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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014: Numerologically speaking

(Public Domain)
Those who have heard that 7 is a lucky number may be looking forward to 2014.  That is, if they believe in numerology…

According to Hans Decoz (who should know, being that he's fiddled with  this "ancient spiritual science" since 1969), 2014 is "a 7 universal year, because 2 + 0 + 1 + 4 = 7."

Translated into plain English, this means that 2014 will be a year in which people analyze the follies of extreme duality.  Therefore, efforts will be made to unite divergent factions.

However, this will take some time.  In the interim, the following extremes will continue to run their course:  empathy and egotism, compassion and cruelty, communication and miscommunication.

Decoz predicts "a big change or shocking and unexpected event around October or November of 2014, caused in part by miscommunication…"

Despair not!  Decoz also predicts that when this nine-year numerological cycle that we're currently in ends by 2017, the subsequent cycle will "see the end of many centuries of long-held secrets…  Light will shine on everything, and symbolize the most dramatic change in history."


Copyright December 31, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 30, 2013

Mark Twain: Religious rumbles

Twain in 1909  (Public Domain)
Some religionists claim Mark Twain as one their own.  They cite his devotion to Joan of Arc, his Masonic membership, and his Presbyterian ties as "proof" of his faithful tendencies.

Certainly, Twain gave many indications of wanting to believe.  He was duly preoccupied with life's big questions, and was constantly seeking some meaningful answers.

Although Twain had what Einstein would call a "holy curiosity," he also possessed a sharp wit and an equally cutting logic.  When these three qualities merged, they resulted in such insights as the following:

The Church has opposed every invention and discovery from the day of Galileo down to our own time, when the use of anesthetics in childbirth was regarded as a sin because it avoided the biblical curse pronounced against Eve.

Man is a Religious Animal.  He is the only Religious Animal.  He is the only animal that has True Religion – several of them.  He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight.

The church is always trying to get other people to reform; it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example.

The jury is still out on whether Twain was a believer of sorts, an agnostic, or an atheist.

The answer to that mainly concerns Twain.  But the questions he raised might very well concern us all…


Copyright December 30, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 29, 2013

William Osler: Older men useless?

Osler at 60   (Public Domain)
Back in 1905 when famed physician William Osler was 55 years of age, he made a rather shocking farewell speech to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Osler not only contended that men over 60 should be made to retire (due to their "uselessness"), but he also hinted (joked?) that these retirees should be chloroformed (euthanized) relatively soon after that.

According to Dr. Laura Davidow Hirshbein, Osler sprinkled this speech with "scientific theories about the finite qualities of life energy," and then focused upon historical achievements that were made by younger men.

Although Osler was most likely kidding about the euthanasia suggestion, he seemed quite serious about the enforced retirement.  This speech was bound to ruffle some feathers, and it certainly did.

In fact, Osler's remarks set off "a storm of controversy" from Atlantic to Pacific.  He was then called everything "heartless" to "a crank."

However, there was one silver lining from this whole affair.  Newspapers across the country began reporting on "innumerable examples of still-capable older men" in order to disprove Osler's allegations.      


Copyright December 29, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Bald eagle: Separation of bird and state?

Bald Eagle   (Photo by Yathin S. Krishnappa)
A survival threat to bald eagles is once again making headlines. 

This time around, a mysterious disease is causing bald eagles in Utah to first become crippled "with leg paralysis and tremors," and then die.  Laura Zuckerman of Reuters reports that these deaths remain "unexplained."

A more obvious cause of some bald-eagle deaths throughout the years has been the killing of them for religious purposes. In March 2012 the United States government granted special permission for the Northern Arapaho tribe ("a Wyoming Native American tribe") to kill two bald eagles for use within sacred ceremonies.

One tribal elder gave this reason for the ritualistic inclusion of bald eagles:  It has been since the beginning of time with us… we get to utilize the eagle, which we consider a messenger to the Creator.

What therefore takes precedence?  The bald eagle's right to survive within the delicate web of life, or the rights of these Native American people to engage in some traditional religious practices?

Some say that freedom of religion grants citizens the right to believe what they want, but not necessarily the right to do what they want. 

Then there are those who say that the United States government has for so long suppressed the religious expression of Native Americans that it owes this tribe some leeway from a federal law concerning bald eagles.


Copyright December 28, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 27, 2013

'Jesus' vs.

Where's Jesus?  (Photo by Jonathunder) 
Christmas wasn't quite so happy this year in the heavenly town of
Saint Johnsbury, Vermont.

That's because the Vermont Novelty Toaster Corporation, producer of the red-hot Jesus toaster, had a falling out with  According to PR Newswire, Amazon not only takes "15% of all proceeds," but also "delays payment up to a month."

That's pretty hard for a relatively small business to take.  Vermont Novelty's CEO, Galen Dively, had this to say:  "I have been on the phone for the last two weeks with them getting nowhere on this issue despite my 100% seller rating and flawless customer service."

This level of frustration has resulted in some decisive action on Dively's part. If Amazon can't duly appreciate the miracle of 'Jesus' on rye, then these toasters will henceforth be sold directly from the Vermont Novelty website.

And we're not just talking 'Jesus' here…  There are also Burnt Impressions of "Obama, Sarah Palin, the Virgin Mary, butterflies, peace signs," plus some too crispy to mention.

One final word to the wise:  Don't wait until the last minute to order your very own Jesus toaster.  Turns out it was "the #32 best-selling toaster on Amazon this Christmas…"    


Copyright December 27, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Daniel Ladinsky: If you want

St. John of the Cross (F. de Zurbaran)
Now that a Silent Night has separated us from the Christmas frenzy, perhaps it's time to listen once again for the still small voice within.

According to mystics Daniel Ladinsky and St. John of the Cross, it might sound something like this:   

If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the road pregnant with the holy, and say, 'I need shelter for the night,
please take me inside your heart, my time is so close.'

Then, under the roof of your soul, you will witness the sublime intimacy, the divine, the Christ taking birth forever, as she grasps your hand for help, for each of us is the midwife of God, each of us…

Both Ladinsky and John of the Cross are quite familiar with listening for this voice.  Wikipedia explains that "over a twenty-year period," Ladinsky "spent extensive time in a spiritual community in western India…"  St. John of the Cross is a Doctor of the Church whose writings are considered to be "the summit of mystical Spanish literature."  


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Hippocratic Oath: Pagan and Christian

(12th-Century Hippocratic Oath)
It is difficult to ascertain exactly what Hippocrates of Cos, commonly referred to as "the father of Western medicine," did or didn't do.   His contributions were so intermingled with those of like-minded practitioners that it is almost impossible to distinguish one from the other.

Wikipedia defines the Hippocratic Corpus as "a collection of around 60 early Ancient Greek medical works strongly associated with the physician Hippocrates and his teachings."  These works, one of which is the Hippocratic Oath, vary greatly in "content, age and style."

Originally, the Hippocratic Oath required a person to align with "Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panacea and all the gods and goddesses" as witnesses. By the time the 12th century had rolled around, the Oath had been written out on a Byzantine manuscript "in the form of a cross, relating it visually to Christian ideas."

Some of the principles contained within the Oath are as follows:  no deadly drugs, no abortive remedies, no sexual abuse, confidentiality, and no harm.


Copyright December 25, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Cranberries: Not just a rock band

Cranberry Blossoms (by Bernd Haynold)
Although the human variety of Cranberries is somewhat floundering, the botanical variety has been going strong for centuries.

Wikipedia tells us that these plants consist of "low, creeping shrubs or vines up to 7 feet long and 2 to 8 inches in height."  Their evergreen leaves are offset by dark pink flowers which eventually morph into white, then red, berries.

It is believed that the name "cranberry" was first used by those European settlers in North America who thought that this plant, when flowering, resembled a crane's head and neck.

Europeans were introduced to the wonders of cranberries by Native Americans who had used these fruits for food, wound medicine and dye.

Kathie Letcher Lyle explains that cranberry poultices were used for poison arrow wounds, possibly because of their astringent qualities.  They have also "been praised for easing cramps and childbirth, even convulsions, 'hysteria,' and 'fits.'"  Best of all, they are practically an instant cure for scurvy, due to their high vitamin C

Courtney Alexander of Cornell University delves into the folk lore concerning these berries.  She states that "in Victorian flower language, the cranberry blossom signifies that the receiver extend kindness to the giver."  The berry is seen as "democratic" because it can be eaten as a delicacy for the rich and as a staple for the poor.


Copyright December 24, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 23, 2013

Rev. Dr. Lyman Beecher: The final days

Lyman Beecher  (Public Domain)
He who was father to author Harriet Beecher Stowe, to abolitionist Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, and to eleven other gifted children, was also an acclaimed citizen in his own right.

During his many vigorous years as a Presbyterian minister (from the late 1700s until the mid 1800s), Lyman Beecher co-founded the American Temperance Society, served as president of Lane Theological Seminary, and led the Second Great Awakening (a United States revivalist movement). 

Because Beecher had challenged some traditional Presbyterian theological stances, he was charged with heresy in 1835.  After a trial that took place within his own church, he was acquitted.  Beecher had also been caught up in abolitionist turmoil when Lane became a hotbed of such activity.

Wikipedia explains that "after the slavery controversy" at Lane, Beecher and his partner Stowe "tried to revive the prosperity of the Seminary, but at last abandoned it."  Beecher then sought refuge in Brooklyn, New York with his son Henry.

Soon after that, Beecher's vast "intellectual powers began to decline."  In describing his 1863 "Obsequies" (funeral rites), The New York Times quoted these excerpts from Dr. Leonard Bacon's oration:  It is not in sorrow that we are assembled.  Why should we mourn that he… had outlived his activity, and even his cognizance of passing events in the great world…

Although Beecher may not have been cognizant of events "in the great world," he nevertheless showed signs of being cognizant of events in the great beyond.  Bacon also noted that shortly before death, Beecher experienced a "transfiguration."  His countenance became "luminous," and he called to his wife:  I have had a clear vision of Heaven…  I have seen the King in his Glory. 


Copyright December 23, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Newgrange: Flooded with light

Newgrange  (Photo by Popsracer)
Long before there was a Stonehenge or a Pyramid of Giza, there was a Newgrange.

Millennia later, crowds are still gathering at Newgrange in order to celebrate the winter solstice.  RTE News/Ireland reports that "around 200 people" were there yesterday "when a narrow beam of sunlight broke through the opening known as the roof box and lit up the chamber of the 5,000-year-old tomb at 8:56 am."

Wikipedia describes Newgrange as "a prehistoric monument in County Meath, Ireland."  It is estimated to have been built around 3200 BCE (before the Mayans and the Minoans, and way before the age of Classical Antiquity).

It consists primarily of "a large mound," within which lies a 60-foot chambered passage with walls of "large stone slabs."  Some of these walls are decorated with "Neolithic rock art."  This art appears to be "abstract," but may very well have had symbolic meaning.

The purpose of the structure remains unclear.  There is no firm evidence that it was used as a burial site, and the ceiling seems free of smoke indicators.  The Neolithic people of that age were farmers with tools made of "stone, wood, antler or bone."  Metal tools had yet to be developed.    
In the late 1960s, archaeologist Michael J. O'Kelly rediscovered that during the winter solstice "the rising sun shines directly along the long [Newgrange] passage… for about 17 minutes," thus causing the chamber floor
to be flooded with light.


Copyright December 22, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Diamonds: Future and past

Diamond in the Rough   (USGS)
Some suspect that "a girl's best friend" might have been hiding out in Antarctica all along.

Charles Q. Choi of Live Science reports that diamonds are sometimes embedded in "blue-tinged rocks known as kimberlites."  Because "scientists found three kimberlite samples that were about 120 million years old" in the mountains of East Antarctica, they are thinking that diamonds might someday be found there also.

Although no longer the world's hardest-known natural material (wurtzite boron nitride and lonsdaleite are even harder), diamonds nevertheless have a long history of being revered by many cultures.

Wikipedia reports that the earliest known use for diamonds was "as the eyes of Hindu devotional statues."  In Buddhism, it is the Diamond Sutra which is said to "cut through worldly illusion to illuminate what is real
and everlasting."

Ancient Greek mythology explains that when Zeus (king of the gods) was disturbed by some youths from the island of Crete, he turned them into adamas (diamonds).
(That'll teach 'em…)

According to occult lore, diamonds insured victory to warriors who carried them bound to the left arm.  These ultimate sparklers were also believed to ward off "panics, pestilences, [and] enchantments."   


Copyright December 21, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 20, 2013

Hurt: Anger's flip side

(by Hieronymus Bosch)
Those who typically yell at others may not give much thought to how that feels on the receiving end.

Thanks to some feel-good reporting by TODAY, readers can get a glimpse of anger's painful flip side. 

Scott Stump, a TODAY contributor, tells of an incident which occurred at a Wegman's in upstate New York.  An employee there was harshly scolded by a customer who complained that items
weren't being scanned quickly enough.

The employee, Chris Tuttle, happens to have Asperger's syndrome.  He went home and complained to his sister about
having "the worst day ever."  Tuttle had an especially difficult time with "why someone would be so mean and so nasty."

Tuttle's sister, Jamie Virkler, felt moved to write about this situation on Facebook.  She hoped that Tuttle, an avid social-media fan, would feel comforted by this.

Little did Virkler expect the huge outpouring of support that followed.  Within hours there were comments from far and wide – posts from people who told their own stories of hurtful encounters.

Hopefully, the person who scolded Tuttle will come across some of these posts and recognize the sorry consequences of anger.  Nevertheless, Tuttle himself now feels "blessed and loved and cared for."    

Copyright December 20, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mark Wahlberg: First things first

Wahlberg in 2012 (Photo: Eva Rinaldi)
Mark Wahlberg begins each day in the same way:  He gets down on his hands and knees and gives thanks to God.

That's when he's inside the house. As soon as Wahlberg gets outside, he looks for a church.  As he told Christian Today, "That's how I start my day – I like to get in there for 15 to 20 minutes and say my

When Wahlberg was young, his lifestyle wasn't quite that devout.  In fact, it was downright decadent.  As a result, he was charged with attempted murder at the tender age of 16.  After ending up in jail, he finally decided:  "This is not what I want out of my life."

Many have made such declarations under dire circumstances, but relatively few have been able to walk the talk. Wahlberg remains one of those few - and he attributes this to a spiritual change of heart.

He began to focus upon his Catholic faith.  That plus plenty of "hard work" were the keys to his remarkable turnaround.  When his sentence was up, Wahlberg was eager to "make a positive impact" via community service.  He explained, "…that's why I do so much youth work, within our foundation and with inner city kids." 


Copyright December 19, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pastor challenges UMC all-or-nothing ruling

 UMC chancel (Photo by PFAStudent) 
In the recent United Methodist Church trial of Rev. Frank Schaefer (because had had officiated his son's same-sex wedding in 2007), the crux of the matter seemed to lie with an all-or-nothing policy.

According to The Washington Post, the jury in this trial ruled that "Schaefer had to pledge to follow the United Methodist Book of Discipline 'in its entirety' or surrender his credentials at the end of his suspension."

All 467 pages of the 2012 edition of this book can be found online.  The "Table of Contents" covers a wide variety of topics, and in many
ways seems more detailed than the Bible itself.

What's interesting is that on page 3 of this volume it states:  "The editors, in consultation with the Judicial Council, shall also have the
authority to delete provisions of the Book of Discipline that have been ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council."

Schaefer appears to be hoping that his stance on gay marriages will influence the UMC "powers that be" to hit the delete button on some of their own decisions.  He stated:  "My conscience does not allow me to uphold the entire discipline because it contains discriminatory provisions and language that is harmful and hurtful to our homosexual brothers and sisters."

Schaefer is not alone in this hope.  The Washington Post reports that other UMC clergy are becoming
increasingly intolerant of all-or-nothing rulings. 

Copyright December 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Israel: Keeping Jews Jewish

Israel    (NASA Photo)
If a foremost goal of Israel could be verbalized succinctly, it might sound
something like this:  Keep Jews Jewish.

With this in mind, the Israeli prime minister's office is spearheading a campaign "to strengthen Jewish identity among young Jews and solidify their connection to Israel."

The Associated Press reports that the growing estrangement of young
American Jews from Judaism is of utmost concern.  A meeting between
Israeli and Jewish-American leaders was therefore held in November 2013
to address this issue.

The issue is complicated by the fact that many American Jews are alienated
by Israel's policies concerning the West Bank.  According to a Pew Research Center report, 44% of American Jews said that "Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank" hurts Israel's security.

Another challenge is the liberalism of many American Jews versus the Orthodox establishment within Israel.  The Orthodox rabbinate in Israel has refused to recognize some rulings by the Conservative and Reform Jewish movements as valid.

Despite these significant differences, efforts to work together for the overall good continue.  There is a deepening recognition on both sides that in unity there is strength.

Copyright December 17, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 16, 2013

Pomegranate: Fruit of the gods

Pomegranate Seeds (Photo by Sakartvelo)
If you want your table to look a bit more festive during this holiday season, try adding a fresh pomegranate to the mix.  Its bouncy shape and bold color will no doubt catch the eye of many an
appreciative guest.

However, the history of pomegranates goes way beyond mere festivities.  In fact, Marxana tells us that there "has never been a fruit so filled with hope and despair."

The ancient Hebrews believed that all pomegranates contain 613 seeds, a number which reflects the exact total of Torah commandments.  Many of today's scholars think that the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden was actually a pomegranate (the Latin name of which is pomum granatum, or "seeded apple").

Early Christians equated pomegranates with "the seed that bore the son of God," as well as with "the Virgin Mary's power over life and death."  Iconic artwork therefore depicted the Holy Mother "with a pomegranate either in her hand or nearby."

In ancient Greek mythology, Hades, the god of the underworld, was trying to persuade Persephone to join him there.  After he kidnapped Persephone, her mother Demeter, the harvest goddess, "caused every plant on Earth to die."  Zeus, the king of the gods, thus ordered Hades to release Persephone.  Before doing so, clever Hades tricked her into eating four pomegranate seeds.  Persephone must therefore rejoin Hades in his underworld for four months out of every year.

Copyright December 16, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Ho-Ho-Holy Land snow

Snow Angel  (Photo by Loadmaster)
"Dashing through the snow" currently applies as much to the Holy Land as it does to North America.

Mail Online reports that a powerful winter storm has been sweeping through the eastern Mediterranean this weekend.  Named "Alexa," its blanket of snow has even covered Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.

Twenty inches (and counting) of the powdery stuff has virtually
paralyzed the region.  Highways have been closed, and thousands
have been left without electricity.

Not everyone, however, is equally distraught.  Israelis and Palestinians alike are taking some time to frolic in the snow.  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is currently in the Holy Land for peace talks, had this to say:  I have heard of making guests welcome and feeling at home.  This is about as far as I've ever seen anything go… giving me a New England snowstorm.     


Copyright December 15, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Epigenetics: The sins of the fathers...

Some Epigenetic Mechanisms (NIH)
It seems that nurture might now be winning the nature vs. nurture debate.

What happens during your lifetime influences not only your personality, but also your genetic makeup.  This striking discovery was reported on by Russell Brandom in his recent article for The Verge on "why DNA isn't destiny…"

In discussing the results from a recent Laval University study of mothers who had undergone gastric bypass surgery, Brandom explained that this surgery had changed their genetic markers (not the "genetic code itself, but the markers in between that code").  Not only that, these genetic-marker changes were then passed on to their subsequent offspring.

This astonishing latter finding, which is known as "the phenomenon of epigenetic inheritance," means that "characteristics can be passed down from parent to child without ever touching the genetic code."

This is both empowering and frightening.  It could mean that the good and the bad within people's overall lives would be passed on for generations to come.

…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.  (Deuteronomy 5:9-10, NIV) 


Copyright December 14, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 13, 2013

Reza Aslan: Christ comes in all colors

Chinese Christ (Public Domain, 1879)
Unlike Megyn Kelly (the Fox News host who declared that Jesus was white), Reza Aslan has done his homework.

An internationally-known scholar of religions, Aslan is the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.  Although this
particular book is about the historical Jesus, Aslan has also said some compelling things about the traditional "Christ."

Max Fisher wrote an article for WorldViews of The Washington Post titled Reza Aslan on Jesus' skin color: 'Megyn Kelly is right.  Her Christ is white.'

Aslan can make a statement like this because he separates "Jesus" from "Christ."  Aslan has asserted that because Jesus "was Galilean," he would most likely have had "dark features… probably a longer nose, black hair."  In other words, he "would look the way that the average Palestinian would look today."

"Christ," however, is a Savior of a different color.  In fact, He is a Savior of all colors and can therefore reflect all colors.  The Chinese depict Him as Asian, the Blacks as African, and Megyn Kelly… well, you know. 

Aslan goes so far as to say that the "Christ of faith can be anything, anything that you want him to be…"  If that weren't controversial enough, he further points out:  Jesus did not create Christianity; his followers created Christianity.  


Copyright December 13, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Mandela's ancestral funeral rites

Tembuland 1911 Map (by Abu Shawka)
Although Nelson Mandela had been associated with Christianity during various periods of his life – he, like many other South Africans, also remained connected with the traditional animist beliefs of his people.

Xola Potelwa of Reuters reports that Mandela "will be laid to rest
on Sunday in an elaborate ceremony combining a state funeral and all its military pomp with the traditional burial rituals of his Xhosa clan…"

These latter rituals include those that will welcome Mandela into
"the world of ancestors."  They are also meant to insure that his
spirit will be at peace.

Mandela's ataThembu (aka "Tembu") people, whose ancestral land is on the Eastern Cape about 500 miles south of Johannesburg, will perform "salutations to the dead" for Mandela.  They will slaughter oxen as part of the funeral rites, and "wash the spades" (that were used to dig his grave) a week after the burial.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica explains that the "work of Christian missionaries accelerated the erosion of the traditional Tembu way of life and their structures of authority."


Copyright December 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Multiple intelligences: Animals too

Beaver Dam   (Photo by Marcin Klapczynski)
Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences identifies many different aspects of intelligence apart from the
traditional cognitive ones. 

These aspects include naturalistic, spatial, kinesthetic and interpersonal components – all of which (and more) are present within animals too.

In fact, Dominique Mosbergen reports in The Huffington Post that "humans really aren't smarter than other creatures –
and that some animals may actually be brighter than we are."

This conclusion is based upon research from the University of Adelaide in Australia which emphasizes that
reasoning "is just one form of intelligence."  Just because human and animal intelligences differ doesn't necessarily mean that one type is superior to the other.

Examples of animal intelligence abound.  Elephants grieve, birds build nests, beavers dam rivers, and "killer whales share a complex language of their own." 

Why then do so many humans buy into the notion that they reign supreme as far as intelligence is concerned? 
Could it be that they've needed a justification for their (often cruel) domination over animals?  Could it also be that some religions foster this idea of human superiority over all other created beings?       


Copyright December 11, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christians and Jews: West Bank healing

(West Bank)
The following prophecy can be found in the Book of Jeremiah:  Again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria.

What was then Samaria (and Judea) is now the West Bank.  Michele Chabin of USA Today explains that this is "the land on the western shore of the River Jordan, where Jesus was baptized…  where much of biblical history took place."

A number of Christians therefore see it as their spiritual duty to help fulfill this biblical prophecy.  The Evangelical group Hayovel "brings together more than 300 volunteers from 14 countries" each year to work in West Bank vineyards that are owned by Jewish settlers.

Tommy Waller, founder of Hayovel, sees this effort as one step towards healing "the relationship between Christians and Jews, who Christians have hurt throughout history."

In addition to volunteer efforts such as this, Evangelical Christians have also donated "significant amounts of money" to Israeli organizations and causes.


Copyright December 10, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 9, 2013

Hospital chaplaincy on the rise

(Saint Marianne Cope)
Although the ranks of those who consider themselves non-religious are growing, many of these same folks embrace spirituality.

Along with this emphasis upon spirituality comes an expansion of hospital chaplaincy.  Laura Landro of The Wall Street Journal reports that nearly "70% of community hospitals surveyed in 2011 provided chaplaincy services, up from 62% in 2003."

Because there is a growing awareness of the mind/body/spirit connection, hospital chaplains are being called upon to help with a wide variety of issues.  These include staff burnout, family bereavement, and palliative

Chaplains not only call upon a higher power for help with holistic healing, but also help patients to "tap their inner resources."  Perhaps a chaplain's most important task is to simply listen, while providing "presence and companionship."


Copyright December 9, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Perseverance: Neuronal network

Anterior Cingulate Cortex (highlighted)
What makes one person persevere in the face of all odds, whereas another might have quit long before?

Julianne Chiaet of Scientific American reports that the "will to persevere can be triggered by electrical stimulation."  Of what?  Of "a particular neuronal
network" that links an area of the frontal brain (anterior midcingulate cortex) which is "involved in processing executive functions" to many other parts of the brain…

In other words, perseverance is not just rooted in one brain region, but is a coordinated effort of different brain components.  This was indicated by neurologist Josef Parvizi, along with other researchers from the Stanford School of Medicine.

Parvizi and his team are hoping that their findings can help pave the way towards neurological therapies that
can strengthen the will to persevere.  Depressed people, for example, might benefit greatly from such therapies.


Copyright December 8, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Christians claim Mandela as their own

(Mandela in 1937)
Although pretty much everyone these days wants to be associated with Nelson Mandela, his religious affiliations are not talked about nearly as much as his political ones.

However, on the day of Mandela's death, The Gospel Herald Society published an article by Joshua Cheung titled "Nelson Mandela Legacy:
Religion and Christian Faith, the Bedrock of His Extraordinary Life." 

Cheung wrote that Mandela "has been a Methodist Christian and has consistently proclaimed his commitment to Christ as his Lord throughout his adult life."  He further explained that Mandela's social justice achievements are rooted in the "Christian principles of justice, forgiveness and reconciliation."

Mandela's 1994 speech at the Zionist Christian Church Easter conference reflects the inspiration he drew from the life of Christ.  During this speech, Mandela emphasized the following about Jesus:  Who without arms, Without soldiers,  Without police and covert special forces,  Without hit squads or bands of vigilantes,  Overcame the mightiest state during his time…


Copyright December 7, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 6, 2013

Joyce Kilmer: But only God

(Kilmer in 1908)
When Alfred Joyce Kilmer famously wrote "But only God can make a tree," he wasn't just trying to sound poetic.  Kilmer believed these words with all of his Catholic heart and soul.

Christianity loomed large in Kilmer's life from the get-go.  Born into an
Episcopalian family that worshipped at Christ Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Kilmer was named after two of the priests there. 

Later in life, Kilmer converted to Roman Catholicism.  John Covell of
Catholic Men's Quarterly compares Kilmer's conversion to that of Cardinal John Henry Newman.  Newman had first been what Kilmer
had almost become – an Episcopalian priest.

Much of Kilmer's writing became infused with his Catholic faith.  He
once said:  The Catholic Faith is such a thing that I'd rather write moderately well about it than magnificently well about anything else.

For Kilmer, Catholicism went way beyond theology.  Although he did believe in what he called "the Catholic position," he mostly yearned for something greater than intellectual principles. 

He yearned for Faith with a capital "F."  Faith in the God who not only created trees, but also created poets to glorify them…


Copyright December 6, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Nonhuman rights for chimps

Chimpanzee  (Photo by Thomas Lersch)
The Declaration of Independence, that widely-hailed champion of individual rights, has one fatal flaw:  It only pertains to humans.

If it were to also read, "When in the course of animal events," that could be a horse of a different color.  This very matter is currently being explored by a U.S. animal rights group that has filed a lawsuit calling for the "legal personhood" of chimpanzees.

According to Bernard Vaughan and Daniel Weissner of Reuters, the Nonhuman Rights Project requested that a New York State court declare a chimp named Tommy (who is caged at a used trailer lot in Central New York) to be "a cognitively complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned."

This same lawsuit lobbies for the rights of three other "imprisoned" New York chimps: one at a private property in Niagara Falls, and two within research facilities at SUNY Stony Brook on Long Island.

Chimps have long been known to be intelligent and social animals.  James B. Harrod takes this a step further by theorizing that chimps also exhibit religious-type behaviors.

In light of these qualities, perhaps it is long past time to treat chimps as fellow travelers rather than as slaves.


Copyright December 5, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Quoth the balsam, 'Evermore'

Pine Needles  (Photo by Hardyplants)
No matter what else it is, 'tis also the season for evergreen blessings.

In her December 3, 2013 Wise Woman Herbal Ezine, Susun Weed points out that evergreens are in the spotlight now that the bright-colored deciduous leaves have fallen.  She speaks of the evergreens' vitamin-C rich needles, their refreshing fragrance, their medicinal berries, and their overall "green blessings."

Wikipedia defines "evergreen" as "a plant that has leaves in all four seasons, always green."  Evergreens are not just limited to the familiar "Christmas tree" type conifers.  They also include varieties such as live oak, eucalyptus, holly and cycads.

Weed mentions a variety of ways to invite evergreens into your life.   You can either "burn cedar to attract healing energies," or harvest and eat (one or two per day) its berries.  You can steep balsam needles in apple cider vinegar to liven up salads, and spruce needles in olive oil to calm down aching joints.  And how about
freshening household air by boiling some pine needles in water?


Copyright December 4, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jay Z: Four better or worse

Four Classical Elements   (PD)
Lady Luck can be quite fickle.  Therefore, lucky numbers can be for better or worse. However, in Jay Z's case, the number four is definitely a winner.

So much so that he and his wife Beyonce named their daughter Blue Ivy – Blue after Jay Z's favorite color, and Ivy after the Roman numeral IV, which denotes the number 4…

Four has been very prominent in the couple's life.  Kukil Bora of the International Business Times reports that their daughter's date of birth, 1/7/2012, numerologically equals 4.  Beyonce named one of her albums "Four."  Both Jay Z and Beyonce were born on the fourth of the month (he on December 4th, and she on September 4th).  They were married on April 4, 2008.

According to Sandra Weaver, the number four is associated with the archetypal feminine qualities of receptivity, warmth and passivity.  It represents such universal things as the four directions and the four elements.  She states that numerological "fours" are "stable, rigid, sure-footed, determined to reach their goals in a straight line."


Copyright December 3, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 2, 2013

Callas but not callous

Callas in 1958   (Public Domain)  
Beneath that seemingly callous exterior of diva Maria Callas lay an intensely religious fervor.

According to Renzo Allegri of the Messenger of Saint Anthony, Callas had "an almost fanatical attitude to religion."  She believed that all of life's blessings, including everyday ones such as good weather, were personally bestowed upon her by a very intimate God.  This belief was reflected within her letters, which contained numerous references to what the Lord had done for her.

Allegri writes that Callas would pray "very frequently."  Before
performing, she would visit a church and "remain genuflected for long periods – like a lifeless statue."  At Milan's Duomo, she would kneel in prayer before the Madonna's statue for more than half an hour at a time.

Although she was married to a Roman Catholic, Callas remained
steadfastly Greek Orthodox.  In a letter to husband Giovanni Battista Meneghini, Callas wrote:  You see, I feel more at home in my Church than in yours…  This may be because I was born into this Church, or perhaps because I perceive the Greek Orthodox faith and warmer and merrier.     


Copyright December 2, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Thing is, he's Jewish

Stan Lee of Marvel (Photo by Edward Liu)
It is well known that Jews and comedy are as perfect a match as bagels, lox and cream cheese.

Less known is the relationship between Jews and comic books.  Take The Thing (please), for instance.  Described as a "founding member of the Fantastic Four" by, this Thing "began life as Benjamin Jacob Grimm" on what appears to be New York City's Lower East Side.

Although hints were given for years that Grimm's roots were Jewish, nothing definitive had ever been stated by Marvel Comics.  It wasn't until the relatively recent issue #56 of "Fantastic Four" ("Remembrance of Things Past") that Marvel finally established Grimm's religion to be Judaism.

So what took so long?  Why the long wait?  Was The Thing trying to hide his Jewish roots?

That very question is addressed in the "Remembrance" issue.  Mr. Sheckerberg, "a pawnbroker from the old
neighborhood," asks our hero if he were somehow ashamed of his Judaism. 

With his usual eloquence, The Thing answers, "Nah, that ain't it."

Then why so shy?  It turns out that The Thing doesn't want his monstrous looks (the result of an attack by
cosmic rays during his piloting years) to be thought of as representing Judaism.  He explains:  "Figure there's enough trouble in this world without people thinkin' Jews are all monsters like me…"


Copyright December 1, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Urban turkeys: Who's on first?

(Public Domain)
Wikipedia reports that the Meleagris Gallopavo (aka "Wild Turkey") species is "native to the forests of North America."

Although often called a universe unto itself, New York City is actually located in North America.  It was once heavily forested, as
any modern-day visitor to Central Park might surmise.  Therefore, it's a pretty safe bet that wild turkeys were there long before the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge enabled humans to heavily populate
Staten Island (one of NYC's five boroughs).

Nevertheless, Staten Island's present-day human inhabitants are not wild about sharing their yards, gardens and roadways with these native birds.  Jennifer Peltz of The Associated Press interviewed some neighborhood folks.  Here's what they said about the matter:

We don't want to kill them.  [Then what's that in the oven?]  We just want them to leave us alone.  [Bet they feel the same way…]

They really are a beautiful bird…  But they ruined our property.  [And we their forests…]

They're not made for a city.  [Is any species really?]


Copyright November 30, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 29, 2013

Matt Morris: Embracing diversity

Morris in 2008 (Photo by Joshrhinehart)
It seems as though the artist known as Teo Bishop is now coming back around again to being the devotee known as Matt Morris.

Devotion has long been Morris' middle name (not yet literally, but stay tuned); however, this devotion has changed in focus from Neo-Paganism to Christianity.

This ace singer-songwriter, who has collaborated with the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Cher and Mary J. Blige, is used to hobnobbing with earthly, as well as heavenly, stars.  After all, he is a member of the "Mouseketeer Alumni Club," along with Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake.

Mark Oppenheimer of The New York Times explains that Morris "began a rise in the Pagan community" about three years ago.  In his Bishop in the Grove blog, Morris himself wrote this about spirituality:  Ministry, as I understand it, is the act of nurturing
that fire, both in yourself and in others.

Oppenheimer states that Morris has now also "reembraced Christianity.  He recently blogged, "I'm overwhelmed with thoughts of Jesus…"

Is devotion to Jesus incompatible with Paganism?  Morris doesn't seem to think so.  He remains "respectful of Paganism," and many Pagans continue to appreciate his generously-shared spiritual journey. 


Copyright November 29, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Mount Etna: Typhon's at it again

2002 Etna Eruption  (NASA Photo)
Typhon is not just any old monster.  According to the Ancient Greeks, he is the "Father of All Monsters," which makes him quite the monstrosity.

Although Typhon is said to have a human upper half, he must have been out to lunch when they were distributing noggins like Brad Pitt's.  He instead ended up with "a hundred dragon heads"
erupting from his neck and shoulders.  (Talk about a bad hair day...)

Typhon's bottom half isn't much better.  In fact, it is worse yet.  Wikipedia explains that his personal nether regions consist of "gigantic viper coils" that constantly hiss.

Ugh!  (Translation: Yuck!)

This alleged son of Gaia and Tartarus is a hothead, to boot.  Typhon is therefore associated with deadly storms and volcanic eruptions.

Some say that he lives beneath Mount Etna, and that he periodically threatens to blow his top.  Just last week, ABC News reported that "Mount Etna, Europe's most active volcano, has erupted again…"


Copyright November 28, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved