the point:  “We –
upstairs – Monks of the Capuchin order – my brethren.”  At the time of Twain’s visit “the bones of four thousand” were there – and had been painstakingly categorized into separate rooms of skulls, legs, ribs, etc.  This prompted Twain to comment sardonically:  “… there would be stirring times here for a while if the last trump should blow.  Some of the brethren might get hold of the wrong leg, in the confusion, and the wrong
skull, and find themselves limping, and looking through eyes that were wider apart or closer together than they were used to…”

Today’s Capuchin friars (so-named because of the hood “capuche” that is attached to the habit each wears) say that the message of their Crypt is clear:  “death closes the gates of time, and opens those of eternity.”  In the Crypt of the Three Skeletons (one of the six rooms within the overall Capuchin Crypt), this placard (in
five different languages) reminds people that they too shall pass:  What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be…”

The Capuchin Order began in 1520 because of a Franciscan friar’s longing to more closely follow the example of St. Francis of Assisi.  It was St. Francis who said:  All praise be yours, my Lord, for Sister Death, from whose embrace no mortal can escape…  Happy those She finds doing your most holy will…


Copyright April 7, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved