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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Genetic kindness: A roll of the nice dice

(Photo by Diacritica)
In answer to Einstein’s famous pronouncement that “God does not play dice with the world,” Stephen Hawking had this to say:  “Not only does God definitely play dice, but He sometimes confuses us by throwing them where they can’t be seen.”

Nevertheless, scientists are seeking to throw more and more of a spotlight upon God’s rolls.  Where the dice eventually land may be anyone’s guess, but where they first bounce might be somewhat predictable.  For example, research is now pointing to the existence of “nice genes.”  These aren’t Levis or Wranglers, but rather genetic predispositions towards kindness.

According to the journal Psychological Science, researchers at universities in Buffalo, New York and Irvine, California have found some correlation between DNA and “nice” social behavior.  This is not a direct correlation between a specific gene and a good-hearted nature, but rather one factor within a web of complex connections. 

The genes that were studied are receptor ones that bind the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin (both of which “are thought to effect how people behave toward each other”).  A total of 711 people provided saliva samples for DNA analysis, and answered survey questions indicating their feelings toward the world and their behaviors toward other people.  Study results showed that “people who think the world is a threatening
place were less likely to help others – unless they had versions of the receptor genes that are generally
associated with niceness.”

Researcher Michael Poulin commented:  We have found a gene that makes a contribution [to “niceness”], but I think there’s something cool about the fact that it only makes a contribution in the presence of certain feelings people have about the world around them.  These “certain feelings” may be the  “wild cards” in God’s deck, the ones that create a holy balance between strict determinism and the dreams that stuff is made of. 


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

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

WPHO surveillance cameras: What would Buddha say?

Here's looking at you (Photo by Quevaal)
We might only be able to guess what Buddha would say
about the growing use of surveillance cameras that monitor
activities of everyday citizens. 

We do know, however, that a group of professed Buddhists
from the World Peace and Health Organization (WPHO) in
Amsterdam, New York has not only recently donated 20
surveillance cameras to Amsterdam’s police department, but has also played a role in deciding where they shall be placed.  These cameras had been donated to the WPHO by an unnamed “student” who had “serious health problems before he started studying the teachings of the Buddha” - who “flew from mainland China to the U.S.” and donated them.  John Becker of The Leader Herald also reported that Jennie
Wong (a WPHO “spokeswoman”), along with other WPHO members and city officials, “toured the city… to look for locations to place the cameras.” 

Not only does this sound a little too much like the Amsterdam, New York walls between “church and state” are crumbling, but it also sounds like a surprisingly “new” version of Buddhism.  Last some of us heard, Buddha had preached against attachment to bodily states (as well as to government “states,” for that matter). 
Therefore, an allegedly grateful Buddhist who is so pleased about his own state of health that he is donating surveillance cameras to be used by a small-city government in another nation halfway around the world might just raise a few mindful eyebrows…

As for the overall moral implications of these surveillance-oriented actions?  Emrys Westacott - in his Philosophy Now article “Does Surveillance Make Us Morally Better?” – has a lot to say about that. Although surveillance might, indeed, cut down on crime (at least in the short run) – it also tends to cut down on moral strength and personal accountability.  In other words, people might be better behaved while spied upon, but they are being motivated by fear (of being caught, of being punished, perhaps of worse…) rather than by conscience.  As governments (and, historically worse yet, religions along with them) continue this
surveillance trend, the opportunities for inner strength to develop become less and less.

And last some of us also heard - Buddhism is far more about inner strength than it is about outer controls… 

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Zen Zone: Elijah's wasn't just a Man Cave

(Grotto of Elijah, Mt. Carmel)
First there was the Man Cave.  In response to that came the Mom Cave.  Then came the practice of surprising so-called everyday folks with their own, often ritzy, “caves.”  However, the first words from one newly-gifted recipient were simply:  I love it.  It’s so…  me.

This “me” goes beyond gender.  It is the universal “me” (or lack thereof) that needs both time and space to blossom.  The aforementioned recipient of what Good Housekeeping aptly termed a “Zen Zone” is a custom-service manager who has - within the past five years - lost a 22 year-old son, lost a parent, provided shelter and care for struggling in-laws, seen another son serve as a Marine overseas - yet still finds strength to volunteer at local events “for a giving, not a living.”  This strength can be replenished within the 10 by 17 foot Zen Zone that now serves as a “sanctuary” right within the home. reports that Elijah’s Cave is a natural “long single hall (14 x 8 x 5M), with small cavities in its eastern and northern sides,” which is “located on the bottom of the foothill of the north-western corner of
Mount Carmel.”  It is considered to be “one of the most sacred caves in the Holy Land” because this is where Elijah famously connected with that “still small voice” within. gives guidelines for creating a special meditation space.  This space can even be as small as one corner of a room.  However, that corner should then only be used for meditation.  Since “every purpose has its own vibration,” that corner will “become charged and it will wait for you every day.”  The cumulative vibrations will make it easier to go more deeply into meditation.  It can also be helpful to follow a specific meditation schedule in order to accustom your brain to this practice.  Since “the mind is a mechanism,” utilizing the same time and place each day “will create a hunger for meditation.”


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

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day: Remembering Edicts of Toleration

The Peacemakers (1868)
As Decoration Day evolved into Memorial Day, forgiveness trumped enmity.  Along with forgiveness came toleration of those “on the other side.”

The ironic thing about toleration is that you don’t necessarily have to like (or agree with) what others are thinking, feeling, saying, doing – you merely have “to recognize and respect” their “rights, beliefs or practices.”  Thus explaineth the Free Online Dictionary.

Tolerance is not one of those knee-jerk human responses. It needs to be carefully nurtured, and – at times – legislated.  A review of history’s salient Edicts of Toleration tells a story of mighty struggles along the way to increased unity amongst
opposing religious forces.

A number of such edicts paved the way for Christianity to morph from a persecuted minority into an eventual theocracy.  Wikipedia reports that early Christians were looked upon as “odd creatures: not quite Roman, but not quite barbarian either.”  This was because many of them “rejected public festivals, refused to take part in the imperial cult, avoided public office, and publicly criticized ancient traditions.”  Persecutions against them were first incited by mobs, then by local officials, and finally by emperors such as Maximin, Decius and Diocletian.  The 311 CE Edict of Toleration by Galerius, plus the famous 313 CE Edict of Milan by Constantine and Licinius, not only officially ended these persecutions, but also made Christianity legal throughout the entire Roman Empire.

Centuries later, other edicts were needed to help end wars between various factions within Christianity.  In
1562, Catherine de Medici’s Edict of Saint Germain was aimed at ending “insistent persecution of non-
Catholics (mostly Huguenots).”  However, within just a few short weeks, a massacre of Huguenots “began open hostilities in the French Wars of Religion.”  In 1568, King John II Sigismund of Hungary’s Edict of Torda broadened previous Christian grants to include the Unitarian Church.  In 1689, England’s Parliament
passed the Act of Toleration.  Although this Act was meant to protect Protestants, it was not very tolerant of Roman Catholics.  

In 1773, the Tolerance Edict of Katharina II of Russia “promised the toleration of all religious denominations in the Russian empire, except for the large number of Jews…”  In 1812, Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia
extended an edict which helped protect the rights of Prussian Jews.  In March 1844, there was even an
Edict of Toleration, brought about by pressure from the British government, “allowing Jews to settle in the Holy Land.”  Imagine that…  

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

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost: Cloven tongues of fire - how so?

Some parallel translations of the famous “tongues of fire” Acts 2:3 passage read as follows:  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. (NIV) And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire,
and it sat upon each of them. (KJV)  They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated, and one rested on each of them. (ISV)

As is often the case with biblical translations, these three differ somewhat in meaning.  Whereas the ISV and KJV call what they saw “tongues,” the NIV states that they saw “what seemed to be tongues…”  Barnes Notes on the Bible reminds us that the word “tongue” is used in varying ways.  Although it can literally refer to the body part which is best kept in check, it can also refer to that which is shaped like a tongue.  Therefore, the “tongues of fire” could have been “slender and pointed appearances” of flame.  The imagery of tongues also paved the way for the glossolalia that would ensue.

Michael Barber of The Sacred Page referenced the Book of Enoch (1 Enoch) while discussing “tongues of fire.”  He points out that 1 Enoch 14 includes a description of a “heavenly temple” in which everything was built with “tongues of fire.”  Barber then theorizes that the “tongues of fire” New Testament imagery was meant to symbolize “the heavenly dimension of the Church’s existence.”  

The Pentecost “tongues” have also been biblically described as “cloven” or “separated.”  “Cloven,” the past participle of “cleave,” simply means “split” or “divided.”  In order to individualize the experience of the Holy Spirit, it was necessary for the initial fiery “tongue” to split into fragments that could then “rest” upon each blessed recipient.

Fire had already been associated with the Holy Spirit.  Matthew 3:11 includes this quote from John the Baptist:   “I baptize you with water for repentance.  But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  The “fire” that appeared on that first Pentecost was not necessarily a physical one.  It was the Holy Spirit, alighting upon each and every one of God’s faithful children.  


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

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Shavuot: King David's birth and death

King David in Prayer (Pietro de Grebber, 1600s)
Jewish tradition tells us that Shavuot – a holiday which annually occurs on the 50th day from the start of Passover – not only commemorates the revelation of Torah, but also marks both the birth and death of King David.

The Book of Ruth is generally read during Shavuot. Ruth was originally from Moab, which Rabbi Doniel Baron states was ironically “the lowliest of nations, known for its cruelty, especially to the Jews, and overt promiscuity.”  The name “Moab” literally means “from my father,” and has been traced back to the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughter.  Baron therefore compares Ruth’s rebirth as a Jew and subsequent position (great-grandmother) in the lineage of King David to the “national march from Passover to Shavuot.”

As part of a “Shavuot Day Two Yizkor Sermon,” Rabbi Bill Rudolph elaborated upon some legendary aspects of King David’s birth.  When God created the world, He is said to have “allotted a set number of years to each human being who would ever be born.”  King David was originally supposed to die in infancy.  However, when Adam (the first human being) heard of this, he begged God to give David 70 years of his own ample allotment.  This God did, which is allegedly how King David ended up living until age 70. additionally tells us that David received a prophecy that “he will die on the Sabbath, so every Sabbath he studies Torah all night and all day.”  This kept the Angel of Death at bay for quite some time - until one day, “on a Sabbath that was also Shavuot,” the Angel tricked David into losing his protective 
concentration upon the Torah.  King David thus became, in a metaphorical sense, the harvested grain of Shavuot.  (In the Ancient Near East, grain had often been “represented by a romantic and tragic male figure.”)         


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

Friday, May 25, 2012

Spousal caregiving: Often a sacrificial rite

Those who have taken the literal or spiritual vow “…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, ‘till death do us part…”  have often committed themselves to a lifelong sacrificial rite.

Down the road, that “sickness and in health” part may begin to loom large within the innermost chambers of the partnership.  This is often referred to as “spousal caregiving” and has a host of circumstances all its own.   For example, the Journal of the American Medical Association states the following:  “… if you are a spousal caregiver between the ages of 66 and 96, and are experiencing ongoing mental
or emotional strain as a result of your caregiving duties, there’s a 63% increased risk of dying over those people in the same age group who are not caring for a spouse.”

According to, overwhelmed caregivers may exhibit these symptoms:  lack of energy, sleep loss, neglect of dietary and exercise needs, depression, resentment, substance abuse, and missed health-care appointments.  Certainly, these seem to paint a collectively dim picture of “in sickness and in health.”  Fortunately, there is quite another side to this high level of sacrifice.

Science Daily presents some heartening results from a UCLA study on marital commitment.  The study indicates that deeper levels of commitment can help predict “lower divorce rates and fewer problems in marriage.”  Thomas Bradbury of the Relationship Institute explains that there are two distinct levels of relationship commitment – one which says, “I like this relationship and I’m committed to it” - and the other which more emphatically states, “I’m committed to doing what it takes to make this relationship work.” 
Bradbury concludes:  When people are in it for the long term, they are often willing to make sacrifices and view themselves as a team…


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

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Moral Quotient: Trumps IQ and EQ

The Holy Spirit (Giaquinto, c. 1750s)
Loys de Fleuriot, author of MQ: Moral Quotient, is described on the website as “one of the forerunners of the Apostolic Prophetic mode in Canada.”

Wikipedia links the Apostolic Prophetic Movement to “the Five-Fold Ministry described in the New Testament book of Ephesians,” which includes apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  It is a movement that is rooted in Charismatic/Pentecostal Christianity (which emphasizes direct personal experience with God that is rooted in the Holy Spirit) - and is considered Primitivist because “it defers more to the authority of original documents and doctrines than to later developments and elaborations transmitted by the authorities of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.”

Loys and his wife, Sharon, immigrated from South Africa to Canada in 1997.  They then planted Freeway Church in Toronto, which focuses upon “friendship before function.”  According to the church website, Jesus Christ is more important than either meetings or methods.  The only “law” is the “law of love.”  Although Scripture serves as a “bedrock” of values, it cannot be fulfilled “outside of an intimate and Holy Spirit quickened relationship with Jesus.”

In his Moral Quotient/Morality Heals video, Loys explains that on the one hand there is religion and its commandments, and on the other hand there is recklessness and licentiousness.  However, there is also True Morality, which stems from God and manifests in heartful and healing relationships. 

Although secular humanists tend to think that all morality comes from inborn social reflexes, Loys states that IQ and EQ alone cannot produce that which is worthy of passing along to future generations.  He stresses honesty over hypocrisy – and points out that Jesus criticized hypocrites far more than sinners.  Loys says that we need to take honest stock of ourselves in order to realize what the fallacy of not needing God in our lives has produced.


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

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dark matter: Invasion of the WIMPs

Dark Matter around Milky Way (Artist's Impression by ESO) 
It should come as no surprise that the WIMPs
(weakly interacting massive particles, thought to be the “stuff” that dark matter is composed of) have been invading our physical bodies since God knows when.  After all, it says right from the biblical get-go that “darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

This “darkness” could very well have been dark matter, “an invisible substance thought to make up five-sixths of all matter in the universe.” Charles Choi of MSNBC’s Space calls dark matter a “ghostly” substance with properties that are thought to be “intangible.”  So how do we know it’s there?  Choi explains that its presence is detectable because of its
gravitational pull.

Choi also lets slip that you and I - even as we read this article - are being bombarded with billions of these dark-matter particles “rushing through us every second.”  Before a collective ouch wells up, it is also pertinent to realize that most of them just whiz on past our many other bits and pieces.  Rarely does one so much as collide with even an oxygen or a hydrogen nuclei (which is a relief - since hydrogen and oxygen comprise the majority of the human body’s atoms and mass).

However, such collisions do take place - and more often than scientists previously thought.  Does this mean that we’re in danger of being blown to smithereens?  Perhaps, but probably not by WIMPs.  As their name implies, the amount of radiation that WIMPs emit is considerably weaker than that of other common environmental components.

In other words, if the WIMPs don’t get you, the radon might.  Remember, God only promised that there would never again be a world-destroying flood.  He wasn’t nearly as specific about radioactivity.


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

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Football: Interfaith spirit in Thailand

Ever since the recent suicide of Tiaina Baul “Junior” Seau Jr., people have been questioning whether the overall “cost” of football is just too steep.  It is therefore heartening to note that football is once again making uplifting headlines such as this AFP one:  Football bridges religious divide in Thai south.

According to this article, Muslims and Buddhists in Thailand’s troubled south have been sharing a “passion for football.”  This has fostered an “elusive peace” between the two groups after years of bloodshed.  Since 2004, there have been approximately 5,000 lives lost in the “near-daily bomb or gun attacks against both Buddhists and Muslims.”

Just last month, Newsweek Magazine ran an article subtitled:  A deadly Thai insurgency has Buddhists scramblingfor guns.  This insurgency, reportedly led by “ethnic Malay Muslims,” rallies around the belief that the three southernmost provinces that border Malaysia (and have a Muslim majority) should be “independent of Thailand, where more than 90 percent of the rest of the population is Buddhist.”

Wikipedia states that out of Thailand’s entire population of 64 million, approximately 94% is Buddhist and 5% Muslim.  The remaining 1% includes Christian (mainly Catholic), Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, Confucian, Taoist, and Animist adherents.  Although Thai law generally provides for freedom of religion, the activities of certain groups are restricted.  A 2006 “bloodless coup d’etat” resulted in a repeal of the 1997 constitution which had “required that the monarch be a Buddhist.”

Although the repealed 1997 constitution had also required the state to “promote good understanding and harmony among followers of all religions,” it seems that football is now helping to accomplish what government alone could not.


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

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sensory overload: Weighing us all down

Allegory of the Five Senses (1668 AD)
When people hear the term “sensory overload,” they often equate it with a disability such as Asperger’s Syndrome.  However, because sensory overload - in and of itself - is quite disabling, one does not have to suffer from a DSM-IV illness in order to feel the
devastating effects of too much stimulation.

According to HealthDay, researchers at the University of Antwerp, Belgium recently reported that the use of earplugs “within the first 24 hours after admission to the ICU decreased patients’ risk for delirium or confusion by more than 50 percent.”  In a typical ICU, patients who need their sleep the most are kept intermittently awake by “interruptions of phones ringing and people talking.”  The earplugs helped to offset the severe sleep fragmentation that these patients generally experience.

In businesses (and even households) around the world, people pride themselves upon the ability to multitask.
It has long been thought that multitasking leads to greater efficiency.  Researchers, however, have been
proving that unitasking (focusing upon one task or project at a time) is actually far more effective.  In his Harvard Business Review article titled How (and Why) to Stop Multitasking, CEO advisor Peter Bregman personally attests to the following benefits of unitasking:  It was a delightful experience; stress
dropped dramatically; significant progress was made with challenging projects; tolerance for wasted time
decreased; patience for useful and enjoyable things increased; and – amazingly – there seemed to be no downside to this focused way of doing things.

Bregman also refers to a Hewlitt-Packard study which found that “infomania” (the constant interrupting of tasks in order to check e-mails and text messages) resulted in a 10-point drop in IQ (“more than twice that found in studies of the impact of smoking marijuana”).

If Thich Nhat Hanh were that kind of a Buddhist monk, he might respond to these findings with a resounding “I told you so!”  For years, he has been teaching about the virtues of mindfulness - as well as about the  disadvantages of constantly letting the “monkey mind” swing from stimulating branch to another. 


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

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Solomon: Could he have been a know-it-all?

(Solomon with Temple Plans)
After all these centuries of hearing about King Solomon’s wisdom, some might be wondering whether his cohorts ever got a word in edgewise.

Solomon wasn’t always so wise.  However, he was wise enough to know what to pray for.  After becoming co-regent of what was then the United
Monarchy (the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah had not yet split) along with his then-aged father King David, King Solomon was approached in a dream by the Lord Himself. 

According to 1 Kings 3, God then stated to the young Solomon:  Ask what I shall give thee.  Rather than ask for women and song (that came later), Solomon simply requested wisdom.  He specifically asked for “an
understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad…”  1 Kings 10 tells us that “the whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.”

Two of those who “sought audience” with Solomon were women who each insisted that a certain child was hers.  In a famous incident now known as the “Judgment of Solomon,” the king responded by suggesting that this child be cut in two so that each woman could have her share.  When one of these women rushed up to him begging that the child be spared, Solomon had his answer.  He knew that she was the real mother of the child and gave the (whole) baby to her.

Solomon’s wisdom spilled over into the works that he allegedly authored – biblical works such as Proverbs,
Ecclesiastes, and the Song of [who else?] Solomon – and apocryphal works such as The Wisdom of [who
else?] Solomon.  However, it did not necessarily spill over into his relationships with (hundreds of) women.
According to Wikipedia, some of these 700 wives (and maybe even a few of his 300 concubines) led Solomon astray.  According to 1 Kings 11, the Lord punished Solomon for this by “tearing the kingdom in

Perhaps Solomon compensated for follies such as these by flaunting his wisdom at all who would  (or had to) listen.  Imagine hearing him spout one aphorism after another over dessert.  After a while, even the most poetic of these insights could become grating.  If so, his loyal subjects had only to follow these 5 Ways to Outfox a Know-It-All  that MSN Healthy Living suggests:  Master the “Yes, but…”; Present your facts in a non-threatening way; Ask about alternatives; Initiate a closing without pushing for an apology or a concession; and [listen up, this one’s really key] Realize you have a choice about how much to take.  


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

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Emerald Tablet: Once written, 'Thrice Great'

(Hermes Trismegistus, Siena Cathedral mosaic)
Emeralds - in and of themselves - have been viewed as precious for centuries.

Therefore, when Hernan Cortes had the Latin text of Matthew 11:11 (English translation – with reference to John the Baptist: “ Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater”) inscribed on an exquisite emerald that he had “discovered” in Latin America, the 16th-century historian Brantome was horrified by this “sacrilegious” addition to one of nature’s simple gifts.  In fact, Brantome was so appalled by this act that he attributed Cortes’ subsequent loss of an extremely valuable pearl to it.

However, not everyone felt that way about the engraving of sacred text upon nature’s gems.  The Emerald Tablet of Hermes (which may not have been emerald at all - but rather green granite, green jasper, or green glass according to has been revered for centuries by those of many faiths.  According to Wikipedia, it is “a text purporting to reveal the secret of the primordial substance and its transmutations.”  Its author is said to be Hermes Trismegistus, which can be translated into English as “Hermes the Thrice-Greatest.“

What makes Hermes the Thrice-Greatest (and not merely the Twice-Greatest)?  Isaac Newton, who deemed the Tablet important enough to make his own translation of it, wrote that Hermes had “the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world.”  Some think that the name was derived from this echoing epithet of the Egyptian god Thoth:  “Thoth the great, the great, the great.”  Others of Christian persuasion (such as
Augustine of Hippo) believed Hermes to have anticipated the coming of Christianity.  Some thought Hermes to be a contemporary of Moses - and that he was a “Thrice Great” philosopher, priest and king.


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

Friday, May 18, 2012

Perry Como: What you see is what you get

(Perry Como in 1956)
People thought that Perry Como was “Mr. Natural” because he wore a sweater on national TV.  However, his propensity for natural good taste went way beyond just that.

Como was born into a Roman Catholic family that had immigrated to Canonsburg, Pennsylvania from Palena, Italy.  Out of the 13 Como children, Pierino (“Perry”) was the first to be born in the United States.  The family spoke Italian at home; therefore, Perry did not learn to speak English until he began school.  He never had a voice lesson, but was taught to play musical instruments at a young age.  His father, an amateur baritone, paid for all of his children to have music lessons, even though he could barely afford to do so.

Young Perry began working at age 10 in a local barber shop.  Wikipedia reports that “despite his musical ability, Como’s primary ambition was to become the best barber in Canonsburg.”  By age 14, he had mastered barbering well enough to have his own shop.  He took over the barber-shop area of a Greek coffee house, and was soon singing his way through the haircuts he gave.  He became known as a “wedding barber” who would sing romantic songs to the groom while preparing him for the big event.  As a result, Como would receive many gifts from the groom’s family and friends.  Como was proud of his working-class background, and years later shaved Kirk Douglas’ beard on TV.

Como also respected his religious roots.  While he and his childhood sweetheart Roselle were celebrating
their 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to Italy, they had a somewhat private audience with Pope Pius XII.  Como (who made it a habit to avoid drawing attention to himself while attending Sunday Mass at his home church) was unpleasantly surprised when photos of this visit with the Pope made international headlines.  After checking into the source of these headlines, Como discovered that the Vatican’s own press department had contacted the media. 

Although Como’s holiday performances of Ave Maria were hugely popular, he refused general requests for it, explaining that “It’s not the time or place to do it.”


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

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Eboo Patel: Standing up and speaking out

Various Religious Symbols (Reguly)
Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller, who lived from 1892 to 1984, was once one of Hitler’s supporters.  However, when Niemoller later opposed Nazi control of the German Protestant churches, he was imprisoned in concentration camps for eight years (and almost
executed).  As a result of this harrowing persecution, Niemoller grew to regret his former lack of concern for Nazi victims.

Niemoller’s famous statements that began with the phrase “First they came…” reflected this hard-earned, heartfelt regret.  One version goes like this:  First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.  Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a
trade unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.  Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Interfaith pioneer Eboo Patel has been tirelessly working to stem today’s continuing tide of social and religious persecution.  In an article for The Huffington Post titled Attacking Mitt Romney, Attacking Faith, Patel points out that the latest “M” word is “Mormon” rather than “Muslim.”  In the true spirit of Niemoller’s later wisdom – Patel, a Muslim, recognizes the importance of speaking out against Mormon-phobia.  Also once guilty of having remained silent in the face of blatant anti-Semitism, Patel feels that he then failed his own faith by not living up to what it means to be a Muslim.

Patel now emphatically and publicly asserts:  My faith teaches me to stand up for those who are suffering, especially if they don’t share my faithIt is what Muslim heroes from the Prophet Muhammad to Badshah Khan did.  Patel then cites other examples of such steadfastness - such as Bonhoeffer’s support of Jews in Nazi Germany, and Skye Jethani’s support of Muslims during the “Ground Zero Mosque” debates.


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

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tallahassee: East of Eden

Noah's Ark (from a painting by Edward Hicks)
Those who think that Florida is as close to the
Garden of Eden as they’ll ever get might just be right. 

Fun in the sun aside, Baptist minister Elvy E.
Callaway believed that the original Garden of Eden was forty-something miles west of the
Florida state capital, Tallahassee, near Bristol
in Liberty County.  (Haven’t heard of Bristol?
Perhaps that’s because only about 900 people
live there, according to the 2005 U. S. Census Bureau statistics.)

Travel writer Rory MacLean describes modern-day Bristol as “a small dusty town of dirt roads, shabby bungalows and yawning caravans.”   However, when MacLean journeyed there in search of the elusive Adam’s apple, he got more than he ever bargained for.  According to one of the City Hall locals (interestingly named Willy Prophet) - not only is Bristol nearby the original Garden of Eden, but it is also nearby the original Noah’s Ark.

How so?  According to Prophet, “…if you check the tides and currents of the oceans that was probably
at that time, you’ll find that they’d carry a vessel without a rudder straight from Bristol to Mt. Ararat.”  Not only that, Wikipedia reports that Torreya taxifolia (commonly known as “gopher wood” – which is also
what the wood of Noah’s Ark has been called) is a rare and endangered species that can be found in the Bristol region.

Callaway had also pointed out that the Apalachicola River, which flows near Bristol as part of its 112-mile
trip from the Florida/Georgia border south through the Panhandle, “is fed by four primary tributaries or ‘heads,’ exactly like the river described in the Book of Genesis.” also explains that in the area identified by Callaway as the Garden of Eden, “there are rare plants and animals, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.”


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

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Boast if you must, but only in the Lord

(from National Institute of Health)
What do you do when someone just goes on and on
about his or her accomplishments? 

Do you sit through it all while nodding and smiling
“appropriately,” or do you begin quoting biblical
passages such as theseAnd Mary said: “My soul
glorifies the Lord.”   (Luke 1:46)  In God we make
our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever. Selah (Psalm 44:8)  My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.  (Psalm 34:2)  Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”  (1 Corinthians 1:31)

Before judging your “me, myself and I” companion too harshly, consider these results from a recent study on self-disclosure.  Harvard University researchers Diana Tamir and Jason Mitchell found that “self-disclosure was strongly associated with increased activation in brain regions that form the mesolimbic dopamine system, including the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area.”  Translation (courtesy of Bragging Brings You  As Much Pleasure As Sex.

In fact, Wikipedia reports that “every reward that has been studied increases the level of dopamine
transmission in the brain,” and that dopamine has been found to play “a major role in the brain system that is responsible for reward-driven learning.”  Disclosing information about the self is therefore intrinsically rewarding – so much so that “individuals were willing to forgo money to disclose about the self.”


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

Monday, May 14, 2012

33: As powerful as numerologists say?

David's Star (Photo by Roy Lindman)
For ages, 33 has been heralded as a “master number.” Numerology, which The Free Dictionary defines as “the study of the occult meanings of numbers and their supposed influence on human life,” describes those rare individuals whose birth dates reduce down to 33 as “Master Teachers.”
explains that Master Teachers focus upon “reaching the world and uplifting the loving energy of mankind.”

Within his 33 Mysteries Facts pages, Adam C. Burke lists many reasons why 33 can be called “a number with special significance.”   Wikipedia also reports that 33 has special applications within math,
science, history, and religion.  For example, “a normal human spine has 33 vertebrae when the bones that form the coccyx are counted individually.”  The Star of David can be numerically represented by the number 33 (two three-sided triangles).  The expression “Amen” can be
numerologically reduced to 33.  Jesus is said to have performed 33 miracles - and to have been crucified at
age 33 in the year 33 A.D.

If all that weren’t enough, a recent survey by Friends Reunited Media Centre reveals that “33 Is The Magic
Number” because “This Is The Age Brits Are At Their Happiest.”  The results show that 70% of all those 40-plus year olds who participated in the survey claimed that they were “not truly happy” until they reached the age of 33.  Why would this be so?  Psychologist Donna Dawson theorizes:  The age of thirty-three is enough time to have shaken off childhood naivety and the wild scheming of teen-aged years without losing the energy and enthusiasm of youth…  We have yet to develop the cynicism and world-weariness that comes with later years.  


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

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Shared NDEs: Unto death don't we part

Researchers such as Dr. Raymond Moody and P. M. H. Atwater have been educating the public about near-death experiences (NDEs) since the 1970s.  Skeptics have continued to doubt the veracity of such experiences, theorizing that they are hallucinations resulting from brain damage and oxygen deprivation.

As research began to shift from individual near-death
experiences to shared and group near-death experiences,
it became more and more apparent that the NDEs of
physically healthy people were remarkably similar to those of dying people.  In fact, it also became more and
more apparent that healthy people were able to somewhat accompany others through death and into the afterlife.

During a video interview by Paul Perry, Dr. Moody
explained that many a physically-healthy bystander has reported seeing the spirit of a dying person rise out of the physical body and pass through the ceiling.  This spirit has has been described as a globe of golden light, as a grayish cloud, or as a transparent replica of the deceased individual.  Some bystanders have also reported seeing the geometry of the room change (e.g., from cube-shaped to hour-glass shaped) at the time of the death.  Others report participating in a panoramic life review of the newly-deceased individual.  Many insist that there are just no words to fully describe these shared NDEs.

Nevertheless, Kevin Williams of attempts to convey at least some of their aspects.  He presents one story about a group of fire-fighters that were trapped in a forest full of flames.   As one of them “found himself looking down on his body which was lying in a trench,” he also saw “other fire-fighters standing above their bodies in the air.”  Williams calls this a Group NDE. 

Williams also presents this example of  a Shared NDE.  The German poet, Karl Skala, was huddled together with his best friend in a World War II foxhole.  When a shell hit and killed his friend, Skala felt his friend’s physical body “go limp with death.”  Suddenly, Skala “felt himself being drawn up with his friend, above their bodies and then above the battlefield.”  Skala reports that they both began traveling towards a bright light together.  Skala then “stopped and returned to his body,” whereas his friend kept heading into the light.


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

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sophie Tucker: First of the Red Hot Yiddishe Mamas

("Red Hot" Sophie Tucker in 1917)
When Jack Yellen wrote the lyrics to My Yiddishe Momme, he  was caught in the cross-currents of the old and the new.  “Old” were the memories of his own formative years back in Poland, memories warmed by the love of a Yiddishe mother.  “New” was the stardom of Sophie Tucker, the singer whose stage persona might have made Yellen’s actual Yiddishe Momme cringe.

Yellen’s song lyrics (also recorded by Connie Francis, Neil Sedaka, Jackie Wilson, and the London Festival Orchestra) include descriptions such as these:  There sat the sweetest angel…  I’d like to kiss that wrinkled brow…  She never cared for fashion’s styles…  So old and gray…  How few were her pleasures…  These images were not exactly in sync with Tucker’s own “Red Hot Mama” one.

Although Tucker was also born in the “old country” (in her case, the Ukraine), her family was anxious to adapt to their new American homeland.  They changed their surname from Kalish to Abuza, one of many image adjustments for young Sophie.  At 17, she married Louis Tuck (which is how she derived the name “Tucker”). The marriage (like her two later ones) did not last all that long, but produced a son named Bert.

Wikipedia reports that Tucker went on to play piano and sing “burlesque and vaudeville tunes.”  She became wildly popular, emphasis upon “wildly.”  This was partially due to her carefully-cultivated persona, which included the delivery of such hits as “You Can’t Deep Freeze a Red Hot Mama” and “He’s Tall Dark and Handsome.”  She was not particularly known for hanging out in the back rooms of three-story tenement flats, but was instead spotlighted in everything from radio to film to television.  

Nevertheless, when Tucker sang My Yiddishe Momme, people sat up a little straighter in their seats.  After all, actual Yiddishe Mommes would expect no less. 


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

Friday, May 11, 2012

Breast is best: Love others as Mom loved you

(1684 Painting by Siemiginowski)
Attachment parenting takes the dictum “love one another” quite seriously, but includes one significant substitution.  Rather than emphasizing an initial connection between child and God, it instead prioritizes an initial bonding between child and parent.

Coined by pediatrician William Sears (the “Dr. Bill” of talk-show fame), the phrase “attachment parenting” rests upon developmental-psychology principles of attachment theory.  According to Wikipedia, the most important tenet of attachment theory is that “an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver in order for social and emotional development to occur normally.”  This works best when that primary caregiver is “sensitive and responsive” to the needs of the child.

The Attachment Parenting website states that this isn’t a new theory, but rather “a return to the instinctual behavior of our ancestors.”  The website further claims that “the newborn’s rooting, sucking, and crying reflexes evolved to ensure the close proximity of a mother” (or other close caregiver) who can be depended upon to meet intense needs.  It heralds breastfeeding (or its substitute “bottle nursing”) as the best way to develop such intimacy.

Other Attachment Parenting “Commandments” include the following:  prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenting; feed with love and respect; respond with sensitivity; use nurturing touch; ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally; provide consistent and loving care; practice positive discipline; and strive for balance in your personal and family life.

Since carrying out all eight of these principles (while posing for the cover of Time Magazine, no less) can be quite a feat,  Attachment Parenting also provides some burn-out tips.  Simplify!  Breathe!  Repeat often: 
“This too shall pass!”  And don’t forget to “use yoga, meditation or visualization.”


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

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hillary Clinton: Well, she is not Seventeen

Airbrush (Photo by Michel90)
If Seventeen Magazine had its way, teens might be taught that life’s three essentials are food, water and airbrushing.

One teen, eighth-grader Julie Bluhm, managed to recently offset that unhealthy (and in certain circles, sinful) message by leading a protest outside the New York City doors of the Hearst Corporation (which owns Seventeen).  This enterprising young lady also garnered 25,000 international signatures on her petition in favor of this protest.  Bluhm was quoted by ABC Nightline as saying:  We want to show Seventeen that we love our body just for who we are and we don’t need Photoshop to fix us…

It seems that Hillary Clinton couldn’t agree more.  After her own recent headlines – which didn’t just focus upon her commendable accomplishments during her trip to Asia, but instead emphasized that she did not wear much makeup and (even) wore glasses to an official Bangladesh event - Clinton was asked by CNN’s Jill Doherty about these “newsworthy” personal choices. Clinton’s stance turned out to be as refreshing as Bluhm’s.  She replied:  I feel so relieved to be at the stage I’m at in my life right now, Jill, because if I want to wear my glasses, I’m wearing my glasses.  If I want to pull my hair back, I’m pulling my hair back.  (ABC News explained that this latter reference was to criticism Clinton had received for sometimes tying her hair back with “a dated hair tie.”)

Those struggling with extreme poverty in Bangladesh (just as those struggling with anorexia) might not have the energy to care whether a Seventeen model has a real-life freckle, or whether Clinton’s scrunchie has been pronounced dated.  Furthermore, people in Bangladesh might (hopefully) have a far different concept of beauty than Madison Avenue’s.  Wikipedia reports that 89.5% of Bangladesh’s population is Muslim.  In an article subtitled In Search of Body Beautiful, Ifrat Azad writes:  In Islam, beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder.  Beauty is in the whole of creation, because Allah – the One free of all imperfections – is the one responsible for it…  So it is from the wisdom of Allah that He has chosen to create some of us short, others tall, some fat, some thin, some dark-colored, some light – all are beautiful and perfect in their own right.


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

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Animals in Heaven: For real?

(Photo by Ohnoitsjamie)
Those who have read Todd Burpo’s Heaven is for Real account of his son Colton’s near death experience (NDE) might be wondering whether that NDE (and Heaven itself) is really for real.

When four-year-old Colton began talking about what happened when he left his body during an emergency hospitalization, his parents began listening intently.  According to the book’s Prologue, Colton specifically recalled that angels sang Jesus Loves Me and Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho to him, but that they would not sing the rock-and-roll song he later requested.
The description that Colton gave of one of the angels matched that of his deceased great-grandfather as a young man.

After accurately stating what his mother (talking on the phone) and his father (praying) were doing while in other rooms during his surgery, Colton went on to describe what “Heaven” was like.  He claimed to have met Jesus - and John the Baptist, too.  He also met a sister whom his mother had miscarried (without ever having told Colton) years before.  Sometimes Jesus (who had marks on his hands and feet) was teaching children, and other times he was riding a rainbow-colored horse.  Colton also reported that “there were all kinds of animals everywhere.”

This last statement addresses a question that pet-lovers have been asking for centuries:  Do animals go to Heaven?  According to, “Muhammad is said to have conversed with animals.”  However, “the Qur’an places humans on a higher plane than animals.”  Although Judaism places a great importance upon the proper treatment of animals (as do Islam and Christianity), it considers humans to be “superior to all other beings in creation.”   A belief of many Christian theologians is that “since animals don’t have souls they will not go to heaven in the conventional sense.”  However,  it may be possible that a pet owner will “see his or her pet in heaven as part of his/her own paradise.”


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


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Teachers and the Establishment Clause

Madison (first author of Bill of Rights)
Let’s say you’re a public school teacher who’s been getting some questions from students such as these:  Mr. Jones, what’s your religion?  Ms. Smith, do you believe in God? 

For fear of breaching that “wall of separation,” do you just quickly change the subject without even acknowledging the inquiry? Perhaps you instead seize this opportunity to convince young minds
about the virtues of your particular beliefs.  If either of these responses seems knee-jerk correct, read on.  Quickly.

A online publication titled A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools discusses these and other related dilemmas.  As concerns the above two questions, this guide states that the teacher may choose to simply answer that “it is inappropriate for a teacher to inject personal beliefs into the discussion.”   However, if the teacher does not mind disclosing such beliefs, and the students are of a comprehending age and maturity level, “the teacher may answer at most with a brief statement of personal belief – but may not turn the question into an opportunity to proselytize for or against religion” (and “may neither reward nor punish students because they agree or disagree with the religious views of the teacher”).

And what about the students?  Are they “allowed” to express their own religious traditions within the public
schools?  The answer is mainly “yes” if done privately (such as praying before tests, reading Scriptures, saying Grace before meals).  This religious expression must not be utilized as a substitute for school assignments or as a means of converting others.  If student beliefs are expressed within assignments, these assignments should be judged by “ordinary academic standards” rather than upon the beliefs themselves.


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