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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Andrew Jackson: Battle of the Soul

(President Andrew Jackson)
If this were a letter from Andrew Jackson to his beloved wife Rachel, it might sound something like this:  “I trust that the god of Isaac and of Jacob will protect you…  in him alone we ought to trust, he alone can preserve, and guide us through this troublesome world.”

According to, Jackson’s wife was “a devout Baptist.”  Wikipedia reports that Jackson’s parents were Scots-Irish Presbyterians who emigrated to  America two years before Jackson’s birth.  Although Jackson didn’t officially join a church until later in life, he wrote in an 1835 letter:  “I was brought up a rigid Presbyterian, to which I have always adhered.”

Although he adhered to Presbyterianism in his personal life, he also adhered to a strict separation between church and state.  When the Reformed Church of North America requested that President Jackson declare a “day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer,” Jackson refused on the grounds that doing so might “in some degree disturb the security which religion nowadays enjoys in this country in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government.”

Just as he compartmentalized religion and politics, he also compartmentalized religion and certain aspects of social justice.  For example, reports that Jackson did not see a conflict between his religious beliefs and his strong support for both slavery and the exile of Native Americans.  (This was somewhat a product of the times – times in which many a professed Christian utilized the Bible to justify domination over non-Christian minority groups.)

During Jackson’s final illness, he clung tenaciously to his faith.  A week before his death, he stated:  “When I have suffered sufficiently, the Lord will then take me to himself – but what are all my sufferings compared to those of the blessed Saviour…”  His last words were these:  Oh, do not cry – be good children and we will all meet in heaven.


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

Friday, June 29, 2012

Note to McCullough: Not special, but holy

The Holy Spirit (by Giaquinto)
In case you’re so special that you haven’t even heard of David McCullough, Jr., let alone his commencement address to a “herd” of 2012 graduates, here’s an instant recap.

McCullough, who has taught English at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts for umpteen years, decided to add a little philosophy to the mix (after all, there are just so many verb conjugations a fellow can talk about).  He shocked the group (and soon the world at large) by making announcements like these:  You are not special.  You are
not exceptional…  Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped…  But do not get the idea you’re anything special.  Because you’re not.   

When the flack began, and accelerated faster than a high-school quarterback, McCullough began to annotate these statements. During an interview with WBUR’s Sacha Pfeiffer, McCullough explained:  If you send a kid out with an inflated sense of self, somebody’s going to pop that balloon.  He said that he didn’t intend his message to be harsh, but rather realistic.  He further explained that not being thought of as special could be quite liberating (in the sense of less performance anxiety and perfectionism). 

So if “special” is gone, then what is left?  McCullough envisions a world in which “everyone deserves to be
treated with respect and taken seriously and cared about.”  If this were the case, then “everyone is special” (which “kind of nullifies the concept of specialness”).  Perhaps a different adjective would then be in order.  Perhaps that adjective is “holy.”

A Course in Miracles has long emphasized the distinction between “special” and “holy” relationships.  In her article The Holy Relationship, Marianne Williamson explains:  In the special relationship, the ego guides our thinking and we meet in fear, mask to mask.  In the holy relationship, the Holy Spirit has changed our minds about the purpose of love and we meet heart to heart.  For the “special” relationship is based upon perceived differences, whereas the “holy” relationship is based upon fundamental unity.


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


Thursday, June 28, 2012

David Foster Wallace: Commencement of consciousness

David Foster Wallace (by Kauserali)
Although David Foster Wallace may not have fully embraced his own wisdom (he died of apparent suicide approximately three years after imparting it to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College), his words continue to resonate with those still treading the path of “life before death.”

Wallace, the son of an Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy (his father, James D. Wallace) and an award-winning Professor of English (his mother, Sally F. Wallace), had his own long list of accomplishments.  Having graduated summa cum laude from
Amherst College with a double major in philosophy and English (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – a cliché he would probably have avoided), Wallace went on to author such lauded works as The Broom of the System and Infinite Jest.  His long-term struggle with depression is well-known; what’s not so well-known is his long-term allegiance to church.  In an article titled The Ferocious Morality of David Foster Wallace, David Masciotra explained, “Wallace was a member of a church at every place that he lived, but he rarely wrote about his faith or discussed it.”   

What Wallace did very openly discuss in his 2005 commencement address was his conviction that “there is actually no such thing as atheism.”  Just as we are “hard-wired” for self-centeredness, we are also hard-wired for worship.  According to Wallace, it’s not a question of whether we will worship, but rather a question of what we will worship.  Some worship “money and things,” others their “own body and beauty and sexual allure…”  Trouble is, these types of worship will “eat you alive” – whereas worshipping “some
sort of God or spiritual-type thing” might give you a fighting chance (oops, another cliché).

So what is it about worshipping false idols that keeps us coming back for more and more?  Wallace attributes this tendency not to sin or evil, but rather to our all-too-human “default settings.”  He describes these “unconscious” habits of worship as the kind “you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that
that’s what you’re doing.”

And the antidote?  According to Wallace, the path to consciousness “involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”    


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

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Emma Goldman: Atheism not surprising

(the young Emma Goldman)
Just as Emma Goldman’s early life experiences “forever soured” her relationships with men, they also seemed to forever taint her relationships with religions.

Wikipedia reports that Emma Goldman grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family from the Lithuanian city of Kaunas (then part of the Russian Empire).  Her mother Taube’s first marriage ended tragically with the husband’s early death from tuberculosis.  Emma
later wrote of Taube that “whatever love she had had died with the young man to whom she had been married at the age of fifteen.” 

Taube’s second husband, Abraham Goldman, was Emma’s
biological father.  From the get-go, this second marriage was fraught with difficulties for all concerned.  Although Taube already had had two daughters, Emma was her first from this arranged union.  Unfortunately, Abraham had instead wanted a son, and perceived this firstborn daughter to be a sign of failure.

Abraham violently punished disobedient children, and Emma became the most disobedient of all her siblings.  During that time, her mother was so emotionally distant that she rarely intervened in these beatings (and in Emma’s case, whippings).  When Emma was a young girl, she also witnessed a peasant being whipped in the street – an incident which “traumatized her and contributed to her lifelong distaste for violent authority.”

Although Emma was also beaten by one teacher, and sexually abused by another – her lifelong love of learning shone through.  After family poverty forced her into childhood labor, she begged her father to let her return to school.  He instead threw her textbook into the fire and shouted, “Girls do not have to learn much!  All a Jewish daughter needs to know is how to prepare gefilte fish, cut noodles fine, and give the man plenty of children.”  While working in a corset shop, Emma was again sexually abused.  Wikipedia explains that she was shocked “at the discovery that the contact between man and woman could be so brutal and painful.”

In 1885, Emma and her sister Helena emigrated to the United States.  (Emma’s father had withheld his permission for this to occur until Emma threatened to throw herself into the Neva River.)  Ironically, the rest
of the family soon joined them in Rochester, New York after “fleeing the rising antisemitism of Saint Petersburg.”

With all this behind her, it seems no wonder that Goldman became “a committed atheist” who “viewed religion as another instrument of control and domination.”  In her essay The Philosophy of Atheism, she
even described religion as “a whip to lash the people into obedience, meekness and contentment…”

Although religion doesn’t have to be that way, it unfortunately often is.  In her 993-page autobiography Living My Life, Goldman wrote:  The people are asleep; they remain indifferent.  They forge their own
chains and do the bidding of their masters to crucify their Christs.

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

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Recovery from Discovery: Doctrine needs doctoring

(Chief Justice John Marshall)
In an article titled “Native American Spirituality,” Green Spirit asserts that there is no overall religion that all tribes have embraced.  Nevertheless, there are certain key aspects of spirituality that tribes have shared over the centuries.  One of the most prominent of these is a “mystical inter-dependence” between the land and the people.

This quote from Apache leader Geronimo helps to explain such
reverence for the land:  “For each tribe of men Usen created He
also made a home.  In the land for any particular tribe He placed
whatever would be best for the welfare of that tribe…  thus it was
in the beginning: the apaches and their homes each created for the
other by Usen himself.  When they are taken from these homes
they sicken and die.”

For centuries, Europeans have also believed that land was created
just for them.  Many came to America seeking a “promised land” in which they could freely worship the God of the Bible.  Just as the Hebrews allegedly displaced the Canaanites in order to lay claim to their Holy Land – so, too, did the Europeans displace those who were already on Turtle Island.  This notion of European (and later American) God-given entitlement to land was codified by a series of papal bulls and court
decisions that came to be known as the Discovery Doctrine.

According to Wikipedia, Romanus Pontifex is a 1455 CE papal bull that “confirmed to the Crown of Portugal dominion over all lands discovered or conquered…”  It also allowed for the enslavement of non-Christians and indigenous peoples.  Inter caetera was a subsequent 1493 papal bull that seemed to grant similar rights to Spain over certain lands.  In 1823, United States Chief Justice John Marshall harkened back
to these medieval bulls when ruling on the now-infamous Johnson v. M’Intosh case.  The gist of Marshall’s decision was that “private citizens could not purchase lands from Native Americans” since the federal government had sovereignty over the land.  Marshall “justified” this decision with a written recap of the “European Discovery of the Americas and the legal foundation of the American colonies.”  This recap was based upon previous papal proclamations that “a European power gains radical title… to the land it

It would be liberating to be able to say, “But that was ages ago, and this is now.” However, Steve Newcomb reported in 1992 that “the United States government still uses this archaic Judeo-Christian doctrine to deny the rights of Native American Indians.” 


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

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hutterites: Taking things literally on national TV

(Photo by Stefan Kuhn)
Whereas most (if not all) Christians are familiar with Acts 2:44 (“All the believers were together and had everything in common.” NIV), few have
embraced this message literally.  Hutterites are among the few who have.

Wikipedia tells us that they originated “in the Austrian province of Tyrol in the 16th century,” but then migrated to Moravia, to Transylvania, to the Ukraine, to the United States, and to Canada – generally for the same reason – in order to escape religious persecution.  It seems that taking the Bible literally has been a dangerous undertaking throughout many phases of history.

These days, however, Hutterites are (ironically) quite popular with the reality-TV set.  The National Geographic Channel is running a ten-part special, American Colony: Meet the Hutterites, which features everyday life within the context of a Montana Hutterite commune.  The Associated Press describes one of the “stars” of this series, Bertha Hofer, as “a widowed mother of three balancing her religion’s strict tenets with her children’s hopes for the future…”  Hutterites in general are described by the AP as “Protestants who are similar to the Amish and the Mennonites,” but “are communal and have no personal property.”

Although “reality TV” may seem like a strange juxtaposition to the Hutterite lifestyle, negotiations for this series have been refreshingly ethical.  The initial contact came through a young filmmaker who had grown up near the commune.  Members of the commune were already favorably predisposed to National Geographic because a 1970 issue of its magazine had “featured a measured, insightful piece on the Hutterites…”

The Hutterites’ affinity for literal communication was honored by National Geographic during this filming process.  It was agreed upon beforehand that there would be no typical reality-TV ploys such as “feeding” dialogue to the participants.


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

Sunday, June 24, 2012

John the Baptist: Good to the bone

(Nativity of Saint John the Baptist)
LiveScience reports that archaeologists discovered yet another reliquary (this one at the site of an ancient Bulgarian church) that allegedly contains some bones of John the Baptist’s. 

When the DNA from this find was recently analyzed, results suggested “that the human bone is all from the same person, it’s from a male, and it has a very high likelihood of an origin in the Near East.”  Radiocarbon dating of the knucklebone’s collagen “pegs its age to the early first century, consistent with the New Testament and Jewish histories of John the Baptist’s life.”

It is thought that a man named Thomas (whose name is also on the reliquary) was charged with bringing these relics to this island site (which is still called Sveti Ivanmeaning “Saint John”) in order for a church to be constructed there. Although this theory has not been conclusively proven (a feat which may never be possible), neither has it been discredited.

In any event, this find has served to reawaken general interest in John the Baptist.  As his June 24th Nativity
approaches, it therefore seems appropriate to revisit some biblical details about his extraordinary birth.  Luke (and only Luke) tells us that John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were elderly and childless when John was miraculously conceived.   Zechariah, a Temple of Jerusalem priest, was visited by the Archangel Gabriel and told that he and his wife would soon have a son (to be named John).

Zechariah was rendered speechless for months to come because he discounted the Archangel’s message.
Once Zechariah upheld this message by later naming his son “John,” not only did his ordinary speech return,
but he was also given the gift of prophecy.  Zechariah was then able to predict the greatness of John’s future ministry.

Saint John’s Feast Day uncharacteristically (for feast days) marks the date of his birth, rather than that of his
death.  According to Luke, John was born six months before Jesus – hence this Nativity date of June 24th.


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

Saturday, June 23, 2012

June Carter Cash: Religious roots

(LOOK Magazine, April 1969)
Although some thought that Walk the Line (a movie about the developing love between June Carter and Johnny Cash) did not focus enough upon their religious roots, executive producer (and their son) John Carter Cash begs to differ.

In an interview with, he stated:  My mother’s faith becomes very evident in watching the film – her strength in God.  He also claimed that his “mother and father were together because of their faith,” and went on to explain that “they always professed it – their faith and their relationship with Christ.”

In his book Anchored In Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash, John Carter Cash presents details of the way in which his mother’s faith first developed.  At the tender age of 14, she professed to see tongues of fire on Pentecost and believed that the Holy Spirit had entered her body.  One of the reasons for her initial attraction to “The Man in Black” was that his style of dress was reminiscent of a country preacher’s.

Beliefnet also presented a series of inspirational quotes by June Carter Cash.  Some reflected a marital philosophy that seems downright biblical.  For example, June summed up her lasting marriage to Johnny Cash in this manner:  I chose to be Mrs. Johnny Cash in my life.  I decided I’d allow him to be Moses and I’d be Moses’ brother Aaron, picking his arms up and padding along behind him.

At her May 18, 2003 funeral service in the First Baptist Church of Hendersonville, Tennessee, June Carter Cash was described as a woman “who loved her God, loved her family and loved her friends.”  Her pastor, Glenn Weekley, nevertheless reminded mourners that June is “in glory today not because of any deeds she
did but because of the deed Jesus Christ did 2,000 years ago when He laid down His life on Calvary.”


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

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ronald Myers: Easing pain, spreading joy

Flags of Freedom (American and Juneteenth) 
For Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D. (the name says it all),
pain is not just confined to the physical  realm.

Ordained by the Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church in
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Dr. Myers nevertheless went on to
make the relief of physical pain a central part of his ministry. 
Wikipedia reports that in 1990, he became “the first ordained
and commissioned medical missionary to America’s poorest
region, the Mississippi Delta…”  This commission came from
the Wisconsin Baptist Pastors Conference, and prompted the following 1990 description of Myers in The New York Times:  “There aren’t many doctors like Ronald Myers, a jazz-playing, Baptist-preaching family practitioner whose dream has always been to practice medicine in the kind of place most other doctors
wouldn’t even stop for a tank of gas.”

While in the Delta, Myers became acutely aware of the terrible conditions that African-American catfish workers endured.  His ministry expanded once again to include their plight.  To this end, Myers founded the National Campaign for Justice and Hope.  Through this campaign, Myers managed to educate national and international audiences about these workers.  Myers also supported an historic (and winning) 1999 class-action lawsuit against the federal government for loan discrimination against Delta farmers.

Rev. Myers is also a leader of the Modern Juneteenth Movement, which is lobbying to make Juneteenth (the commemoration of the federal enforcement of slavery’s end in Texas) a national holiday.  In 1994, Myers was elected chairman of this advocacy effort by a group of peer leaders from across the country who had met at the Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans.  As part of his overall commitment to the popularization of Juneteenth, Myers also founded the National Association of Juneteenth Jazz Presenters.  He performs jazz nationwide, promoting June as “Black Music Month.”


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

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hebrew National: Answering to a legal authority

(Public Domain Image)
According to a class-action lawsuit that was recently filed in a Minnesota federal court, something’s not quite kosher over at Hebrew National.

The Los Angeles Times reported that this suit accuses ConAgra (Hebrew National’s parent company) of “using dirty animals for its meats.”  ConAgra, in a current statement on the Hebrew National websiteclaims that “this lawsuit is without merit” because “Hebrew National’s kosher status is certified by a well-recognized and authorized third party.”

This "third party" is afterwards identified as the “Triangle K organization.” Wikipedia explains that Triangle K “has long been a source of controversy within the Orthodox [Jewish] community.”  This could be because “the overwhelming majority of Othodox Jews only eat glatt kosher,” and “Triangle K continues to certify foods which are not glatt.”

In an article by Rabbi Ari Zivotofsky for (a website which bills itself as “The Premier Kosher
Information Source on the Internet”), it is emphasized that “Glatt Kosher” does not mean “extra kosher.” The term glatt means “smooth” (as in smooth lung tissue), and refers specifically to the absence of lung adhesions that could render an animal treif ("torn").

The degree to which animals are critiqued for defects can determine whether or not an animal will be certified
as kosher.  If a cow’s lungs contain relatively minor adhesions, then that cow might still be considered “kosher” by Ashkenazic (although not by Sephardic) standards.

It therefore seems that “being kosher” is open to a lot more interpretation than, say, “being pregnant.”   An
important question concerning this lawsuit might therefore be the following:  “How has ‘kosher’ been defined within United States law?”  If that question can be reasonably answered, then it might just be possible to ascertain whether ConAgra, Hebrew National and Triangle K have been running “kosher” operations.


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

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Litha: A Midsummer Day's Night

Midsummer Bonfire (Photo by Ralf Roletschek)
Whereas many Northern Hemisphere folks now view the June solstice as summer’s beginning, pre-Christians often viewed it as “Midsummer.”

That’s because May 1st  had already marked the beginning of summer for many Pagan European cultures.  Long before there was a Saint Walpurga (for whom the traditional May Day was renamed), there were bonfire celebrations throughout Central and Northern Europe to honor summer’s life-giving sun.  Such revelry (which also honored fertility) was later frowned upon by the Puritans, who banned it (along with Christmas) for awhile.

Fast forward to Midsummer, which Wikipedia defines as “the period of time centered upon the summer solstice.”  Long before Neopagans renamed it Litha (a choice ironically inspired by the writings of an English monk, Saint Bede), summer solstice was also a major time for Pagan celebrations and rituals. Attention was focused upon the healthful properties of such golden-flowered midsummer herbs as Calendula and St. John’s Wort.  Witches were believed to be “on their way to meetings with other powerful beings.” 
Bonfires were again lit – this time to “protect against evil spirits which were believed to roam freely when the sun was turning southwards again.”

With the Christianization of Europe came the changing of these Pagan holidays into Christian ones.  Although many a determined monk (such as Saint Eligius – with “the face of an angel” and “a hairshirt next to his flesh”) tried to eliminate so-called “diabolical” practices of Pagan rituals, many a Christian celebration ended up incorporating Pagan aspects instead.  Midsummer’s Eve now became St. John’s Eve (in honor of the Nativity of John the Baptist – which, according to the Gospel of  Luke, was six months before the Nativity of Jesus).  However, St. John’s Eve and Day is still heavily associated with revelry and bonfires.


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

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mark Wexler: Why immortality?

           Fountain of Eternal Life (Photo by Notwist)  
There’s an ancient legend about Alexander the Great, who died at the ripe young age of 32.  It is said that he pleaded with his personal physician for just a few more days of life.  When that request couldn’t be granted, Alexander then asked to be laid to rest with open palms facing upward.  This was in order to show the world that in the end, even he was a beggar. 

Nevertheless, immortality has been very much in vogue throughout the centuries.  Religion and science have vied for first place insofar as immunity from death is concerned.  Although many religions teach that only God is truly immortal, they also
promise that God can rescue humans from the clutches of death via salvation, resurrection and/or reincarnation.

In more recent times, science has also come up with some extraordinary “antidotes” to death.  In his documentary How to Live Forever, Mark Wexler interviews Suzanne Somers about her hormone cocktails, Aubrey de Grey about his biomedical rejuvenation strategies, and Ray Kurzweil about his extropian theories.  He also interviews Jack LaLanne about the importance of physical fitness, Phyllis Diller about the importance of humor, and Ray Bradbury about the importance of intellectual stimulation.

However, the “longevity team” loses some ground when Wexler approaches famed surgeon Sherwin Nuland.  Nuland tells Wexler, “It’s my obligation to everything that comes after me that I die within my allotted time.”  Things don't get much jollier with philosopher Pico Iyer, who warns Wexler against being overly attached to life within this transitory world.


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

Monday, June 18, 2012

Clinging or winging? Secret's in the shoes

(Photo by Joe Hastings)
If you’re wondering whether your new date will turn out to be either a clinging vine or a free-spirited bird, sneak a peek at the footwear.

According to Dr. Angela Bahns, Assistant Professor of  Psychology at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, shoes not only reveal people’s personal style, but may also “carry information about their personality traits.”   MSN Health on Today reported on the results of Bahns’ research into such matters.

Bahns’ team gathered survey responses from a group of 63 University of Kansas students who were asked to look at pictures of shoes and then “rate the owners on their personality, attachment style, political bent and… age, gender, and family income.”  These pictures had been collected from a group of 208 University of Kansas students, aged 18 to 55.  This latter group was asked to choose photos of the shoes they wear most often, and was also asked to complete “various online personality tests.”

It came as no surprise that demographics such as age, gender and income were fairly easy to link with photos of average boots and sneakers (which were far more prevalent in this college crowd then, say, Jimmy Choos).  What was a surprise is that the responders were also able to accurately determine the attachment style of these shoe-owners.

Although it currently remains “unclear how people can pick up on attachment anxiety [which refers to how preoccupied you are about rejection/abandonment] by the looks of your shoes” – Bahns’ team theorizes that “visible signs like color or upkeep” might be signaling how laid back (low attachment anxiety) or concerned (high attachment anxiety) people are about appearances.

So if you’re looking to walk the path of Buddhist detachment, perhaps well-worn chartreuse sneakers are the best choice of gear…


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

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Procrastination: What if tomorrow never comes?

(Photo by S Sepp)
The consequences of chronic procrastination - putting off everything from bill paying to yoga practice – could be cumulatively quite devastating.

First of all, some things just can’t be “caught up.”  Doing seven hours of meditation on Saturday to make up for all the one-hour sessions you missed for the rest of the week just isn’t the same.  Think of meditation (or whatever your
spiritual practice is) as spiritual nourishment.  Would eating a week’s worth of meals in one fell swoop have healthful results?

Psychology Today ran an article (first published in August 2003 and last reviewed in July 2010 – time lapse hopefully not due to procrastination…) titled “Procrastination:  Ten Things to Know.”  Before the list even began, writer Hara Estroff Marano made one thing perfectly clear:  “Procrastinators sabotage themselves.”

After talking with “two of the world’s leading experts on procrastination” (yes, there really are such folks), Marano learned that 20% of people “identify themselves as chronic procrastinators.”  What this amounts to is that income taxes are postmarked after April 15th and Christmas shopping competes with Midnight Mass.  It may also result in a compromised immune system (from all that last-minute stress), resentment (from those who inevitably have to pick up the slack), and insomnia (from all that extra worry).  Telling oneself such lies as “I work best under pressure” or “I’ll be more into it tomorrow” only makes things worse - as does turning to alcohol (drugs… fill in the blank) for motivation.

What – then - is the problem?  Why not just leap off the couch right now?

Experts say the problem is threefold:  “thrill seekers” may be looking for that zero-hour “euphoric rush”; “avoiders” may fear failure, preferring that others criticize their effort rather than their ability; and “decisional procrastinators” (those who can’t seem to “get off the fence”) might wish to avoid the responsibilities of taking a stand.


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

Saturday, June 16, 2012

'Dead men' walking: Their final words

(Marie Antoinette at age 13)
If ever a coping mechanism were needed, it would be during the moments before one's execution.

Some condemned prisoners, such as George Appel, utilize a macabre sense of humor.  The final words that he spoke before his 1928 electric-chair execution were these:  “Well, gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel.”  In 1966, James French also emphasized the “pun” in “punishment.”  Before being electrocuted, he morbidly quipped:  “How about this for a headline for tomorrow’s paper?  French fries.”

Others rely upon their spirituality to see them through to the other side. Karla Faye Tucker Brown, executed by injection in 1998, said this:  “I am going to be face to face with Jesus now…  I love you all very much.  I will see you all when you get there…  I will wait for you.”  While in prison for her part in two grisly murders, and before her death-penalty sentencing, Tucker-Brown picked up a Bible and began reading.  Wikipedia reports that she afterwards stated:  “Before I knew it, I was in the middle of my cell floor on my knees.  I was just asking God to forgive me.”  Among the many who later requested that her life be spared were Newt Gingrich, Pat Robertson and Pope John Paul II.

Some wax philosophical, psychological and/or sociological.  Barbara Graham, executed at San Quentin in 1955, made this comment:  “Good people are always so sure they are right.”  Robert Alton Harris, executed by gas in 1992, poetically warned:  “You can be a king or a street sweeper, but everyone dances with the Grim Reaper.”  John Spenkelink, electrocuted in 1979, offered this food for thought:  “Capital punishment:
them without the capital get the punishment.”

Others cannot seem to drop their worldly roles, even at a time like this.  Marie Antoinette, long known for her royal persona, uttered these last queenly words as she met her famous fate:  “Pardon me sir, I meant not to do it” (said to her executioner as she mistakenly stepped on his foot after climbing the scaffold).

Perhaps, though, the most poignant last words are these:  “Today is a good day to die.  I forgive all of you.  I hope God does too.”  These words were spoken by Mario Benjamin Murphy, a Mexican citizen whose 1997 execution by the State of Virginia was in blatant violation of both the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.


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

Friday, June 15, 2012

Happy Abba's Day?

God the Father (by Cima da Conegliano, c. 1515)
Would Aramaic translator Steve Caruso, who labels himself a “Full-Time Dad,” mean that to be a “Full-Time Abba” as well?

Perhaps not…

That’s because Caruso agreed (within a blog post
titled Abba Isn’t Daddy – The Traditional Aramaic
Father’s Day Discussion) that Joachim Jeremias had
misled unsuspecting congregations for all these years.
New Testament scholar Jeremias, who had lived from
1900 to 1979, theorized that the Aramaic word “Abba” was rooted in “child-babble.”  From that (unproven, it turns out) theory, Jeremias went on to surmise that Jesus’ use of the term “Abba” indicated a very special type of intimacy between Jesus and God the Father.

Now that type of intimacy may very well be the case – but it would certainly not depend upon the word “Abba” for verification.  Good thing it wouldn’t... since Caruso goes on to assert that “modern linguistic study of how children pick up speech has completely discounted his [Jeremias’] conclusions of abba as ‘babytalk.’”

Fellow blogger “Andrew” at Declaring the Word pointed out some specifics on why “Abba” isn’t akin to “Da Da.”  Andrew stated that Jeremias had worked with “a severely outdated and widely rejected understanding of word study which attempts to derive the current meaning of a word… on the basis of its history…”  Also, Jeremias engaged in the “dubious” practice of  “making presumptions about the meaning of a word based upon the way it sounds…”  Furthermore, the Aramaic examples that Jeremias worked with “are far too late to be of any help in shedding light on New Testament occurrences.”

Nevertheless, modern-day folks can send “Happy Abba’s Day!” cards on that third Sunday in June since “Abba” is still associated with fatherhood.  Caruso explained that the three instances of “Abba” in the New Testament are all followed by the Greek translation for “the father” (as opposed to “Greek diminutives of father” such as pappas).  And - interestingly enough - Caruso also reported that “Abba” in Modern Hebrew actually can mean “Daddy…”    


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

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Flagging respect: A sign of the times

Once upon a time, being in the presence of the American flag meant showing respect. emphasizes that “respect” is not just a “deferential regard,” but is also very much an action verb.  A traditional show of respect for the American flag included these careful actions:  never carrying it flat or horizontally, never touching anything beneath it (such as the ground or the floor), never using it for commercial advertising purposes, never using it in a way that can easily harm it, considering it as a living thing, never using it as a carrying receptacle, destroying it when necessary in a dignified way, and never using it as wearing apparel.

What a long and winding road we have traveled from traditions such as these to our present-day flag bikinis.  This is indicative of an overall malaise within a society that has replaced respect with abuse, and the once-sacred with the now-hedonistic.  In the 1960s for example, it became not only popular to discredit the flag, but also popular to discredit the veterans themselves.

A 1972 article from the Journal of Clinical Child Psychology titled An editor’s reflections on youth: Toward the liberation of psychology reported that youth have “mocked the Puritan Ethic” – and have not only slaughtered the sacred cow, but also the sacred bull.  To illustrate this “Generation Zap,” a poem by Julian Beck (then-“guru” of The Living Theatre) was included.  It begins, “We want to zap them with holiness…” and continues, “we want to put music and truth in our underwear” [along with the flag and who knows what else?].

Now we’re not saying that the flag (or anything/anyone else for that matter) should be idolized (or even idealized).  But we are saying that respectfully challenging America’s wrongs, or prophetically zapping America out of her complacency, takes a whole lot more doing than barely covering one’s you-know-
what with the stars and stripes.


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

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Veriditas: Hildegard's herbal healing

(Saint Hildegard of Bingen)
When 12th century Saint Hildegard of Bingen coined the word veriditas (or viriditas), she was expressing her intimate knowledge of God’s green helpmates.

The term veriditas is a combination of the Latin words for “green” and for “truth.”   Von Bingen’s perceptions of the relationship between healing herbs and God’s truth can be found throughout her bountiful writings.  One of her poems, titled O most noble Greenness and translated by Jerry Dybdal and Matthew Fox, goes like this:  “O most noble Greenness, rooted in the sun, shining forth in streaming splendor upon the wheel of the Earth.  No earthly sense or being can comprehend you.  You are encircled by the very arms of Divine mysteries.  You are radiant like the red of dawn!  You glow like the incandescence of the sun!”

The sacred poetry website, Poetry Chaikhana, interprets this “Greenness” to mean “the essence of life everywhere present.”  It can also be interpreted as the Tree of Life, or as the evergreen which is “always green and vibrant, even during winter, the season of death and withdrawal.”  Within the Christian tradition, the evergreen is therefore also a symbol of Christ.  And the “incandescence” that glows like the sun?  Perhaps Saint Hildegard is “drawing a parallel with the burning bush Moses witnessed in the desert,” or is suggesting that the “Greenness” is rooted in Heaven.

The Herb Companion reports that Von Bingen believed herbal healing to be “both medical and miraculous.”  She wrote that “these remedies come from God…”  Hildegard described a natural blessed cycle in which “God transmits life into plants, animals, and gems.  People eat plants and animals and acquire gems, thus obtaining viriditas.  They, in turn, give that life out by practicing virtue…”

One of Saint Hildegard’s favorite herbs was fennel, which she praised for reducing “mucus and all rottenness…”  She also recommended tansy for dry coughs and stomach distress, rue juice for sore “brown eyes,” and lavender wine for painful liver or lungs.


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