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

Monday, September 30, 2013

Inner Wisdom Series: A Joyful Path

Nature      (Public Domain)
For those looking for a more expansive Sunday School curriculum, the Inner Wisdom Series of
Progressive Christianity might be just the thing.

Described on the website as "a way to connect
children with an authentic spiritual experience that is inter-spiritual, creative, and multi-layered," A Joyful Path Children's Curriculum "helps children learn how to follow the path of Jesus in today's world."

Wholeheartedly endorsed by John Shelby Spong, this two-year (and counting) curriculum is designed for children who are six to ten years old.  However, it can easily be adapted for those somewhat younger or older.

Each year contains a set of 38 experiential lessons that can be taught within the home or classroom.  These lessons include a mix of Bible verses, wisdom quotations, spiritual affirmations, artwork, reflections or meditations, music, and discussion questions.  Topics within the Year One series include the following: Prayer, Nature, Kindness, God Within All, Energy, Letting Go and Feelings.

Year Two's lessons delve more deeply into the Teachings of Jesus, Peace and Social Justice, the Integrity of the Earth and Inclusion.  They follow the same experiential format as Year One's did.

There has thus far been much positive feedback regarding this curriculum.  The Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church writes:  Yes, we have enjoyed using the curriculum with its God Centeredness and Wisdom Images!  It matches our worship and lived theology as community!  A mother writes:  My oldest son, Jacob, used to be very fearful, worried about the future and all the 'what ifs' in his nine-year-old world…  But the Joyful Path lesson on 'Letting Go and Living in the Moment' became instrumental!

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

Mark Nepo: Where is God?

Salt   (Public Domain)
If you were to ask Mark Nepo where God is, he might not point heavenward.  Instead, he has poetically answered:  …if you want to last, hold on to nothing.  If you want to know love, let in everything.  If you want to feel the presence of everything, stop counting the things that break along the way

Nepo knows whereof he speaks.  Having struggled with a rare form of lymphoma, he learned to experience life more fully in the moment while grappling with an unforeseeable future.

For pretty much all of us, the future is truly a mystery.  Although a condition like lymphoma can zap us into the present quite forcibly, we can all benefit from a deeper awareness of the life we already have.

How to do this when suffering from the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" is something that Nepo expertly teaches.  While a guest on Oprah Winfrey's Super Soul Sunday show, Nepo told an ancient Hindu tale about the tasting of salt.  If a teaspoon of salt is placed within the average-sized glass, it will often taste unbearably strong.  However, if that same amount is placed in a lake, the taste would become imperceptible.

If salt symbolizes the very real suffering that each of us endures, then it can become "right-sized" by widening the container that holds it.  Viewing life through a broad perspective that includes the wonders of this creation can thus help us to cope with the suffering that life inevitably entails.   


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

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Lojong: The pith and the pendulum

Atisa  (Public Domain)
The human brain - "plastic" though it may be – needs constant reminders of which path to follow. 

The brain is constantly ruminating upon thought after thought – and it swings mightily from one mood to another.  If there were a way to "steer" it into calmer waters, that would be a boon indeed.

The pithy slogans of lojong might just be that way. Wikipedia explains that lojong is a tried and tested method of "mind training" from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.  It is based upon "a set of aphorisms" (now
known as "slogans") that were composed by Chekhawa Yeshe Dorje (a meditation master) in the 12th century.  He, in turn, drew upon the rich Mahayana lojong practice that had been developing in India from 900 to 1200 CE.

This original group of approximately 59 slogans includes the following ones:  Be grateful to everyone.   Self-liberate even the antidote.   Examine the nature of unborn awareness.

These slogans are meant to be focused upon to the point of moving the brain's consciousness into a more enlightened state. They have been so effective that modern-day spiritual leaders (such as Zoketsu Norman Fischer and Pema Chodron) are still very actively working with their essence.


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

Friday, September 27, 2013

Jim Carrey: Rolling right along

Big wave breaking...  (Photo: Brocken Inaglory)
As Jim Carrey himself admits, many know of him "from a whole raft of fairly wacky movies… and quite a few pretty serious ones, too."

Born and raised in Canada, Carrey had to quit school at a young age in order to help his family to make ends meet.  Things were so tough that they were "living out of a van" for a while.  Wikipedia reports that Carrey not only worked full-time to keep them afloat, but also "helped care for his mother
who battled a severe, chronic illness."

Therefore, Carrey knows what it's like to roll with the punches.  As does his alter-ego, Roland…

In literary lingo, Roland is the (wet and wavy) protagonist of author Jim Carrey's fable, How Roland Rolls. On the book's website, Carrey explains his purpose for creating this philosophical tale:  I wrote 'How Roland Rolls' specifically as a way for parents and grandparents to enjoy some quality hang-time
[with their little ones].  I hope the message of this story will help them feel connected, worthwhile, and a part of something vast and grand

In reading some of Roland's reviews, it seems as though Carrey has definitely achieved this lofty goal.  Here's what fellow philosopher Deepak Chopra has to say:  Philosphers and scientists struggle to understand cosmic consciousness, but Jim Carrey explains it with elegant simplicity to the child in all of us.


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

'Sipping' Martian soil

Life loves water...    (Public Domain)
Those who believe that Earth does not have the monopoly on life may be one step closer to having their dreams realized.

The Indo Asian News Service recently reported that researchers from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute  in Troy, New York analyzed samples of "dust, dirt and finely grained soil" that were
collected by the Mars rover Curiosity "from a sandy patch known as 'Rocknest.'" 

What they found is that surface Martian soil contains approximately 2% water.  Because they also found that this "global layer" of
Martian surface soil "has been mixed and distributed by frequent dust storms," the sample that was analyzed might be reflective of "typical Martian crust."

What this could very well mean is that humans on Mars could 'sip' this soil by heating it in order to obtain water.  RPI's Dean of Science, Laurie Leshin, stated:  We now know there should be abundant, easily accessible water on Mars.   

When heated, the sample also released significant amounts of "carbon dioxide, oxygen, and sulfur compounds…" 

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

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wedding day blues: Priest vs. photographer

(1929 Bride)
When you come right down to it, priest vs. photographer is merely a symbol of the larger dichotomy concerning weddings:  spiritual vs.
worldly.  In other words, are weddings simply the ultimate parties of people's lives, or are they instead sacred ceremonies?

Danielle Tumminio, an Episcopal priest, wrote an article for Huff Post Religion about the "battle" (gone viral) between priest and photographer at the recent wedding of Rob and Noelle Ruehle.  As is the case with so many ceremonies, cameras started clicking as soon as the solemnities began.

At that point, the priest faced the video camera and said:  Please, sirs, leave.  The cameraman asked, "Where do you want me to be?" – and the priest answered:  Anywhere other than here.  I will stop the ceremony if you do not get out of the way.  This is not about the photography, this is about God.

Tumminio points out that whereas priests often see themselves as spiritual guides, families often see them as "performers" of a carefully-choreographed "act one, scene one."  She also explains that "the reception usually lasts four to eight times longer than the ceremony, and the priest isn't paid a fraction of what the photographer is."  She reports that the cost of a "perfect" wedding day has now risen to an average of $28,400.

Tumminio emphasizes that this tension between the worldly and spiritual aspects of weddings needn't be
an either-or.  Drawing from her own personal experience as both priest and wife, she explains that both the priest's guidance and the photographer's visual reminders could be seen as blessings.

She also points out that God works in mysterious ways, and you never quite know when a priest's influence
might be felt.  Even within the context of a materialistic funfest, that influence might just shine through.    


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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Attacks on American Sikhs continue

Toronto Sikh Celebration (Joel Friesen) 
The level of religious literacy in the United States today is often quite low.  Stereotypes abound, and prejudices run rampant.

There are therefore those who staunchly believe that anyone who wears a turban is a Muslim, and that all Muslims are terrorists. These believers can be quite dangerous, as is evidenced by the ongoing violent attacks upon American Sikhs.

Liz Goodwin of Yahoo News recently reported that a "group of more than 20 young men viciously attacked a [Sikh] Columbia
University professor over the weekend, apparently because they
believed he was a Muslim."  The attack was so bad that Professor Prabhjot Singh needed "facial surgery to
correct his jaw after the beating, which occurred near his home in Harlem..."

This is far from an isolated incident.  Goodwin stated that there have been "more than 300 hate crimes 
against Sikhs like Singh in the years following the Sept. 11 attacks..."  A particularly destructive one was the 2012 attack by a white supremacist on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that left six people dead."

Ironically, Singh had co-authored a New York Times op-ed article last year which urged "the F.B.I. to begin tracking anti-Sikh violence."  The same article also urged that the F.B.I. "continue to vigorously combat bias
and discrimination against all Americans, including Muslims." 


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

Monday, September 23, 2013

Unpaid clergy: An ancient new trend

Exhortation to the Disciples (J. Tissot)
There is much talk today about going back to the way things used to be. 

Within more and more chuches, this notion is being expressed by a reliance upon unpaid clergy.  As Lori Modesitt, a ministry developer for the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming, said:  What we're talking about is going back to the original church, where people took an active part and used their God-given gifts for the betterment of the community.

Jeffrey Macdonald of The Huffington Post reports that "as churches face declining numbers and look to new ministry models to make ends meet," more and more mainline Protestant churches have been "cutting back to halftime or one-quarter-time packages for clergy, who increasingly work second jobs."  Although most mainline churches still pay their clergy, 30 percent of them do so for only a part-time pastor. 

Seminaries are now adjusting to this new reality.  The United States Presbyterian Church is preparing new students "to plan for nonchurch employment so they can serve fledgling congregations that can't afford a full-time salary plus benefits."  Auburn Theological Seminary has been "encouraging a new form of ministry
where students realize they may not go into congregations in traditional buildings that can pay them full-time salaries."  In keeping with this, Auburn is "developing an entrepreneurial ministry track…"


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

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Octopus's garden: Painful thoughts

Giant Pacific Octopus  (Public Domain)
Listening to the Beatles, you could swear that all is happy-happy-joy-joy within the octopus's garden under the sea.

It is therefore a very good thing that William Skaggs of Scientific American recently raised this head-scratching questionHow Could We Recognize Pain in an Octopus?

Skaggs, believe it or not, has not been the first to wonder about such things.  He was particularly inspired by a Katherine Harmon blog post titled Do Octopuses Feel Pain?  Skaggs lists Harmon's
"three elements that are involved in feeling pain" - these being nociception ("having mechanisms in the body that are capable of detecting damage and transmuting it into neural signals"), the experience of pain (whatever that means…), and "the ability to communicate pain information from sensation to perception (which sounds a lot like an "experience" of pain).

According to Skaggs, all this verbiage doesn't amount to a pile of seaweed when trying to truly understand an octopus's ouch factor.  After plowing through her other examples of aliens, humanoid-appearing robots and ordinary humans – readers were left making these comments:

If it turns an upset color and starts squirting ink and water at you maybe it's feeling something unpleasant…  just a thought…

This burning question has kept me up nights for years.      


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

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Oshea Israel: Mother Mary came to him

Return of the Prodigal Son  (Rembrandt)
Mary Johnson, mother of an only son, somehow found it within her heart to forgive his murderer, Oshea Israel.

Rebecca Ruiz of TODAY reports that Mary not only forgave Oshea, but even took him under her wing after he was released from prison.  Johnson and Israel now live next door to one another, and she refers to him as her "spiritual son."  He, in turn, refers to her as his "second mom."

Johnson even founded an organization called "From Death to Life," which is dedicated to sharing "hope with families impacted by homicide…"  Group members "make the healing groups available, provide care baskets for families immediately following a tragedy, and host community events promoting peace and reconciliation."

Although forgiveness may seem like a gift to the recipient, it is primarily a gift to the one who forgives. Mary explained to Ruiz
that she forgave Oshea in order to "free herself of suffering."  She stated:  All that stuff had to leave me.  And the day I went to prison [to begin reconciling with Oshea], I was delivered.


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

Friday, September 20, 2013

Wearing white: Jewish trend growing

Guardian Angel   (Public Domain)
Lily Harrison of E! recently reported that Ashton Kutcher and girlfriend Mila Kunis both wore white while attending a Kabbalah
leader's funeral.  Harrison explained, "According to ancient practice, wearing white is believed to attract positive energy."

This sartorial practice is not limited to Kabbalah followers.  Lauren Markoe of The Washington Post reports that Orthodox Jews commonly wear white during Yom Kippur.  Even "less observant Jews who make up the majority of world Jewry" are beginning to pick up on this practice.

For many, this wearing of white is highly symbolic.  Stacey Robinson, a Reformed Jew, stated, "I can stand now, ready, clean, before the Gates…  White is clean, and pure and made new."

Rabbi Josh Jacobs-Velde, leader of a formerly-Conservative congregation, stated that he has been seeing "pockets of white" amongst the Yom Kippur worshippers.  He explained that "Yom
Kippur is a kind of ritual death of sorts, and white recalls the white shroud in which the body is wrapped in a traditional Jewish burial."

However, Rabbi Tamara Miller prefers to focus upon another symbolic aspect of the color white.  Markoe reports that "it's the white-robed, angelic symbolism" that appeals to Miller.        


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

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Raising cane: Twelve Tribes controversy

12 Tribes Bus  (Photo by Lyndi & Jason) 
Although The Twelve Tribes ("formerly known as the Vine Christian Community Church, the Northeast Kingdom Community Church, the Messianic Communities, and the Community Apostolic Order") has only about 3,000 members altogether, it is located within quite a few countries worldwide.  These include the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Germany, France, the Czech
Republic, Canada, Australia, and Argentina.

Recently, this group – which Wikipedia explains grew out of the 1970s Tennessee-based Jesus Movement - experienced a raid by German authorities.  Jamie Merrill of The Independent reports that "police took away 40 children from their parents and placed them in foster homes, amid allegations that they had undergone years of abuse."

Part of these allegations stem from the group's literal belief in the Bible's approval of "chastising children with a willow cane to 'drive out the devil.'"  Journalist Wolfram Kuhnigk had infiltrated their Bavarian farm and filmed "six adults in a cellar beating six children with a total of 83 strokes of the cane."

Wikipedia reports that there have also been run-ins with German and French authorities over health and
homeschooling issues.  In New York, there were issues concerning the alleged breaking of child-labor laws.

Although many Twelve Tribes beliefs resemble those of Christian fundamentalist denominations, Twelve Tribes members are convinced that "all denominations are fallen" - and that Christianity itself is "the whore of Babylon…"  Wikipedia also explains that they seek "a new Israel consisting of Twelve Tribes in twelve
geographic locations."


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

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Valerie Harper: When life asks you to dance

Ruth St. Denis  (Library of Congress)
Valerie Harper deserved every last centimeter of the standing ovation she received during this year's premiere of Dancing With the Stars.

Whereas many with a diagnosis as fatal as hers would simply get their affairs in order, Harper's philosophy is this:  When life asks you to dance, you just have to dance.

Dancing has long been equated with living life to the fullest, no matter what.  Perhaps Garth Brooks sang it most eloquently:  Looking back on the memory of the dance we shared 'neath the stars above, For a moment all the world was right…  Yes my life is better left to chance, I could have missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the dance.

Valerie Harper didn't miss the dance.  And for that, her partners far and wide are most grateful…   


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

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Haters gonna hate

Diabetes lurks within...   (Public Domain)
You all know them.  They're the next-door neighbors who catch you with their litanies of complaints as you're carrying a load of groceries from the car to the front door.

Today it's one thing, tomorrow it will be another.  Call them Negative Nellies or call them Debbie Downers - but one thing is certain:  haters gonna hate.

Is there no hope?  Scientific American's report on a recent study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology doesn't hold out much. This study, done by Justin Hepler and Dolores Albarracin, indicates that those who focus upon the skin cancer within sunshine and the diabetes within lollipops will tend to be negative about pretty much everything.

Psychology, being the fancy discipline that it has become, of course has a fancy term to describe this woeful phenomenon:  "negative dispositional attitude."

Optimists, however, have found a silver lining even within these gloomy clouds. They point out that marketing to Negative Nellies could be predictably easy. All you would have to do is emphasize the negative aspects of your competitor's products, and soon these naysayers will be eating out of your manipulative hands.   


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

Monday, September 16, 2013

'Aha' moments: Celebs fess up

A Grammy (Photo by Ya'akov)
Ever wonder what makes a star a star?  Is it in the stars?  The genes?  The jeans?

Since others are also wondering, MSN Entertainment made it a point to present "Aha" moments of today's music celebrities.

Chuck D of Public Enemy advises living in the moment.  He describes his focus as being akin to the "pivot foot in basketball," which "can move forward and still have one foot connected to the past."

Rapper Antwan "Big Boi" Patton believes that "reinvention" is the key to success.  He nevertheless cautions that this process should not entail a sacrificing of "artistic integrity."

Songwriter Keith Urban warns that being "really unique" can be "your biggest curse, until it becomes your greatest blessing."  He therefore suggests remaining true to yourself during the "curse" phase because the blessings will ultimately surface.

Johnny Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls is a pragmatist.  He urges would-be professionals to do "their homework" regarding legal contracts.  He also wisely states, "Don't worry so much about being a rock star, and most importantly, don't ever act like one."

R & B artist Ne-Yo is careful to remember that music is "supposed to be" public service.  He therefore recommends staying close to the audiences - and emphasizes: What you're doing is for them. 


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

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Go God! Falcons bid for church property

Falcon with prey (Photo: Dennis Jarvis)
The Atlanta Falcons just made a millions-strong bid to acquire property currently owned by the historic Mount Vernon Baptist Church.

Maybe they think that the site of so many prayers will grant them Godspeed on to victory.  Or maybe they're just focused upon their own worldly goals.

In any event, FOX Sports reports that this deal would be worth approximately $14.5 million – $6.2 of which would be paid by the Georgia World Congress Authority, and $8.3 of which would be paid by the Atlanta Falcons.

The Mount Vernon historic church would have to be relocated if the deal goes through.  A second church at the site has already preliminarily agreed to a similar "fate."

In their stead would emerge a "$1 billion, retractable-roof NFL stadium…"

This is what is often called progress.  The question is:  Towards what?


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

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Snake handling safer than football

Water Moccasin (by Geoff Gallice) 
You may not want to go so far as to seek "snake salvation" - but you may rest assured that Pentecostal snake handling is not only safer than football, but also safer than rock-climbing and hang-gliding.

Thus spaketh University of Tennessee/Chattanooga Professor Ralph Hood when interviewed by Julia Duin of The Wall Street Journal for her article "'Snake Salvation': Inside the World of Christian Serpent

Duin reports that Pentecostal Pastors Andrew Hamblin and Jamie Coots believe in the literal truth of these words from Mark 16:17-18 (KJV):  And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

In keeping with this belief, their worship services include the likes of "timber rattlesnakes, water moccasins and copperheads."  These hissing vipers are initially kept within "glass-covered snake boxes near the pulpit."  Once the Spirit gets rolling, out come the snakes -  "sometimes in clumps of three or four wriggling bunches."

If you're getting the creepy-crawlies just reading about this, you might not believe that fatal bites are actually quite rare.  In fact, there have been only 100 known snake-bite fatalities within church circles during the past 100 years.

Nevertheless, not all Pentecostals handle snakes.  Duin mentions that there are some in the movement "who thoroughly disagree with the snake handling."


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

Friday, September 13, 2013

A just war, or just another war?

Augustine of Hippo (Sandro Boticelli, c. 1480)
Some religionists have a theory about what they call a "just war."  If this sounds too oxymoronic in English, perhaps the Latin might make it go down a bit easier.

Bellum iustum is what Wikipedia calls "a doctrine of military ethics of Roman philosophical and Catholic origin."  The Catholic part is rooted in the theology of Saints Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas.  Both felt that "Christians should
not be ashamed to protect peace and punish wickedness."  They even went so far as to assert that "peacefulness in the face of a grave wrong that could only be stopped by violence would be a sin."

Aquinas laid out detail after detail of how a "just war" should be waged.  Such as war must be waged by an authority that stands
for the common good, it must be for a purpose other than self-gain, and peace must remain its ultimate goal.

If all this sounds like speeches you've been hearing lately, that is no accident. World leaders are continuing to draw upon this theory in order to justify aggressive actions.  The trouble is, both sides within most wars
utilize this same theory to prove that God is (indeed) on their side (and their side only). 

With these kind of (heavenly) high stakes, any "just war" is very much in danger of becoming just another bloody vendetta. 


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

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Married priests: Thorn Birds still thorny

Still thorny...   (Photo by Edgovan22)
Some are wondering whether dramas such as the unrequited love between Father Ralph de Bricassart and Meggie Cleary may soon be a thing of the past.  That's because they are rooted in the Roman Catholic tradition of priestly celibacy – a tradition that the Vatican
now seems at least willing to "discuss."

F. Brinley Bruton of NBC News reports that Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's new secretary of state (and number-two person), "has said that priestly celibacy is not church dogma and therefore open to discussion."

Wikipedia explains that in the earliest years of the church, many of the clergy were married men.  
1 Corinthians 9:5 (New Living Translation) seems supportive of this.  It reads as follows: Don't we have the right to bring a Christian wife with us as the other apostles and the Lord's brothers do, and as Peter does?  (Note:  This passage indicates that Peter, the very "rock" that the church was built upon, was himself married.)

Nevertheless, clerical celibacy became a "deeply entrenched" facet of Roman Catholic priestly life for centuries.  In fact, many of Pope Francis' predecessors had declared the very topic to be "off limits."

Some, upon hearing this latest Vatican news, might be envisioning a Thorn Birds remake with Ralph and Meggie living happily ever.  Sorry to say, these folks might be gravely disappointed.  Even with a change in policy, chances are that priests would not be allowed to marry after ordination.  In other words, married priests would have had to already taken their wedding vows before entering the priesthood.

Since Ralph did not meet Meggie until he was already ordained, these particular Thorn Birds will likely be singing their sad sweet songs for many years to come.


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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pope's plea for the 'huddled masses'

(Photo: Daniel Schwen)
In Emma Lazarus' poem The New Colossus, which graces the Statue of Liberty's pedestal, Lazarus compares the compassionate and welcoming Lady of the Harbor with the proud and arrogant Colossus of old.

Whereas Lazarus dubs the original Colossus a "brazen giant of Greek fame," she heralds Lady Liberty as the "Mother of Exiles."  The poet then continues with this now-famous plea:  Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…

Pope Francis is now issuing his own plea for today's "huddled masses."  Reuters reports that during a private audience with refugees at Rome's Jesuit Astalli Centre, the Pope stated:  Empty convents and monasteries should not be turned into hotels by the Church to earn money… (the buildings) are not ours, they are for the flesh of Christ, which is what the refugees are.

The Pope has also emphasized that refugees "must be embraced rather than feared."  Along with that, he has condemned the indifference that often occurs towards those "seeking a better life."


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

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Neo-Nazis spew prejudice in Germany

NPD Supporters   (Photo by Samuel3333)
A youth faction of Germany's Neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) has been spreading propaganda in some down and dirty ways.

Andy Eckardt of NBC News reports that this group has even resorted to sending "customized racist condoms to some German politicians."  This Young
National Democrats (JN) group has dubbed this ploy "a purposely provocative campaign that would likely be used beyond the German elections."

Not necessarily…  Eckardt also reports that the condom company which allegedly-unwittingly manufactured these slippery devices has already issued this apology:  We very much regret that such a mistake has been made and that our condoms were used in connection with such propaganda. We clearly distance ourselves from the political content and aim…

This is certainly not the first time that the the NPD has spewed such prejudice.  When Udo Voigt used the slogan "Gas geben" in his 2011 NPD campaign, critics were quick to point out the anti-Semitic allusions "to
the Nazi gas chambers." 

Because the literal English translation of "Gas geben" is "step on the gas," Joern Menge of the "Hamburg-based non-profit organization Loud Against Nazis is counteracting that slogan with these words:  We are calling on democratic German politicians to step up action against right- wing slogans.  


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

Monday, September 9, 2013

Syria's war: Religious overtones

Syrian Refugees   (Public Domain)
CNN's Daniel Burke reports that there's no war like a religious war. 

Studies have shown that religious civil wars are not only "longer and bloodier than other types of clashes," but are also "twice as likely to recur and twice as deadly to noncombatants."

This certainly spells trouble for the current situation in Syria.  Burke explains that "Shiite Muslims from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran" are
joining ranks with Assad (who is neither Shiite nor Sunni, but Alawite – the Alawites are minority Muslims whom other Muslims sometimes consider heretical) against the Sunni Muslim rebels. The fighting is becoming increasingly radicalized – with both sides calling one another "infidels" and "Satan's army."

Wikipedia reports that although Sunni and Shia Islam are both major denominations, Sunni Muslims far outnumber Shiite ones in most countries.  The schism between the two groups can be traced back to the time of Muhammad's death in 632 – a time when succession disputes were rampant.

Christians comprise 10 percent of Syria's current population.  They, too, stand to lose a whole lot from this civil war.  The UN reports that "rebel fighters have targeted Christian communities, shooting up factories and detonating car bombs in Christian neighborhoods."   


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

Sunday, September 8, 2013

TM: The warp and woof of it

One of Pavlov's Dogs  (Rklawton)
If you instantly knew that "TM" stood for transcendental meditation, and you even associated it with the Beatles, then you also know that it's been around for quite some time.

Maybe you even know that studies upon studies have attested to its validity as far as health benefits are concerned.  Jeff Halevy of U.S. News & World Report states that TM "has one of the largest libraries of scientific research  supporting it, substantiating claims of everything from increased cardiovascular health to decreased violence to increased creativity."

Nevertheless, Halevy goes on to say, "But celebrity endorsements and even the best academic studies can hardly be relied on as conclusive proof." 

Well then, what can?  Halevy relies upon personal experience to form his own theory about TM's benefits.  Having "recently learned the technique," he concludes that "it works."

But why?  Halevy has a theory about that too.  He thinks that because TM trains people to not react strongly to their own thoughts, it therefore lessens the angst that often accompanies internal chatter.  He views TM as a "conditioning technique" – somewhat similar to those used with Pavlov's dogs.

Halevy concludes:  The good news and the bad news is that we're not so different  from Pavlov's dogs.  

Warped?  Or simply, woof?      


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

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Hello, Francis speaking

(Public Domain)
Imagine picking up the phone and hearing these words:  Hello, this is Pope Francis.

Perhaps you've written him a letter and simply addressed it to "Holy
Father Pope Francis, Vatican City, Rome" as Anna Romano did. 
Romano's letter explained that her boyfriend had urged her to get an
abortion after finding out she was pregnant.

Apparently this letter reached its intended destination because when
Romano heard the phoned-in words "Hello, this is Pope Francis," she immediately recognized the Holy Father's voice.  He not only reassured her that the baby was "a gift from God," but also offered to baptize the child himself.

Now perhaps you're thinking that this is an isolated case.  Not in the least.  According to Religion World News, the "cold-call pope" has also reached out to a woman who was raped, an engineering student with fears of not finding a job, and a man "who has struggled to forgive God after the murder of his brother."

On the other hand, Vatican Spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi warns that not all papal-sounding calls have been authentic.  Rumor to the contrary, the Pope did not recently phone Syrian President Assad just to say "Hello…"


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

Friday, September 6, 2013

God and science: Healing partners

Christ with the Eucharist (PD)
When Peter Srsich's stage 4 non-Hodgkins lymphoma went into remission, he didn't feel that he had to choose between crediting God or science.

As he told Susan Donaldson James of Good Morning America:  "I credit all the years of medical research and the training of all the doctors going to school – all that definitely cured me.  But God was behind it, helping me go through the treatment."

On the medical front, Srsich underwent "seven rounds of grueling chemotherapy and 21 days of radiation…"  When the pain became excruciating, he was given the drug Dilaudid.

After becoming clinically depressed (who wouldn't?), he was blessed with a visit from a Eucharist-bearing friend.  Srsich told Julie Filby of the Denver Catholic Register that when the host was lifted and his friend said "Body of Christ," everything began to change for the better.

He could then feel the actual presence of Jesus in the room.  Not only did Srsich's hope and faith instantly return, but his body immediately began to heal.  Painful sores that had "covered his mouth and digestive system cleared up" within 24 hours, which allowed him to be discharged from the hospital.

Another spiritual turning point occurred when the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted Srsich his request to meet Pope Benedict XVI.  When this great opportunity arrived, the Pope placed his hand on Srsich's chest, "right where the tumor had been…"

Srsich concluded:  Knowing the pope was in my future… in a small, non-miraculous way, helped cure my cancer. 

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

Thursday, September 5, 2013

'Under God' under question

1899 Pledge (Public Domain)
Although Massachusetts atheists may be rallying around the flagpole, chances are they won't be saying the Pledge of Allegiance
in its present entirety.

USA TODAY reports that Massachusetts' highest court received a challenge recently "from atheists who want the pledge banned in schools statewide."  In particular, it is the phrase "one nation under God" that they feel is not only discriminatory toward those who
believe otherwise, but also in violation of "the equal rights amendment in the state's constitution."

Wikipedia explains that "the Pledge has been modified four times" since its original 1892 composition by Francis Bellamy.  Although Bellamy was a minister who had been raised as a staunch Baptist, his Pledge said nothing about God.  It simply read: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

It was President Eisenhower who decided in 1954 that the Pledge must become more religious.  He added the words "under God" in order to "combat" the perceived threat of secular Communism.    

Ironically, Bellamy himself was a "Christian socialist" who was eventually run off the pulpit for his sermons about "the equal distribution of economic resources" (a concept that he believed Jesus taught).


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

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Chief Rabbi Mirvis: Daunting road ahead

Shulchan Aruch  (PD-RusEmpire)
In trying to be a friend to many with differing religious perspectives, the United Kingdom's chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis faces a daunting road ahead.

As the new head of the Orthodox "United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth" (a position that was created back in 1704 when
Orthodox Judaism was more uniformly dominant), Mirvis is seeking to also befriend Jews within other movements (such as Reform, Liberal and "cultural").

Not only does Mirvis face challenges from other movements, but he is also facing challenges from within his own.  Robert Pigott of BBC News reports on a growing wave of feminism within Orthodox

Some Orthodox women are seeking greater leadership roles within synagogues.  Although Mirvis has already overseen "the appointment of a woman as the senior member of his congregation's education team," many feel that this is not enough of a feminist leap forward.

There have also been some complaints by female Reform rabbis that their ordinations have not been properly recognized by the Orthodox movement.  Pigott reports that Mirvis "would only say that different religious groups had their own criteria through which they appointed spiritual leaders and it was not for him to determine how they did it."

Nevertheless, Mirvis affirmed that he is "totally dedicated and committed to work with the non-Orthodox community."  He also added:  We have to build on what unites us and not to concentrate on what separates us.


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

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Selfless in Seattle: Hard-wired for altruism

fMRI Research   (NIMH - Public Domain)
Looking out for number one" might be some people's mantra, but it turns out that humans are also hard-wired for generosity.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently reported on some intriguing results from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).  This fMRI procedure is used to measure brain activity.  Wikipedia explains that it does so by "detecting associated changes in blood flow."

Dr. Jordan Grafman, Director of Brain Injury Research at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, discovered that "parts of the midbrain lit up" on the fMRI scans when "people made the decision to donate to what they felt was a worthy organization…"  The midbrain sections that lit up are the very same ones that are linked to "cravings for food and sex."

Another part of the brain that becomes more active when altruism is displayed is the "subgenual area."  This "gumdrop-size region" which is "part of the frontal lobes" contains many oxytocin receptors.  Oxytocin is "a hormone that promotes social bonding."  Grafman's team is therefore theorizing that "altruism and social relationships are intimately connected…"  

Giving might therefore be "inherently rewarding."  It is not just a "sophisticated moral capacity," but is also a pleasurable activity in and of itself.


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

Monday, September 2, 2013

Grow your own brain: Recipe below

(Public Domain)
With the era of pet rocks long gone, it's time for a new hobby.  This one's a corker:  mini-brain gardening.

Cameron Scott of SingularityHUB was kind enough to share some tips for beginners.  First you take some "pluripotent human stem cells" (ones that can grow in a specialized fashion)
and plop them into the equivalent of a fancy petri dish.  Then you let them set a spell.

When proto-neural cells start to sprout, harvest them (carefully) onto a "scaffold." Grab your bioreactor and employ it "to improve cellular growing conditions."  Pretty soon, voila!  You are now the proud new owner of "a brain-like organ" complete with "differentiated brain regions."

However, it's important not to get overly attached to the little critter.  This is a kind way of saying that it might not last too long.  Although this mini-brain can actually develop "a cerebral cortex, retina… meninges and
choroid plexus," that's about as far as it's gone to date.  Two months into the process, and the "mini-me" stops dead in its tracks.

Researchers from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences attribute this fatal outcome to a lack of "adequate nutrients or oxygen to continue growing."  This is because there was no circulatory system present to nourish the mini-brain's core.

Now why all the fuss over growing your own brain?  Why not something simpler (and perhaps tastier) such as mung bean sprouts?  The answer is profound (and ethically loaded):  mini-brains not only have the potential to help cure complicated diseases, but may also one day serve as brain transplants.


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

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Clergy: Keeping it all inside

(Public Domain)
When it comes to anxiety and depression, members of the clergy often have to "stuff it."

Congregational members tend to expect clergy to be shining examples of mental health.  They want someone to tell their own troubles to - and aren't exactly keen on commiserating with the minister's sorrows.  Instead, they would like to think that faith in God guarantees a life lived in serene contentment.

Nevertheless, Katherine Bindley of Huffington Post reports that researchers from the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke Divinity School "found that instances of depression [in United Methodist pastors interviewed by phone and via online surveys)] were 8.7 percent and 11.1 percent, respectively, compared to the average national rate of 5.5 percent."

Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, "the Clergy Health Initiative's research director," has several theories about why pastors exhibit "above-average rates of depression."  One is that pastors, more than most others, wonder whether the life they've been living has been pleasing to God.  If they feel that they don't measure up, depression could easily result.

Another theory is that the congregation's high expectations put a tremendous amount of emotional pressure on the minister.  Such pressure is bound to take its toll sooner or later.

The cure?  Steven Scroggin, who heads "a network of pastoral counseling centers based in North Carolina," advises that more be done within seminary education to better prepare pastors for having firmer emotional and psychological boundaries.


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