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

Friday, November 30, 2012

Conversation rudders: James would approve

(First-Century Rudder)
It's holiday time, and do you know where your Uncle Joe is? Most likely he's heading for the same family gathering as you are, and most likely he still remembers those lame comments you made last year.

According to the Book of James, freedom of speech works best when tempered with heavy doses of caution.  James compared the human tongue to a ship's rudder.  Although a relatively small part of the anatomy, the tongue can easily steer a relationship into murky waters if wagged indiscriminately.  James 3:7-8 NIV
warns:  All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed, and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

Nevertheless, it behooves us as upstanding holiday guests to at least try.  What then can be done to mitigate the "deadly poison" of everyday speech?  Taking a cue from James, one can deliberately steer the conversation into safer harbors.  Although James does not specifically explain how to do this, MSN Living fortunately does.

Rachel Sylvester's "Conversation Starters for the Holidays" offers suggestions such as these:  with
"hipster cousins" talk indie music and arm tattoos (avoid questions about veganism while the turkey's
being served), and with a "gossipy aunt" reveal your heartbreak over TomKat's divorce (while excluding, of course, any details about your own personal life).


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

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Zig Ziglar's Independence Day

(Public Domain)
Zig Ziglar did not have to wait until death in order to experience a freeing of the soul.  That happened to him long ago – on Independence Day 1972.

At the time, Ziglar was already 45 years old. reports that although his mother "had raised him to live a life of faith," he had not been "truly living a godly life" until then.  Having lived in the Deep South at a time when racial prejudice was rampant, Ziglar's mother had tried to teach her children otherwise. She would tell them that "one day we would stand in front of a colorblind Lord."  However, holy exhortations did not take root into Ziglar's psyche
until an "elderly black woman" walked into his house on July 4, 1972 – speaking of faith and lamenting Ziglar's lack of it.  She told him:  God's been waiting on you a long time.  Ziglar became a Christian that very weekend. 

He never looked back.

When Jason Karpf of Everyday Christian interviewed Ziglar in 2009, a number of questions regarding Ziglar's practical application of faith came up.  When asked how somebody could be both a good Christian and a good salesperson, Ziglar replied:  By living by the Golden Rule – treating clients and customers as he or she would like to be treated…  Selling is something we do for our clients – not to our clients.  When questioned about the "unique challenges and advantages that Christians face in the business world," Ziglar answered:  I suggest the greatest challenge to Christians in the business world is within – making the heart determination… to live by God's principles and sticking with it…  I believe the greatest advantages are in the obvious watch care and protection our Heavenly Father promises His own if we will live our lives committed and consecrated to Him.

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


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Two and a Half Men: Soon to be two?

(Photo by Enoch Lau)
Although "two's company," it seems as though Two and a Half might be getting a tad crowded.  That's because Angus T. Jones, who has played the son of one of the "Two Men" for nine years, has recently been proclaiming the show to be permeated with "filth."

A Reuters article explains that Jones' "new-found religious beliefs" and "Bible studies made him uncomfortable with the risqué humor that marks one of the most-watched comedies on U.S. television." Perhaps it's his character's recent fling with "temptress" Miley Cyrus that pushed him over the moral (but not fiscal – Jones reputedly makes $350,000 per episode) cliff… 

In any event, Jones' beliefs are now being somewhat associated with those of his alleged "spiritual mentor"
Christopher Hudson.  Hudson - sometimes referred to as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, but who calls
himself "The Forerunner" - has been reported by The Daily Beast to hold these views:  the rapper Jay-Z is a "devil-worshipping Freemason," Obama's health-care plan is a "carbon copy" of Hitler's, and in the aftermath
of Hurricane Sandy "Your baby may start looking like a chicken wing."

The Daily Beast further explains that "Jones seems to have no qualms about Hudson's extremist views."  The
Seventh-day Adventist Church, on the other hand, might.  One of the Church's official spokesmen, George Johnson, recently described Hudson as "an independent ministry, not a pastor" who has "no official ordinance or title with the church." reports that although Jones considers himself to be a "paid hypocrite," he nevertheless "has no plans to get out of his contract."  It remains to be seen, however, what plans others may have…


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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stoicism: Placebos need not apply

Zeno (Photo by Shakko)
A recent Scientific American article illustrated the downside of distilling an obscure title such as "Personality Trait Predictors of Placebo Analgesia and Neurobiological Correlates" into a sensationalistic headline such as "Placebos Work Better on Stoics."

Although catchy, the latter version leads the reader far astray from the original meaning of Stoicism.  The chirpy tone of its opening line ("Aches and pains getting you down?") makes Stoicism itself sound like little more than a
quick fix.  What a far cry this is from the Stoic ideal of "moral and intellectual perfection" (makes even a Zeno-clone want to clench a fist)…

Speaking of Zeno (of Citium), he was the one who purportedly "founded" Stoicism back in the third century BCE.  His Stoic school of philosophy "laid great emphasis on goodness and peace of mind gained from living a life of virtue in accordance with nature."  He himself had been schooled by the famed Cynic, Crates of Thebes.  One "lesson" went like this:  Crates asked Zeno to carry a pot of lentil soup around Athens.  While this was occurring, Crates deliberately smashed the pot.  Splattered all over with lentil soup, Zeno began running off in embarrassment.  Crates then asked him:  "Why run away…  Nothing terrible has befallen you!"

Years later, Stoicism was still going strong – so strong that Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius became an avid proponent.  His literary opus (twelve books' worth), Meditations, contains this hardy quote:  If thou art pained by any external thing, it is not this that disturbs thee, but thy own judgment about it.  And it is in thy power to wipe out this judgment now.

No need for sugar-coated placebos within this stalwart philosophy…

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

Guru Nanak: Birth of Sikhism

Guru Nanak (in center)
Guru Nanak was born on April 15, 1469 in what is today Punjab, Pakistan - and Sikhism itself was born not too long afterwards.

Accounts of Nanak's youth derive from these sources:  the Janamsakhis (life accounts)  and the vars (verses) of the scribes Bhai Gurdas and Bhai Bala (although some scholars believe that other authors could have been involved after Nanak's physical death).  These accounts portray Nanak as having an extraordinary
degree of spiritual awareness from early on.

For example, Nanak astonished his childhood teacher by giving a detailed explanation of the symbolism that the alphabet's first letter entailed.  Within the Persian and Arabic alphabets, the first letter's almost straight stroke resembles the numeral one. Nanak compared that to God's unified oneness.  Another account tells of a poisonous cobra deliberately shielding Nanak's head from the sun as the young boy slept.

According to Wikipedia, Nanak's birth has also been described in great detail within the Janamsakhis.  It is said that an astrologer insisted upon seeing the newborn Nanak.  This astrologer then clasped his hands and exclaimed:  I regret that I shall never live to see young Guru Nanak as an adult.  At the tender age of five, Nanak "voiced interest in divine subjects."

Other accounts tell of a time that young Nanak was washing in the river.  He suddenly disappeared into what appeared to be a whirlpool.  Thinking that his dear friend was drowning, Mardana swam to that spot to save him.  When Mardana reached the spot, there was no Nanak and no whirlpool to be found – "just the depths of the river."

For the next two days, Mardana feared that Nanak was gone forever.  On the third day, Nanak "walked out of the river."  When asked by many worried souls what had happened, Nanak simply replied:  I spoke to God and he said there is no Muslim or Hindu.  Both Guru and Sikhism had now truly been born.


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

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Larry Hagman: Death rehearsals

Larry Hagman in 2011 (Photo by Tabercil)  
Long before his actual demise, Larry Hagman had undergone some near-death experiences.  These were so inspirational that they greatly alleviated any fears associated with transition from this earthly realm.

An article by Dr. John Griffin for explains that Hagman's near-death experiences (NDEs) helped to shape his "love-centered worldview" – a view that was also shaped by his close marriage and family ties.  Griffin reports that Hagman had two major NDEs:  one assisted by the careful use of the psychedelic drug LSD, and the other triggered by post-operative liver-transplant conditions.

The LSD experience was a first for Hagman, and he carefully prepared for it by studying texts such as The
Tibetan Book of the Dead.  He was under the direct guidance of someone quite familiar with LSD, and made sure to take it within a carefully controlled environment.  This "trip" began with a "strong buzz just below his navel (the basal area of the kundalini energy of yoga)."  It then progressed with a series of visions: the first involved his long-deceased grandmother (who assured him that "all this was natural"); and the next
involved a trip through a tunnel into a diffused light, where he was telepathically told, "This is a glimpse of where you've been, where you're going, where you are all the time."  From these and other phases of this experience, Hagman concluded:  Death was just another stage of our development and that we go on to different levels of existence.

Hagman's second major NDE took place while recovering in an intensive care unit after his liver transplant.  There Hagman experienced a shamanic-type "vision journey," which was partly "propelled by the cocooning conditions of the hospital and the medications," and partly by focusing upon his "sacred song."  Hagman described this "celestial song" as follows:  Everyone has their own unique song, an inner melody that fuses each of us to the deep, modulating, harmonious hum of the celestial orchestra that's the collective energy of everything that's ever lived and ever going to live…     


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

Saturday, November 24, 2012

God at the wheel? Not necessarily

(Photo by CZmarlin) 
When Melissa Miller was recently caught doing 100 in a 30 mph zone (while blaring her horn, no less), she told the police officers, "…I was letting the Lord spirit guide me."  When they specifically asked about the horn, she again explained that this was "the Lord telling me to do it."

It's certainly true that the theological analogy of God taking the wheel has been used many a time since the days of Henry Ford.  This excerpt from a Focus on the Family article titled "Trusting: Let God Do the Driving" is right within this metaphorical genre:  "When we try and take the wheel away from God because we don't trust Him, it will lead to emotional and spiritual fatigue.  Why?  Because we're doing something that we weren't created to.  God made us to lean on Him in dependence – to let Him drive – which leads to contentment, and the confidence that we are exactly where we need to be…"

In Miller's case, this notion of God at the wheel led to her arrest, and the confidence (on the part of the police) that she needed to be in jail (at least until the $375 bail was paid).  Either this is the worst case of dangling principles, or Miller is seriously deluded.  Many readers of The Huffington Post article about Miller think the latter.  Here are some of their comments:  God is real; but so is Satan.  She got the voices mixed up…;  Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's.  Try not to mix the two…; And had she killed someone she most likely would have said that it was God's will that they died…


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

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sarah Vowell: And sometimes why

John Winthrop (Public Domain)
Many of us remember the "a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y" litany from elementary school.  Since that's getting to be kind of old hat, a new Vowell is coming to a bookstore or theater near you – one named "Sarah."

"Sarah Jane Vowell," to be exact…  Born at the end of the tumultuous sixties, she has already written six books (addressing the whys and wherefores of American history and culture), worked as an editor and producer for Public Radio International, been a guest columnist for The New York Times, and done numerous live shows.  Of all these achievements, perhaps her greatest has been the resuscitation of Puritan history from the annals of sit-com mythology.

Wikipedia reports that Vowell's fifth book, The Wordy Shipmates, "chronicles the 17th and 18th century history of Puritan colonists in Massachusetts, United States." It emphasizes the dichotomy between those who settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (aka "City Upon a Hill") and those (aka "Pilgrims") who settled in Plymouth. Also featured are key personalities and events such as John Winthrop, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, and the Pequot War.'s "Book Description" of The Wordy Shipmates gives an indication of how Vowell has managed to infuse fresh energy into an otherwise somnambulant subject.  In response to the question "Who were these people who are considered the philosophical, spiritual and moral ancestors of our nation?" are Vowell-inspired Amazon quotes like these:  Was Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop a communitarian, a Christlike Christian, or conformity's tyrannical enforcer? Answer: Yes!  Was Rhode Island's architect, Roger Williams, America's founding freak or the father of the First Amendment?  Same difference.

Is Sarah Vowell a welcome relief from rote educational curricula?  Resoundingly so!   


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

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Caddo dance: Come on, you turkeys

Caddo Turkey Dance (Public Domain)
The Caddo Turkey Dance is one time-honored way of gratefully gathering together.

Wikipedia tells us that the Caddo Nation "is a confederacy of several Southeastern Native American tribes, who traditionally inhabited much of what is now East Texas, northern Louisiana and portions of southern Arkansas and Oklahoma."  Today's federally-recognized Caddo Nation of Oklahoma is based in Binger.  A number of current initiatives - such as the Hasinai Society, the Caddo Culture Club, and the Kiwat Hasinay Foundation – are dedicated to keeping the Caddo language, songs and dances alive.

The most famous of the Caddo dances is the Turkey DanceIndian Country Today states that this dance continues to thrive, even away from intertribal gatherings and competitions.  In her article "The Life & Times of the Turkey Dance," Autumn Whitefield-Madrano explains that the opening words of the accompanying
lyrics typically go like this:  Come on, you turkeys, come together – we're going to dance.

And come together they do!  During the hot dusty Binger summers, "there's a turkey dance anytime somebody says we're going to have adance."  These modern-day dances retain many elements of the historical ones.  The Turkey Dance is still the first one done at any Caddo dance gathering, and it still must be finished before sundown (nowadays because that's when turkeys roost – and in the past because the reflection of shiny dance costumes via an evening fire could potentially reveal the tribe's location to its enemies).

The Caddo Turkey Dance is integrally tied to a strong sense of community.  Caddo historian Cecile Carter affirms:  The dance gives us a feeling of unity for your family, your family's family, for the entire family of Caddo people.


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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Monkey murdered: Devolution at work?

Patas Monkey (by Alex Roberts)
The 1925 so-called "Scopes Monkey Trial" hinged upon whether Darwin's theory of evolution should be legally taught in the state-funded Tennessee school system.

According to Wikipedia, this case was seen as not only a "theological contest" (between "modernists" who believed
that "evolution was consistent with religion" and diehard                     "fundamentalists" who believed that "the word of God as revealed in the Bible took priority over all human knowledge") – but also as a more general contest of science vs. religion.  Clarence Darrow, an agnostic and a "famed defense attorney," argued on behalf of teaching evolution in the schools.  Devout Christian and trust-busting Democrat William Jennings Bryan railed against this, sputtering retorts such as this one (concerning the alleged origin of humans):  "Not even from American monkeys, but from old world monkeys…"

Imagine what Bryan might have said after reading a recent Associated Press headline titled "Monkey dies from blow to head after zoo break-in."  This article goes on to explain that somebody (human) broke into Zoo Boise in Idaho and viciously killed a Patas monkey via "blunt force trauma to the head and neck."
Might Bryan have then apologized for his insulting remarks regarding human evolution from monkeys - and might he have even concluded that humans devolved instead?

Only God (and/or Darwin) knows for sure…


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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dolphins: Murdering the friendly beasts

Pod of Dolphins (by Serguei Dukachev)
There is an old English carol called The Friendly BeastsIts lyrics tell how the donkey, cow, sheep, dove and camel were all integral to the Christmas story of Baby Jesus (by riding the Holy Mother to Bethlehem, giving hay for a pillow, providing wool for a blanket, cooing the newborn to sleep, and bringing gifts from the Orient, respectively).

Since dolphins are hard to come by in the desert, they do not show up in these lyrics.  Nevertheless, their very nature resonates with the teachings of Christianity.   They especially seem to exemplify the commandment: "Love one another."  Wikipedia reports that dolphins are highly social, and communicate through a series of clicks, whistles and vocalizations. They will not only assist the injured or ill of their own species, but have also been known to rescue sperm whales and humans.  Not that they are perfect (some do engage in acts of aggression against one another and porpoises) - but their level of altruism seems to far outweigh that of many earthly denizens. They are also highly intelligent, and have even been discovered teaching their young how to use tools.

Nevertheless, some member of our own species has developed a pastime of viciously snuffing the life out of these graceful aquatic beings.  ABC News reports that there has been "a string of attacks on dolphins along the Gulf Coast," and that "some of the marine mammals were found with gunshot wounds and mutilations."  Dr. Moby Solangi of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies emphasized the following in his statement to the news team:  "I think it's important that everyone understand that this is not only cruel, but it's also illegal." 


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

Monday, November 19, 2012

Edward Bastian: InterSpiritual Meditation

(Photo by Endurodoug)
If the term "interspirituality" seems somewhat nebulous, that's because it reaches beyond mind and matter.  Coined by Brother Wayne Teasdale, "a lay monk at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago," the term emphasizes a mystical unity which underlies all faith traditions.  The "Interspirituality Portal" of offers this explanatory quote from Mahatma Gandhi:  When you go to the heart of your own religion, you go to the heart of all others, too.

Having embraced this concept, Dr. Edward W. Bastian began the Spiritual Paths Foundation in 2002.  Its mission (training students in meditation, contemplation, positive social change and environmental sustainability) reflects Bastian's lifetime of philosophical and religious studies.  He holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and "was Executive Producer for six films on Asian religions for the BBC and PBS."  He has also authored the books Living Fully Dying Well and InterSpiritual Meditation.

InterSpiritual Meditation presents a seven-step process that lends itself especially well to an interfaith venue.  Going beyond the usual interfaith "curriculum" of learning about different faith practices, InterSpiritual Meditation encourages shared practices that transcend religious boundaries.  Its seven steps include Motivation (Health and Happiness), Gratitude, Transformation (Highest Ideals), Compassion, Mindfulness, Meditation, and Dedication (Service). 

Spirituality and Practice presents this quote from Bastian:   "InterSpirituality encourages contemplatives from different traditions to sit and meditate together, to enter into a deep dialogue of sound and silence, and to articulate the shared practices and experiences that are the foundations of their respective spiritual traditions.


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

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Wall of separation: Who really built it?

Roger Williams Statue (Franklin Simmons)
Separation of church and state within the United States is often associated with Thomas Jefferson.  After all, it was he who wrote these now-famous words to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802:  Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions…  thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.

However, long before there was a Jefferson, there was a Roger Williams.  It was Roger Williams who fled the religious oppression of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in order to create a "hedge or wall of separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wilderness of the world."  This "Garden" that Williams founded (aka "Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations") not only provided a refuge for Christian separatists, but also a haven
of sorts for Native Americans and African slaves.  He was also instrumental in establishing the First Baptist Church in America (aka "First Baptist Meetinghouse" and "First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island") in 1638.

Williams not only influenced Thomas Jefferson, but also philosopher John Locke.  According to Wikipedia, Locke "argued that the government lacked authority in the realm of individual conscience."   He spoke of inalienable "natural rights" - rights that are "not contingent upon the laws customs or beliefs of any particular culture or government…"   His Letters Concerning Toleration, written during the era of numerous European "wars of religion," asserted that "Earthly judges, the state in particular, and human beings generally, cannot dependably evaluate the truth-claims of competing religious standpoints…"


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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Anger scorches kids and other sensitive folks

(Photo by David Shankbone)
Although there is some debate about whether "righteous" anger actually exists, there is little question that destructive anger certainly does.

According to Good Housekeeping, anger can be particularly destructive when it is let loose around children.  "Team Mom's" article on "The Danger of Yelling at Your Kids and Ways to be a Calmer Mom" drives that point home with plenty of real-life examples.

The article begins with a confession from the author about how she "lost it" with her very young son.  When he suddenly threw a water
bottle at the windshield of their moving car, "Mom" began shrieking at him. Venomous and shaming words spewed forth from her lashing tongue.  She had forgotten what most of them were until she later discovered that her cell-phone recording device had been accidentally left on that whole time.  She then had undeniable proof of the harmful course that her anger had taken.

Determined to change these ways, "Team Mom" began studying the effects of unrestrained anger upon children (and other sensitive souls).  She reports on these findings by PhD psychologist Matthew McKay:  Studies have shown that parents who express a lot of anger in front of their kids end up with less empathetic children.  These kids are more aggressive and more depressed than peers from calmer families, and they perform worse in school…

McKay also advises that there are lessons to be learned from controlled anger.  He says that because we all get angry sooner or later, "what really counts is how we repair things afterward."  "Team Mom" offers the following suggestions for processing anger in a way that minimizes trauma:  Focus on the other person's
reasons for acting out (they might be important ones); observe your own anger patterns and triggers; discuss marital (or partnership) issues in private; and role model the positive processing of angry emotions.       


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

Friday, November 16, 2012

Common Good: We are each other's keepers

Bust of Aristotle (Public Domain)
During a November 6, 2009 Religion & Ethics Newsweekly interview, Daniel Callahan of the Hastings Center discussed his concept of the "common good."

Callahan emphasizes that "common good" not only includes friends and people we know, but also strangers.  He interprets Aristotle's view of humans as "social animals" to mean that we should "think not only of ourselves and our family but also of the neighbor… the person we don't know, and somehow knit that together into some meaningful whole."

Although Europe seems to have a strong sense of this "common good" principle (stemming perhaps from "their wars and other terrors they have gone through"), the United States has been fraught with ambivalence on that score.  Callahan describes Americans as wanting to help the poor, but not wanting to raise their own taxes - wanting health-care reform, but not wanting to have their own care plans mitigated…

How – then - can such ambivalence be resolved?  Keying into the enormous costs of medical technology, Callahan wonders, "…when does a good thing turn into a bad thing?"  Surely this technology will allow some to live longer healthier lives, but at what (and whose) expense?  If the American health-care system becomes so top-heavy that it caves in under the weight of its own luxuries, would anybody (rich or poor) ultimately be the winner?

Is "common good" therefore a viable yardstick against which health-care (and other) reforms should be measured?  Should the "haves" give up something so that the "have-nots" can also thrive?  Many "have-nots" think that they should.  "Common good" theory might very well agree...      


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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Marriages: Some 'happily ever after'

(Public Domain)
In this age of cynicism regarding marriage, it is good to know that at least some couples make it to "happily ever after."

On August 5, 2011 Social Psychological and Personal Science published the results of two studies by K. Daniel O'Leary and his team at the Psychology Department of Stony Brook University.  The good news is that within a random sampling of "322 individuals married over 10 years" (from New York, no less), "29% reported being very intensely in love…"  The even better news is that within another random sampling of "274 U.S. married individuals, 40% of those married over 10 years reported being 'Very intensely in love.'"

According to a Pacific Standard article titled "Long-Term Love Not Just a Fairy Tale," these studies both involved "random digit-dialing" surveys" with "10-minute telephone interviews."  This raises some questions about how honest respondents might have been when asked by random callers to reveal their innermost feelings. 

It is nevertheless heartening to believe that at least many of their answers reflect true marital bliss.  However, what about the other 60-70%?  Are these other partners forever locked into humdrum patterns, or can they too experience eternal honeymoons?

Although these two studies reveal correlations of intensely loving marriages (such as "thinking positively about the partner" and "shared novel and challenging activities"), scientists warn that correlations are not necessarily the same as causes. However, these particular correlations might be worth a try since love is not essentially a logical phenomenon.


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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Uffington: A horse of a different color

Uffington White Horse (NASA satellite photo)
Although England is known for its imposing figures of white horses (e.g. Westbury, Cherhill, Broad Town and Marlborough), the Uffington White Horse is by far the oldest.

Figured by archaeological calculations to date back to the Bronze Age, this 374 foot long "horse" was fashioned from "deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk."  Although some wonder whether the figure is indeed that of a horse (and not some other animal), the Uffington has been called a horse since at least the 11th century.  This is perhaps because of the traditional mystique concerning white horses.

Wikipedia reports that white horses (as well as grey horses with white-haired coats) have played significant roles within faith traditions throughout history.  For example, the Ancient Greeks described Pegasus as a winged white horse that was sired by the sea god Poseidon.  The Welsh goddess Rhiannon has often been
depicted riding a "pale-white" horse. 

Uchchaihshravas is a seven-headed white horse that is said to have served as a varana ("vehicle") for the Hindu god Indra.  In Zoroastrianism white horses have been associated with divine chariots. The white horse Kanthaka was a favorite of Prince Siddhartha's before he became the Buddha.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse include one that is riding a white steed (often interpreted as symbolizing conquest).  Christian Saints James and George are also associated with white horses. 


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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Math of Sisyphus: Ouch!

Sisyphus (by Titian)
For those who believe that Hell is on Earth, math might have been the determining factor.

Even clever kings such as Sisyphus have been driven insane by "useless efforts and unending frustration."  Because of his hubris, Sisyphus was consigned by the gods to repeatedly lug a huge boulder up a steep mountain, only to have it roll back down again before ever reaching the top.  Imagine then the plight of average human students who are assigned endless arrays of seemingly unsolvable math problems…  If you're getting a headache just thinking about it, then you're right on track with the latest
math-anxiety research.

Professor Sian Beilock of the University of Chicago, "a leading expert on math anxiety" (which could be the next best thing to being
a leading expert on math itself), has found that the anticipation of math can cause "a response in the brain similar to physical pain."  Although this probably didn't happen to Einstein (except perhaps with arithmetic), it can happen to some back-row denizens of Math 101.

Beilock recommends addressing this math "phobia" as you would any other "Oh no - not that again!" type response.  Rather than assigning even more math problems (as is often done, and is akin to feeding a peanut-
allergic patient more peanut butter), slowly allow the suffering student to become more comfortable with the whole numbers thing.

Who knows?  When the pressure is off, she or he might just turn out to be another Einstein…


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

Monday, November 12, 2012

Veterans for Peace: Their day too

Armistice Day Headlines (Public Domain)
It seems that - in one way or another - most veterans have been hoping and striving for peace right along.

Eisenhower, whom few would dispute was a praiseworthy veteran, had this to say:  I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its
futility, its stupidity.  He also had this to say about war's tragic waste:  Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

A country that tends to think of itself as "Christian" might wish to thoughtfully contrast Eisenhower's latter observation with this quote from Matthew 25 (NIV):  'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; Take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the beginning of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to
eat… I needed clothes and you clothed me…'

These Eisenhower statements seem very much in line with the mission of Veterans for Peace (VFP).  The VFP website states the following:  We, having dutifully served our nation, do hereby affirm our greater responsibility to serve the cause of world peace.  To this end we will work, with others to increase public awareness of the costs of war…

Why, then, shouldn't these Veterans for Peace be proudly welcomed into any Veterans Day commemoration? And yet, some members of the City of Auburn, Washington had tried to ban the VFP contingent from marching in their 2012 Veterans Day Parade.  Perhaps a reminder that Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day (and still is in some countries) is long overdue...

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


Sunday, November 11, 2012

War: Spiritual carnage

Nagasaki Bomb (Public Domain)
When veterans return from war, their bodies and minds are often shattered.  Not enough attention has been given to these horrible outcomes, let alone to the spiritual carnage that also occurs.

That is why Benedicta Cipolla, in her Religion & Ethics Newsweekly article titled "Healing the Wounds of War," refers to war as "the ultimate spiritual crisis."  Suddenly, all of the "thou shalt nots" are up for grabs – including the staunchest of all:  Thou shalt not kill.

Although profound "moral pain" arising from the commission of "acts with real and terrible consequences" is often experienced, it is seldom discussed.  One October, the Episcopal Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, MA attempted to host a four-day monastery retreat titled "Binding Up Our Wounds."  Attendance
was zero.

Presbyterian Reverend Alan Cutter stated that his spirit was "pretty well shredded and ripped" after serving as a Navy officer in Vietnam.  He also pointed out that "in a war… you're both victim and perpetrator at the same time."  A double-whammy like that is way more than twofold the overall pain.  It's no wonder that many try to "escape rather than learn from" such intense trauma.

War not only leads to the breaking of holy commandments, but also spawns anguished questions about life's very meaning.  As did Job, veterans might desperately wonder why God would allow such suffering to run rampant.  Other soul-searching questions might include these:  "Why did my buddy die instead of me?  Why wasn't I able to save him?  Will we ever be forgiven for the atrocities we've committed?"

These may be seen as fundamentally religious questions that require religious-cultural therapies rather than strictly medical-psychological ones.


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

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Burton and Luther: Astrological mates

Luther in 1533 (by Lucas Cranach)
Although Richard Burton certainly enjoyed his reputation as a womanizing drunk, a part of him wished that things could be different.

The presents this anguished excerpt from Burton's 1969 diary:  The more I read about man and his maniacal ruthlessness and his murderous envious scatological soul, the more I realize that he will never change.  Our stupidity is immortal, nothing will change it.  The same mistakes, the same prejudices, the same injustice, the same lusts wheel endlessly around the parade ground of the centuries.  Immutable and ineluctable…

Martin Luther couldn't have said it better.  Born on the same day of the year as Burton (November 10th), he too believed that humans are immersed in what theologians call "sin."  Luther not only lamented human weaknesses, but also weaknesses of the Church itself.  That is why he famously posted his Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum (otherwise known as The Ninety-Five Theses) on the door of Wittenberg's Castle Church on All Hallow's Eve of 1517.

The main difference between these two dramatic Scorpios lies within their theological conclusions.  Whereas Luther was convinced that God's Grace could overcome even the heaviest of sins, Burton was far less of a believer.  The conclusion that he came to within his aforementioned diary entry was this:  I wish I could believe in a god of some kind but I simply cannot

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

Friday, November 9, 2012

Carl Sagan: Skepticism and Wonder

Carl Sagan, 1980 (NASA Photo)
Although kitchens can be construed as laboratories of sorts, it was not baking that made Carl Sagan famous. Nevertheless, his "recipe" for apple pie is especially telling:  If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

This sense of wondrous interconnectivity was learned at his father's knee.  Sam Sagan, a Jewish refugee from Czarist Russia, was not a particularly religious man.  However, he was a "quiet and soft- hearted" individual who gave apples to the poor and helped calm
labor-management disputes within New York's "tumultuous" garment district.  He was also in awe of his son Carl's profound inquisitiveness.

The adult Carl attributed his skeptical tendencies to his mother's influence.  Although she actively engaged in the practices of Reformed Judaism, Rachel Sagan also harbored intellectual ambitions that "were blocked by social restrictions…"  Carl
summed up his parental influences in this manner:  My parents were not scientists…  But in introducing
me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method.

This quote from Sagan's Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space emphatically reflects both the skepticism and the wonder:  "How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and
concluded, 'This is better than we thought!  The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant!'  Instead they say, 'No, no, no!  My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.'"


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

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Jessica Utts: Remote possibilities

Complex Presentiment (by Kazimir Malevich)
Upon first glance, Professor Jessica Utts seems "normal" enough.  After all, "Statisticians Gone Wild" isn't a likely title for your average reality show.

Nevertheless, this Department of Statistics Chair from the University of California at Irvine (UCI) has had more than 15 minutes' worth of paranormal fame.  Interspersed on her UCI Home Page - right there alongside the "Statistical Methods" and
"Linear Models" course offerings – is a section called "Parapsychology Links."  Furthermore, there is a course listing titled "Integrated Studies 8C, Testing Psychic Claims."  This course (which included numerous readings from The Conscious Universe by Dean Radin, then-President of the
Parapsychological Association) was taught by none other than Utts herself.

Utts - who holds a BA in Math and Psychology from SUNY Binghamton, plus an MA and  PhD from the Department of Statistics at Penn State – has received a host of accolades and awards for her innovative applications of statistics.  She has been a strong advocate for "teaching students the skills necessary to properly interpret statistical results in scientific studies."

Wikipedia also reports that she served on a 1995 panel that evaluated the Stargate Project ("a project investigating remote viewing for espionage applications… which was funded by the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency…").  Utts' report concerning this project indicated that some psychic functioning (especially precognition) did exist, and that it should be further studied in order to be more fully utilized.


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

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

War: Mythic motivations

(British Paratroopers - 1944)
If you've ever wondered - really wondered – why human history is so fraught with war, psychologist Lawrence LeShan might just have some of the answers.

According to Wikipedia, LeShan has written numerous articles and books on such varied topics as "psychotherapy, war, cancer treatment, and mysticism."  These include his 1974 best-seller How to Meditate, as well as his 1992 The Psychology of War: Comprehending Its Mystique and Its Madness.

The latter is based upon the psychological premise that war is rooted in mythic thought.  In her review of this book, Kim Dorio explains that "mythic thinking divides the world into the good (us) and the evildoers (them)."  Facts do not easily interfere with this mode of reasoning.  Instead, intense emotions prevail.

During a war which is deemed somewhat apocalyptic (i.e., a do-or-die fight to make the world safe for the "good guys"), prosaic routines can appear heroic.  As Dorio points out:  …petty personal problems disappear, social stresses dissolve as people band together, daily life suddenly has gravity and meaning…

It's no wonder, then, that war seems woven into the very fabric of human nature.  As with many other deadly addictions, the trauma is just enough masked by the drama to make it momentarily seem all worthwhile.    


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

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Frances Payne Bolton: Republican Yogi

(Frances Payne Bolton)
Who says that religion and politics don't mix?  Perhaps the same people who say that life ends at death.  Frances Payne Bolton may have proven
them all wrong.

She was not only a politician, but a politician extraordinaire.  Born in 1885, Bolton was the first Ohio woman to be elected to Congress.  She served over fourteen terms in the House of Representatives (from 1940 to 1969) and rose "to become ranking minority member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee."  In 1955 Bolton led an international delegation to Africa and met with such dignitaries as Haile Selassie and the Queen Mother of the Tutsis.  While there, she also visited schools, markets and clinics to meet with women and children from many sectors.  This reflected
her lifelong interest in health care (public nursing, in particular) and education.

Bolton's many public achievements occurred despite the setbacks within her personal life. reports that she suffered greatly from "illness, family tragedy, and the death of loved ones."  Her newborn daughter died within the 1919 flu epidemic, and Bolton almost did also.  In desperate need of spiritual sustenance, Bolton later went to Nyack, New York to study yoga and "the mystical religions of the Far East."  In 1927 tragedy struck again.  This time her eldest son Charles became paralyzed "after a freak diving accident at summer camp."  Bolton afterwards met Eileen Garrett, who was "the best-known psychic medium of her era."  Together they eventually formed The Parapsychology Foundation in New York City.

After retiring from politics, Bolton continued to pursue her religious interests. concludes:  She died peacefully… in 1977 [at age 92], firm in her conviction that she would be reunited with her loved ones.


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

Monday, November 5, 2012

Scorpio men: Guarded and guarding

When most modern people talk about Scorpio men, they are referring to human males who were born in late October or early to mid-November.

According to, this human version of Scorpio can make his partner either feel divine or like yesterday's news.  He can be very sexual and passionate, but can also suddenly withdraw.  His sensitive nature, jealousy, defensiveness, and anger can make close relationships a challenge.  On the other hand, he can be extremely loyal and eager to please (as long as he feels in control).

Human relationships with scorpions of the animal kingdom are also fraught with double-edged possibilities.  Wikipedia reports that "all known scorpion species possess venom and use it primarily to kill or paralyze their prey..."  Although only 25 of the thousand-plus scorpion species possess venom that kills people, any scorpion sting can pierce human skin with unpleasant consequences.  Nevertheless, there have been some favorable human/scorpion relationships throughout the ages.  For example, Muslims have sometimes portrayed scorpions as a protective force that can counteract evil.  Ancient Egyptians depicted their goddess Serket as a scorpion and believed that she protected pharoahs and the dead.        
Perhaps the most famous examples of scorpion/human relationships are the Scorpion men.  These hybrid beings (upper half human male, and lower half scorpion) populate such Akkadian-language tales as "the Enuma Elish and the Babylonian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh."  Wikipedia explains that in the latter epic "they stood guard outside the gates of the sun god Shamash..."  One of their functions was to usher Shamash out of the darkness each morning, and back into the darkness again each evening (making Scorpio's dual nature once again quite evident).


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

Sunday, November 4, 2012

SENT by J. Webb Mealy

(Luke 11:2 in Koine Greek)
When's Mary Fairchild incorporated J. Webb Mealy's Spoken English New Testament (SENT) into her daily readings, she found its terminology to be "very clear and natural-sounding."

When the opportunity to interview "trained theologian and scholar of biblical studies" Mealy arose, Fairchild therefore asked him a number of questions about this "Spoken English" translation of the first-century Koine Greek New Testament.  Mealy, who took every New Testament Greek course (and then some) as a college student, told Fairchild that he is "passionate about making the Scriptures clear, fresh, and meaningful…"

Here are some of Mealy's other quotes from this interview:

Like the reformer Martin Luther, I believe that those who read the Scriptures have a right to understand them without needing an expert to explain everything to them.

My translation attempts to stay closely faithful to what each [New Testament] author said in Greek…

There is no one-size-fits-all working method for achieving this.  And it's much harder than you might expect.

The fact is that Greek not only uses a different word order from English, but it also casts ideas into words differently in many ways.

The meeting of these daunting challenges resulted in a thoroughly-documented Spoken English New
Testament (SENT) that has been field tested with numerous "real readers in focus groups."  Webb predicts that SENT will especially appeal to people "who have never gotten past the weird, wooden, archaic, jargon-filled language of the standard translations they've been exposed to."


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