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

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Four Species of Sukkot

(Waving of the Four Species)
Sukkot (aka "Feast of Tabernacles" or "Feast of Booths"), is one of only three biblical holidays which mandated that adherents journey to Jerusalem.  The Hebrew word sukkot refers to the booths (walled structures - "tabernacles" covered with plant material) that the Israelites lived in during their forty-year desert Exodus.  This biblical "Feast of Ingathering" has strong agricultural roots.   

Wikipedia reports that in Leviticus 23:40 the following four Sukkot plants are specified:  ets hadar ("magnificent trees" – identified by
the Talmud as etrog "the fruit of a citron tree), tamar ("palm trees" - identified by the Talmud as lulav "a ripe, green, closed frond from a date palm tree"), ets avoth ("boughs of thick trees" -
identified by the Talmud as hadass "boughs with leaves from the myrtle tree"), and aravah ("willows of the brook" – identified by the Talmud as aravah "branches with leaves from the willow tree").

Eliyahu Kitov of Chabad.org explains that these Four Species "also allude to the body."  Vayikra Rabbah 30 compares the spine of the lulav to a human spine, the hadas to the eye, the aravah to the mouth, and the etrog to the heart.  That is because each of the Species (fruit, leaves, etc.) is somewhat similar in shape to these corresponding body parts.  Utilizing all Four Species together during Sukkot rituals symbolizes the dedication of one's entire being to God.

Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukkot
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Species
http://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/6659/jewish/All-My-Bones-Shall-Declare.htm

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




Saturday, September 29, 2012

Maat: Libra's ancestor

(Medieval Libra Symbol)
Although astrology considers Libra to be a "masculine" (meaning "positive" or "extrovert") sign, it is often depicted as a female who is balancing the scales of justice and truth.  This
depiction is very similar to that of Maat, the Ancient Egyptian goddess of law, morality and righteousness.

Wikipedia explains that Maat's original role was to "set the order of the universe from chaos at the moment of creation."  She then helped to prevent Creation from reverting back to chaos.  However, she has since become primarily focused upon insuring the orderliness of individual souls.

Maatinus.com explains that adherents of the Ancient Egyptian religion Kemet believe that Maat weighs the soul, so to speak, by placing the heart of a deceased person on a scale that is counterbalanced by a feather which symbolizes cardinal virtues.  Prized virtues of Kemet include the following: control of thoughts, control of actions, devotion of purpose, faith in your teacher and yourself when seeking the truth, being free from resentment, and being able to
distinguish right from wrong and real from unreal.    

Kemet also includes the Admonitions of Maat (aka "42 Declarations of Innocence").  Some of these are the following:  I have not stolen from God, I have not cursed God, I have not closed my ears to truth, I have not made anyone cry, I have not caused disruption of peace, I have not polluted the water, I have not taken food from a child, I have not polluted myself, and I have not placed myself on a pedestal.

Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libra_(astrology)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maat
http://www.maatinus.com/Nguzo%20Saba/maatprn.htm

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


Friday, September 28, 2012

Mean Stinks: Secret's out


Secret deodorant, made by Proctor & Gamble, offsets (although not necessarily healthfully) the kind of stink that can result from wholesome physical activities.

There is, however, another kind of stink that even Secret (with its allegedly-toxic chemicals) can't just kill with the flick of a roll-on stick. This kind of stink comes from deep inside and lurks within the corridors of countless middle/high schools.  This is the stench of meanness – a stench that can overpower some of the most well-intentioned young ladies.

To Secret's credit, it has therefore partnered with "best-selling author and girl-expert Rachel Simmons" in order to help end the girl-to-girl
mean streak for good.  Rachel Simmons began studying female aggression at Oxford University, which she attended after winning a Rhodes Scholarship.   Rachelsimmons.com reports that she is the "co-founder and director of the Girls Leadership Institute," as well as a "Leadership Development Consultant for the Center of Work and Life at Smith College."

On the Secret Mean Stinks Facebook page, there is a link called "You might be a bully if…"  This catchy section points out these four ways that girl-to-girl bullying can occur:  Social Bullying (ruining reputations with gossip and rumors), Indirect Bullying (pretending something mean was "just a joke"), Relational Bullying (coercion via silent treatment and threats), and Cyberbullying (posting mean things online).

Resources

http://www.natural-skincare-authority.com/secret-deodorant.html
http://www.secret.com/WHATSNEW/post/2011/02/03/Secret-Thinks-Mean-Stinks.aspx
http://www.facebook.com/meanstinks/app_115173861886252
http://www.rachelsimmons.com/about-rachel/rachels-bio/

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




Thursday, September 27, 2012

Divorce regrets: Some better than none

(Image by Fibonaci)
While riding past a local church the other day, I happened to notice this message on the outside board:  Appreciate what you have before it becomes what you had.

In this age of "no regrets," moving on all too often entails a knee-jerk response to marital breakups.  Even within the worst of situations, there are kernels of truths to learn from.  However, many relationships simply wither on the vine from a lack of attentiveness.  MSN Living's Kristin Wong reports on lessons "learned the hard way" from those who have experienced the heartbreak of divorce.

These lessons were categorized by psychologist Terri Orbuch who "has been conducting a study on 373 couples since 1986."  Of these couples, 46 percent have divorced, and 44 percent have remarried.  Particularly interested in their tough lessons learned, Dr. Orbuch found that there were "five main areas of regret."

Four of these areas fit right in with standard pastoral teachings.  They are as follows:  expressing love (this includes helping a partner to feel good about who he or she is), letting go of the past (including strong feelings about an ex), letting go of blame (analyzing in terms of "we" rather than simply in terms of "you" or "I"), and opening up about yourself  (regularly communicating thoughts and feelings).

The fifth area of regret has to do with money.  Dr. Orbuch presents this alarming statistic:  49 percent of those divorced said they fought so much over money in their past relationship, they're certain it will be a problem in their next one.  Dr. Orbuch's advice?  "Talk money more often," and "not just when it's tax time…"  Wong also points out that "six of 10 divorced people who started a new relationship chose not to
combine finances the next time around."

Resources

http://living.msn.com/love-relationships/the-heart-beat-blog-post?post=b89cf051-74a0-4932-a78a-89e99f3c9c88

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












Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Meditation: Same stress, different brain


By his own admission, neuroscientist Richard Davidson used to be "much more volatile."  The good news is that the frequency of his visibly-
angry episodes has "dramatically changed over the last 10 years in particular."

Although Davidson leads a self-described "very stressful life," he has found an effective way to remain fairly calm.  In the article Changing
our brains, changing ourselves, Lea Winerman of the American Psychological Association's Monitor reports that Davidson begins each day with a 45-minute meditation session.  Meditation has helped him to non-judgmentally attend to his emotions rather than to perseverate upon  them.

Seeking to discover why meditation can effect such beneficial change, Winerman interviewed Davidson with some key questions about brain function.  Davidson explained that 40 years ago emotion was regarded as a "primitive kind of psychological process" that was kept in "the basement of the brain."  Cognitive scientists
therefore used to view emotion as "just something that interrupts cognition."

These days, however, neuroscientists have come to realize that emotion plays a significant role in cognitive functions such as decision-making.  Davidson believes that the prefrontal cortex - rather than just the limbic system and brain stem - is integrally involved with emotion.  He cites neuroimaging studies which show a strong connectivity between prefrontal activation and the amygdala.

Davidson states that mindfulness meditation can teach people to "pay attention nonjudgmentally" to their emotional interactions, particularly the negative ones.  In this way, meditators can learn to bounce back from difficult experiences as opposed to traumatically replaying them.    

Resources
http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/brains.aspx

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


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Life on Mars: Christian speculations

"Face" on Mars (NASA Photo)
These days, people seem Curiouser and Curiouser about the possibilities of life on Mars.  However, this is nothing new.  Wikipedia explains that there have been speculations about such possibilities for
centuries, "owing to the planet's proximity and similarity to Earth."

David Wilkinson, in his 2004 Plain Truth article Missionaries to Mars? The religious implications of the search for life in the Universe, points out that "the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
(SETI) can in part be traced back to a Christian motivation."  He cites historical giants such as Kepler and Galileo, as well as lesser-known
figures such as astronomers Bentley and Huygens (all of whom contended that moons and suns apart from Earth's own were created by God in order to assist beings who lived in places other than Earth).  Wilkinson then offers this quote from Christian cosmologist Edward Arthur Milne:  Is it irreverent to suggest that an infinite God could scarcely find the opportunities to enjoy himself, to exercise his godhead, if a single planet were the seat of his activities?

Although some have contended that the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) would undermine the Christian belief in a special relationship between God and humans, Wilkinson points out that "special" does not necessarily mean "exclusive."  He compares the "special but not exclusive" relationship between God and God's people to the relationship that a human parent might have with each of his or her many children.

Another issue that has certainly been on Christian minds is this:  If intelligent extraterrestrials do exist, have they also sinned?  (If so, did Jesus come for them as well?  If so, did Jesus incarnate in more than one world?  If so, was He also crucified and resurrected in each of those incarnations?)

Wilkinson concludes that our search for life on Mars is essentially religious in nature.  It is part of a longing to relieve our "cosmic loneliness," to figure out who we are and why we are here, and to seek a better life elsewhere.

Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_on_Mars
http://www.ufoevidence.org/documents/doc1711.htm

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








Monday, September 24, 2012

Holy hip-hop? Maybe yes, maybe no

(Tupac Statue in Herford, Germany)
As I write these words, strains of hip-hop are wafting through my neighborhood.  Sometimes from a passing car, often from an upstairs listener…  There are times when the lyrics are sweet and/or sassy – there are also times when the air turns blue with four- and five-letter shrieks.

Holy hip-hop?  Perhaps.  Religious hip-hop?  According to Monica Miller, perhaps not.

When Nancy Haught of the Religion News Service recently interviewed Miller, author of the "new book" Religion and Hip Hop, she got a somewhat-cynical earful.  Haught therefore reports on Miller's contention that "looking for religion in hip-hop is a risky
proposition."

How so?  Haven't there been many religious-sounding references in numerous hip-hop presentations?  Hasn't hip-hop become so
religiously acceptable that even "In some traditionally African-American divinity schools… old-school black preaching, is giving way to intricately rhyming rap"?

Maybe so.  However, Miller cautions that what you hip-hop hear is not necessarily what you religiously get.  Haught further explains that "religious language sometimes sells rather than saves."  Haught then presents the following "edited for length and clarity" statements of Miller's:  We assume hip-hop artists are making meaning for themselves through the use of religious language… But some scholars are giving religion too much credit… What I'm getting at is, if you're looking for a very neat religious or theological
system of belief in his [Tupac's] work, it's not going to make sense.  He represents human complexity.

"As does religion," I'm sitting here thinking as the silence between rap songs finally closes in.

Resources
http://www.religionnews.com/culture/entertainment-and-pop-culture/qa-with-hip-hop-expert-monica-miller

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


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ganesh Chaturthi: Saving the elephants


Only days after this year's festival of Ganesh Chaturthi (which celebrates the birthday of Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati), Hindu religious leaders have banded together with Christian and Muslim ones "against those slaughtering thousands of elephants and rhinos across Africa each year."

This past Thursday evening, these leaders "grasped hands and prayed" while "standing before a pile of charred elephant ivory" in
Kenya's Nairobi National Park.  NBC News reports that "Asia's high-dollar demand for ivory tusks and rhino horn powder" is luring
poachers who can earn more that way than "after years of labor in the typical village job."  Therefore, "the number of rhinos killed by
poachers in South Africa has risen from 13 in 2007 to 448 last year," and "tens of thousands of elephants are being killed by poachers each year."

Ironically, it is the demand for ivory religious icons that is helping to fuel these massacres.  The October 2012 issue of National Geographic features an article titled Blood Ivory (along with this caption:  Thousands of elephants die each year so that their tusks can be carved into religious objects.  Can the slaughter be
stopped?).     

Wikipedia reports that Ganesha became an elephant-headed god because of a mother elephant who was seen crying for her dead baby.  Elephants are widely known for such compassion.  If only poachers could learn from their example before extinguishing it perhaps forever…

Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganesh_Chaturthi
http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/21/14014828-christian-muslim-and-hindu-religious-leaders-unite-to-help-stop-slaughter-of-elephants-rhinos?lite
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/10/ivory/christy-text

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





Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mabon: What's in a name?


Although the name "Mabon" has been around for
centuries - Wikipedia reports that it is "derived from
the Common Brythonic and Gaulish deity Maponos,
meaning "(Divine) Son", Aidan Kelly breathed new
life into it circa 1970.

That is when Kelly, whom Wikipedia describes as "an American academic, poet and influential figure
in the Neopagan religion of Wicca," linked this ancient name to the Autumnal Equinox ritual of
thanksgiving.  This ritual focuses upon the fruits of the Earth.  Neopagans believe that the sharing of these fruits is necessary in order to "secure the
blessings of the Goddess and the God during the coming winter months."  This festival is also known as Harvest Home, Mean FomhairAlben Elfed, and Feast of the Ingathering.

Mabon ap Modron (meaning "Divine Son of Divine Mother") is said to have been one of King Arthur's followers.  Arthur and his men allegedly rescued Mabon from a Gloucester prison, years after Mabon was "stolen from his mother's arms when he was three years old."  King Arthur discovered Mabon's whereabouts by consulting with "the salmon of Llyn Llyw," the oldest and wisest animal of all.  Mabon then joined Arthur's hunt for the "enchanted wild boar" Twrch Trwyth.

Although Kelly's life has had some dramatic twists and turns of its own (such as a reported vision of the Goddess at age 15), Wikipedia states that he was leading a relatively quiet life in New Orleans as an ITT Technical School instructor (while continuing to pursue his fascination with words).  This fascination continues via his Tacoma, Washington publishing company named Hierophant (Ancient Greek for "an interpreter of sacred mysteries and arcane principles") Worsmiyj (perhaps meaning "Wordsmith"?).  

Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mabon_(Wicca)#Autumnal_Equinox
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aidan_Kelly
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hierophant

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


Friday, September 21, 2012

Theoretical cosmologist: God who?

(Hubble Ultra Deep Field)
In her LiveScience.com article titled Will Science Someday Rule out the Possibility of God?,  Natalie Wolchover explains that Sean Carroll (a theoretical cosmologist from the California Institute of Technology) "says there's good reason to think science will ultimately arrive at a complete understanding of the universe that leaves no grounds for God whatsoever."

According to Wolchover, Carroll bases this prediction upon the progress that physics and cosmology have made in understanding "the origin and evolution of the universe." 
He seems to perceive each new quantum theory as somehow
nibbling away at "God's sphere of influence."

A study of Carroll's own article titled Does The Universe Need God? reveals that Carroll is particularly speaking of the biblical God – the God of this Genesis quote:  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  Taking this quote literally, one can conclude that there was a beginning and that the Universe is therefore not infinite.  Theories that speaks of the Big Bang as just a phase would not fit well with conclusions of this sort.  Nor would theories that speak of a multiverse with endless roll-of-the-dice combinations (for it has been widely rumored that God is not the gambling kind).

However (and may science always leave wiggle-room for the "howevers"), Carroll himself admits (in his first few paragraphs, no less) that there could be other interpretations of Who (What?) God actually is.  He states:  In some ways of thinking about God, there's no relationship at all; a conception of divinity that is sufficiently ineffable and transcendent may be completely separate from the workings of the physical world.

And that's just one way of looking at It (S/He?)…  There are, of course, many others – as well as ways we haven't even begun to conceive of.

Resources

http://news.yahoo.com/science-someday-rule-possibility-god-115945479.html
http://preposterousuniverse.com/writings/dtung/

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


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jesus-wife humor: Not everyone is laughing


It seems particularly ironic that jokes about Jesus' "wife" are rampant at a time when Middle Eastern Muslims are allegedly rioting over insensitivities concerning their own religious leader.

A number of such "humorous" comments have been widely circulated in response to a September 18, 2012 Esquire blog post by Charles P. Pierce.  Pierce - who describes "the belief of this blog" to be that "the only correct answer to the question, 'Is nothing sacred?' is 'No' – also assures readers that "there will be fun."  The following are some examples of the "fun" that readers had with Pierce's Good News from Smart People: Jesus and the Wife post:

I heard that Mrs. Christ once referred to the Apostles as "you people", and that was the last of her public appearances.  (Pat Healy)

OMG, 2000 years of nuns, all bigamists. (Phil Malthus)

Next thing you know, they'll be saying his mom wasn't a virgin.   (Judy Easley)

"Jesus Christ.  Will you please put your socks in the hamper, please?"   (Blair Maury)

Pish and tosh.  They could find Jesus' wedding ring and his tux rental receipt.  Biblical literalists are
going to believe what they want.   (Joe Moran)

These are some of the milder and more insightful comments.  Others are downright crude.  Whereas belittling remarks about other religions are often condemned the world over - belittling remarks about Christianity seem to be tongue-in-cheek "cool" back here in the U. S. of A.

Resources
http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/jesus-wife-12824136

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


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Omid Safi: Muhammad's own responses

(Muhammad and Angel Gabriel)
Rather than assume what Prophet Muhammad's responses might be concerning the recent anti-Muhammad "film," Professor of Islamic Studies Omid Safi went right to the source.

Having done extensive biographical research and writing about                             Prophet Muhammad, Safi sought answers to the question "What would Muhammad do?" within Muhammad's own living example.
Within a September 16, 2012 Religion News Service blog, Safi reports that "for the majority of his 23 years as a prophet, he [Muhammad] confronted almost constant assault, insult, persecution, exile, defamation, attempts at his life, and even stoning."  He further states that "those insults, and Muhammad's responses to them, are a matter of readily available historical record."

Safi then recounts the story of Muhammad's triumphant return to Mecca after years of exile and vicious persecution.  At that point, Prophet Muhammad had an essential choice to make - "whether to exact revenge on those who had persecuted him, or seek another path."  Muhammad sought another path – the blessed path of mercy.

Within his book Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters (pages 149-151), Safi gives this specific example of Muhammad's mercy:  Muhammad came face to face with Hind, who had devoured the liver of Muhammad's uncle Hamza.  When she declared her intention to embrace Islam, Muhammad simply said to her: "Welcome."      

Resources

http://www.religionnews.com/about/authors/omid-safi
http://www.religionnews.com/blogs/omid-safi/how-would-prophet-muhammad-respond-to-the-anti-muhammad-film

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Megachurch mania: Up, up and away


Congregants who attend church alongside thousands of their closest friends often feel swept away by the experience.

This megachurch "high" has been documented by a University of Washington research study titled "God is like a drug: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches."  The Religion News Service explains that megachurch dynamics can be comparable to those of large concerts and sporting events. Researcher Katie Corcoran reports that feelings of megachurch
worshippers seem to be "somewhat unique" in that they "are not just experienced as euphoria but as something transcendent or divine."  (However, one has to also wonder whether many secular fans perceive their "superstars" as demigods…)

Megachurch "highs" are induced by some of the following worship-service components:  modern upbeat music, charismatic leaders, emotional rather than intellectual messages, small-group adjunct activities, and the
large-screen projection of particularly dramatic audience responses.  All this results in what researchers have called an "oxytocin cocktail."  God's love was described as "a drug" by one congregant, and another stated that "you can look up to the balcony and see the Holy Spirit go over the crowd like a wave in a football
game."  (Tebow, anyone?)

Lest this seem like a passing fad, Religion News Service offers this statistic:  "An estimated 10 percent of American Protestants --  6 million worshippers -- regularly attend one of 1,600 megachurches."

Resources
http://www.religionnews.com/faith/clergy-and-congregations/Does-megachurch-high-explain-their-success

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


Monday, September 17, 2012

Headache? Try some 'truth serum'

Statue of Truth (Photo by Colin Rose)
According to Notre Dame researcher Anita Kelly, being dishonest could be one big headache for all concerned.

When half of the 110 participants in Kelly's "science of honesty" study were instructed to cease telling lies (major and minor) for ten weeks, these participants experienced "tangible mental and physical health benefits" that included fewer "headaches, sore throats, tenseness, anxiety and other problems than those in the control group."  This group also reported having improved relationships during the time of enhanced truth-telling.  (Hard saying which came first, the mental/physical health benefits or the improved relationships – but it's a worthwhile "package deal" nevertheless…)

According to HealthDay reporter Maureen Salamon, "Americans average 11 lies per week."  These not only entail the "whoppers about integrity, fidelity or other serious matters," but also include the "little white lies to save face or falsely compliment others."  Is it therefore even possible to progress from spouting habitual falsehoods to being a member of the "Thou shalt not lie" set?  And if so, how?

Rather than omitting white lies only (lies which Kelly contends can also be trouble with a capital "T"), you
might wish to consider reducing (rather than totally eliminating) across-the-board types of lies. That latter goal would not only be realistic, but could also yield the aforementioned benefits.  Kelly noted that some of her research participants were able to reduce their overall lying by exaggerating about their accomplishments
less often and by responding to "sticky" questions with deliberate distractions.
  
Resources
http://www.womenandinfants.org/encyclopedia/details.cfm?chunkid=NRCN667335&db=nrcn

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



Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tashlikh: Casting off sins

(Photo by Tiago Fioreze)
The famous saying from Ecclesiastes, "cast your bread upon the waters," has been interpreted in many different ways.  Some say that it means to give generously of your wealth - others theorize that it's just another way of saying "nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Casting sins upon the waters is a whole other matter.  The prophet Micah (Micah 7:18-20) stated the following:  Who is a G-d like you? You forgive sins and overlook transgressions for the survivors of your People;  He does not retain His anger forever, for He loves Kindness; He will return and show us mercy, and overcome our sins, And You will cast into the depths of the seas all their sins;  You will show kindness to Yaakov and mercy to Avraham, As You did promise to our fathers of old.

When celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, Jews take these words of Micah to heart.  They do this by gathering at bodies of water and reciting this passage (along with some of the Psalms).  The custom of throwing crumbs of bread (symbolizing sins) into flowing water is also part of many Rosh Hashanah rituals.  Ou.org tells us that these Tashlich (aka Tashlikh) words are "preferably recited alongside a body of water
containing fish, to remind us that just as fish are protected by the water in which they live, we pray to be protected by G-d."

Wikipedia reports that Tashlikh customs have been traced back to Rabbi Jacob Molin (circa 1425 CE).  In ancient times, the historian Josephus referred to Jews having "their places of prayer by the sea, according to
the customs of their forefathers."   

Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tashlikh
http://www.ou.org/chagim/roshhashannah/tashlich.html
http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/eccl11.html

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

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Shofar: Sounds like Rosh Hashanah

(by Alphonse Levy)
Animal horns that were used by their original owners to signal dominance and defense will soon be used by Rosh Hashanah worshippers to signal holiness and awe.

These instruments - known as shofars - are traditionally fashioned from rams' horns, but can also be obtained from the horns of any Bovidae animal except the cow.  Bovidae horns consist of keratin, which can easily
be hollowed out (as opposed to antlers, which consist of bone).  Whereas Sefardi and Ashkenazi shofars are generally made from the horns of domestic rams, Yemeni ones are usually made from the horns of kudus.

Wikipedia reports that the shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah honors God's kingship and commemorates Isaac's near sacrifice.  The Bible mentions the following types of shofar sounds:  t'qiah (bass) and teruah
(treble).  Talmudic interpretations of such biblical references have resulted in a mix of "moaning/groaning" and "staccato beat" blasts of the horn. Most Rosh Hashanah services include a minimum of 30 blasts, and many include 100 or 101.  It is even customary to add 30 more after the service
has ended in order "to confuse the Adversary."

It is a sacred honor to be the Ba'al T'qiah (shofar sounder, aka "Master of the Blast").  Traditionally, a God-fearing man who was steeped in the Torah was chosen.  These days, however, "a far more diverse group of Jews are asking their rabbis for shofar lessons."  The Religion News Service reports that Jennie Litvak, "an accomplished trumpeter who took lessons from Dizzy Gillespie as a girl growing up in Montreal," will be the Ba'al T'qiah this Rosh Hashanah at Congregation Adas Israel in Washington, D.C.

Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shofar
http://www.religionnews.com/faith/doctrine-and-practice/On-the-Jewish-New-Year-look-whos-blowing-the-Shofar

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




Friday, September 14, 2012

Paul Harvey: The rest of his story

(Paul Harvey in 2005)
Although Paul Harvey broadcasted much about the lives of others, his own has remained somewhat of a mystery to millions of fans.

For example, many might be unaware that Harvey's father was murdered when Paul was only three years old.  This occurred as the result of an armed robbery.  Many might also be unaware that Paul proposed to the love of his life, Lynne Cooper, after only "a few minutes of conversation" (she said "yes" a year later, making for a happy rest of that story).

The religious life of Paul Harvey has also been somewhat unknown to the public.  Wikipedia reports that Harvey had been "a close friend of Reverend Billy Graham."  From approximately the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties, Harvey attended Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois.  Calvary's current website describes this church as "a diverse community who has been meeting… since 1915."  It is further described as non-denominational, Gospel rooted, God-centered, discipleship-focused, community-engaged, and mission-minded.

Wikipedia also explains that Harvey "associated with various congregations of different denominations."  One of these was the Camelback Adventist Church in Scottsdale, Arizona (the city where he and his wife often wintered).  Adherents.com describes Harvey as "a convert to the Seventh-day Adventist Church" who
"was baptized into… [this] church around the year 2000."  This would explain why Harvey "often quoted Adventist pioneer Ellen G. White in his broadcasts…"

Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Harvey
http://www.calvarymemorial.com/who-we-are/
http://www.adherents.com/people/ph/Paul_Harvey.html

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



    

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Happiness is a warm pancake

(Photo by Brandon Martin-Anderson)
When you're used to having nothing but oatmeal day after day, happiness can be as simple as having a warm pancake (or three) instead.

Thus spake the author(s) of MSN Living's article 10 Secrets to a Happy Life.  Along with research-based "secrets" such as "smile" (fake it until you make it), "dance, play, move" (it's all about the endorphins), "share a laugh" (more endorphins), create a work/
life balance (Sabbath anyone?),  and "help others" (beginning with simple acts of kindness) – is the adventurous-sounding "change your routine, try something new."  (Note:  "Have a happy marriage"
or "committed partnership") is also one of these "10 secrets.")

Why "try something new" when it seems so much easier (and perhaps safer) to just stay in the groove (rut?)…  According to this article, "because research shows that people who regularly engage in new experiences have more positive emotions than people who don't."  Not only that, "scientists know that keeping our brains stimulated – learning new things and trying new activities – is a great way to keep memory and motor skills intact as we grow older."

Trying something new can be as adventurous as parachuting out of an airplane (see George Bush, Sr.), or as incremental as taking a different route to work once a week.  It can be as unusual as an African safari (unless you live in Tanzania), or as ordinary as a day at the beach (unless you live in the Himalayas).  It can be as cheap as the dollar rack in a thrift shop, or as pricey as a high-end auction.

What it isn't is same-old, same-old. 

What it is can change your moment, day, week, life for the better.   


Resources
http://living.msn.com/life-inspired/10-secrets-to-a-happy-life#9


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lily Dale: Who's Lily?


Although it seems as though Lily Dale - a Spiritualism center in southwestern New York State - might have been named after a medium named Lily, it was instead named after the "abundance of water lilies" to be found on nearby Cassadaga Lake.

Kathleen Poliquin of the Religion News Service writes that Lily Dale has long been home to the Lily Dale Assembly, a religious organization of mediums and healers who claim to communicate messages from those who have passed on to those still living on
the Earthly plane."  However, the Lily Dale Assembly's official website points out the following: "Some, but not all, Spiritualists are Mediums and/or Healers."  It broadly
defines "Spiritualist" in this way:  "One who believes, as the basis of his or her religion, in the continuity of life and in individual responsibility…"

Vistors to Lily Dale are offered a variety of opportunities to experience Spiritualism firsthand.  For those who are intellectually inclined, there are "daily lectures on the wonders of mediumistic phenomena and the basic truths of God and Man…"  For those desiring a more direct connection, there are clairvoyance demonstrations, Healing Temple meditations, spiritual healings, and private consultations.

Suggestions for effectively receiving private consultations include the following: expect truth (as opposed to fortune telling); expect good (arguing with the medium is counterproductive); be open (welcome the spirit that manifests); appreciate the medium's uniqueness (refrain from comparing mediums with one another); prediction isn't everything (remember that you have the free will to make changes); and invite your spirit loved ones to attend.  

Resources

http://www.religionnews.com/faith/beliefs/lily-dale-n.y.-a-gated-community-for-spiritualists
http://www.lilydaleassembly.com/

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




Tuesday, September 11, 2012

'Jew Pond' just history?

(Medieval Burning of the Jews)
Today - September 11 – many will be giving thanks for the joys still present in their lives and expressing forgiveness for those that
have been hatefully destroyed.  Others might already look upon 9/11 as "just history."

This latter group is in danger of joining the ranks of those who are doomed to repeat history's most stringent lessons.  After all is said and done, we remember historical events so that we will not have
to spend our current lives recreating them.

To minimize the importance of history (or worse yet, to deny its occurrence) is to remain trapped within its most sordid undercurrents.  An example of this might be found within a small town in southern New Hampshire.  This town, Mont Vernon, is
currently making news due to a controversy surrounding the naming of an otherwise "unremarkable" pond.

Back in the 1920s, Mont Vernon residents had dubbed this small body of water "Jew Pond" because "two Jewish businessmen from Boston" had bought a hotel there.  According to NBC News, their motive was "to reopen the hotel for Jewish guests, who had been banned from the hotel – and from most hotels in New Hampshire" at the time. (Apparently, the former hotel had a brochure that outright stated: Applications from Hebrews not desired.)

Given this history, the term "Jew Pond" was not just an affectionate nickname, but rather a religious slur (similar to "Jew lawyer" or "Jew politician."  Therefore, to state (as one member of the Mont Vernon Historical Society recently did) that this term is "just history" is to deny the reality of history's impact on us all.

Resources

http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/09/13764506-jew-pond-name-officially-changed-on-us-maps?lite
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont_Vernon,_New_Hampshire
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s99ooTs-j0U

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





Monday, September 10, 2012

Pope Benedict: Turning Green

The Pope (Sergey Kozhukhov)
One of Pope Benedict XVI's most famous predecessors, Pope Gregory I of the sixth century, put together a list of Seven Deadly Sins.  Right at the top of that list - second only to Pride - was Envy.  The other five "Deadlies" were Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed and Sloth.

However, Pope Benedict XVI isn't turning Green with Envy.  He is instead turning away from the fourth "Deadly" on his own 2008 list of Seven Social Sins.  The fourth Social Sin on this latter list is Polluting the environment.  Pope Benedict's other six Social Sins are as follows:  "Bioethical violations" such as birth control; "Morally dubious" experiments such as stem cell research; Drug abuse; Contributing to widening divide between rich and poorExcessive wealth; and Creating poverty.

According to a Daily Beast article by Daniel Stone titled The Green Pope,
Benedict has earned this eco-friendly epithet by "boosting efforts to make
Vatican City more environmentally efficient," as well as by using "Roman Catholic doctrine to emphasize humanity's responsibility to care for the planet."  As part of this latter emphasis, Benedict has linked a greener lifestyle with "the human responsibility to protect the world's poorest communities, which are often the first to feel a changing climate's ecological effects, such as floods or droughts…"

The latest of Benedict's efforts is yielding headlines such as this Associated Press one:  Pope goes green with electric car.  Nicole Winfield reports that just this week "The Green Pope" was presented with an ozone-preserving "customized white Renault Kango."   
Resources

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aizloDFbRPRM
http://news.yahoo.com/pope-goes-green-electric-car-165652510.html
http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2008/04/16/the-green-pope.html

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



Sunday, September 9, 2012

Yoga Aid: 'Olympics of the Soul'

Yoga Class (Photo by Trollderella)
The Yoga Aid World Challenge is perhaps a "kinder, gentler" version of the Summer Olympics.

This time around, there will be a multitude of yoga practitioners (rather than just a select few professional athletes) who directly experience the body's miraculous potential.  This time around, there will be yogis the world over gathering in places such as Australia, India, Japan, Singapore, Kenya, England, South Africa, Canada and the United States.  This time around, there will be an "Olympics of the Soul."

Yoga Aid Community Ambassadors are being asked to "take tranquility into your own hands and spread it through your community… by hosting an event in your area."  These Ambassadors have made Yoga Aid events possible "in more than 250 locations around the world."  In tandem with more than 10,000 yogis and
numerous additional volunteers, they have not only introduced yoga's benefits to a host of attendees - but have also raised funds for organizations such as Ganga Action (which is restoring India's Ganga River), Yoga Gangsters (which is introducing yoga to youth-at-risk), and the Africa Yoga Project (which is empowering young people in Africa's urban slums).

Ex-Sydney Swans AFL player Brett Kirk will be taking part in the 2012 Sydney, Austalia Yoga Aid Challenge this weekend.  During a Yoga Aid Blog interview, Kirk stated the following:  I first began yoga as a way to give back to and maintain the health and flexibility of my weary 'footballers body'.  But for the past decade Yoga has become a daily ritual for me.  It regenerates me both physically and spiritually.

Resources

http://www.yogaaid.com/usa/AboutUs.aspx
http://www.yogaaid.com/usa/Charities.aspx
http://blog.yogaaid.com/

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
















Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mamie Norwood: Husband's murderer forgiven

Gospel of Mark (14th century)
In a dramatic display of Christian forgiveness, Mamie Norwood is urging the Pennsylvania powers that be to refrain from executing Terrance Williams, her late husband's murderer.

Her written statement, which was recently included in a clemency petititon that was sent to Governor Corbett and the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, explains the following:  I was angry and resentful towards Mr. Williams for many years…  I knew I had to find a way to heal and live a peaceful and happy life.  I realized that the only way I could do that was to forgive Terry Williams for what he did.

She continues:  Several years ago, after much prayer and self-reflection, I found the strength and courage to forgive Terry Williams.  I do not wish to see Terry Williams executed.  His execution would go against my Christian faith and my belief system.

Because many professed Christians might outright disagree with Norwood's decision and faith statement,
it seems important to review these Gospel quotes about forgivenessSo if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)  And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. (Mark 11:25)  Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37)  And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven, if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." (John 20:22-23)

The Gospels are not always completely in sync with one another.  However, these four Gospel messages echo one powerful truth – that radical forgiveness is an essential component of Christianity.

Resources

http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/06/13711346-widow-asks-pennsylvania-governor-not-to-execute-husbands-killer?lite
http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/i/MSNBC/Sections/NEWS/A_FOR%20EDIT/18-NorwoodM_1-17-12.pdf
http://encouragingbiblequotes.com/versesforgivea.html

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


Friday, September 7, 2012

Bill Clinton: We're all in this together

Thich Nhat Hanh (photo by pixaduc)
Echoing the sentiments of some of the world's greatest sages (Love one another - Jesus; An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind - Gandhi; We build too many walls and not enough bridges - Isaac Newton;  If one member suffers, all suffer - St. Paul;  In the long history of humankind (and animal kind,too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed - Charles Darwin; Union gives strength - Aesop), Bill Clinton emphasized the following philosophical premise during his 2012 Democratic National Convention speechWe're all in this together.

He then went on to given example after example of how President Barack Obama has exemplified this mindset.  Clinton described Obama as "a man who believes we can build a new American Dream economy driven by innovation and creativity, education and cooperation" – a man who appointed Republicans to key positions such as Secretary of Defense, Army and Transportation - and a man who appointed Democratic rivals to key positions such as Vice President and Secretary of State.  Perhaps the most quotable of all Clinton's examples was this one:  Heck, he even appointed Hillary!

Clinton's "no man is an island" theme skillfully offsets notions of building a business (or anything else for that matter) singlehandedly.  As Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has so often reminded us, there really is no such thing as a singlehanded venture.  Hanh's concept of Interbeing explains that even the production of a single sheet of paper is dependent upon trees, rain and sun – not to mention the talents and labor of a multitude of people.

Resources

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/transcript-bill-clintons-democratic-convention-speech/story?id=17164662
http://www.wisdomcommons.org/virtue/28-cooperation/quotes
http://www.croftonair.org/content/view/36/49/

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







Thursday, September 6, 2012

Michelle Obama: Protestant work ethic praised

(John Calvin, 1562)
It could rightfully (and righteously) be said that the very heart and soul of Michelle Obama's 2012 Democratic National Convention speech was about the essential goodness of working hard for a cause greater than oneself.

The following quotes from this speech are right in line with such a theory (and theology):  But despite these challenges [multiple sclerosis], my dad hardly ever missed a day of work… he and my mom were determined to give me and my brother the kind of education they could only dream of…  Like so many of us, that was his measure of success in life – being able to earn a decent living that allowed him to support his family…          But day after day, she [Barack's grandmother, who – like so many other women – had "hit a glass ceiling" at work] kept on waking at dawn to catch the bus… arriving at work before anyone else… giving her best without complaint or regret.  And she would often tell Barack, "So long as you kids do well, Bar, that's all that really matters."

In other words, this country wasn't really built on rock and roll, but rather upon the sweat of many a Puritan brow.  And today, this Puritan work ethic (aka "Protestant work ethic") remains a driving force in many a Reformation-inspired region (such as the United States, Canada, and Northern Europe).  Whereas Catholics had long held that good works were a necessary prerequisite to salvation, Reformers "taught that good works were only a consequence of an already-received salvation."  Since not all were predestined to be saved, "hard work and frugality" were signs that you were one of God's "elect."

Wikipedia reports that the term "Protestant ethic" was first coined by sociologist Max Weber in 1905.  His book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, has been deemed by the International Sociological Association to be "the fourth most important sociological book of the 20th century."

Resources

http://www.freep.com/article/20120904/NEWS15/120904087/Transcript-of-Michelle-Obama-s-speech-at-the-Democratic-National-Convention?odyssey=tab%7Cmostpopular%7Ctext%7CFRONTPAGE   
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_work_ethic
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Protestant_Ethic_and_the_Spirit_of_Capitalism

Copyright September 6, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved



Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Diane Berke: A daily spiritual practice


Did you ever read something that "grabbed" you?  Did you ever wonder what it is that's being grabbed?  Did you ever then put it aside (perhaps indefinitely) because the phone was ringing, or the dog was barking, or the baby was crying?

If so, Diane Berke's "Instructions for the Practice of Sacred Reading" might be just the thing to bring your attention back around to Spirit's important messages.  Berke is the Co-Founder and Spiritual Director of the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in New York City.  She has long been a leading light in the fields of spiritual counseling, psychotherapy, and Interfaith ministry education.  Her daily spiritual practices have been the nourishment for this ongoing leadership.

On her recent 60th birthday, Berke began sharing her daily Sacred Reading Practice with an overall
community of spiritual seekers and practitioners.  The One Spirit Learning Alliance website offers free daily links to (or e-mails/audio versions of) these readings, along with clear instructions for integrating them into a contemplative (yet action-oriented) morning practice.  This is a practice that can "fit" most modern-day schedules.

Berke points out that "the purpose of spiritual practice is to wake us up, to realign us daily with what is deepest, truest, and most alive in ourselves and in life." 

What better way to start the day?

She concludes:  We practice that we might learn to listen deeply, to open to grace, and to dedicate
ourselves to channeling grace and blessing into the world.

 Resources
http://onespiritinterfaith.org/sacred-practice/purpose/?utm_source=Daily+Practice+-+Sep+4&utm_campaign=Launch+Community+of+Practice&utm_medium=email
http://onespiritinterfaith.org/seminary/faculty/
http://onespiritinterfaith.org/

Copyright September 5, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved



Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Clint Eastwood: Leadership secrets of a hit-after-hit man


Eastwood in 1981 (NASA)
Although a wealth of down-and-dirty experiences did not always make Clint Eastwood’s day, they did go a long way towards making his name synonymous with great cinematic leadership.  During his long years on the action side of the camera, Eastwood developed an uncanny feel for what works and what doesn’t.  The following secrets to Eastwood’s directorial success hinge upon this hard-earned intuition:  Know thyself; trust others; tell it like it is; and keep it moving.

Know thyself
For a director of any kind, Socrates’ admonition to “Know thyself” is essential.  Taking this to heart develops a confidence that doesn’t quit.  Although he was initially criticized for some of the very things that are now his trademark, Eastwood didn’t forsake them.  Instead, he allowed his natural strengths to guide him in making significant career choices.

This type of self-awareness breeds a confidence that inspires.  The author of stevesdragon.com writes about working as a stunt man for Clint Eastwood:  “The stereotypical demanding method actor, the screaming director and slave running production assistants were virtually non-existent on this set…  While observing Clint Eastwood, it was clear to me that this dynamic of such an efficient crew stemmed from him…  Patient, poised… yet humble because there’s nothing to prove.”

Trust others
A director who has “nothing to prove” is all the more likely to recognize and appreciate the talents of others.  Eastwood often gets such strong feelings of what actors can do by watching them on tape that he doesn’t even require the usual auditions.  Cinemoose.com explains:  “He knows what they are capable of from their past performances and thus trusts his actors to do their preparation and homework.”  Micromanagement is not high on Eastwood’s priority list, and is rarely needed because of the trickle-down effectiveness of his leadership.  He encourages and expects a high level of creative input from all actors, rather than from just a scene-stealing few.

Tell it like it is
Of course, even the best filmmaking team is relatively hampered by a less-than compelling script.  Eastwood has the guts and the skills to tell those stories that need to be told, and to align them with those who can best convey them.  Whether he’s pairing Angelina Jolie with the role of a mother whose child has been ruthlessly kidnapped, or himself with the role of an aging gun-fighter, his knack for such well-matched components is legendary.

Keep it moving
Waiting for the director to yell “Action!” will not yield good results on a Clint Eastwood set.  Such actors might wish to review the motto “Life is not a dress rehearsal” – for that seems to be one of Eastwood’s guiding principles.  Cinemoose.com reports that Eastwood “just rolls the cameras and lets the actors start the scene whenever they’re ready.”  Only Eastwood and the set crew actually know when the cameras are rolling.  This results in an enhanced state of actor readiness, in turn fostering the “one take” style for which Eastwood is famous. 

Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clint_Eastwood
http://stevesdragon.com/what-clint-eastwood-taught-me-about-confidence/
http://www.zimbio.com/Clint+Eastwood/articles/62/Clint+Eastwood+Directing+Techniques+Directing
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/23/arts/23iht-dupont.1.13119662.html

Copyright September 4, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved