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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Friends Committee: Against lethal drones

MQ-9 Reaper (Public Domain)
A recent message titled "Faith-Based Organizations
Oppose Lethal Use of Drones" was sent to President
Obama.  It was signed by the Executive Secretary of
the Friends Committee on National Legislation – as well as by high-level representatives of other groups
such as the United Methodists and the Mennonites.

The letter begins by expressing "great concern" about
the use of drones for "targeted killings" - as is being
done "within the borders of other sovereign nations,
at times without their permission… and without clear legal authority…" It then asks this key question: Is the U.S. at war?  If so, then international law regarding the use of these weapons should apply.  If not, "then other principles of human and civil rights" (such as "fair trial in a court of law") should prevail.

The message acknowledges that "these matters are not simple…"  Nevertheless, it points out some serious flaws about the lethal use of drones. Because targeting killings don't address the underlying causes of conflict, they can lead to more - rather than less - overall terrorism.  As drones "injure and threaten people who were previously uninvolved," recruitment for extremist organizations becomes that much easier.  The remote aspect of drone use negates the "deep human instinct against killing."  It is quite different from coming face-to-face with a perceived enemy.

The senders of this letter certainly realize that change is often slow and incremental.  They nonetheless close by urging President Obama to give "these issues more careful reflection and evaluation."


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

Monday, April 29, 2013

Catholic: 'Here comes everybody'

Magdalena (by Gheorghe Tattarescu)
The word "catholic" (catholicus in Latin, katholikos in Greek) originally meant "universal."  Author James Joyce interpreted this to mean "Here comes everybody."

Last week, a dedicated group of independent Catholics took this meaning to heart.  In a ceremony at St. Andrew United Church of Christ in Louisville, Kentucky, Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan ordained former Carmelite nun Rosemarie Smead as a priest. During her sermon, Meehan stated:  As a woman priest, Rosemarie is leading, not leaving the Catholic Church, into a new era of inclusivity.

Two hundred hardy souls were in attendance for this ceremony.  Mary Wisniewski of Reuters reported that during the ordination, "Smead wept openly" while others blessed her and whispered:  Thanks for doing this for us.  During the accompanying communion service, one woman was heard saying:  Girl, lift those plates.  I've been waiting a long time for this.

Certainly, it's been a real long time (centuries) since "the early Church had women priests, deacons and
bishops."  It has been even longer since Jesus Himself "chose women, like Mary Magalene, as disciples…" However, the Roman Catholic Church still "teaches that it has no authority to allow women to be priests because Jesus Christ chose only men as his apostles."  Many today counter this latter viewpoint by saying that "Jesus was only acting according to the customs of his time."

Nevertheless, the Vatican's official position remains staunch on this matter. Last week, Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz referred to Smead's planned ordination as "simulated," and warned that "the simulation of a sacrament carries very serious penal sanctions in Church law…"  He further stated that "Catholics should not support or participate in" Smead's ordination ceremony.

Smead herself remains steadfast.  Her response to the Vatican's stand is this:  It [excommunication] has no
sting for me.  It is a Medieval bullying stick the bishops used to… keep the voices of women silent.


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



Sunday, April 28, 2013

Is the IRS 'playing God'?

(Photo by Matthew G. Bisanz)
Digital footprints are a lot more like footprints on the moon than they are like footprints in the sand.  In other words, they hang around a long, long time.

Those who are looking for a little bit of fame and immortality might like that notion.  They might tend to let the world know about every expensive hobby, trip and purchase that they've
undertaken.  For those folks - and for the rest who might only publicize these now and then – it might be important to consider that the IRS could also be watching.

The unsettling subtitle of Richard Satran's U.S. News & World Report article "IRS tracks your digital footprint" is this:   The IRS has quietly upgraded its technology so tax collectors can track virtually everything people do online.  For some, this could be
the equivalent of the IRS delving into your "Dear Diary" entries.  For others, it could "simply" be a once-over of their personal budget.

Mother's advice, "Don't do anything that you wouldn't want broadcasted on national TV," somewhat applies here.  It's a "Brave New World" in more ways than one.  If the IRS isn't watching, the drones might be.  If those two don't catch you, the cameras on Main Street might.

There is much to be said for the ethics (or lack thereof) of these tracking techniques.  Nevertheless, it might also be wise to consider this:  An omniscient God would not need to rely upon Facebook in order to discover who's been naughty and who's been nice…


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

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Paltrow's kids and young Buddha

(Departure of Prince Siddhartha)
Riddle:  What do Gwyneth Paltrow's kids have in common with the young Buddha (aka "Siddhartha")?

Short answer:  They both discovered that this world is filled with suffering.

MSN's Wonderwall recently ran an article titled "Gwyneth Paltrow: We can't lie to our children." At an April 22, 2013 press conference to promote Iron Man 3, Paltrow (who stars in the movie as Pepper Potts) philosophized about the movie's terrorism theme:  We do live in an unsafe world – that's the truth.  I'm dealing with this now
with my 7-year-old. He's sort of grappling with the fact that the world is unsafe…

Paltrow believes that there is nothing wrong with presenting the idea that the world is dangerous to children. She further stated: We can't lie to our children and pretend that the world is perfect and that everybody's happy and everybody's out there to do good.
So it's just part of a bigger conversation.

That "bigger conversation" sounds a bit Buddhist in nature.  Traditional tales about the Buddha's early life tell that he was born into a royal family (somewhat like being born into a celebrity family as Paltrow's kids were).
However, unlike Paltrow, Buddha's father was determined to shield his child from all suffering as long as possible.

When Siddhartha finally ventured outside of the palace gates, he witnessed aging, sickness and death. This depressed him so greatly that he tried to overcome suffering by leaving the palace and becoming an ascetic.

Perhaps to spare her children such angst, Paltrow is "consciously striving to keep them from experiencing equally sheltered existences."


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

Friday, April 26, 2013

Happiness: A dollar and a date

(Flowing Hair Dollar, 1795)
According to Prevention, money can buy happiness.  But luckily, just a dollar might suffice.

In his article "How a single buck can change your life," Bill Bradley cites a recent study from the University of Rochester.  It shows that "spending your discretionary income on life experiences – whether climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or taking salsa lessons – yields greater happiness than buying material possessions."  This is partly because
experiences can be "reconstructed favorably in memory" (whereas today's new smartphone is simply tomorrow's older smartphone).

Another important ingredient for getting the most out of your buck is spending it on an activity that involves companionship.  For example, buying a dollar's worth of bananas could be much more yummy if you snack on them along with a friend or two.  Going for a hike alone could not only be dangerous, but also less fun than going with others.

This research by psychologist Harry Reis and colleagues indicates that "it doesn't matter what the activity is as long as you're doing it with it someone else."  A thrifty approach, however, "means you can afford more experiences – all the better for your social life, and your wellbeing."

In other words, that one dream trip around the world might be less cumulatively joyful than a hundred social trips around the neighborhood.  That is why Prevention lists these happy-happy/joy-joy "staycation" ideas:  sign up for a local race and train with a partner; cook and eat dinner with a friend; head over to the theater with a pal, then discuss the show afterwards; challenge someone to a game of chess; and hit the hiking trail with a buddy.      


Copyright April 26, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, April 25, 2013

LeBron James: No hocus-pocus, just focus

Meditating Man (Public Domain)
Although LeBron James' success seems almost magical, it is due to more than just mysterious luck.

Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports reports that James is now in "playoff mode," which entails the giving up of his cell phone.  When James turned off his phone during last year's playoffs, he "won his
first NBA title."  Although this doesn't necessarily prove that a causal relationship exists between these two occurrences, the extra focus that doing without a cell phone can foster certainly bodes well.

Last year, James read more than usual during the playoffs.  He also watched movies with his family and cartoons with his kids.  What he didn't do was listen to a lot of sports talk radio.  Aside from cutting down on cell phone usage, he also abstained from Twitter.

Of course, this is far from the first time that basketball and calming techniques have come together.  Back when Phil Jackson and the Lakers were in full swing, pregame meditation was where it was at.  When ESPN's Henry Abbott wrote about "The Lakers mental preparation for Game 7" in 2010, he described this preparation as follows:  "Phil Jackson will say a few words, and then the lights will be turned off, and everyone will have instructions to pay attention to nothing but the in and out of their breathing.  For five to ten minutes they'll sit in the dark, and nobody will say anything…  'Breathing in silence' is the goal.  Afterwards, they will watch film."

This meditative mindset had carried over into the games themselves.  During timeouts, Jackson would remind
them to "share a breath" on the sidelines.  During stressful game moments, the players were "likely to very
consciously take a breath or two to get centered."    


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

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hanging by a thread? Tylenol to the rescue

Angst Incarnate (by Titian, 1548-49)
The old adage, "If you're at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on" no longer applies.  Today's wisdom says that it's much more effective to just pop a Tylenol.

Aimee Picchi of MSN Money elaborates upon this extra-strength philosophy.  She reports that pills containing acetaminophen can actually help to relieve "existential angst."  This information was derived from research results that were published in Psychological Science.  The study had been done at Canada's University of British Columbia.

This research involved the deliberate creation of "existential dread" by asking a group to "write about what would happen to their bodies after they die." (Caution:  Do not try this literary exercise within three hours of bedtime.)  A different group was asked to watch angst-producing films such as Eraserhead.

Lo and behold!  Tylenol seems to somehow relieve the effects of experiences like these.  Lead researcher David Randles theorized that "taking Tylenol seems to inhibit the brain signal that says something is wrong."  (But what if something is horribly wrong – such as the study itself?)

Questions like this last one don't seem to phase Johnson & Johnson, the company that produces Tylenol.  On the heels of "a series of setbacks," J & J is likely enamored with the idea that Tylenol can slap a Band-Aid over gut-wrenching feelings. 

So there you have it – a possible cure for the "why bother" feeling that's been plaguing Sisyphus all these years.  It may actually soon be possible for him to lay aside that boulder and begin pushing pills instead.


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

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Planet Earth: Hope yet

Allegory of Hope (Guardi)
Environmentalist David Orr once said:  Hope is a verb with its shirtsleeves rolled up.

He should know, having rolled his sleeves up many a time in defense of Mother Earth.  The Oberlin Project tells us that Orr's "vision of full-spectrum sustainability" was the basis of "an all-encompassing joint venture by the town
and College to create a thriving, sustainable and environmentally friendly community in Oberlin."  His influence has gone far beyond Oberlin; the "green campus movement" that he helped to launch in 1987 has made his goal of "carbon neutrality for colleges and universities" more and more of a reality.

So there is hope yet for Planet Earth - in the fullest sense of the word…

MSN Living's Rich Maloof agrees that, despite alarming mass extinction and melting ice sheets, "a few rays of hope do cut through the carbon-filled clouds."  His five identified rays of hope are these:  recovery of the Gulf of Mexico after BP's oil-spill disaster has been remarkably better than originally expected; emission regulations have had a positive impact on the reduction of acid rain; waste recycling has been catching on more and more (with that of plastics still lagging behind, "due largely to lack of curbside programs and increased use of bottled water"); global environmental initiatives are on the
increase (e.g., solar energy is becoming more cost effective); and there is a greater amount of overall
environmental awareness (e.g., via the "green education standards" within most states of the U.S.).    


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

Monday, April 22, 2013

Unhappy birthday: Adventists turn 150

Headquarters (Photo by Wercvbnmghkjb) 
In May 2013, Seventh-day Adventists will be honoring their 150th anniversary.  Notice the word is "honoring" rather than "celebrating."  That's because in some ways "it's almost an
embarrassment to be celebrating 150 years."

Thus spake Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, the church's director of education.  Daniel Burke of Religion News Service explains this sentiment:  "Back in the 1860s, the founders of Seventh-day Adventism preached that Jesus would return – and soon…  By Second-Coming standards, the church's long life
could be considered a dismal sign of failure."

However, Beardsley-Hardy also pointed out that keeping the church vibrant for all this time has served as "an affirmation of faith in Christ's return."  After all, Jesus did tell Christians to engage in worthwhile activities until He returned.  This is advice that Seventh-day Adventists have taken quite seriously.

Although the Great Disappointment of 1844 (when Jesus didn't return yet) shattered the hopes of many, it did not shatter the movement itself.  Some of the earlier beliefs were instead adjusted.  People concluded that "something of divine import happened in 1844, even if it wasn't the Second Coming…"

They nevertheless kept on waiting, while occupying themselves with virtuous activities such as "feeding the hungry" and "preaching the value of healthy living."  Burke describes this dual existence as follows: …the faith's blend of ethereal optimism (Jesus is coming soon!) and earthly education (Eat your vegetables until he does.)…

Vegetables are one thing, birthday cake is quite another.  Burke cautions that there will be none of the latter for the 150th.  A few days beforehand, there will be "a day of prayer, remembrance and recommitment to mission."  On the day itself (May 21st), there will be "a small ceremony at church headquarters."  Michael Ryan, a vice president at the church's "top governing body" had this to say:  In one kind of way it really is
a sad event. 

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

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Earth Day founder: Son of a preacher man

(McConnell with his Earth Day flag, 2006)
John McConnell, founder of the original Earth Day, was the son of a Pentecostal preacher.  According to his Denver Post obituary, both parents were "devout Evangelicals and traveling missionaries who lived out of their van."  They were also "early contributors to the founding of the Assemblies of God Church."  It was this upbringing that fostered his lifelong ideals
of Christian peace and love.

Wikipedia reports that he began his earth-friendly efforts way before it was fashionable to do so.  He had been involved with the manufacture of plastic back in 1939, and soon realized just how much of a pollutant it was.  During World War II, he favored the power of "love and prayer" over that of bombs.  After being drafted into the Army, he "rejected rifle training, saying he saw the face of Jesus on the target." He was also an early proponent of peaceful cooperation within space exploration.

McConnell drew ecological inspiration from such biblical passages as this one from Psalm 115:16 (NIV):  "…the earth he has given to mankind."  He was so moved when he first saw the earth's picture in Life magazine that he later replicated it on his Earth Day flag.  The flag that he created is still part of the annual spring-equinox Earth Day Ceremony at the United Nations.

This United Nations ceremony was proposed by McConnell in 1969 and has been going strong for the past 43 years.  Other "Earth Days" now exist, but these came afterwards.  Rather than insisting upon credit for being the first, McConnell "walked his talk" by peacefully coexisting with those that followed.


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

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Wall Street could learn from Pope Francis

Wall Street Vista  (Photo by Gryffindor)
Rather than handing out bonuses at a time when the Vatican is in serious debt, Pope Francis is instead setting a frugal example.

Traditionally (for whatever the reason) - when a new pope is elected, every Vatican employee (lay and clergy) has received a bonus.  The Associated Press tells us that in 2005, this monetarily broke down to approximately 1,500 euros (about $2,000) for each of the 4,500 such workers.  Habits like these have contributed to the Vatican's 2011 "15-million euro deficit."  Something to think about next time the collection plate comes around…

The Vatican AP quoted spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi as saying:  …it didn't seem possible or appropriate to burden the Vatican's budget with a considerable, unforeseen extra expense."  (Can we have an Amen?)

Pope Francis has set a frugal example in many other ways.  He's not just a "do as I say, not as I do" type of leader.  Soon after his election, he called for "a poor Church for the poor."  According to Nick Squires of The Telegraph, he has followed this up with these personal choices:  He has shunned official Vatican limousines in favor of minibuses, wears plain black shoes instead of the soft red loafers favoured by Benedict, and sits down to meals with priests and other clerics in the Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican 'hotel' where he is living.


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

Friday, April 19, 2013

Chechnya: 'In the news' for centuries

Location of Chechnya in red (by TUBS)
The Chechen Republic, often referred to as Chechnya
(and sometimes as Ichkeria, meaning "Land of Minerals"), has been in the headlines lately. According to NBC News, two current suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing case are "brothers of Chechen origin."

Wikipedia states that Chechnya, a Russian republic, "is located in the southeastern part of Europe in the North Caucasus mountains."  This "marriage" with Russia has been far from a happy one.  Although Russian republics "have the right to establish their own official language and have their own constitution," this is not nearly the same as being an independent country. 

Two wars for independence have therefore been fought since the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union:  the First and Second Chechen Wars.  After the first war, Chechnya gained independence, but after the second war it was again under Russian control.  Wikipedia reports that "sporadic fighting continues in the mountains and southern regions of the republic."  In fact, Chechens have been fighting for freedom from foreign rule since the 15th century.

After rising up against Soviet rule in the 1940s, almost the entire Chechen and Ingush populations were forcibly deported to Siberia and (to what is now) Kazakhstan.  It wasn't until Krushchev's de-Stalinization occurred circa 1956 that Chechens were allowed to return to their "own ethnic land."  Even so, Russification (e.g., the necessity of being proficient in the Russian language in order to thrive) continued.

Between the 16th and 19th centuries, many Chechens converted to Sunni Islam (while hoping to receive help
from the Ottoman Empire in their battles against Russia). Wikipedia states that Islam is now "the predominant
religion in Chechnya." Although most are adherents of Sunni Islam, there are also quite a few Sufis ("of either the Qadiri or Naqshbandi orders").  As for jurisprudence, the Shafi'i (Sunni) school predominates.

Wikipedia reports that there have been many human-rights abuses in modern-day Chechnya.  In 2006 the
Human Rights Watch reported that pro-Moscow forces were using torture in order to gain information from detainees.  In 2011 this same group reported that "since Chechenization, the government has pushed for
enforced Islamic dress code and other traditions which violently repress women."


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

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lyrids: Showers and flowers

Orpheus with Lyre  (Photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto)
Although some within the Northern Hemisphere are doubting whether spring will ever really arrive this year, the Lyrids assure us that it will.

Alan Boyle, Science Editor at NBC News, heralds
these flaming leftovers from Comet Thatcher by
comparing them to spring flowers. They will especially dazzle 2013 viewers on the night of April 21-22, when "the meteors should flash every three to six minutes or so."

Because their "streaks appear to emanate from a
point in the constellation Lyra," that constellation
became their namesake.  Lyra, in turn, was named
after the lyre, an Ancient Greek musical instrument
that was allegedly first created by Hermes (and later
tweaked by Orpheus).

It is said that Hermes, messenger of the gods, once stole some sacred cows from Apollo.  Figuring he'd need all the help he could get after Apollo found out, Hermes sacrificed one of these cows to some other gods.  Only its entrails were left, and from these Hermes created the first lyre.  When Apollo finally caught up with him, Hermes was playing it.  The sound was so sweet that Apollo's anger faded.

Orpheus, "a legendary musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek religion and myth," was also in tune with the effects of this instrument.  Wikipedia tells us that he not only charmed "all living things" with his lyre proficiency, but "even stones" as well.  He was known as "the father of songs," and his music even soothed the torments of Hades.

Perhaps a bit of this healing lyre power continues to burn brightly within the Lyrids.  If so, then these April showers will surely bring the May flowers that so many winter-weary Northerners are now craving.    


Copyright April 18, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

'Homeless Jesus' finds a home

(1890 Photo by Jacob Riis)
In a city that recently marked its 700th homeless person's death, "Homeless Jesus" awaits.

Toronto, Canada can't be an easy place to live without a roof over one's head.  Unfortunately, about 5,000 people can currently attest to that.  One cold night just before Christmas, Toronto sculptor Timothy Schmalz came upon someone lying on the sidewalk.  When he spotted this suffering soul, Schmalz instinctively thought:  …that is Jesus Christ.  I just saw Jesus.

That epiphany was the inspiration for his statue, "Homeless Jesus."  Meredith Bennett-Smith of The Huffington Post tells us that this life-size bronze creation "is haunting and uncomfortable, depicting a darkly shrouded figure lying huddled on a long park bench."  The identity of this figure only becomes apparent upon close examination.  It is then that the stigmata wounds on the exposed feet become evident.

Although the Gospel of Matthew clearly prioritizes "the least of these," modern-day churches are not
necessarily in sync with this approach.  One sign of this might be that "Homeless Jesus" was not ultimately welcomed at "two high-profile cathedrals, St. Michaels Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, despite initial enthusiasm by rectors."

Nevertheless, the statue has now found a home "near the entrance to Regis College at the University of
Toronto."  Regis, "a Jesuit school of theology," is a proponent of Ignatian social justice.

This placement has been met very favorably – so favorably that people are leaving flowers at the statue's feet.  Hopefully, these very same people are leaving gifts for the statue's living counterparts.


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

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Selena Gomez: Spiritual appropriation

Hindu Bride (Photo by m-bot)
According to, during the 2013 Movie Awards, Selena Gomez was "wild-haired, barefoot and adorned in a dupatta [South Asian multi-purpose long scarf], tunic [Ancient Greek/Roman shirt/gown] and bindi [a center-of-the-forehead marking that is a
sacred symbol of Hinduism]…"

Gomez is neither Hindu, South Asian, nor Greek (and certainly, at age 20, she is far from Ancient).  Wikipedia tells us that "her father is of Mexican ancestry; her mother, who was adopted, has some Italian ancestry" (ah, perhaps a bit Roman).  As for religion, Selena has stated that her family has Quinceaneras, goes "to the communion church," and does "everything that's Catholic," yet they "don't really
have anything traditional" except to "go to the park and have barbecues on Sundays after church."

Nevertheless, Gomez' "Come and Get It" performance "most overtly referenced Indian culture, striking silhouettes that conjured images of the Indian goddess Kali, often associated with empowerment" [which writer Tamar Anitai deemed to be "an apt reference for a singer (and actress and now dancer) who proved at the Movie Awards that she's… more empowered than ever"].

Not everyone would agree with Anitai.  Conjuring up sacred images for the sake of one's own empowerment can be seen as co-opting the sacred for the mundane.  This is considered to be sinful, or an affront to God, within many religious traditions.   WENN reports that Hindu stateman Rajan Zed had this to say:  The bindi on the forehead is an ancient tradition in Hinduism and has religious significance…  It
is not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects or as a fashion accessory aiming at mercantile greed.   


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

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tulsa's Bible Belt loosening

Downtown Tulsa (jordanmac101)
Although Oral Roberts University is certainly a big part of the Tulsa, Oklahoma religious scene, it is far from the only part.

As Brad Andrews points out in his Urban Tulsa Weekly article For Whom the Church Bell Tolls, there is more to Tulsa than sometimes meets the (third) eye.  Andrews begins by tracing the European religious roots of the city back to the late 1800s.  At that time, the construction of
"what was believed to be the first permanent Protestant church in Tulsa" (First Presbyterian) was funded by businessman James Monroe Hall (aka Tulsa's "founder").

Soon other Protestant initiatives followed:  Union Sunday School (interdenominational), First Methodist Episcopal Church (1887), Holy Family Cathedral (1914), First Christian Church (1920), First Baptist Church (1927), First United Methodist (1928), and Boston Avenue Methodist (1929).

"Pentecostal Holiness evangelist and faith healer" Oral Roberts began his Tulsa ministry in 1949.  By the mid- to-late 1950s, his televised crusades were being broadcast throughout the land.  Oral Roberts University opened in 1965 and is still going strong.  Today it "is considered to be the largest charismatic Christian university in the world."

Despite this stalwart religious history, Tulsa today is very much a "mixed bag."  Andrews reports that some consider it to now host three co-existing cultures:  "the churched and the apathetic unchurched and discontented dechurched."  There are growing segments of interfaith/interspiritual seekers, atheists, and humanists who are "coming out" with "increasing boldness and strength."

Andrews also reports that Tulsa's All Souls Unitarian Church is "currently the largest Unitarian Universalist Church in the country" (with 1800 members).  Megachurches such as Church on the Move average 11,000 per week.  "Shared-space" models are another growing trend.  Grassroots ministries are partnering with schools and human-service agencies.  Temple Israel, the Islamic Society of Tulsa, and the Boston Avenue Methodist Church have teamed up to assist Habitat for Humanity.

If the Church is to thrive, it must remain relevant to the community.  It seems that Tulsa is well on its way toward this ideal.   

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

Sunday, April 14, 2013

David Steindl-Rast: Just say 'Yes!'

David Steindl-Rast (by Verena Kessler) 
God has been associated with many names over the centuries: Allah, Yahweh, Shiva, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Vishnu, Jesus, Guru…
Brother David Steindl-Rast has now "distilled" these names into one simple syllable:  Yes!

In his book Gratefulness: The Heart of Prayer, Steindl-Rast explains the following:  Everything is a gift.  Grateful living is a celebration of the universal give-and-take of life, a limitless yes to belonging…  to say an unconditional yes to the mutual belonging of all beings will make this a more joyful world.  This is the reason why yes is my favorite synonym for God. is a website that is "inspired by the teachings of David Steindl-Rast and colleagues."  According to Steindl-Rast, the term "gratefulness" does not simply refer to thankfulness.  It instead means "the full response to a given moment and all it

There are many tools within this website to inspire such a focused response. One of these is the Mindfulness Bell.  The practitioner can choose to hear a small or a big bell, and can then adjust the timing of their sounds.  Light a Candle is another ritual that can be found within this sacred cyberspace.  This practice has only one guideline:  Slow down and do it with full attention.  At the time of this writing, over 15 million candles have been "lit" by respondents from 243 countries.

Other de-light-ful links within this website include peace-oriented poems, prayers, meditations, biographies, and articles.   


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

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Ghost matchmakers: A potentially lurid bunch

Chinese Tomb Guardian (Photo by Fordmadoxfraud)
There are those who prey upon the living, and even
those who prey upon the dead - but now there are also those who prey upon both.

With the revival of ghost marriages (i.e., "the ancient
Chinese tradition of marrying two corpses and placing
them to live with each other underground"), also comes the macabre practice of ghost matchmaking.  Because some believe that dead unmarried corpses are lonely, and that lonely corpses will seek living spouses if left too long without dead ones, families can be vulnerable to criminals posing as matchmakers for the deceased.

MSN News reports that because of restitution from mining accidents, "many rural superstitious Chinese have become able to not only afford expensive dowries and elaborate ceremonies, but also the most desirable corpses."  For example, "a recently deceased young, attractive woman can fetch $30,000 on the black market…"  Therefore, an enterprising ghost matchmaker with few scruples can come up with all-too-many ways to make a quick yuan.

Four men were recently imprisoned "for stealing 10 female corpses, falsifying their medical records and selling them for roughly $38,000."  Black-marketers have also been known to utilize post-mortem plastic
surgery in order to up the asking price.  What's even worse is that some matchmakers have not only "cut deals with grieving families," but also murdered women in order to sell their bodies for ghost marriages.


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

Friday, April 12, 2013

Birdwatchers' prayers

Paradise Kingfisher (markaharper1)
Birdwatchers are a breed apart.

While others are still sleeping, they are trudging though fields with binoculars in tow.  While others are watching TV, they are peering through windows at backyard feeders.  While others are tweeting, they are going for the real chirps.

And while others are saying traditional prayers, they can be found murmuring words like these:

Prayer is like watching
For the Kingfisher.
All you can do is
Be where he is likely to appear
And wait.
       (Ann Lewin)

My brothers, birds, you should praise your Creator very much and always love him; he gave you feathers to clothe you, wings so that you can fly, and whatever else was necessary for you.  God made you noble among his creatures, and he gave you a home in the purity of the air; though you
neither sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without any concern on your part.
         (Saint Francis)  

O God!  O God!  This is a broken-winged bird and his flight is very slow – assist him so that he may fly toward the apex of prosperity and salvation, wing his way with the utmost joy and happiness throughout the illimitable space, raise his melody in Thy Supreme Name in all the regions, exhilarate the ears with this call, and brighten the eyes by beholding the signs of guidance…

S&P Weekly E-Newsletter, 4/11/13

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Rubber bands: Stretching virtuously

(Photo by Bill Ebbesen)
From time to time, rubber bands have been in the news.

Back in 1976, the Spinners had a hit single called The Rubberband Man.  It topped the charts in both the United States and the United Kingdom.  Perhaps it was so popular because of its upbeat message ("So much rhythm, grace and debonair from one man, Lord") - one that was created by Thom Bell and Linda Creed in order to improve the self-image of Bell's son.

In 2003 along came another Rubber Band Man, this one the creation of hip hop artist Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr. (aka "T.I.").  T.I. was known as "Rubber Band Man" because of his drug-dealing past (in which rubber bands were used to secure wads of street money). Nowadays, T.I. is instead associated with immense talent and philanthropic ways.  According to Wikipedia, in 2010 he helped to talk a man out of jumping to his death.  T.I. afterwards explained:  The fact of the matter is that God put me in a position to help, and I can't take any credit for that.

Just recently, rubber bands were once again in the headlines.  BBC News reported that when Pope Francis was still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, papers were delivered to his residence every weekday by a local Buenos Aires kiosk.  Bergoglio would conscientiously save all the rubber bands that these papers were wrapped in, and would then return them at the end of each month.  After becoming Pope, he even personally phoned in his delivery cancellation.


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

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

American Bible Challenge: You're literate if...

(TV to the rescue...)
When it comes to Bible literacy, many Americans are indeed challenged.  The 2010 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life indicates the percentages of Americans who know that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son's life for God (60%), that Job
remained obedient to God despite extraordinary suffering (39%), and that the Four Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (45%).  This means that less than half knew the latter two answers, despite the Pew Forum's multiple-choice type format for these questions.

Although this might seem like a dim situation, it's far from hopeless.  After all, "hope begins in the dark…"  (Who said that?  Nope, it's not a Genesis quote.  It's from Anne Lamott.)

Enter "The American Bible Challenge" – GSN's (formerly "The Game Show Network's") answer to Pew's inquiry, complete with co-hosts Jeff Foxworthy (you may flunk Sunday School if…) and Kirk Franklin (Grammy-winning Gospel musician)… reports that its first season was a record-breaking one, with "more than two million viewers" tuning in for the premiere alone. With its team-based competitions, creative trivia themes (such as "Faithbook," featuring "posts" from Bible characters), and charitable outcomes (the winners donate their prizes to nonprofit organizations) – this show has captured the hearts of viewers throughout the land.

Nevertheless, there are (always) some who beg to differ.  The thought of mixing Bible studies with pop culture just doesn't sit right with them.  However, Religious Literacy author Stephen Prothero reminds us of
the following:  Before you teach people you've got to first capture their imagination. Religion and entertainment have always been dancing together throughout American history…


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

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Mighty Mouse: Prone to clone

(Photo by George Shuklin)
The story of cloning is turning into a saga "Of Mice and Men."  A major breakthrough recently occurred when Japanese researchers managed to "produce 581 mice from an original
donor mouse through 25 rounds of cloning…"

Head researcher Teruhiko Wakayama explains:   This technique could be very useful for the large-scale production of  superior-quality animals, for farming or conservation purposes.  Many previous attempts to reclone animals beyond three generations have failed, often because of genetic abnormalities that develop. LiveScience reports that Wakayama's recent success in cloning the mice 25 consecutive times (resulting in healthy and fertile mice that all lived normal life spans) could be due to his team's use of trichostatin ("a compound that interferes with enzymes that make changes to DNA").

This is by no means Wakayama's first major success.  In 2008 his team "created clones from the bodies of
mice that had been frozen for 16 years." Although this raises some intriguing Jurassic Park type possibilities, it also raises some disturbing Brave New World type concerns.  If mammals such as mice, cows, pigs and cats can be successfully cloned (and now sometimes recloned), then what does this mean for humans themselves?

Will the lure of immortality prompt humans to attempt "duplicating" themselves via cloning (as some seem to already attempt via less-than-sterling parenting styles)?  Human cloning raises many an ethical issue.'s Glen Miller asks these important questions:  Who is socially responsible for cloned humans?  Do clones have rights and legal protection?  Will cloning lead to designer babies who are
denied an open future? 

He might as well have added:  Is this messing with God's plan?


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

Monday, April 8, 2013

Mohawk spirituality: Then and now

(Saint Catherine Tekakwitha)
Since the canonization of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, there has been a renewed interest in Mohawk culture.

This is somewhat ironic since Saint Kateri could be considered more Algonquin than Mohawk.  Wikipedia reports that although her father was a Mohawk chief, her mother was "a Roman Catholic Algonquin who had been adopted into the [Mohawk] tribe after capture."  Because Mohawk society is matrilineal, it is likely that Kateri would have been identified as Algonquin.

Tom Porter, current spiritual leader of the Mohawk Community of Kanatsiohareke, recently explained (during an April 6, 2013 Amsterdam Public Library presentation) that the name "Kateri" derives from the European name "Catherine" rather than from the Mohawk tradition.  Wikipedia states that "Catherine" was Kateri's French-missionary baptismal name.   Porter also spoke about the name "Tekakwitha," which he translated as "she comes and picks something up and moves it from one place to another."

Elder wisdom has long been a key component of Mohawk spirituality.  Porter's latest book, And Grandma Said…  Iroquois Teachings, is a testament to that.   The Mohawk Community website describes it as "a collection of memories about the oral history and traditional teachings of the Haudenosaunee ['People of the Longhouse'] passed down through the generations."

Porter explained that almost all of the older Mohawk people were seers.  They could see and hear things that "the regulars" couldn't.  Because of this gift, they were considered to be the protectors of the tribe.  Porter also stated that the Mohawk way of life had been "very spiritual before the Europeans came."

Tom Porter at Amsterdam Public Library - April 6, 2013

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

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ur Kasdim: Down home with Abraham

Present-day Ur Site (Photo by M. Lubinski) 
If someone asks you where Abraham was born and you mumble "Er…" while trying to remember, give yourself a big pat on the back.  You may have almost guessed correctly.

Ur Kasdim (often called "Ur of the Chaldeans" or just plain "Ur") is mentioned a number of times in the Tanakh (within Genesis 11:28, 11:31, 15:7 and Nehemiah 9:7).  Although it's not specifically stated that Abraham was born in Ur, many assume that he was because of biblical passages like these.  However, there remains much debate about where Abraham was from and where Ur Kasdim was located.

Wikipedia tells us that Ur "was an important Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia located at the site of modern Tell el-Muqayyer in Iraq's Dhi Qar Governate."  Famed British archaeologist Sir Charles Leonard Woolley was convinced that Ur was indeed synonymous with Ur Kasdim and pointed out that the Chaldeans had settled there "around the 9th century BCE."  In the course of excavating royal cemeteries at this site, Woolley discovered tombs with "large paintings of ancient Sumerian culture at its zenith, along with gold and
silver jewelry, cups and other furnishings."

Sinan Salaheddin of the Associated Press recently reported that British archaeologists are still digging away in that region.  The current big news is that they have "unearthed a sprawling complex near the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq…"  Stuart Campbell, leader of the excavation, called this a "breathtaking find," mainly because "complexes of this size [about 260 feet on each side] and age are rare."  He theorized that it might have been either a place of worship or an administrative building.

Is that where Abraham's father Terach might have drawn inspiration for the idols that he allegedly made?  We don't know.  Perhaps further digging will yield more answers to the questions that have tugged at souls for centuries…


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


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Roger Ebert's 'leave of presence'

Ebert & Boutte (Photo by Jon Hurd)
Shortly before his death, famed movie critic Roger Ebert took what he sagaciously called a "leave of presence."

According to Wikipedia, he would be undergoing radiation treatment for a cancerous hip.  He had fractured that hip only a few months earlier, and had suffered with various forms of cancer since
at least 2002.  This suffering was compounded by the side effects of some surgeries he had endured.

Nevertheless, he soldiered on with an amazingly upbeat outlook.  About this "leave of presence," from his usual duties, he commented: I'll be able at last to do what I've always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review.  Being somewhat incapacitated wasn't new to him at this point – he had been under the care of a "full-time, live-in" nurse since 2010.  Back then he had already stated:  I know it is coming and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear…  I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state.

As for that period of time between birth and death?   Ebert gave it a hearty "two thumbs up" with this explanation:  What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter.  He certainly had plenty of all that.  It's no wonder that he died with a smile on his face.

Ebert had been brought up as a Roman Catholic, but eventually described himself as a secular humanist.  Wikipedia lists the principal elements of this philosophical stance:  a need to test beliefs; a commitment to the scientific method; a concern with fulfillment and creativity for individuals and humanity at large; an emphasis on this life rather than on an afterlife; and justice for all.


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

Friday, April 5, 2013

Portrait of Jesus: Says who?

Composite Jesus (Public Domain)
When the Associated Press is calling Warner Sallman's "Head of Christ" a "portrait of Jesus," it might be time for some editing.

Last time we checked, the word "portrait" was strongly associated with the "likeness of a person, especially one showing the face."  Now there's no disputing that the "Head of Christ" is highlighting a face, but attributing that face to Jesus is quite a leap of something (not necessarily faith).

Although the "Head of Christ" has been "reproduced more than 500 million times" since its 1941 copyright date, it is not welcomed everywhere by everyone.  After hanging within an Ohio public school since 1947, this alleged "portrait" was recently taken down.  That
decision was made "because of concerns about the potential costs of a federal lawsuit…"  In other words, "the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom from Religion Foundation
had sued on behalf of a student and two parents, calling the portrait an unconstitutional promotion of religion in a public school."

Since many have strongly identified this picture with Jesus, calling its display a "promotion of religion" is not that far a stretch.  Therefore, the issue of whether it should be hanging within a U.S. public school seems
worth exploring.

Nevertheless - just as the menu is not the food, this picture is not the Christ.  Perhaps that seems obvious to many, but unfortunately – not to all.  Some irate individuals are even suggesting that those who asked that the picture be removed "should leave town and find another school." 

That type of talk seems quite distant from the Christian mandatum to love one another.  The question then becomes:  Is this picture really worth a thousand bitter words?


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

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Catholic Church: More camel than thread?

(Public Domain)
When asked about material wealth, Jesus was very clear.  We are told three times over (in Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25) that it is easier for a camel to get through a needle's eye than it is for a rich man to enter Heaven.

Now some may theorize that Jesus was speaking metaphorically, and that this doesn't actually apply to you, me, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet - and while we're at it, the Catholic Church.

In a Slate article by Matthew Yglesias, the question is asked:  How Rich Is the Catholic Church?  Since no one likes to (or legally has to) address that elephant (er, camel) in the room, the short answer remains:  Who really knows for sure?

Nevertheless, Yglesias asserts:  "Pope Francis is not just the spiritual leader of one of the world's major religions: he's also the head of what's probably the wealthiest institution in the world."  To get a feel for the extent of this wealth, here is an eye-opening comparison:  "Whereas the Economist estimated in 2012 that the Catholic Church annually spends $170 billion (much of which is affiliated with 'hospitals and institutions of higher learning'), 'Apple and General Motors… each had revenue of about $150 billion worldwide in Fiscal Year 2012.'"

Yglesias points out that "religious freedom" has been the shield behind which many financial dealings are hidden.  He instead suggests that religious institutions be financially treated like American secular nonprofit
organizations.  These nonprofits "manage to abide by fairly stringent accounting and disclosure standards,"
which in turn "help donors know where their money is going…"

Perhaps the overburdened camel would then better squeeze through those pearly gates…   


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

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

This little piggy went to New York City

Varaha (Public Domain)
Winston Churchill is said to have once remarked:  I am fond of pigs.  Dogs look up to us.  Cats look down on us.  Pigs treat us as equals.

For whatever the reason, New Yorkers also seem to enjoy their pigs live. The Associated Press reports that although New York City's health code "forbids keeping them as pets," pig-lovers are flouting this regulation.  Brooklyn resident Timm Chiusano keeps "two potbellied pigs on the ground floor of his three-story brownstone…"  Neighbors within Danielle Forgione's Queens
apartment building have been complaining about one-year-old Petey (who, at 40 porky pounds, sleeps in her youngest child's bed).  Even Mayor Bloomberg's daughter couldn't resist the urge to house a pig for a short while (in Gracie Mansion, no less).

New Yorkers (and Winston Churchill) are not alone in their in-fat-uations.  Wikipedia explains that pigs regularly appear within religions, myths, folklore, literature, and idiomatic expressions.  For example, the Hindu god Vishnu "took the form of a four-armed humanoid with the head of a boar named Varaha in order to save the Earth from a
demon…"  The Celts "had a god of swine called Moccus…"  In Germany, pigs are a symbol of good luck. The sow was a favorite animal of the Ancient Greek goddess Demeter.

Given all of this esteemed history, it's no wonder that some New Yorkers are remaining quite pigheaded about their choice of pets.


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