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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Elon Musk: Renaissance man

(Photo by Saffron Blaze)
Anyone who longs for the Renaissance days when geniuses were as plentiful as gondolas will be happy to learn about all of Elon Musk's endeavors.

Musk was born in South Africa in 1971.  By the age of 12 he had already sold his first original computer program (a space game named Blastar for $500).  He then went on to earn two bachelor's degrees from the University of Pennsylvania:  the first in economics (from the Wharton School), and the second in physics.

However, the "fun" didn't really begin until Musk dropped out (after only two days) from Stanford's Ph.D. program.  Wikipedia reports
that he then honed in on his three foremost passions:  the Internet, clean energy, and space.

In keeping with the first of these passions, Musk and his brother began an "online content publishing" company called Zip2 (which later sold for US$307 million in cash, plus another US$34 million in stock options).  He then co-founded "an online financial services and e-mail payment company."  (Does the name PayPal ring a bell?)

Now rolling in the dough, Musk turned his attention to his other two loves.  He founded Space X (aka Space Exploration Technologies) in 2002, which focuses upon the improvement of rockets.  He also co-founded Tesla Motors, which concentrates upon the development of electric vehicles.  He also funds Solar
City, which – along with Tesla – helps to "combat global warming."


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

Friday, August 30, 2013

Jill Bolte Taylor: Neuro Nirvana

Human Brain  (Modified Image by Looie496)
Neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor (formerly of Harvard, now at Indiana University) has shared this unique definition:  Religion is a story that the left brain tells to the right brain.

She evolved this definition experientially, via what Taylor calls "a stroke of insight." According to The New York Times, this literal stroke (involving "a clot the size of a golf ball in her head") had greatly
diminished the functioning of her brain's left-hemisphere.  When this occurred, increased reliance upon her right-hemisphere resulted in new ways of perceiving her relationship with the universe.

This daughter of an Episcopalian minister was now expressing insights such as the following:  Nirvana exists
right now…  There is no doubt that it is a beautiful state and that we can get there.  Some traditional religionists are wondering whether the stroke has left her "physically damaged and confused."  Others (mystics and mindful meditators) are hailing her newfound wisdom.

Taylor spent eight years recovering from this stroke.  She is now "committed to making time for passions – physical and visual – that she believes exercise her right brain…" (for it is via right-brain consciousness that awareness of unity with the rest of creation can occur).

Taylor now believes "that the left brain can be tamed."  When anger arises, "she trumps it with a thought of a person or activity that brings her pleasure." 


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

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Realistic optimists: Happy and successful

Your call...  (Photo by Tysto)  
If you think the glass is either half empty or half full, you could be experiencing only half the fulfillment that awaits.

Seeing it as both half empty and half full might be more realistic.  Retaining the half-full optimism, while exploring the half-empty possibilities, might lead to a success that doesn't depend upon rose-
colored spectacles.

Tia Ghose of Live Science presents the results of personality surveys administered by organizational-psychology researcher Sandra Chou of National Taiwan University.  These surveys were given to approximately "200 college and graduate students in Taiwan," and tested their degrees of idealism and realism.

Chou discovered that "realistic optimists" tend to face challenges with both creativity and back-up plans. Rather than simply believing in positive thinking, they set attainable goals and work towards making these "dreams" come true.

The trick is to remain "rosy-but-realistic" – keeping a "clear-eyed view of reality," yet emphasizing what can
be done about the challenges that arise.  This can help to offset the anxiety that realistic optimists are prone to (because they "recognize the possibility of failure," whereas idealists tend to "use positive illusions" to
soothe their own anxieties).


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

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Iron Nun: Training religiously

Triathelon Components  (Photo by JKrabbe)
Sister Madonna Buder, a member of the non-canonical Sisters for Christian Community (which Wikipedia states is "independent of the authority of the Roman Catholic Church") since 1970, is unconventional in other ways also.

Although she didn't begin "religiously" training for physical marathons until the age of 48 (per the suggestion of a Catholic mentor who told her that it would beneficially serve body, mind and spirit), Buder soon began entering triathelons and Ironman events.

To date, she has completed hundreds of triathelons, and set an Ironman world record in 2011 at the age of 81.  Buder's autobiography, The Grace to Race: The Wisdom and Inspiration of the 80-Year-Old World Champion  Triathelete Known as the Iron Nun, came out in 2010. states that Buder has attributed her success to a "6D" regimen:  Dream, desire, discipline, dedication, daring and doing.  Never forgetting the "Nun" in "Iron Nun," Buder has a habit of praying "for the people she's promised to pray for," even while racing to the finish line.    


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

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Digital dilemma: Sermon interruptus

(Photo by Andrew)
In the good old days, people would fall asleep during the sermon.  Now they are wide awake in the pews - checking their smart phones every few minutes.

Vince Horiuchi of The Washington Post reports that "about half the congregation" may be toying with digital games, texts, e-mails, news, Facebook, and various other sites during any given worship service.  This blatant disregard for what is happening in the pulpit is not only seen as normal, but also as somewhat beneficial.

In an "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em…" kind of a move, United Methodist pastor Dennis Shaw keeps his cell phone quite literally in hand while leading the service.  That way, congregation members can Tweet him in real time about their worship experience.

This may seem odd, but it is a practice that has actually been encouraged by a San Diego based seminar called "Digital Jesus."  Teachers of this seminar refer to younger congregation members as "digital natives," and to older members as "digital immigrants."

One regional LDS leader went so far as to describe religious apps as the fulfillment of this prophecy from Isaiah:  The Earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.


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

Monday, August 26, 2013

Pastafarian vs. Authoritarian

Pastafarian Headgear (G.dallorto)
It's getting so that you can't tell the Russian 'religious' players without a

On the one hand, Pastafarians (who refer to themselves as the "Church of
the Flying Spaghetti Monster") marched through St. Petersburg recently, "armed with colanders on their heads and pasta in their mouths." According to Albina Kovalyova of NBC News, this somewhat satirical display netted an "anything but lighthearted" response from Russian

These "Russian authorities" not only included "police," but also "members
of a Russian Orthodox group…"  This ideological clash resulted in some
Pastafarians being knocked to the ground, and others being "detained
and subsequently charged with organizing an unsanctioned rally."

Pastafarians claim 15,000 among their Russian ranks.  They define themselves as a "real religion," complete
with an anti-dogma dogma.  As a result of this recent clash with authorities, some "spaghetti worshippers" are being accused of  "insulting the religious feelings of believers."

This accusation rests upon a recently-introduced Russian law which carries a possible penalty of "up to three years in jail."  NBC News reports the following:  After having been suppressed for decades under communism, the church has become one of Russia's most powerful institutions, imposing its social mores onto society.


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


Sunday, August 25, 2013

NYC Hasidim: Not just quaint

Williamsburg Bridge (Photo by Leonard G.)
During last September's Democratic primary for district leader of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, Satmar Hasidim voters turned out in overwhelming numbers.

This was not because they necessarily knew what the issues (or even who the candidates) were, it was instead because they were told by their "rabbis or yeshiva officials" to do so.  A particular candidate then won because of their support.

This did not fail to grab the attention of New York City politicians.  Joseph Berger of The New York Times offered this quote from CUNY Professor of Sociology Samuel Heilman:  No one can deliver votes like a rebbe can…  They are no longer an obscure group – they're not just quaint

This Hasidic political power evolved from a concerted effort by a "new generation of ultra-Orthodox leaders" to "become savvy" in this arena.  They see this as a way of "defending their faith's precepts."

For example, because of Hasidic precepts of modesty, New York City is being lobbied to "post a female lifeguard" at a Williamsburg municipal pool.  On a public bus service that connects the Hasidic communities of Borough Park and Williamsburg, men sit up front and women in the back – contrary to the wishes of Mayor Bloomberg.

These and other issues have been simmering for some time.  New York City is trying for a delicate balance between religious freedom and standard governmental practices.


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

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Church growth: Better trumps bigger

(Photo by Szabi237)
Many churches embark upon "growth" campaigns without clearly identifying just what that growth means to them.

In an article for The Huff Post Religion Blog, Derek Penwell points out that church growth is not just a numbers game, but also a maturity gain.  However, maturity is much harder to nail down than either membership or financial statistics.

Penwell discusses the usual claims about how many new members have joined the church this year, and then compares them with this other (all too rare) type of assessment: "We've had to grapple with some pretty tough issues lately.  Some have even left our church because of it.  However, those who remained have experienced a deepening of their faith commitment."

He emphasizes that growth is not necessarily about "bigness."  Nor is it necessarily about anything that can be easily seen or quantified.  Just as we (hopefully) don't judge all children, frogs, or stones in the same manner – neither should we assume that all church growth should be about outward expansion.


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

Friday, August 23, 2013

Benedict XVI: The real reason

Praying Hands (Albrecht Durer)
For those who are still wondering what really made Benedict XVI morph from Pope to Pope Emeritus, the answer is profoundly simple:  God. reports that Benedict himself shared this information with a recent
visitor to his abode at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery.  According to this report, Benedict described a "mystical experience" in which God gifted him with an "absolute desire" to remain secluded in divine prayer.

Benedict also clarified to the visitor that this experience was "not any kind
of apparition or phenomenon of that kind," but instead an ever-growing
"longing for a unique and direct relationship with the Lord."

The Pope Emeritus also disclosed that his observations of Pope Francis'
charisma have further convinced him that this mystical longing had indeed
conveyed "the will of God."

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

Thursday, August 22, 2013

John Adams: Deacon's son

President John Adams (Public Domain)
John Adams, the second U. S. president, was born on October 30, 1735 in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts.  His father was a direct descendant of the founding Puritans and honored this ancestry by serving as a Congregationalist deacon.

The Puritan influence, although already waning, was still somewhat strong at the time.  The Calvinist idea of predestined salvation and damnation (also known as "predestination") was alive and well.
Being referred to as an Arminian (one who "upheld the role of free will in heeding the call to salvation") could be tantamount to a societal curse.

Wikipedia explains that this type of ideological restrictiveness did not appeal to young John Adams.  Although his father had "expected him to become a minister," and he himself greatly valued his Puritan heritage – the president-to-be ultimately chose law over ministry because of the latter's relative freedom of belief and expression. reports that Adams later "always preferred Unitarian worship services."  As part of his famous correspondence with Thomas Jefferson (they died within hours of one another on July 4, 1826), Adams wrote these words:  I believe there is no individual totally depraved.  The most abandoned scoundrel that ever existed, never yet Wholly extinguished his Conscience, and while Conscience remains there is some religion.    


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

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

James A. Garfield: Preacher president

President Garfield (Public Domain)
It is said that James Abram Garfield was the only preacher to ever become president of the United States (although he was far from being the only preaching president).

He was born on November 19, 1831 in an Ohio log cabin to parents who were members of the Church of Christ.  This religious affiliation influenced him greatly throughout his life.

In an article titled "President Garfield's Religious Heritage and What He Did With It," Howard E. Short explains that the Disciples of Christ evolved from two Presbyterian offshoots:  Thomas Campbell's group in Pennsylvania (which had grown weary of denominational splits), and Barton Warren Stone's group in Kentucky (which had sought to be free from local-Presbytery control).  These groups later joined with the then-"largest church in the Baptist Association" and simply began calling themselves "Christian Churches."  They became known by this slogan:  No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible.

Garfield - who had at various times worked as "a janitor, bell ringer, and carpenter" during his younger years – was baptized in 1850.  Wikipedia reports that he later "developed a regular preaching circuit at neighboring churches, in some cases earning a gold dollar per service."

Howard Short offers this quote from F. M. Green's biography of Garfield:  No one who is thoroughly familiar with President Garfield's history can doubt that this Disciple habit and method had a most important influence on his mind, his whole life and character.   During his few months as president (before being assassinated in 1881), Garfield practiced what he preached by appointing "several African-Americans to prominent federal positions."    


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

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pluralism: What it isn't

Harmony Day (DIAC images) 
Sometimes you can get a sense of what something is by getting a sense of what it isn't.

Diane Eck, Director of Harvard's Pluralism Project, succinctly separates the pluralistic wheat from the chaff, then leaves us with
nuggets to chew over.  She begins by explaining that neither diversity nor tolerance – in and of themselves – constitute pluralism.

In other words, it is certainly possible to have a diverse society with warring factions that otherwise disengage from one another. Happens all too often…  A pluralistic society would instead embrace diversity by energetically engaging with it.  This type of engagement would require "real encounter and relationship" amongst the different groups.

By the same token, simply tolerating the existence of other traditions (by not outright opposing them) is only
the beginning.  True pluralism depends upon an "active seeking of understanding across lines of difference."  Tolerance can coexist alongside of ignorance - pluralism cannot.  Pluralism entails knowledge about "the other" so that stereotypes can dissipate and friendships can begin.

Finally, pluralism is not relativism, but rather "the encounter of commitments."  Whereas relativism can imply a stretching or blending of core beliefs, pluralism retains core beliefs while authentically interacting with people of other paths.   Dialogue (in which people truly attend to one another) is often a key component of pluralistic interactions.


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

Monday, August 19, 2013

McGuffey Readers: Pros and cons

(Public Domain)
Ever find the story line of "Dick, Jane and Sally" a bit meaningless? 

Many who agree that "See Spot run" lacks substance have remained staunch fans of the McGuffey Readers.  These all-time best-sellers (right up there with Webster's Dictionary and the Bible) have been circulating since 1836.

Wikipedia describes these textbooks as "a series of graded primers that were widely used… in American schools from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century, and are still used today in some private schools and in homeschooling."

Their author, William Holmes McGuffey, had two favorite pastimes: preaching and teaching.  He had established a reputation for not only lecturing "on moral and biblical subjects," but also for teaching children of
all ages within various frontier schools.

His close friend, Harriet Beecher Stowe, recommended that he create the Readers.  Rather than focus upon simplistic rhymes, McGuffey instead chose to pass on cultural literacy through a series of "stories, poems,
essays and speeches."

So far, so good…  However, McGuffey's selections were far from pluralistic.   They strongly reflected his own Calvinistic beliefs.  Some believe that the use of these (then) public-school texts had fostered anti-Semitism via references "to Shylock and to Jews' attacking Jesus and Paul."


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

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Death Cafe: Immortality snubbed

(A side order of death, please...)
Feeling overly cheerful?  Then it might be time to head on down to the Death Café for a stiff dose of reality.

The Huffington Post reports that the Death Café is "an anything goes, frank conversation on death that's been hosted at dozens of coffee shops and community centers in American cities… modeled on similar gatherings in European cities…"

This type of "frank conversation" can cover anything from "Is cremation better than burial?" to "Are you scared?"  The "death awareness" that is fostered at these gatherings presumably helps people "to make the most of their lives" before it's too late.  

Since launching into diatribes about death is frowned upon at most social events, there seems to be a need for the type of acceptance that Death Cafés provide.  For example, where else would hospice volunteer Lizzy Miles – who admits that she is "really passionate about death" – be able to freely vent?

Miles, who is also a social worker, is the hostess (with the ghost-est?) at Death Cafés in Columbus, Ohio. She serves donated "tea and cake" at these once-a-month gatherings, and breaks the cold hard ice with a history of her own flirtations with death.

The conversation quickly takes off from there.  Some participants wish to talk about practicalities such as DNRs and living wills; others are far more enthralled with discussions regarding NDEs and Ouija boards. Plus, there's always this old standby to fall back on:  Is there a heaven and a hell?   

If such inquiries appeal to you, don't just sit around thinking your own morbid thoughts.  Why not get out there and share them with others?


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

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Circles of Trust: Souls beyond roles

Sacred Circles (Public Domain)
When two or three are gathered, there can be a (metaphorical or literal) shouting match – or there can be a circle of trust.

In a article titled "Sitting in Circles," Parker Palmer speaks about how to create the latter.  He draws upon wisdom gained during his eleven years at Pendle Hill, a Quaker community in the Philadelphia area.

Palmer begins by discussing two principles that explain the need for such companionship.  The first is that we all have an "inner teacher"
whose guidance is more valuable than that of any outer source.  The second is that other people are necessary for helping us "to discern the inner teacher's voice…"

Palmer emphasizes that the inner world can be just as confusing (if not more so) than the outer one.  Those who believe that clarity can only be found by going within might be better served by the wisdom of
trustworthy relationships.

Within circles of trust, souls can begin to emerge from the constraints of societal roles.  A "communal space" is created in which the "inner voice of love" can be distinguished from the "inner voice of fear."  Advice is not doled out, nor is criticism emphasized.  People learn to simply listen to what is being said without succumbing to the temptation of running it through their own wringers.

Palmer concludes that if people were to interact in ways that strengthen each other's souls, then miracles would surely occur for all concerned.


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

Friday, August 16, 2013

Armed clergy: Oxymoronic?

Semi-automatic Pistol  (Photo by Yaf) 
When Franciscan priest Paul Williams was "held at gunpoint and carjacked in his church parking lot," he did not wish to "treat violence with violence" - even though this incident had been preceded by "two break-ins within weeks of one another."

Rather than deciding to henceforth exercise his legal right to bear arms, Williams chose a kinder gentler path – one that he feels is
much more compatible with Christianity. He therefore gave this explanation to Katherine Bindley of The Huffington Post:   "We prayed for that man.  We prayed for an end to all of this violence, because I believe that there's too much of it."

Not all Christian leaders agree with Williams.  Protestant evangelical minister Deb Kluttz believes that people (clergy included) should "prepare for the worst, but pray for the best" (which is somewhat reminiscent of two other oxymoronic statements: "Speak softly, but carry a big stick," and/or "Be wise like the serpent, but gentle like the dove…").

Kluttz is therefore packing a pulpit pistol "when she feels her church's 550 members might be vulnerable to a violent person…"  After all, she reasons:  I guess I don't see anywhere in Scripture where we're not
supposed to use our brains…

Yes, but:  Aren't brains and bullets often two very different avenues?


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

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Messiah: Judge not

Old-time Gavel (Photo by Jonathunder)
When a judge begins ruling on what parents should name their children, freedom's light seems to grow a little bit dimmer. 

When a judge further rules that the "word Messiah is a title and it's a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ," theocracy's darkness seems to grow a little bit thicker.

This type of a "double whammy" recently occurred in eastern Tennessee when Child Support Magistrate Lu (short for "Louise" – German meaning: "famous warrior") Ann (Hebrew meaning: "God has favored
me") Ballew (French meaning: "Clear water") ruled
that a 7-month-old boy's first name "Messiah" must now be legally changed to "Martin."

It seems that Ms. Ballew is muddying the clear waters that her own name refers to.  Perhaps those muddied
waters are also in danger of eroding the wall of separation between church and state.

The boy's mother intends to appeal this ruling.  She not only favors the name Messiah because of its uniqueness, but also views it as compatible with the names of her other two sons (Micah and Mason). According to the Associated Press, she also stated:  Everybody believes what they want so I think I should be able to name my child what I want to name him…

"Everybody believes what they want…" is a right that must be protected.  Judicial rulings that work against this are more of a threat than any one name could ever be.


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

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

NDE research smells of rats

(Public Domain)
In an attempt to equate human near-death experiences with those of rats, researchers at the University of Michigan "induced cardiac arrest" in nine helpless rodents.

Some of the nine were "asphyxiated with carbon monoxide," and all were "hooked up to EEG machines."  Thirty seconds after their hearts had stopped, all the rats "experienced waves of synchronized brain activity that were characteristic of the conscious brain."  The visual cortex areas of their brains were also "highly activated."

Researchers noted that the rats' near-death neural consciousness seemed to be "at a much higher level compared to the waking state."  They theorized that this could be due to a crisis-mode survival mechanism.  They also theorized that this could account for the human experience of NDEs as being much more vivid than everyday life.

Tia Ghose of Live Science nevertheless reports that Dr. Sam Parnia, a resuscitation researcher at SUNY Stony Brook's School of Medicine, remains unconvinced by these theories.  Parnia explained that there was "no way to know what the rats were experiencing while their hearts were stopped," and that there are no "other studies in dying humans and dogs" with "brain wave activity that was parallel" to what those ratty results seemed to indicate.    


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

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fleeing America: Mayflower reversed

Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor (William Halsall, 1882)
In an ironic reversal of the "Mayflower myth" (i.e., that all those on the Mayflower were fleeing to America for religious freedom), an American family was recently "lost at sea for weeks in an ill-fated attempt to leave the United States over what they consider government interference in religion…"

Greg Moore of the Associated Press further explained what this family was specifically fleeing from.  He quoted the mother, Hannah Gastonguay, as saying:  Jesus isn't the head of the [U. S.] church.  God isn't the head of the [U. S.] church…  Gastonguay also stated that the family was being "forced to pay these taxes that pay for abortions we don't agree with."

The Gastonguay family (Hannah, her husband Sean, their two small children, and Sean's father Mike) therefore set sail from San Diego for Kiribati (a small group of islands halfway between Australia and Hawaii).  As with the Mayflower, the passage became particularly rough.

Beset by storm after storm, the family was left with nothing but "some juice and some honey" after two months on the open sea.  Nevertheless, Hannah reported:  We were in the thick of it, but we prayed. Being out on that boat, I just knew I was going to see some miracles.

They were eventually rescued by a Venezuelan ship.  Hannah's brother-in-law Jimmy had contacted the U.S. Coast Guard (more irony) in order to help "keep track of the family…"

The Gastonguays are now heading "back to Arizona" in order to "come up with a new plan."


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

Monday, August 12, 2013

In vitro burgers raise religious questions

Against Slaughtering Cows (Public Domain)
While animal activists are heralding the ethical benefits of in vitro burgers, some religionists are wondering what the doctrinal implications might be of this new scientific development.

For Jews, the question of where these burgers fit within kashrut (kosher) laws is an intriguing one.  Differing viewpoints abound at this point.  In an article for, Yehuda Shurpin explores a few of them. 

He explains that in the Talmud there is a concept called "miraculous meat."  This is either meat that descended from Heaven, or meat that was created by extremely devoted Jews.  It is considered miraculous because "it did not come from a natural-born animal."  Such miraculous meat would not need kosher slaughtering.  Perhaps test-tube burgers could fall into this category.

On the other hand, since the test-tube burgers were cultured in a lab from living animal cells, they might instead fall under the category of "meat that was severed from a live animal."  This latter type of meat is strictly forbidden under kosher law.

Tom Heneghan of Reuters reports that Hindus and Muslims are in quandaries of their own about how to regard in vitro meat.  Abdul Qahir Qamar of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy in Jedda, Saudi Arabia was quoted as saying that this cultured meat would be considered "vegetative" and similar to yogurt and pickles.  However, some Hindus – who consider cows to be sacred - beg to differ with this "vegetative" categorization and shun any kind of beef, in vitro or not.      


Copyright August 12, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Katie Lentz: Touched by 'angels'

(Public Domain)
If more news stories ended up like this one, the world would definitely be a better place.

After a recent car crash in eastern Missouri, 19-year-old Katie Lentz was fighting for her life within the wreckage.  Melanie Eversley of USA TODAY reported that emergency workers and community members of four local towns were right there alongside her.  The "street was blocked off 2 miles from the scene," and everyone there pretty much knew one another.

Helpers were doing whatever they could to extricate Lentz from the badly-mangled Mercedes that she had been driving, but to no avail.  Although she was conscious and remarkably calm, her vital signs were failing.  It was then that she "asked if someone would pray with her."  A voice answered, "I will."

A priest whom nobody in that local group recognized suddenly seemed to appear "from nowhere."  He was later described by those on the scene as "silver-haired… in his 50s or 60s… medium build, maybe 6-feet-tall," wearing typical priestly garb.  He not only "approached Katie and began to pray openly with her," but also "had a bottle of anointing oil with him and he used that."

Eversley explained that everything then began changing quickly.  Another rescue team arrived with "fresh equipment and tools."  "Twenty emergency workers pulled together and sat the car upright."  Lentz' vital signs began improving, and she was able to be removed from the car safely.

People still haven't been able to identify that "mystery priest" (who left immediately and didn't appear in any of the photos).  Were there angels at the scene?  Perhaps many…   

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

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Proverbs 31 wife in sheep's clothing

(Photo by Toni Barros)
Kylie Bisutti - former Victoria's Secret model turned "God Inspired Fashion" (GIF) cofounder - says that she has gone from being a conflicted sex symbol to being a "Proverbs 31 wife…"

She has therefore gone from promoting skimpy lingerie to promoting skinny jeans that double as Bible billboards.  Her GIF
collection includes such items as "Not ashamed of the gospel" pocket Christian tank tops for women, "Fear God" Christian
button-down shirts for men, and "SAVED" Christian jeans for toddlers.

There is definitely a not-so-hidden agenda to the promotion of these items.  The GIF website asks, "Ever feel moved to share God's word with a friend, classmate, coworker, or even a stranger and then talk yourself out of it for whatever reason?" Never fear – the wearing of GIF clothing can presumably "Help put God's word back in the schools!" and help to "Start a revival!"

While making the world safe for Christianity, Bisutti is also becoming the perfect "sheep" (in Christianity, faithful followers are often referred to as "sheep" and their leaders as "pastors").  Her stated Proverbs 31 goal would mean taking on the following wifely attributes:  providing food for her family, setting about her work vigorously, opening her arms to the poor, extending her hands to the needy, speaking with wisdom, watching over the affairs of her household, not eating the bread of idleness, and fearing the Lord.

So where does GIF fit in?  Proverbs 31 also advises wives to be "clothed in fine linen and purple," to supply "the merchants with sashes," and to be "clothed with strength and dignity."      


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

Friday, August 9, 2013

Robert J. Morgan: In defense of John

(Photo by Billy Hathorn)
In his recent article for The Huffington Post titled "Let John Be John and Let Jesus Be Jesus," Robert J. Morgan (pastor of a large Nashville congregation for 30-plus years) makes one thing perfectly clear:  his belief that the apostle John was indeed the author of the Fourth Gospel.

Morgan explains that the earliest Christians felt likewise.  He traces their belief in John's authorship from John's "disciple" Polycarp, to Polycarp's "follower" Irenaeus – and then offers this quote from Irenaeus:  John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on him,
himself also published the Gospel in Ephesus, when he was living in Asia.

Morgan also cites Theophilus of Antioch, the Muratorian Fragment, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, Tertullian, and the Ryland Fragment "in John's defense."  All of these sources were rooted within the first three centuries of Christianity.

Morgan then concludes:  If any other ancient text were affirmed by this kind of evidence, its authorship would be virtually unquestioned.

Not all readers were satisfied with Morgan's line of reasoning.  Davidmdelaney101 (who identifies himself via the following phrase: "Part of me refers to itself as 'I'") wrote this comment:  So the sources attributing the vital gospel of John to the apostle John are early Christians who had every incentive and motive to give their new religion its firmest possible grounding.  That's a problem… 


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

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Bible: Literal and liberal

1859 Family Bible (David Ball)
Most people these days associate a literal interpretation of the Bible with conservative fundamentalism.  However, Sean McElwee of explains five ways in which liberals can literally find biblical inspiration for their own viewpoints.

McElwee gets off to a rousing start with this quote by Reverend Cornel West:  …the fundamentalist Christians want to be fundamental about everything except 'love thy neighbor.'   In a clever version of "beating them at their own game," he then tackles political hot buttons such as
immigration, poverty, the environment, war and women – using biblical quotes to support liberal stances.

For example, McElwee quotes Leviticus 19:34 (You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God) in support of liberal immigration policies. 

He then juxtaposes that quote with this one from a right-wing Christian group:  We are called to discern among 'sojourners' (like Ruth and Rahab who intend to assimilate and bless) and 'foreigners' (who do not intend to assimilate and bless…  Which, of course, begs the question:  Called by whom?  Certainly not the "Lord your God" who was speaking in Leviticus 19:34…  That God made no mention of acceptable
versus unacceptable strangers…

Theological appetites that have been whet by this type of reasoning can find much more of it on McElwee's heaping platter.


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

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Inexpensive stress-relievers

Try walking... (Photo by Henri Bergius)
Those with plenty of money to spare can slip away to a health spa fairly easily when feeling stressed.  Others on a tighter budget might not want to experience the stress that a spa bill might entail.

Therefore, Money Talks News has put together a listing of spa-alternatives that won't make your wallet deflate too badly.  First off, rather than invest in a gym full of fancy equipment, why not just take a hike to some beautiful outdoor spot?  For many, walking can be a free and easy way of shaking off some tension.

Tuning into some audio or video comedy routines can be the inner equivalent of a total workout.  Laughter is certainly one fun way of reducing "stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol."

Although  meditation used to be considered somewhat "fringe," it is now being embraced by such mainstream centers as the Mayo Clinic.  Best of all, you don't have to be on a mountaintop to do it (unless, of course, you want to combine your hike with your meditation).

And then there's… sex.  Not only does it lower cortisol, but it also stimulates the release of endorphins.  Talk about a win-win! 


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

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Pastor Francis: In the trenches

(Photo by Wolfgang Poguntke)
Philip Pullella of Reuters recently reported that - unlike his professorial predecessor – Pope Francis "has always been a pastor."

What this means is that Francis knows what it's like to be in the trenches - and is bent upon keeping his papal ears down low to the ground.  As one cardinal explained, "…this new pope 'plays for the same team but kicks the ball in an entirely different direction.'"

That direction is towards the pews, which has earned Francis the nickname "People's Pope."  If his recent "Mass for 3 million on Copacabana Beach" is any indication of things to come, this approach is "spot on" (as the people would say).

Author Paul Vallely stated that this new (and ancient) approach is all about "putting people before dogma."  It involves the delicate balance of "changing perceptions, without moving on substance."

As even Opus Dei conservative Father John Paul Wauck pointed out, Francis has thus far managed to skillfully present a "colloquial paraphrase of the Catholic Catechism…"

And people round the world are listening…

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

Monday, August 5, 2013

Henny Youngman: Bar mitzvahed in his 70s

(Stages of Laughter)
The older Henny Youngman got, the more religious he became.  This resulted in his being bar mitzvahed for the very first time while in his 70s.

Youngman characteristically gave an ironic explanation for the long delay.  Leslie Katz of explains that 66 years before Youngman's Atlantic City bar mitzvah, his original one had been scheduled.  However, his "cousin, a young girl" died at that time.  He therefore once said, "And who wants to have a bar mitzvah when something like that happens?"

Nevertheless, Youngman had long been known for his expert brand of "Jewish humor."  One such joke (lengthy by typical
Youngman standards) goes like this:  A guy says to a Rabbi, 'You have such a small congregation.  How much do you make a week?'  The Rabbi says, 'Six dollars a week.'  He says, 'How can you live on that?'  The Rabbi says, 'If I weren't a very religious man, and didn't fast three days a week, I'd starve to death!'

Having been born to Russian Jewish immigrants Yonkel Yungman and Olga Chetkin in 1906, Youngman came by his style of humor naturally.   The family first settled in London, but later moved to Brooklyn, New York.  He remained a New Yorker for most of his life.

Shortly before his death at age 92, Youngman was still performing his famous one-liners for adoring crowds.
He told this one to a San Francisco audience during one of his last gigs:  I was in San Francisco once and
opened up my hotel drawer to get some underwear and found Tony Bennett's heart.     


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

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Christians and Muslims: Mutual respect

(Saint Francis with Sultan al-Kamil)
Mutual respect is difficult enough between any two individuals.  Mutual respect between two historically-opposed religions can be even more challenging.

That is why Pope Francis' recent Ramadan message titled "To Muslims throughout the world" (concerning the theme "Promoting
Mutual Respect through Education") is especially important.  It not only offers "sincere and friendly greetings," but also explains what mutual interfaith respect can actually consist of.

According to the Huffington Post transcript of this message, Pope Francis defines respect as "an attitude of kindness towards people for whom we have consideration and esteem" – and mutual as "not a one-way process, but something shared by both sides."

And just what is it that we are each called to mutually respect? Francis stated that respect entails a person's "life, his physical integrity, his dignity and the rights deriving from that dignity, his reputation, his property, his ethnic and cultural identity, his ideas and his political choices."  He added that "unfair criticism or defamation" should not only be avoided face-to-face, but also "always and everywhere."

The Pope's definition of mutual respect extends heartily (and courageously) into the sphere of "interreligious relations."  Francis specifically states that this includes respecting another religion's "teachings, its symbols, its values."

He also explains that mutual respect during a religious holiday would involve a sharing of joy - "without making reference to the content of…  religious convictions."  


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

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Stem-cell burgers: Let's hear it for cultured beef

Hereford Bull (USDA Photo)
This coming Monday, the world will get a glimpse into the kinder gentler world of cultured beef.

We're not talking about your mother's abbatoir, or even your grandmother's barnyard chopping block.  We are instead referring to a seemingly-viable alternative to torturing animals for our own use.

Kate Hellend, Health and Science Correspondent for London Reuters, recently reported that a "corner of west London will see culinary and scientific history made on Monday when scientists cook and serve up the world's first lab-grown beef burger."

This "in-vitro burger," which is "cultured from cattle [muscle] stem cells," will be "fried in a pan and tasted by two volunteers."  Not to worry, the cultured beef will first be combined with other ingredients (such as beet juice, saffron, egg powder, breadcrumbs and salt) in order to make it more burger-like.

If all goes well (politically as well as scientifically), in-vitro burgers could soon begin to replace their less cultured "cousins."  What this would mean is that the approximately "18 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions" that the meat industry has been polluting the planet with will considerably lessen.

In-vitro meat culturing would also consume "35 percent to 60 percent less energy… and use about 98 percent less land than conventionally produced animal meat."

Far less quantifiable is the untold amount of suffering that our fellow sentient beings would then be spared…        


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

Friday, August 2, 2013

Wealth: When is enough enough?

Gold Bars (Agnico-Eagle)
Rather than merely reflecting what incomes may look like at any given moment in time, "distribution of wealth" statistics take into consideration the overall "ownership of assets in a society…"

Wikipedia also defines "wealth" as "those items of economic value that an individual owns."  A simple way of expressing this is via the following formula:  wealth equals assets minus liabilities.  In other words, if your debt exceeds your assets, you're not actually "wealthy" (no matter how many
credit-card items you've purchased).

Nevertheless, you'd think that millionaires might consider themselves wealthy (and extremely fortunate – considering that much of the world is literally dying of poverty).  However, Abby Ellin of ABC News reports on a surprising reality.

Ellin explains that a study titled "What is Wealthy" from the UBS investment bank indicates that "40 percent of those with $5 million in investable assets said they didn't feel they were rich ."  Not only that, their "poor cousins" with "only" $1 to $5 million in investable assets" were feeling even more "deprived."  Only 28% of this latter group felt "rich."

The "cure" for this "wealth anxiety" might be for such folks to part with a bit of their millions and purchase plane tickets to parts of the world where even one dollar can make a difference. They might then better understand how very gifted their comfortable lives have been.


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

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sean Le Vegan: It's a dog's life

(Photo by Chris Barber)
With a last name like that, it's not the least bit surprising that Sean Le Vegan is an animal activist.

As part of his empathetic bond with God's four-legged creatures, Le Vegan plans to live in a shelter kennel for 35 days. By so doing, he hopes to raise awareness concerning the plight of homeless animals.

The "35" of 35 days was not chosen randomly.  According to MSN Living, that is the average length of time a dog spends in a shelter.  For the first four days, Le Vegan will abstain from eating solid food because that is "the average time some dogs take to eat when in an alien environment."

As for possessions – Le Vegan will mimic the Manchester Dogs' Home norm by having only "water and
blanket with no bed" while living at this animal shelter. 

As part of a fundraising initiative, video cams will be focused on Le Vegan during his 35-day vigil.  The cost for those who wish to observe such a feat will be $7.50. This "money will go toward refurbishing the shelter."

Hopefully, the saying "It's a dog's life" will come to mean something better and better…    

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